At the 2012 NAPFA National conference, a diverse group of advisors explained what was needed for a successful succession, based on their experiences. 

Alan Moore, an associate planner with Financial Service Group, was the moderator and explained how the panel -and advisors as a whole - can get to the same goals in different ways, when it comes to succession planning. 

Plan Ahead 

Advisors often do not realize how much time it takes to find a buyer or seller, feel comfortable with each other, agree on a valuation and terms, communicate to clients, and then execute the phase out of the exiting advisor.

Karen Folk, a seasoned advisor, started a new partnership firm called Bluestem Financial Advisors, with a recent college graduate, Jacob Kuebler.  Before meeting Kuebler, she found it very hard to create a merger, as there were not fee-only advisors in her area that would take clients with less than $1 million.  She had a disaster continuity agreement in place, but that was only for an emergency.  It was not until she spoke at Kuebler’s college and mentioned the opportunity for an internship that she began to take the right steps to build a successful succession strategy.

Find the Right Fit

In most successions, there must be synergies between the advisors or the plan will never get off the ground. 

“You need to kiss a few frogs on the way," Folk said. "I had several people that had some interest, but didn’t work out for various reasons.  With Jake, we were very lucky.  We have similar goals and values in what we want to do with the clients.”

A shared vision for the organization also is very important.  In talking about her newly merged firm, where one advisor retired, Jessica Smith, the vice president and director of financial planning at Longview Financial Advisors, said, “We wanted to create a sustainable business.  It makes sense to have something be around for our clients’ lives.”

Scott McLeod, the president of Brown Financial Advisory, found someone he thought had sold his firm at a NAPFA conference two years ago and asked for advice. 

He was surprised to find out the deal was not done and the conversation ended in McLeod buying that firm.  One thing that worked well with networking within NAPFA was that they automatically had some shared beliefs in the way services should be delivered.

Meet in the Middle

For the succession to work successfully, both parties should feel happy with the details.  For McLeod, he said the transition timeframe, valuation, investment philosophies, and the weighting of financial planning were some of the key factors to work out.

Before Folk formed Bluestem, both her and Kuebler made sacrifices.  For Kuebler, he was not paid the best salary, but he said of Folk, “She mentored me. That was the biggest reason I decided to stick around. I had the technical skills, but had no idea how to sit in front of a client.  One big factor was my age. I didn’t have the life skills to start my own business.”

On the other side of the equation, Folk made sacrifices to get a new person up to speed, but added someone that was more savvy with technology, and the investment paid off within a few years.

To form the partnership, they used consultants and a succession planning document.  This helped them make important discussions before diving into the legal workings, when attorneys need to be involved.

Moore wrapped up the panel after several questions, reminding the older attendees that there are many younger NAPFA Genesis members that will welcome the opportunity to be a successor.

Mike Byrnes founded Byrnes Consulting to provide consulting services to help advisors become even more successful. His expertise is in business planning, marketing strategy, business development, client service and management effectiveness, along with several other areas. Read more at www.byrnesconsulting.com.