The global economy is trudging through an austere recovery. Lawmakers in the U.S. have just wrangled an uneasy compromise about the debt ceiling and the equity markets are a constant source of surprise to investors.
Sounds like the right time for you to walk away from the practice for a couple of months. Just make sure that you sit your clients down and explain that you are planning to take a sabbatical, not fleeing the pressures of giving financial guidance in turbulent times.
Financial planning professionals, like you, are known for their devotion to clients, but they are not as famous for thinking about their own needs or for laying out strategic directions for their firms. Extended absences have clear personal and professional benefits, when done properly.
Obviously, a financial planner’s extended absence forces several critical questions into the conversation, including perhaps the most important: Can you trust your assistant or partner to manage clients’ affairs while you are gone? That forces you to do some work akin to succession planning, which is a great benefit for your firm’s long-term continuity.
“You cannot leave until you have the people and systems in place to maintain the high level of service,” Elizabeth Pagano McGuire, a partner at Mount Pleasant, S.C.-based YourSabbatical.com, said in a recent telephone conversation. “It forces you to prepare in that way. It might take you two years to prepare for your sabbatical, depending on the situation your firm is in.”
Pagano McGuire’s firm helps companies develop sabbatical programs for its employees. Extended absences are not just for large firms and organizations like American Express, BDO Seidman, and the American Institute of CPAs, who are some of YourSabbatical’s clients. The client list also includes Abacus Planning Group, a firm with $500 million in assets under management, based in Columbia, S.C.
Any firm, be it a small shop with a planner and an assistant or a regional name with billion in assets under management, can benefit from a principal’s sabbatical absence. At a large firm, sabbaticals encourage a team approach in which the client has the relationship with the firm, and not just one individual.
Let’s pause there for a minute. Pagano McGuire is not suggesting that if a planner takes a long time off, his clients could become fair game for other advisors to divvy up. “If there is an internal team approach to client service, then it should not be a problem,” Pagano McGuire said.
Use a sabbatical for any personal or professional reason you want. Just be sure to lay careful plans for how you will spend your time during the extended absence, maintain top-flight client service and keep the lights and computers running.
First, tell clients why you are taking time off, says Pagano. It is an opportunity to take a class, do independent study, develop a community service project and carry it out, or pursue another personal project. Reassure clients that they are not being left on their own to deal with the swells of stormy equity markets while you, say, recover from fatigue.
Some of your biggest supporters for a leave might be the clients themselves. We live times when retirement is rapidly being redefined. Americans, be they former stay-at-home mothers, retirees whose former companies need their institutional expertise, are in and out of the workforce over longer life spans. Marry that with people’s yearnings to incorporate their passions and personal values into, and you have plenty of demand for time away from the daily grind to pursue an independent project.
There are a couple of great ways to keep in touch with clients while you are away. Pagano McGuire says that small, independent shops might want to make a ‘red telephone’ line available in case a client urgently needs attention during the sabbatical. Another great way to stay on the grid is to write a blog about the experience, she said.
“Blogging about how the sabbatical is impacting you personally and professionally creates a very compelling narrative for your clients,” Pagano McGuire said. “It makes them understand that you are out there doing something meaningful, and that you will be an even better advisor when you come back.”