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Facing the fears of succession planning

I’ve always felt most rewarded when I’ve set a goal, mapped out a plan and seen that plan through to success. That’s why my 26-year career as a financial advisor has been so fulfilling.

For a long time, though, I shirked away from one of the most critical plans an advisor needs to make: my own succession plan. It was difficult to face the reality that one day I would have to step away from Granite Financial, the practice I’d built from the ground up.

Most successful entrepreneurs find it’s easier to focus on the present. But as financial advisors, that mindset runs contrary to the advice we give every day.

When it came to planning for the future, I had two advantages over many of my colleagues. First, my broker-dealer, Securities America, makes continuity and succession planning a high priority and offers helpful resources. Also, my daughter, Laurie Humphrey, had shown an interest in financial planning from an early age.

While I never pushed her down that path, I hoped Laurie would eventually take over the practice. She was introduced to the business during college when she worked in my office. After graduation, she went her own way and specialized in long-term care insurance before rejoining me at Granite Financial in 2006.

At that time, we’d completed a professional business analysis, but I still lacked a succession plan specifying when, whether or how Laurie would take my place. I’d even hired another advisor who could take over the business if she chose not to.

If Laurie had opted not to buy the practice and I looked outside the firm, I would have still used the business valuation, but the terms would have been substantially different. Furthermore, there would have been no way to gauge the buyer’s commitment to a seamless transition for the clients and employees.

The future of the practice came into focus rather suddenly when I suffered a major medical incident just after Laurie joined me.

Fortunately, she chose to purchase the business. I know advisors who planned for a family succession only to have those plans fail because the son or daughter was not fully invested in running the business. So I knew the risks.

In my case, it was a relief to know Laurie would step into my shoes and take care of my clients. She had participated in client meetings, so they felt comfortable working with her. Even before she was licensed, some said they hoped she would eventually manage their accounts. Once she was licensed, she ran the meetings, and I was there only for public relations purposes.

It took a long time for me to overcome a persistent desire to remain involved, but gradually, I gave up control of day-to-day operations. Eventually, clients no longer turned to me during the meetings. They focused on Laurie. That’s when I knew we’d made a smooth transition.

Laurie and I still talk almost every day. Occasionally, she asks for advice. But most of the time, I’m just a sympathetic ear or sounding board for ideas. As I move into a new stage of life and look to the future, I’m excited Laurie’s 12-year-old daughter, Samantha, is showing a keen interest in financial services and has ambitions of following in her mom’s footsteps.

I’ve learned a lot over the course of this journey from startup to retirement. But the most important lesson was one I’d shared with clients for years: No matter where you are in your career — just starting out, looking ahead to the future or nearing the finish line — you need a plan.

Life is short, and you never know what will be thrown at you. To go forward without a plan can put your family, your employees and your clients in a tough situation. You owe it to them to get started on your continuity and succession plan today.

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