Succession planning in a family advice business

While there has been a very welcome influx of young, qualified individuals into the financial advice profession in recent years, a significant proportion of successful advice businesses continue to be led by older, experienced advisers who built up these businesses from scratch. A high number of these businesses have seen children of the owner join the business, build up their experience, gain relevant and valuable qualifications and help bring the business to a higher level. This is a follow-on piece to last month’s article about structures in family advice businesses.

And the time then comes when the business owner wants to step back, take life a bit easier and start enjoying the fruits of their many years of toil. They also want to pass the business to their children as seamlessly as possible, a situation that we have seen played out many times in Ireland. With a consistent stream of advice businesses undertaking a succession process, there are a number of lessons that can be learned from previous successions that delivered on all of the intentions, and from those that didn’t.


Planning needs to start many years in advance

Succession planning is definitely a carefully planned process as opposed to a transaction event. The most successful successions are those that are planned from many years out – there are a lot of elements to get right! Careful thought needs to be given to the timing of the succession, the terms and basis of the transaction, the tax opportunities that can be leveraged, how the transaction will be funded, the ongoing role (if any) of the parent who established the business, the future direction of the business and the roles of the various children who will be taking the business forward.

This all takes well-executed planning. A poorly planned succession process will be quite unsettling and will likely introduce tension and sometimes fractured relationships among the family members.


Be open and inclusive in the planning

While the business owner often started and built the business pretty much on their own, succession planning is not something to be carried out unilaterally.  A seamless transition and the future prospects of the business will be enhanced by involving the family from the get-go. If the children (future owners) of the business are involved in the planning, they will be more engaged and committed to the process.


Don’t paint yourself into corners

Another advantage of the business owner not planning the succession alone, is that they can avoid making decisions that ultimately don’t fit with the ambitions of the children and that become difficult to row back from. Involving the children in the planning may uncover some unexpected surprises – maybe the expected future leader of the business doesn’t want that role at all, instead they want to have a strategic voice but not be the leader of the business.

The children as a group may have a different future vision to the current owner – their parent. Maybe the new owners see a future as a specialist financial planning business as opposed to a more transactional business. While the latter may have been the preference and right course for the business today, the new owners may see a different future.


Get external help

Surprisingly often the downfall of a succession plan is the family believing that they know what they want and can sort it all out themselves. This may very well be the case, but it can fall down in two areas.

First of all, external oversight brings a new dimension and often identifies additional opportunities and sometimes issues with the chosen plan. Family members can become so immersed in the whole process that they end up not seeing the wood for the trees. External people bring additional rigour and valuable challenging of the plan, which otherwise may be missing. This can happen quite easily in a family scenario where everyone is on their best behaviour, treading cautiously around the whole succession and not wanting to cause offence. The second area where external oversight can help is in drawing out the thoughts, goals and contributions of the quieter or more reserved members of the family. An external can make sure that every voice is heard in the process.


Don’t forget about non-family staff

Don’t forget about non-family members of staff throughout the process. They can feel very side-lined if the whole focus of the business is on the succession process. It is really important to keep them informed and motivated throughout the process, as their contribution and commitment to the business is needed before, during and after the succession happens.


An effective succession within a family business is a momentous milestone in a family’s life. Give yourself every chance of this happening smoothly.



Can men multitask?

Did that get your attention? Not being a member of the fairer sex, I’m sometimes accused at home of taking too long to get things done or only doing one thing at a time. However this piece is definitely not a man v woman piece, instead I hope it reminds you of the ability and incredible value of financial planners who simultaneously carry out a wide variety of roles.

I know from conversations that you don’t miss those days of spending most of your time only thinking about product choices and charging structures. You’re also happy to no longer spend your time worrying if another broker or direct salesman is going to undercut you. You don’t miss living or dying by the vagaries of the stock market – if the fund you suggested went well, you were a hero! When it didn’t, it was always your fault….

As 2023 draws near, the role of the financial adviser has changed enormously over the last decade or so. Helping clients select products is only one small part of what you do. It’s worth remembering all of the areas in which you add value to your clients.


Dream Coach

Financial planners today don’t start new client relationships with conversations about money. Instead you spend very valuable time, really getting to know clients. In fact you go much deeper than this, you actually help your clients to get to know themselves better than they did before.

Good financial plans are based on the goals, aspirations and ambitions of the client. However, very often the client has never properly thought about these! So the first role of the financial planner today is to help clients actually identify their goals and dreams for the future and to build a crystal clear picture of them. Now they have a real destination to aim for.


Lifestyle Enabler

It’s all well and good having lofty dreams and ambitions, an equally important question is how achievable they are, and what price needs to be paid to attain them. This is critical work carried out by excellent financial planners today. Using future cashflow software, you are grounding client dreams in the reality of life and helping your clients to live their life on their terms. You’re helping clients make important choices between living life only in the moment today, or choosing their lifestyle for all of their life based on their financial wherewithal.


Behaviour Coach

And then you stop clients blowing up their plans! You are the voice of reason, the calming influence in volatile times, the expert guide keeping a long-term perspective. We all read professional articles every day of how poor decision making by clients does far more damage to financial plans than the performance of financial assets.

Humans have a nasty habit of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. In your world, this translates to them selling assets when they are cheap and buying them when they are expensive. In general, people get their market timing all wrong. We hear it all the time – the key is time in the market, not market timing. You are the voice of reason, gently but firmly ensuring your clients stay invested.


Family Finance Guide

This in itself includes many roles. Good financial planners make an enormous difference to families managing their day-to-day finances. Good advice around family budgeting can yield enormous results over the long-term as clients actively manage their expenses and stop wasting money. You also play a marriage counselor role – helping to get couples on the same page about their finances through providing clarity of their financial situation and helping them make the right decisions together. When left to their own devices, money can be a constant cause of strain and arguments in a marriage… The advice that you give to clients about best banking and credit practices is invaluable too.


Financial planner

However the real value that you add is that you lead from the front. You’re the hub around which the client’s financial life revolves. You’re the person who pulls all the strands together. Clients hugely value having an expert in their corner who will guide them in a very complex area of their lives – helping them manage all of their financial challenges and also pointing them to other professionals (solicitors, tax consultants, accountants) when needed.  Never under-estimate how important it is for clients to feel that someone has their back, or even that they have an expert to go to for an insightful second opinion.


Oh and yes, you guide your clients to find the very best financial products to help them achieve all of their goals and dreams in life. This is very important too, but unlike the days of old, this is only one small element of the enormous value you bring in transforming the lives of clients today.