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.

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.



Are you getting the most from your CRM system?

In the last few years, there has been a significant upsurge in financial advice firms wanting to unlock the opportunities offered by CRM systems. For some, this has meant seeking to place it at the heart of their sales processes. For others their challenge has been to begin using it as more than a glorified address book. For others again, they are now taking the jump from an excel spread sheet for the first time! It can be a bit daunting in the beginning…

Here are a couple of thoughts to help you reap the benefits while minimising the frustration.


Understand what you want it to do

There are a number of excellent industry specific CRM systems that many of the advisers in the Irish market are using today. These systems offer a very broad range of valuable features and offer functionality to help deliver many of the activities carried out by advisers every day.

But when you’re new to the system, the array of features can be quite bewildering and can leave you wondering where to start.

The place to start is not with what the system can do for you, it’s to identify how the system can help you address your specific challenges. So you need to identify what these challenges are; do you need a system to help you in the segmentation of your client base or is to help you identify the right clients to contact at the right time? Is it to track interactions with your clients or indeed is it to ensure you are delivering a more compliant business process?

Once you know what you want from the system, these are the areas to focus on with the system supplier rather than the 200 other features! Once you get comfort that the system can deliver what you need, then it just may be the one for you.


Capture hard and soft data

The record keeping aspect of the system is obviously very important, capturing all of the key information that you need to retain for your clients and being able to access the downloaded policy information from the providers you work with. Having this data in your system obviously makes it easier to retrieve information and indeed to use it again in the future. And your CRM system can provide a very useful audit trail in relation to your client interactions, which will assist you from a compliance point of view and may prove very useful down the road.

But it’s equally important to pick up and capture softer information about your clients that may not necessarily feature on your average factfind; the client’s financial goals and dreams (which should be central to your advice in any event), their aspirations for their family, their interests and indeed their likes and dislikes in relation to the method and frequency of communications. All of this information can make for a much richer relationship.


Talk to other users

Find out how others are using the same system. Ask your peers to even demo what they’re doing – from my experience most advisers are only too happy to help each other improve their business. You are a very collaborative group of people, now is the time to reach out!


Use all the time saving features

Ok, so now you’re up and running and using the system. Now is the time to start investigating how you can leverage the system beyond your initial aspirations. A good place to start is by investigating the many time saving features of the system. These will come in many forms. The capability of downloading data from providers will enable you to avoid a lot of the tedious initial data entry. Then look at the features that allow you to easily import data from for example factfinds completed online by your clients, which will save you or a member of your team having to type in the information.

Also consider how the system integrates with other systems that you use; capturing your client emails, quotation systems, scanning and document management systems and cashflow planning software.

It also has the potential to become the hub of your client communications, helping you to stay in touch with clients at the right times.

Get help in these areas. Getting help from an IT professional and/or the CRM system vendor will result in a lot less frustration and lower blood pressure.


Stay close to the vendor to leverage the full capabilities of the system

At the end of the day, nobody knows the system like the vendor so stay close to him or her. Give them feedback as they are always looking for ways to improve the system. Tell them what else you’d like the system to do, what you find difficult or “clunky” – after all, their main aim is to retain you as a user! Look for tips and help from them as to how you can better leverage the system. Show them how you’re currently using it and look for their advice as to how you might improve your usage of their system. Also, look for insights into where the system is being developed, as these developments could result in improvements to core parts of your business and advice processes.


Yes, starting to use a CRM system can be a very daunting experience. But it need not be. Focus on what you want from the system, seek help and then commit. The results in terms of saved time and effort, deeper insights into your clients and better business processes will make it all worthwhile.



Are you finding it hard to finish work?

Many financial advisers that I speak to these days have discovered a new lease of life in working from home. They love saving the commuting time and the flexibility offered in working from home. I’ve also never had as many questions about my own garden office, as many consider a more permanent shift to home working, at least on a part-time basis.

However working from home comes with challenges, not least those posed by an unsuitable working environment or by family distractions – topics that I’ve covered previously. There is another challenge that quite a number of rookie remote workers face and one that I struggled with myself when I started working from home – finishing work. People jump to the conclusion that actually getting started in the morning will be a challenge – it rarely is. Finishing in the evening is another matter though. Suddenly it can be 8pm and you’re still at the desk, or instead the laptop never leaves your side and you never turn off.


So what can you do?


Set your work times

While you will of course argue that you didn’t have set hours when you went to the office every day, in reality most people had a routine – some were very early starters, others began a bit later and worked on at the end of the day.

These routines are now gone by the wayside, it’s time for new ones. Now that you are working remotely, what hours work best for you, your business and your family? These don’t have to be timed down to the minute, but having a broad routine creates a useful expectation for yourself, your colleagues and your family as to when you are in work… and when you are not.


Have a finishing ritual

When you went to the office every day, you had a ritual to finish work. It might have been locking the office, starting the car engine or even putting the key into the hall door at home. When you did this, your workday was over and family time began. But now you’re not doing these anymore, so you need a new ritual. For me, it’s locking my office in the garden – even though I can see it when relaxing after work, it’s pretty much out of bounds to me in the evenings!

You need a similar ritual that you then carry out every day, and you then must respect the ritual. So whether it’s closing the door of the home office, turning off the PC or laptop at the end of the day or something else that you will do every day, have a ritual and stick to it.

This is really important, not just for you, but for your family. Your kids need to know that you’re finished working and now it’s their turn for your attention!


Educate your colleagues

Rituals are great because you’re in control of them. But that doesn’t mean others will respect your time. Because your colleagues may be working from home too, they may be working to a different schedule to you. While you might be finishing at 5.30 / 6pm each day, maybe they are doing more work in the evenings. This can mean emails are pinging in to you at night, trying to gain your attention.

There are two ways you can deal with these. First of all, you can simply ignore them or turn off your email notifications in the evening. Not easy to do for some people, and you may want to keep an eye out for any client emails that are landing in the evenings. An alternative might be to ask your colleagues to “schedule send” non-urgent emails to you for early the next morning. This way, they get them off their own desk while they are working, but they only land on yours when you are in work mode.

From time to time an issue will arise where a colleague needs your immediate attention and engagement. Agree a process for this – maybe they phone you first? Of course, when this is respected, it will be the exception rather than the rule.


The key to working remotely in a way that suits you, your colleagues and your family is to get work done while at work, and not just let the lines blur between work and your home life. It takes a level of structure and some tweaking but it’s worth it – get it right and your quality of life increases immeasurably.

3 apps and 3 phone actions that will save you hours every month

Every summer I give one of these articles over to the subject of apps that I use regularly. This year I’m taking a slightly different route… I’m only going to highlight 3 apps that I use pretty much every day, however they each save me hours of work over the course of every month. I’m then going to set out 3 actions you can take with your mobile phone that will also give you back many hours every month.

First of all, let’s take  a look at my 3 most useful apps.



I’ve been a very satisfied user of Xero, an online accounting system for a number of years now. It has had a transformational effect on the financial management side of my business. It delivers real-time profit & loss statements, balance sheet and a host of other useful reports that are available at the press of a button. All my invoicing and bank reconciliations are done through Xero, as is management of expenses, and my accountant and I can both view the up to the minute real time information about my business.

Specifically the phone app provides a great overview of business bank accounts and of invoices and purchases. Bank accounts are reconciled with Xero as transactions happen, and I’ve a full view of my outstanding invoices and other important information. I now have all the information I need, and am saving hours (if not more) every month with Xero. If you’re still sending files / receipts etc. to your accountant every month and manually issuing invoices, you need to have a chat with your accountant. There’s a better way…



Feedly is an app that I use all of the time in seeking out useful content from the web to share, and indeed for content ideas to write about. It enables me to track blogs / news feeds that provide content I don’t want to miss. Rather than receiving an email every time there’s a new blog post or news article, instead the new content is sent to Feedly which gathers all of these articles in one place. It is like a magazine rack for online articles, waiting for me to go through them.

I can then flick down through hundreds of articles in minutes, reading only the headlines, dipping into an introduction or indeed the full article if I think it is actually worth reading. And I can mark them all as “Already read” very easily as I go along, ensuring those particular articles don’t appear again. I’ve categorised the different feeds into groups, which further speeds up the process too. The benefit of Feedly is the time it saves me in getting through huge numbers of articles.



And then there’s Pocket, which is my scrapbook of articles that I’ve “cut out” and saved for later. As I see articles of interest on the web or that come through to Feedly, some catch my attention to be read later when I’ve a bit more time on my hands. With 2 clicks, I put them in my Pocket and can also tag the articles for different purposes – it might be to share out later, to rewrite with my perspective, maybe to help me develop a new angle for my proposition etc.

I can then go back into Pocket when I want to carry out an activity and simply click on the article that I’ve saved for that very purpose. It’s all very easy and it means you don’t lose great articles that you’ve read.


And now for 3 actions you can take with your mobile phone that will also save you hours every month.


Delete the Facebook app

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be on Facebook, I’m simply saying to get rid of the app from your phone. It has to be the greatest distraction out there. Facebook is so clever at putting content that you want to read in front of you, it is next to impossible to just quickly dip in and out of. I deleted the app from my phone, and this saves me lots of time now during the working day. Because I can only access it through a browser, I rarely bother. Facebook is something I now really only access in the evenings when I’m chilling out…


Turn off notifications

Push notifications on your phone and computer provide major distractions. They are rarely urgent, but they are great attention grabbers and are very hard to ignore. But do I need to see the 25 “Yes” responses for my son’s football training tonight? Of course not.

Mute noisy WhatsApp groups for the day and even turn off notifications for some apps that you never need to see. You’ll work more effectively and free up more time for yourself.


Turn on Downtime

Many of us think of the Downtime setting on iPhones in relation to getting kids off their phones. But many of us need help in staying away from our own phones! Downtime is a setting within the Screen Time settings on iPhones that allows you to turn off some or all apps for specific time periods. This can be really useful if you need time to concentrate on a task, as you simply can’t access the apps that might distract you. It’s like a “full metal jacket” alternative to turning off your notifications. I now have a few set periods during the week where my phone turns into my old Nokia phone (calls and text only). These are the hours when I need quiet time to get work done.


Take a few minutes to explore some of these – you might find a way of getting a few valuable hours back each month.

Making a family-run advice business work for all your employees

I’ve been very fortunate in the past 12-18 months to work with a great advice firm in helping their employees to develop Personal Development Plans. This firm is really committed to supporting their employees’ growth in both their current roles and in their careers overall.

As part of the work, I’ve had a series of 1:1 meetings with each member of staff. One (let’s call her Jane) is a relatively recent recruit, who opened up to me in quite a bit of detail about why she had changed jobs. After all, her previous employer is a well-regarded and respected family-run advice business. But herein lay the problem – the way her previous employer’s business was run didn’t work for Jane, who was not a member of the family. As a result, they ended up losing a highly effective and valued member of staff, despite their best efforts to retain her.

So, what can family run businesses learn from the experiences of Jane and others like her? While I’m not for one minute suggesting that your family run business displays all or even some of the following characteristics, these areas are worth checking off.


Have a clear strategy

Quite a number of family businesses start very small and then grow organically over many years, sometimes into very substantial businesses. Because there is often not a formal corporate structure in place, the strategy for the business can happen on the hoof and simply evolve over time.

This is all well and good for the family members who will have many informal chats at family dinners about where the business is going. However this excludes non-family members of the team, who are then operating in the absence of a strategy to get behind. They don’t share the same sense of purpose that family members will feel, and as a result feel disconnected from the ambitions of the business.


Don’t have two sets of rules

This is probably the biggest gripe, when it happens. Favouritism of family members in your advice business will quickly alienate the rest of the team. Your family business is exactly like any other business, needing set policies for everyone in relation to working hours, holidays, client entertaining etc.

The same also applies to behaviour around the office. You should expect the same standard from all in relation to dress code, language used and other behaviours. Letting standards slip with family members is a sure-fire way to driving a wedge between them and other team members.


Defined processes are a must

How work is actually carried out should be the same for everyone. Whether this is in relation to your advisers or your customer service team, standard processes should be used by all. This might apply in areas such as the recording of advice, the quality of files, the handover from consultant to internal people and the ongoing service to customers. All of these areas should be delivered in a defined and consistent way by every single member of the team. Otherwise, frustration will reign.


Career paths for all

It can be all too easy for family businesses to just rock along without any great career plans in place. After all, sure won’t Johnny or Mary just take over the running the business when mum/dad hang up their boots?

That unspoken career path is fine for the children of the owner, but not for the rest of the team. They want to see where their own careers are going, how they are going to grow in the years to come. Will there be promotion opportunities and a chance to earn more money for greater effort? Will there be ownership opportunities in the business or in a sub-section of the overall business? These are critical questions that your staff members will want clarity about.


External oversight

This final area will help the business owner to keep him/herself on their toes! It can be hard to give time to the seemingly less urgent and more subtle issues of the business when the day-to-day pace is frenetic, as is often the case in advice businesses. These areas can end up being relegated down the priority list and never addressed properly.

This is where an external mentor or a board of directors will help you. They will help you to see the wood from the trees, as they won’t get caught up in the minutiae of the business. They will help you to address all of these issues by keeping the development of the full team on the agenda and not letting it slide – they’ll keep you focused on meeting the challenges of your business.


Family run businesses play an extremely important and valuable role in the Irish financial advice community. They have delivered many of our brightest and most effective financial planners and advisers. Consider the areas outlined above, and your family-run business can build a broad, effective team and can join that elite cohort.

When times are tough… kiss frogs

These are tough times for advisers at the moment. Yes, your businesses are more resilient than most, mainly down to your efforts in recent years in building up a strong recurring income stream. But this still doesn’t fully compensate for the slowdown in new business that many of you are experiencing.

I know from recent conversations that some of you are finding it difficult to stay positive as prospective clients (and some of you yourselves) are slow to re-engage in face-to-face meetings on the back of Covid-19 concerns. After all, it can be difficult to pin prospects down at the best of times! Unfortunately I have to admit that I’ve seen a few advisers’ heads go down in the last few weeks….

So, it’s time for a collective pick-me-up. Here are a few thoughts to help get you going again.


Set yourself achievable daily goals

So the goals you set at the beginning of the year of seeing two clients every day are gone by the board. That’s ok, times have changed and you had no control of the change. But you can now re-frame your goals.

Don’t keep looking at how far you’re falling short of your turnover / recurring income target for 2020. Instead focus your effort and goals on the process, rather than the outcome. Set clear daily goals for yourself that are based on activity. We all know that as sure as night follows day, positive outcomes follow increased activity levels. Your goals might be,

  • The number of prospects you will reach out to
  • The number of existing clients you will phone
  • The number of relationship “just checking in” emails you will send
  • The blog post / social media activity you will carry out


Celebrate small wins

Don’t beat yourself up because you’re not writing €x,000 in new business every week. Instead celebrate your smaller wins – the number of positive client conversations you’ve had, the thank-you responses to your relationship emails. While on their own these might not seem to account for much, in time as the economy gets back to normal these clients will remember your support during the tough days.


Call in favours

Everyone knows that lots of small businesses are finding it tough at the moment. As a profession, financial advisers have always and consistently shown their spirit of community and helping nature. You tend to be good for an introduction, a referral, a client testimonial for one your suppliers and if you can help someone, you tend to do so.

Now it’s your turn. You need a little help, so ask for it. It might be for a referral, it might be for a testimonial for your website. Ask and you will generally receive.


Kiss the frogs

I learned this one from a friend of mine (you know who you are!) a few years ago. He was out of work for a while and his head never went down, even though the economic environment was tough at the time. When meeting him for (yet another) coffee, he told me about the number of meetings he had in the diary that week, just catching up with contacts. I remember saying how impressed I was that he was so active in staying out there at such a difficult time. His answer was that if he kissed enough frogs, one would eventually turn into a princess! A few weeks later, he landed pretty much his dream job, thanks to kissing lots of frogs.

Activity leads to better results. Make the calls, meet people for socially distanced coffees, even where the potential appears low. These are your frogs. It beats sitting in the office.


Do something / anything

On the theme of doing nothing, don’t let days slip past. Rather than twiddling your thumbs, achieve something every day. Review your proposition, your website, your marketing messages. Write a blog post. Even clean the office, but don’t do nothing.


Remember that this is temporary

The world might appear a little grim at the moment, but this will pass. There are better days ahead and you want to give yourself the best chance of hitting the ground running when they arrive.


So, small goals, small wins, seek help and stay busy. And keep kissing those frogs.