Change is hard. No one likes it. So it is no surprise that so many advisers avoid the subject of succession planning. Both a Cerulli Associates study and polling by the Financial Services Institute found that almost 60% of advisers have not yet identified a successor. Yet every year more advisers get closer to their inevitable transition. An estimated $2.3 trillion in assets is controlled by advisers over the age of 60.
It's not all bleak. The need for succession planning in the financial services industry has spawned many alternatives for advisers looking to transition their practices, and they should consider those options as early as five to 10 years before slowing down.The first decision is whether to establish, train and mentor a team to ultimately succeed the adviser and carry on the legacy, or build the business with the intent of eventually selling it to an outside party.
The next decision is timing — when to sell. Should advisers work until the day they are ready to retire, then sell and walk away? Or would a sale three to five years before retirement, with the adviser being retained on a reduced basis, be the optimal strategy? Regardless of the answer, every adviser will need the right successor sitting across the table when the time comes.
Today's financial services mergers and acquisitions market offers more options than ever for finding the perfect successor. Here are the most common strategies advisers are using to facilitate the sale of their most valuable asset — their business.
For many, the idea that another adviser could take over their business and retain their clients is almost as far-fetched as the notion that some outsider could find their perfect successor.
These individuals will spend their own time identifying, screening and interviewing candidates, then narrow the list and negotiate the deal. In many cases, they might go through this process two or three times before getting it right.
This strategy provides control over the process and can save money. Control comes at a price, however. Most advisers have never sold a business and therefore don't know what they don't know. Outside guidance can be helpful to maintain objectivity.
Online auction services
Services such as AdvisorBoxExchange.com, RIAmatch.com, SuccessionLink.com and Schwab- Transitions.com provide sellers with broad exposure for their listing, capitalizing on the sometimes-overheated demand among buyers to realize tremendous value for the exiting adviser.
These non-advocacy systems are effective marketing tools and cost effective for the seller. But some advisers view posting their client relationships for sale as disingenuous and time-consuming as they sort through the multitude of “tire kickers” to find a good fit.
M&A consultants are specialists that provide transition services and are hands on throughout the process. Consultants (for disclosure purposes, my firm is one) provide a comprehensive array of resources to a small client pool.
The key benefit these firms provide is their ability to leverage their knowledge of the market and advocate for a client to obtain the best value and terms. But most consultants have a limited bandwidth. They therefore serve a more exclusive clientele and may be more expensive than other solutions.
With a seemingly endless network of connections, recruiters can provide advisers looking to sell their practices with a large pool of succession candidates.
And because recruiters are paid by the buyer or the buyer's broker-dealer or custodian, they are a low-cost solution. However, while recruiters know everyone and can make introductions, facilitating the sale of a business will typically require hiring a consultant or CPA and attorney.
B-Ds and custodians
These organizations have a vested stake in their advisers (and those advisers' assets) remaining on their platform. Because of this, most firms have developed internal solutions and resources, or partnered with external experts, to ensure that their advisers are proactively engaging in the succession process.
Due to the existing relationship, the B-D or custodian is well-positioned to quickly introduce its selling adviser to qualified candidates. But a challenge is posed by the combination of limited experience and budgets, and the conflict of interest resulting from the firm's desire to retain the assets over the seller's interests.
Succession planning done right is done only once. It is important to understand the alternatives, how they relate to the adviser's goals and the transition timeline. Finding the right successor takes time, but with planning and commitment to the process and clients, the results can last a lifetime.