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Client Relationships and Succession Planning

Joe Buhrmann September 26, 2023

Couple meeting with their financial planner

When it comes to developing a succession plan, one of several things will happen—something tragic like death or disability—but also something happy—like the owner retires. If you are a financial planner with business owners for clients, you’ve likely had many conversations about what will happen under these various circumstances.

The question is, have you worked through these same scenarios with your own business? You’ve spent your career building relationships with clients who now rely on you for financial guidance. In fact, many of your clients may be friends and family members who came to you when you were just starting out. And still more may have become like family because you have been working so intimately with them for years. How will you step away from these people who have placed so much trust in that relationship?

A 2023 J.D. Power study found that the average age of U.S. financial advisors is 56 and that 20 percent of those surveyed indicate that they are five years or less away from retirement. Further, financial professionals are not immune to the same types of unexpected events that can befall other business owners, which highlights the importance of having a succession plan in place as a part of your broader financial advisor business plan.

There are steps financial professionals need to take to ensure not only that they are comfortable transitioning clients to someone new, but also that their clients know that when that change occurs, they are still in good hands.

Financial Advisor Succession Planning

Financial advisor succession planning will vary according to the type of business. Are you a solo practitioner who will need someone to assume your entire book of business? Are you a small firm with partners or younger employees who will be looking to take over once you fully retire? Or are you part of a much larger organization that has teams of advisors ready to step in as you transition out?

No matter which of these describes your business, there are several steps that should be consistent for each scenario.

The first and most critical consideration is to identify potential successors. You’ve worked hard to build relationships with your clients. Make sure your chosen successor has the skills and expertise to continue to provide value to those clients.

If bringing on someone who is newer to the industry and a longer transition is planned, be prepared to mentor and train the individual to bring them up to speed on the business and your clients. If the plan is for them to take over the business completely, hiring someone with proven leadership abilities will also be key to the ongoing success of the business.

Whether you are hiring and training your successor or selling to another firm, ensuring a cultural fit is another way to give clients continuity after the transition. Beyond alignment with your values and vision, remember that their client approach and investment philosophy, where applicable, also need to be in sync with the clients they’ll be serving.

To ensure these alignments are achieved, take time to define the key traits that have been critical to the success of your firm’s client relationships and be transparent with potential successors about them. Ask them questions that reveal their values, work style, and approach to client relationships. As clients begin to transition to the successor, monitor their feedback to assess whether the cultural fit is being maintained and be prepared to make adjustments as needed.

Transitioning to Ensure Client Retention

Your business is nothing without your clients. They’re the reason you do what you do. Just as your success is dependent upon their continued relationship with you and your firm—that close relationship may make you nervous about transitioning away.

As you consider the steps to ensure a smooth succession, start by committing to a slow process. It took time for you to build those relationships. Give your successor the opportunity to do the same. The objective is to avoid creating uncertainty for the client.

Rather than sending a letter to introduce them or having them show up for the next client meeting, have the new advisor begin interacting with the client by servicing their needs—doing tasks like responding to questions and inquiries—to begin building trust.

This can be done by forwarding emails and phone calls to the new planner who in response explains that they are helping the existing contact by following up. This gives them a chance to demonstrate their expertise while building a new relationship and establishing themselves as an added helpful resource.

By introducing the successor well in advance of your exit, you give them a chance to establish rapport and trust. Once this new relationship has been established, you can begin conducting joint meetings eventually stepping back and letting the successor run the meetings and gradually transition all responsibilities.

Needless to say, you should maintain communication with clients throughout the transition process. By addressing any concerns or questions promptly, you’ll ensure there is an ongoing atmosphere of transparency and trust.

Technology and Client Transitions

Technology can also play a key role in helping to transition your financial planning business. In addition to having helped you grow and retain your client base by giving them better experiences, it can aid in attracting junior planners to your firm.

For example, using a CRM to create consistent, repeatable processes allows somebody else to come in and replicate your success, making your firm a more attractive prospect for acquisition or expansion.

Similarly, client portals offer a centralized platform for organizing and structuring financial information, supporting your efforts in standardizing planning processes. They also offer access to all the past planning efforts you’ve made with your clients, giving your successor a chance to understand their needs.

Adopting a Succession Mindset

Knowing you need to have a succession plan in place and making it happen are two different things. A 2022 study by SmartAsset found that nearly two-thirds of financial advisors (64.36 percent) have a succession plan2—an improvement over a 2018 study by the Financial Planning Association which placed that number at only 27 percent.3

Keep in mind that it’s important to have a written succession plan. Having a plan seems straightforward, but human psychology can get in the way of implementing it. Just like many things in life, composing an actual plan ensures it’s been given adequate thought and consideration and can help hold you accountable.

Financial professionals may have a harder time letting go of relationships than their clients. For client transitions to be successful, you must let go and trust that the plan and partners you put in place will take care of the client. The sooner you get started on your financial advisor succession plan, the longer you’ll have to get your clients—and yourself—on board.

Sources:

1 “Time-Starved U.S. Financial Advisors Considering Alternative Options.” J.D. Power, 2023. April 5. https://www.jdpower.com/business/press-releases/2023-us-financial-advisor-satisfaction-study.

2 Horan, CEPF®, Stephanie. “Survey Reveals Details About Financial Advisor Succession Planning.” SmartAsset, 2022. March 9. https://smartasset.com/data-studies/financial-advisor-succession-planning-2022.

3 The Succession Challenge of 2018, Financial Planning Association and Janus Henderson Investors, February 2018, n=390

DISCLAIMER: The eMoney Advisor Blog is meant as an educational and informative resource for financial professionals and individuals alike. It is not meant to be, and should not be taken as financial, legal, tax or other professional advice. Those seeking professional advice may do so by consulting with a professional advisor. eMoney Advisor will not be liable for any actions you may take based on the content of this blog.

Image of Joe Buhrmann
About the Author

Joe serves as a Senior Financial Planning Practice Management Consultant at eMoney Advisor. With more than three decades in the financial services industry, Joe aligns his know-how and passion to help firms of all sizes increase usage, adoption, and engagement through a modern financial planning experience. He leverages his expertise and supports internal departments across the enterprise, helping Communications, Marketing, Relationship Management, and Sales. Joe attended Illinois State University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in Applied Computer Science and his MBA.

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