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Kitces & Carl Ep 119: Navigating Succession Plans When Founders Are Having Second Thoughts On Retirement

For many next-gen financial advisors who start with or move their careers to an established firm, eventually earning an equity stake in that firm can be an exciting prospect and is often a major career goal that many advisors aspire to achieve. However, when these aspirations are delayed or blocked by senior advisory firm partners who choose to delay their retirement plans, it can leave younger advisors frustrated and in a place of uncertainty about their futures with their firm.

In our 119th episode of Kitces & Carl, Michael Kitces and client communication expert Carl Richards discuss how frank conversations between younger advisors and firm owners about succession plans and career-track expectations can mitigate the repercussions of retiring advisors who may reconsider their original plans to retire or scale back from firm activities.

As a starting point, it’s important for younger advisors to acknowledge that for many long-time financial advisors, their professional success and lifelong career experiences have become an integral part of their personal identity. Whereas many senior advisors can spend decades developing client relationships and honing their craft, it can be challenging for them to transition to a lifestyle where their main focus is no longer on working with their clients. At the same time, it is also important for firm owners to understand the frustration a rising financial advisor may experience when their own goals and career aspirations are sidetracked by unexpected delays in the retirement plans of senior advisors and partners.

However, having candid discussions about the firm’s succession plans and how they mesh with newer advisors’ career goals can be the best way for owners, retiring advisors, and successors to understand each other’s perspectives. Such discussions can help ensure that the firm’s succession plans best support all interested parties, whether that means adhering to the current plan or amending the plan with compromises, which could entail offers of partial equity or decision-making control to succeeding advisors or gradually scaling back the engagement level in firm activities by senior advisors. And if a mutually acceptable plan is not agreed upon, having direct, upfront conversations about the process will better position the succeeding advisor to determine whether to part ways and pursue a new path on their own or with a different firm.

Ultimately, while firm owners and next-gen advisors may have very different opinions on what succession means to them and the timelines that succession plans may follow, allowing all interested parties to clearly communicate their priorities and expectations can help the firm customize a plan that can support everyone’s goals, or at least maintain clear communication to ensure that potential successors will be able to decide if the firm’s goals align with their own or, if they don’t, whether it would make more sense for them to part ways. Because when a workable succession plan is created, it not only helps the firm owner ease into retirement when they are ready to do so, but it also gives the succeeding advisor the opportunity to set realistic expectations around fulfilling their own career goals – potentially furthering the firm’s legacy for years to come!

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