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How RIA Owners Can Mentally Prepare For Their Retirement

Seven steps to help ease the transition.

It’s no secret that RIAs, much like the broader financial services industry, have an exit planning crisis. One reason is that running a successful RIA is often very lucrative and the financial rewards can make it difficult for many owners to walk away. 

The intrinsic rewards are another factor. When your identity is completely intertwined with a business—almost literally in cases when your name is on the door—it’s hard to relinquish the reins and to think about doing something else. Also, let’s be frank: Being the boss, with many people reporting to you, is undeniably good for the ego. 

All these elements working together can manifest as mental hurdles for owners, making it difficult to believe that anything outside of their day-to-day work could give them the same level of gratification and self-worth. And perhaps that’s true. 

But no one can work forever, so if you’re slow-walking your retirement, consider the seven steps below to help you mentally prepare for retirement and make you more at-ease once you get there.

  1. Make a list of what you like to do and things that are important to you. This simple self-inventory could run the gamut from activities that some may consider obvious (tennis or golf) to endeavors that many take more seriously (being active in a church or a charity). Whatever the case, by writing down your interests and passions, you’ll likely appreciate that you have plenty of activities to keep you busy, a massive concern for type-A personalities who typically like to stay active.  
  2. Come to terms with your temperament honestly. As a business owner and an employer, you probably didn’t hear the word ‘no’ too often, with few in a position to challenge you in a meaningful way. In retirement, be prepared for the tone and the tenor of your interactions with others to change. More people will be willing to question your words and actions. That’s an adjustment for some, requiring a shift in temperament, while for others it could be a refreshing role reversal. 
  3. Partner with your partner. After years of putting in 60, 70 or even 80-hour weeks, a retiring breadwinner often believes their partner wants to spend all their time with them. That’s not always the case. If you are married, communicate clearly with your spouse about what this next phase of your lives will look like. How much time will you spend together, whether it’s traveling or enjoying shared hobbies? Just as important, though, determine how much independent time will you continue to have.  
  4. Pursue mentorships. After leaving the industry, many former RIA owners hardly miss some of the more tedious aspects of running a firm, like grappling with service issues and day-to-day administrative tasks. Most, however, do long for the interactions they enjoyed with others, be it clients or colleagues. After all, most CEO types are people persons. A way to fill that void is to mentor young advisors and emerging industry leaders. 
  5. Find a meaningful outlet to share your talents. Beyond being a mentor, many owners need a higher sense of purpose to fulfill their ever-present urge to be involved, feel needed and supplant the ego boost they received while running their organization. This could include sitting on industry-related boards like the Financial Planning Association, becoming more involved in their community or pursuing philanthropic work.  
  6. Pledge to keep your calendar open. At the same time, don’t let your calendar become too full (even as it may go against the very nature that made you successful). Allow for more flexibility than you had as a CEO. You may not feel well or become ill and have unexpected opportunities that come your way that you’d rather do, or perhaps, you’ll wake up one morning and say, “Hey, I don’t want to do this today.” 
  7. Take your time. When you do actually retire, take some time off, perhaps as much as six months. What happens once others in your network realize you have retired is that they immediately want you to join their board or get involved in their favorite cause. As stated above, those are things you may want to consider eventually, but instead of jumping at the first offer that comes your way, take some time to rest your mind and absorb your new reality before making time-consuming commitments.

One of the most underappreciated parts about retirement is effectively managing the drastic changes that will occur once you stop working. In many ways, it could be the most emotional thing you ever go through, outside of a divorce, a loss of a loved one or the birth of a child—especially if you are selling a business you have built from the ground up to an outside buyer.

While retiring is an adjustment, envisioning and designing your 2.0 can help you get you get started on the right foot. 


Carolyn Armitage, a managing director with Echelon Partners, a Manhattan Beach, Ca-based firm that provides M&A advisory, valuation, consulting and investment banking services to RIAs.

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