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Michael Kitces' #FASuccess Podcast: Sabrina Lowell on What Happens When Your Advisory Firm Is Sold

Sabrina Lowell takes Michael Kitces behind the scenes of Mosaic Financial Partners' sale to Private Ocean last year.



Welcome back to the 125th episode of Financial Advisor Success Podcast!

My guest on today’s podcast is Sabrina Lowell. Sabrina is an advisor and principal with Private Ocean, an independent RIA in the San Francisco area that oversees $2.2 billion of assets under management for nearly 1,000 affluent clients.

What’s unique about Sabrina, though, is the path that she took to becoming a partner with Private Ocean, when it was decided last year that the firm she had worked at for the preceding 16 years was going to be sold to an external buyer, and they began the collaborative process of trying to identify what buyer would both be ready and willing to buy out the firm’s original founder and give Sabrina and other next-generation leaders at the firm an opportunity to move up and grow in the new firm.

In this episode, we talk in depth about what the process was like of putting Sabrina’s prior firm, Mosaic Financial Partners, up for sale. How their management team worked with an investment banker not only to find potential buyers who could afford the acquisition, but who would also be a cultural fit for the firm. The key filters that the firm used to vet its prospective buyers beyond just what buyers were willing to offer financially, including their core values alignment, their compensation philosophy with clients, their investment and financial planning philosophies in serving clients, and the career growth opportunities for staff. And what it’s like to actually try to vet a potential buyer to figure out if they’re really a good fit or if the firm is just making the mistake of thinking the grass must be greener on the other side.

We also talk about the challenges of trying to execute internal succession plans and why Mosaic ultimately decided to go with an external buyer instead. How Sabrina broke the news to her clients that a transition was going to happen, the way her own role has restructured in a positive way once she had the opportunity to work in a larger firm that had more dedicated resources so she didn’t have to wear as many hats, and why next-generation advisors sometimes can find more upside opportunity in having their firm sold to a larger one than becoming the successor themselves.

And be certain to listen to the end, where Sabrina talks about her own challenges in evolution and learning to do business development when she started out as an employee advisor in her early 20s. The structured center of influence strategy her firm uses to cultivate referral relationships that she learned through the Schwab Executive Leadership Program, how her own career path and even what she thought she wanted from her career has changed over time, and Sabrina’s key tip for finding out whether a potential advisory firm is really open to adapting and changing as the business grows.

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