By Tim Horton and Keith Gregg
Whether you are looking to become a buyer or a seller, the key to achieving your goals through a succession planning deal is to find the proper partner on the other side of the transaction.
Although your professional life can become much better when you land a great match for transitioning over an advisory practice, the trick is making that happen while avoiding the pitfalls of an inefficient process. There are four steps that every advisor should follow, no matter what side of the transaction you are on.
First, determine the deal criteria. Then avoid middlemen who may not be real experts. Also make sure to leverage technology to minimize legwork. And finally, get to know a couple of the best potential partners before committing to one. Let’s explore each of them in detail.
Before you can even think about finding the best succession planning deal partner, you should determine what constitutes a good deal for you.
Price is bound to be front and center, but other crucial factors may include the location of the deal partner, whether the seller stays on in some capacity for a while or exits immediately, whether the buyer requires financing and if so at what rates and for what length of time, as well as whether the deal is a complete sale or a partial liquidity event.
Then there are client considerations. If you are a buyer, you should decide up front whether you want to add new client segments or grow your existing client base. If you are a seller, you ought to decide early whether you are fine with your clients encountering higher fees or if the buyer needs to maintain your old fee structure for a certain time period.
True succession planning and M&A deal experts do exist, but they are much less common than the abundance of generic middlemen who hold themselves out as such. It is imperative that you avoid unqualified people with little professional experience arranging or consulting on advisory practice transactions that resemble your situation. They will drain your time and money.
A good consultant can help if you feel uncertain about how to go about calculating practice valuations and negotiating deals. Just make sure you inspect their credentials and track record. Look for people with a background in investment banking or who have worked in positions of influence at firms that have bought or sold numerous books of business.
Even then, be wary of anyone claiming to have a surefire method for getting you the most favorable terms imaginable. Succession planning rarely works that way.
You might choose to forgo a consultant if you feel capable enough to handle the deal yourself, but you should not do so without taking advantage of available technology. The best tools for advisors allow them to automate repetitive actions and eliminate human error while casting a wide net according to customized criteria.
For instance, calculating deal terms may prove tiring and confusing without software tailor-made for that need—particularly data points for arriving at practice valuation, financing and contingencies that may trigger discounts or clawbacks.
It’s also much easier to find potential deal partners from across the country and narrow down that list when software allows you to filter deals by location and type as well as by the assets, revenues and fee structure of each practice.
Know Your Partner
Everything up until this point is preparation for the major decision. Once your technology has enabled you to focus on two or three candidates, you need to learn as much about them as possible.
Their personal values, investment philosophy, conversational style, physical mannerisms and industry reputation are all relevant. For both buyers and sellers, these traits can affect client satisfaction, the post-transaction profitability for the practice and your own financial condition.
Arguably, the proper succession planning deal partner has the capital, expertise and temperament to be someone who would have made a great workday colleague for you. What’s definite is that the proper partner is someone who cares as much about the long-term viability of the business as you do.
Tim Horton is CTO of both Succession Link, an online marketplace for advisor M&A deals, and of its parent company, Chalice Financial Network. Keith Gregg is CEO of Chalice Financial Network, a national membership benefits association for independent financial advisors of all business models.