John Osborne dislikes the “pass the torch” metaphor that is often used for succession planning, calling its widespread use “one of the biggest faults” of the financial advice profession.
Osborne, principal and financial advisor with Wise Advisory Group in Oakville, Ont., defines passing the torch as waiting too long to create a succession plan and then passing account codes and client files to the most willing candidate, rather than someone who’s been consciously integrated into the practice.
That transactional approach “is the approach so many people take, but it blunders tremendously,” Osborne said. A last-minute handoff “completely disrespects the relationship that we create with our clients.”
Osborne instead advocates for — and employs — a long-term approach where clients are served by several advisors.
“If I drop dead tomorrow, my team members are there with established relationships to make sure [our] clients are taken care of,” Osborne said.
Wise Advisory Group’s core advisory team spans three generations: Osborne, who joined Wise in 2007 and has been in the industry since 2001; financial advisor Julian Wise, who founded the practice in 1976; and Andrea Haley, principal and financial advisor, who joined the firm in 2011 following a year in the industry.
“A client becomes accustomed to having different interactions with multiple team members, which means there are more opportunities to uncover the [issues] a client might have,” Osborne said. “Our clients love that aspect. We are each individuals with different personalities, and we’re not shy to call each other out, so they get different perspectives. And they know that if they tell me something, by the time I have my next meeting with Julian, Andrea and the team, they will each know it as well, so the client doesn’t need to repeat it.”
Instead of a relay race analogy for succession, then, Osborne prefers that of a cycling team, with the primary advisor being the lead rider. “You’ve got a group of riders together. Depending on the road before them, a different rider takes the lead, [but] we ultimately know who’s going to be the one on the podium and taking accountability for successes and failures.”
Wise Advisory Group’s team approach evolved over the past 15 years, beginning when Osborne joined the team in 2007. Wise, who had been Osborne’s father’s advisor, began informally mentoring Osborne after Osborne’s father died in 2004.
Osborne had been working with another advisory firm. “I realized a lot of positive influences in my life were coming from the things Julian had shared,” Osborne said. In 2007, he accepted an offer to work for Wise Advisory Group. In 2014, he became a co-owner.
“I brought John on because I thought there was symbiosis. I accepted very strongly the theory that you package up the stuff you don’t like doing and give it to someone else,” Wise said. “I realized that I’d probably be quitting if I didn’t give [certain responsibilities] up. And yet I had a whole pile of clients that I didn’t want to abandon. So I had to find a new way of doing things.”
As Wise reduced certain responsibilities, Osborne took on more — as did Haley.
“We really realized [Andrea’s] abilities were strong in the areas in which Julian wanted to step back,” Osborne said. Haley now acts as chief operating officer for Wise Advisory and became a co-owner in 2020.
“Part of the reason we all work well together is we all have different strengths,” Haley said. “We’re constantly the check and balance of each other.”
Wise Advisory’s approach also allowed the practice to grow financially: today, Wise “owns a fraction of the business he owned in 2014,” Osborne said, “but the value of that fraction today is greater than the value of the whole back in 2014.”
Haley and Osborne both view Wise as a mentor, and say the relationship evolved organically and informally. Both expressed appreciation for Wise’s desire to learn from them as well.
“There was a huge willingness on Julian’s part, and on Andrea’s part, to make sure the learning went both ways,” Osborne said. “Julian is very good at never telling me why I shouldn’t do something because he tried it 40 years ago and it flopped.”
Osborne said Wise tends to ask questions instead of directing or giving advice. “Julian will say, ‘Are you sharing with me because you need to share, or because you want me to share?’ Sometimes I will say, ‘I really just want you to listen.’ That’s very much what he was for me, and what Andrea and I have become to one another, and to Julian.”
Wise emphasized that a mentorship relationship must involve reciprocal learning.
“If you’re doing it because you only have things to offer, you’re doing it from a place of ego,” Wise said. “I’ve learned from everyone I’ve worked with. Sometimes I didn’t like the lessons, but I learned from them all the time.”