With millions of Canadians approaching retirement, succession planning is indeed a hot topic. According to Statistics Canada, by 2015 one in five workers will be aged 55 to 64, which means there may never be as many people looking to hand off or sell businesses as there are right now.

And what’s true for businesses in general is also true for the financial industry. While some older advisors may still preach Freedom 95, others admit they’re ready to hand over the reins.

Succession is a long and arduous journey that requires careful planning, and the search for someone with the same business philosophy. Once you’ve found someone you can trust, then the process of transferring your book and building a new team begins.

Mentoring a young advisor is the first step to ensuring your legacy, and this newcomer will need a solid team to rely on. Kathleen Peace, CFA and CFP at Bennett March, IPC Investment Corp., has been working with her senior partners for six years to ensure just such a transition.

Peace was offered the chance to take over the business, but didn’t jump right into it. Instead, she took her time to ensure this was what she really wanted.

“I backpacked through Europe for awhile, and upon my return I realized that I still wanted it,” she says. “So I sat with them [firm founders Valerie March and Bryan Bennett] for three or four months and discussed how we could make this work.”

They decided the best process was for her senior partners to relay some of their duties to Peace, while they started working less. However, each partner continued to focus on the clients so the book of business stayed intact.

Peace evaluated the business and realized there was no HR infrastructure, so she developed one. Afterwards, she found the business was still too much for one person to handle, so she hired two more partners. Now, Peace and her new partners plan to buy the business in 2011 from the senior partners through a ten-year vendor-take-back. “It’s a challenge to design and implement a business model with all of the changes,” says Peace. “I suggest keeping the lines of communication open in order to build a strong and healthy relationship with your partners.”

With new partners come new responsibilities. Sometimes it can be hard to judge exactly where to draw the line and not step on any toes.

“We have a team of five people, including my husband and myself,” says Lisa Applegath, first VP of the Applegath Group at CIBC Wood Gundy. “It’s important to delegate responsibilities so that there’s no crossover.”

Applegath and her husband, Tom Trimble, are both senior partners in their team. And while the team is empowered to take on responsibility, she stresses it’s important for those in charge to know each partner’s strengths and weaknesses and assign tasks accordingly.

“My husband, for example, is an innovator who is always looking at the bigger picture,” she says. “So he manages the future aspects of the business.”

Sometimes, a business is passed down to a family member. This was the case for Natalie Jamison, founder of Women & Wealth at RBC Dominion Securities, who has gradually been taking over her father’s client portfolio. In this scenario, Jamison says setting boundaries has helped build a stronger team.

They never mix work and home life and business matters stay at the office. And, she says, this approach has made the transition much smoother. “My father is a great mentor, and is now taking on more of a consulting role.”

And while she’s been able to revamp the business through re-branding, moving to a fee-based approach, and adding an insurance aspect to it, the change is not without some challenges.

“I have inherited the book, so figuring out fair compensation [for my father, Neil] was a challenge,” she says. “Convincing Neil to let go is another challenge,” she jokes. “He’s down to four days a week now, so it’s a start.”

Young advisors will want to put their own stamp on their practices. In addition to succession planning, our annual conference for women advisors featured a session on branding conducted by Sandra Pierce, Associate Director and Investment Advisor, The Fox Pierce Segal Group, Macquarie Private Wealth, and Laura Curtis Ferrera, Senior Vice-President of Marketing, Macquarie Private Wealth.

The two provided these tips on how to overcome common branding challenges:

  • Convince others of your vision – Deciding to brand versus market may be met with doubt at first from those on your team. Map out your vision, explain your ultimate goals and remember, no one will believe in you as much as you do;
  • Have patience – Branding takes time and even though you may want to give up, you’ve got to be persistent and patient;
  • Hone your skills – Know what your message is and what makes you unique, and use it to your advantage;
  • Stand firm – Some naysayers might want you to fail and will say what they can to make that happen, so you’ve got to be prepared and develop a thick skin; and
  • Find the right marketing person – Work with your marketing department so you find a person who understands your vision.

  • Suzanne Sharma is the associate editor of Canadian Insurance Top Broker.