By now, almost everyone knows that retiring in your fifties isn't all it was cracked up to be. But try telling that to a planner who for 15 years or more has been working as Chief Operating Officer, Chief IT Officer, Chief Executive Officer, Manager of Human Resources and Chief Bottle Washer-and see what he or she says.
The fact is, more and more planners are selling their businesses between age 55 and 57, often not to retire but to move on to a business venture that is a bit less demanding, according to FP Transitions, an online brokerage service for advisory firms.
"I wouldn't call it burnout. I'd call it a change in focus," says Philip Palaveev, a senior consultant with Moss Adams, who worked with nearly 100 advisory firms in the past year to help them improve efficiency and productivity. "After running their business for a decade or more, they're tired. They want to reduce their hours or put their energies into the things they like, so they look for an option that gives them this flexibility."
The problem is that options for those advisors who have had a great run going it alone can feel mighty slim when they start looking to scale back office time and responsibilities. For solo practitioners, this realization can be a "cold shower," Palaveev says. If an advisor is already tired, the thought of bringing on a junior partner to train can feel pretty risky, though it can be a very rewarding way to control your exit, the consultant says.
Whether an advisor runs a solo practice or is part of an ensemble firm doesn't change the fact that a significant portion of the advisor industry, like the U.S. population itself, is moving into its fifties and sixties. "The average age of our members is 50 and there are some quite a bit older than that," says Sean Walters, group director of Knowledge and Community Development for the Financial Planning Association in Denver. "At a certain age, advisors are looking for a higher quality of life than just cranking it out and managing their business day after day. It's important that they're able to figure out a way to do that so they don't feel like they have to shed their businesses."
After all, consultants agree, many advisors don't want to leave the industry that's been so good to so many of them. On the contrary, many feel like they're in the zenith of their career as they enter their fifties, Palaveev says. "Fifties is too young an age to give up clients and spend their days on the beach and they know that." The challenge is finding the flexibility and fulfillment they need to work as long as they desire and are able.
While operational size can enhance flexibility and options, we found advisors with firms of all sizes who have built practices that give them the personal and professional satisfaction they're looking for-along with the free time to pursue both. Here's a look at their best practices for staying productive and fresh, so that they can continue to work in the parts of their business that fascinate them without feeling that they have no time away from their practices.
What Do You Really Want?
For the past 13 years or so, the partners of The Enrichment Group in Miami have been working to create a firm that would give them the personal time and flexibility they believed would become so important to them as they entered their fifties. They were right. And, so far, they've been successful, both personally and professionally, building a client roster of some 250 individuals with $170 million in assets. Today, partner Randy Lee finds the time to travel to Europe or some other meaningful locale every year with his wife. "If you structure things right, you can do a large percentage of your work from almost anywhere," says Lee, who this year went flyfishing west of Yellowstone National Park before meandering down to Jackson Hole.
At age 60, the longtime advisor says he plans to continue working for years to come because of the way he and his partners have set up their firm to fully utilize the teamwork of partners, planners and staff. His freedom and travel time is enhanced by the fact that technology allows him to create a very real work environment any place he needs it. Last year he found himself wandering through an ancient village 100 miles outside of Bordeaux in France when he was floored by his discovery: an Internet café situated in a stone building dating back some 1,000 years.
"We have five planners in our office and they're all very competent," Lee explains. "We work as a team, so if a client calls, we're very adept at handling any challenge. But if I need to work while I'm away, I can interface with clients, colleagues and staff from just about anywhere I travel. There aren't many places left on the globe where you'll be cut off and can't do that," he says.