With an average age of more than 50 years old for financial advisors, is the profession in danger of huge numbers retiring soon, creating havoc for their firms and their clients?

Although one-third of advisors may be at retirement age, that doesn't mean that most will retire anytime soon, said Scott Curtis, president of Raymond James Financial Services, the Raymond James Financial (RJF) Private Client Group unit for independent advisors. Approximately 3,500 independent advisors are affiliated with the broker-dealer.

"There's no mandatory retirement age when you are a financial advisor, and there's nothing that forces you to leave at 65," noted Curtis during a press briefing at Raymond James' 21st Women's Symposium in St. Petersburg, Fla.

"We have many really successful advisors who are in their 60s and 70s who have no intention of leaving the business," he continued. "They have successors. They have catastrophic agreements in place, but they are doing great. They love what they do. They love their clients. Their clients are their friends, and what are they going to do if they retire?"

Still, Curtis noted advisors transitioning from the business has been a bigger issue during his tenure as president than it was for his predecessors. "A lot of advisors who are affiliated with us have had terrific careers for 30-plus years. ... If I unplug from that community, now what do I do? So that's a difficult transition, but some of those transitions are under way."

The ideal situation is that the transition is on a schedule and those involved understand how it will work, Curtis said, but tragic situations do come up, for example if someone dies suddenly, and those can be more difficult to manage.

Bill Van Law, president of Raymond James's Investment Advisor Division, pointed to a difference between retirement and succession. "The definition of retirement has changed. Having a succession plan is key, and it's often a process that lasts over many years," Van Law commented.

Curtis added the transitioning trend has had a big impact on his firm's recruiting business. RJFS has not only helped advisors look for successors internally, but also through recruiting outside advisors. Some younger advisors from other firms have shown a great interest in affiliating if there's a prospect of acquiring another advisor's business down the road, he said.

Tash Elwyn, president of Raymond James & Associates, RJF's firm with 2,500 advisor employees at a branch network and satellite offices, also has placed an emphasis on succession planning and has a team dedicated to helping advisors transition their books of business. Branch managers also work to identify successors inside and outside the firm, Elwyn said.