Over the next decade, more than a third of financial advisors are expected to retire and these advisors control more than $10 trillion in assets, or 40% of the entire industry. Yet one in four of these advisors has no idea what their succession plan will be, a new study found.

“We’ve been talking about this retirement wave for years, and it’s been creeping closer and closer,” said Scott Smith, director of advice relationships at Cerulli Associates in Boston, which conducted the study and produced a related whitepaper, paid for by the Commonwealth Financial Network.

“This is essentially the last big event in an advisor’s career, and there are so many difficult dynamics to get around,” he said of why, in an industry that advocates planning, such a large percentage of advisors have difficulty with this aspect of their own businesses. “No one want to admit their own mortality, and we are startlingly overconfident in our own abilities. But we forget that many retirements are unplanned. We have a stroke, a family member has a stroke, there’s declining health—so many unknowns.”

The study did find a level of self-awareness among respondents—73% said the emotional aspects of transferring clients to a new advisor was a major challenge in thinking about succession planning. However, given that the average advisor is 51 years old with nearly 20 years of experience, now is the time to start the process, as it can take more than just a few years, Smith said.

“If there are 300,000 advisors out there, there are 190,000 different plans for how to do this,” he said. “There are so many options, but getting help with it is the first step.”

Cerulli found the 49% of advisors heading toward retirement are solo practitioners, and it’s a natural progression to team up with another advisor who can take over the business. But before coming to that decision, advisors closing in on retirement need to think through what they imagine this transition will be and what it will look like, Smith said.

“So few have formalized a plan, or their plans are aspirational. ‘I’m gonna hand it off to my children.’ But they’re not in the business, they’re still in college,” he said. “So advisors have to be realistic. You don’t want to be over 50 with nothing concrete in place.”

The five phases of a transition are sourcing the successor, determining a valuation, agreeing on a deal structure, financing the deal, and ultimately a transfer of operations, with new accounts, etc., Cerulli said. Interestingly, negotiating a valuation or equalizing client pricing structures are considered only moderate challenges (58% each), while overcoming style differences with the seller hands down was the biggest challenge (52%).

And the characteristics of a transition can vary, depending on whether the advisor is independent or an employee, the study outlined.

For independent advisors, the sale often qualifies for capital gain tax treatment, there can be a lot of flexibility regarding how the seller exits and there might be more control over choice of successor. For employee advisors, a company’s transition program can make the process easy, and financing might be more comprehensive and easier to get. However, the terms associated with the transition of clients might create restrictions for the buyer, seller or both, and there might be a more limited set of buyers with restrictions on deal terms.

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