Lau and Olmstead both say the complementary nature of their practices has produced synergies that many firms still find elusive after they merge. Lau says that while Olmstead's project approach to his practice differs from her more consultative, ongoing style, they are philosophically in sync. "I couldn't do what he does, and he doesn't want to do what I do," she says.

Without revealing details about the finances of either practice or the newly combined entity, Lau says outsiders might be surprised at how similar the numbers would appear. While her revenue stream may be more predictable than Olmstead's future projects, "he has a lot of projects coming across his desk, and he has a lot of choices and flexibility. For example, he may know he has a few projects in 2004, but not know the full scope or venue of them."

Lau believes that mergers like theirs are likely to become more frequent. "If you look at the banks buying financial planning practices, they are very complementary. New people are looking at how to integrate financial planning into their business. What I've learned is that the request for financial planning services migrates into family office services," she says. "What we're doing is just one example. We're just not doing it with the usual suspects."

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