For more than 25 years, Paul Saganey of Integrated Partners has been directing traffic at the intersection of financial planning, wealth management and CPAs. Before founding Integrated, Saganey was a regional vice president for CIGNA Financial Advisors, a company that focused on providing fee-based financial planning services for the wealthiest clients within various wirehouse broker-dealers and RIAs.

From the moment he launched Integrated in 1996, Saganey saw an opportunity for CPAs and financial advisors to work together. Partnering with financial advisors within the wirehouse community was the foundation for the Integrated CPA Alliance.

Russ Prince: Tell me a little bit about Integrated Partners?
Paul Saganey: Since 1996, Integrated has been helping financial advisors achieve their entrepreneurial vision by offering comprehensive business-building services, designed with the truly independent advisor in mind.

Prince: Was working with CPAs always part of the plan? 
Saganey: You know, it’s funny. From the beginning, we saw an opportunity to help support what a lot of people perceived as a financial advisor’s competition: CPAs. We recognized that CPAs were getting licensed as financial advisors, and though they had a license we—and they— recognized that most CPAs were not prepared to offer fee-based financial plans to their clients, including business owners and higher-net-worth families, with complex financial lives.

Fast forward 26 years and we are working with 150 financial advisors and 140 CPA partners who are presently servicing over $12 billion of client assets. Our CPA program is designed to pair advisors with CPAs to provide a consistent referral stream to access their ideal clients and help move their practice up-market while providing enhanced services to the CPAs’ clients.

For CPAs, the alliance provides three key differentiators to help them grow their firm: Revenue sharing, strategic structure, branding and awareness through marketing.

Prince: What’s the vision from here for the program?
Saganey: I tell everyone that I have a 25-year plan but let’s focus on the next five years. By 2026, Integrated plans to have 500 CPAs partnering with our affiliated financial advisors in a revenue-sharing, client-focused relationship.

Prince: Why would CPAs want to work with financial advisors?
Saganey: As we look ahead, we believe CPAs and financial advisors face three of the same big challenges: Succession, depth of services and technology. 
• The succession conundrum: Should I develop young talent internally or partner with a larger firm?
• Depth and breadth of services for affluent clients: How can I meet the financial planning needs of my wealthiest and most demanding clients?
• Solving the tech puzzle: How can I leverage technology and process-driven capabilities for maximum practice valuation?

The success of the Integrated CPA Alliance has been nothing short of extraordinary because it addresses these challenges. The program increased revenue by 25% just last year.

Prince: Stepping away from Integrated. Let’s look at the industry. Where do you see the industry going?
Saganey: Change and evolution are the only constants in this amazing industry. For financial advisors and CPAs, the next three to five years will be the most exciting ever.

Financial stresses within the stock and bond markets, changing tax codes and political posturing that happens right before our eyes every day are going to place our targeted clients in a position of financial uncertainty. When faced with an uncertain future, people with complex financial lives will search for advice and counsel that can be provided by only a small percent of the financial and accounting community.

This can all feel overwhelming. But for financial advisors and CPAs working together with their clients’ best interest in mind, these changes mean “opportunity” not “stress.”

Prince: What are the big hurdles ahead?
Saganey: When you blend this financial uncertainty with the fact that $7 trillion of wealth is being positioned to transfer to the next generation, of which much of it is small business wealth, you begin to see the future in a different light. The challenge is how do you, as either CPAs or financial advisors, align your growth goals with the reality of your current situation?

There are three words I learned from Dean Jackson that we use within our organization to help advisors organize their thinking about the future: vision, capabilities, reach.

“The next three to five years will be the most exciting” is a bold statement.  But when you think about it, for advisors that can look ahead—vision—and address the financial needs that invariably come from uncertainty—capabilities—the future will be filled with tremendous opportunities, especially when working with an invested CPA partner—reach.

The need for financial planning and wealth management will always exist and therefore, our industry has an exciting future. But remember, change and evolution is the only certainty. The definition of “advisor” and who provides financial planning advice will continue to change, especially for mass affluent clients. The compensation structure will continue to change, especially for mass affluent clients. 

For high-net-worth and business owner clients, future competitors will struggle to service the needs of these financially complex clients. The expertise and planning flexibility required will eliminate the vast majority of “big box” enterprises looking for a piece of the financial services market.

At the end of the day, the future is exciting, but it's up to financial advisors and CPAs with their teams, and the partners in their inner circle to use their vision, capabilities and reach to turn “exciting” into “opportunities.” Success is a choice.

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