Ah, the allure of cash. The promise of making big bank. Of being able to walk away from a firm I founded after all these years to spend time with the new grandkid, go to Minnesota Twins games, and take winter desert walks with my wife at our home in Arizona.

Considering all that, why would we not sell our stake in Accredited Investors Wealth Management to a private equity firm willing to pay at least twice the rate of our internal sales?

Well, folks, for those who go beyond algorithms for their financial planning, let me give you my reasons (many shared by my co-founding partner, Wil Heupel) and I will graciously accept your counsel. Here goes.

Our business is a family business without family. Yes, we manage $3.5 billion dollars, have 60 employees and serve 600 families, so we have to run our business as a business. But our firm is the result of the faith those families placed in us and all the people at Accredited who try to deliver on the promises we make. Accredited was built by these clients and our current staff as well as the staff that came before us and the clients no longer with us. My co-workers and clients feel like family to me—with at times some of the same dysfunction and disappointments that befall all families.

This family mindset influences our decisions. We want to improve the collective lives of those we serve—our colleagues, our clients, our community. At times we run into choices that conflict with those constituencies, but we have to manage those conflicts like any other in our business.

We don’t have a succession plan. We have a sustainability plan. We want our company to exist long beyond Wil’s and my eventual retirements. In order for that to happen, opportunities have to exist for those behind us. I stepped down as CEO a couple of years ago, and Wil stepped aside as president. We have two terrific managing partners, Brian Martin and Becky Krieger. This transition has been successful, but not smooth. We have experienced hurt feelings and harbor some lingering resentments. We talk through things and, to the extent that we are open, we work them out. But there is a difference between being open and being transparent. Each of us keeps a piece of ourself to ourselves, leaving some challenges unresolved.

Our employee shareholders purchase shares from us through bank financing. Wil and I are each selling 3% of the business annually. This arrangement creates a different set of issues. Banks want to see certain results, generally defined as EBITDA. Every current dollar spent on the future of our firm reduces Wil’s and my sale price and our percentage of the profits, even though new shareholders are buying the future and we are selling the past. If we constrain spending on the future, we are limiting their future. And we are not giving the firm away. We have set a price that we believe to be fair to each party in the transaction. Shareholders who are purchasing shares are taking on tremendous levels of debt and betting on a vision that eventually won’t include us.

The internal sales serve Wil and me in many ways. We are continuing to do much of the work we love, and our employee shareholders are trying to help us determine how we can do it in ways that are the most rewarding to us. They want us to describe what our future looks like. This is immensely meaningful. Wil loves to build things, so he has worked tirelessly on our standards of care and integrating a tool we call the “Wealth Management Index” more cleanly into the practice (the index asks clients questions about their goals and scores their progress). He continues to carry a heavy client load and has a significant interest in continuing to grow the firm, as do I.

As for me, I still like to be with my colleagues and work with clients on better connecting them to their money, but I also continue to have outside interests, such as my writing and my involvement at the University of Minnesota. The employee shareholders appreciate our involvement and want to take things we don’t like off our plates.

Wil and I still have important work responsibilities. We serve on the firm’s executive committee, which entails weekly hour and a half meetings to evaluate our metrics; discuss issues that the firm is confronting; and make sure the firm is moving toward our one-, three-, and 10-year goals. We still serve on the board of the firm. I don’t have an interest in riding off into the sunset. There are times I can get frustrated with not having enough flexibility, but my life is far more good than bad.

By keeping Accredited independent from a private equity buyer, we think we’re more likely to remain true fiduciaries. Many of the larger RIA firms that have been bought or have merged are no longer fee-only. They create their own products, and they can earn compensation long after a client leaves them. It’s not in judgment of other firms that we choose fee-only advice. It’s just our choice. It means every month clients can decide whether they want to continue working with us and we get paid for the work we are currently doing. If clients leave us, they can take their investments and materials with them. The investments are in their names, not ours.

Larger firms have more capital, so they may be able to market better, but independence lets us experiment in ways we couldn’t with outside influence. We ask that our employees spend at least 50% of their time in the office. We want to create reasons for them to want to come in, so we have tested different types of desks, hoteling options, booths, etc. We put in two pickleball courts because over half of our staff enjoys playing, as do many of our clients. We have built an outside area where we can have staff or client events, and that helps build relationships. We have full control over our budget (while keeping the banks in mind), so we have ultimate control over those decisions.

Most important to me, Wil and I started this business when I was 28 years old. I am now 64. I’ve never really worked for anyone, but I can definitely say that for the last 37 years I haven’t worked for anyone other than our clients. I love talking to them. I love walking around the office and teasing my colleagues. I have a lot of outside interests, but none provide the meaning that this work does in the way that it does. Do I really want to give this up for a potentially bigger balance sheet? I am grateful for what I have, so why do I need to wish for something else?

If this column touched you at all, I invite you to our offices for our “Be Our Guest” event on June 11. As in the past, we open up our office to up to 20 people who make a $1,500 donation to the Foundation for Financial Planning. In return, we spend a day going through our practice and procedures with presentations from our wealth and investment managers and operations staff, and we explain how our concept called the “entrepreneurial operating system” has transformed our firm. We also provide you with templates and encourage you to interact with our staff to answer any questions you have. If you would like to learn more about Be Our Guest, please email me at [email protected]. I would love to see you there and I promise it will be worth it.

Ross Levin is co-founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina, Minn.