My original exit plan since 2006 was to find a younger adviser who would join my business to work alongside me (as the sole adviser of my previous firm). Over time I could train them into understanding the business and develop from paraplanner to adviser, so they would eventually lead the business and could continue to serve my clients after I retired.
Ideally I wanted anyone joining the business to have their own clients because I didn’t have enough to share, and I did take on an adviser for a short time, but it didn’t work out because he didn’t have enough clients of his own – it was crucial for me to continue working for a while so whoever joined the business could not just take on my clients.
The decision-making process became more serious around three years ago. I decided I could not and should not wait until I retired to work out what to do with my business. I wanted to be in a position where I was confident that my clients were comfortable, but where I would also be able to stay on working and retire later on knowing my clients would be well looked after.
There was a lot of testing the water and seeing how it would work and I went through at least 12 different possibilities - which ended in me not wanting to take the majority of talks further.
Decide on your deal breakers
What I learnt throughout this process is that you need to be very clear on what are the most important things you want to be maintained once you leave and how confident are you they will be kept. For example, for me it was a continuation of the service I have provided my clients: the same attitude, the same priorities, similar prices and having clients at the heart of the business. I realised early on that it was a deal-breaker for me; I could not hand over my business to anyone I did not trust to look after my clients. I also would not budge on the fact that I would not retire straight away; I still wanted to be my clients’ adviser for a while.
I spoke to two or three IFA consolidators that all offered to pay me some attractive sums of money, but unfortunately none of them wanted me to continue advising my clients in any handover period – they did not want to buy my business, my ethos or my processes, but effectively just a client bank. That was not what I wanted at all, I had developed strong relationships with my clients and they trusted me to look after them – I couldn’t just sell them off to the highest bidder not really knowing what kind of service they would receive once I left.
I also had quite a few close calls with people or companies I spoke to who all looked very promising and claimed they were independent – which is important to me – but they were in fact restricted which would have disadvantaged my clients as they would no longer be able to have access to products or services they had previously invested in.
For example, I advise on things like EISs, VCTs and pension transfers, which some did not want to deal with, claiming they could be risky. But these things were part of the service I provided to my clients so suddenly not offering them was limiting.
It is also vital to be able to trust the people you would eventually hand your business onto. There was one adviser who would promise things in conversations but then would go back on this word, or say things that were the complete opposite of what we had discussed, so it made me realise I can’t trust or work with him or trust him to look after my clients, so that was a definite no.
In 2015 I had a discussion with Charles Scott, director at Macbeth Scott & Co, who I’ve known since 2008 as we both sit on the Nucleus platform development committee. We’ve always got on well and I realised there was a possible synergy between our firms so I asked him whether he’d be interested in taking me on with the prospect that one day I would retire and their company would look after my clients.
We had around eight meetings before we decided – we were very thorough and wanted to ensure this was the right decision and we could do right by all the clients. We discovered we looked at things in a very similar manner and this would be viable. Charles had a very similar philosophy to me on how to treat clients and how to charge them.
Although nothing is a perfect fit, Charles’ attitude was very flexible and said I could carry on doing what I do on my pricing or move onto his, as for some clients it would be beneficial to stay or change.
Our ethos was the same – our priority is to look after clients, keep them as well-informed as possible and see them face to face as often as possible. Although I looked at the company’s financials as part of my due diligence, especially in terms of security of business longevity, it wasn’t as crucial as making sure we had a cultural fit.
In the end, we decided I would work as a self-employed adviser and I joined officially in the first week of January. It was definitely the right decision for me and I feel confident working in the business, feel we are on the right path and everything is fitting into place now with my clients being happy with the move.
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