Are You Cut Out to Be an Owner?

Next Generation Planner: November 2021


Christine Sjölin, SHRM-SCP
Vice President and Partner, FP Transitions

Christine Sjölin, SHRM-SCP, is vice president of strategic development and operations/partner at FP Transitions, a business consulting firm dedicated to wealth managers and independent financial advisers. Christine is the principal driver behind the firm’s strategic relationships and membership programs. As a liaison between members, corporate partners, broker-dealers, and custodians, Christine has valuable insight into independent financial businesses and the institutions that support them.

If you’re not sure whether you want to own a practice, good news—you don’t have to know the answer today.

Starting off in financial planning, no one expects you to know exactly where you’ll be in 10 or 15 years. This is the time of your career to really dig into the areas you love most, and you may not even know where or what that means yet! As you begin your career journey, it’s unlikely you already know that you want to run your own practice. (Maybe you do, and that’s awesome!) You may only know that you want to be a part of something important, and you want to set off on a path that allows you options when the time is right.

While you work on mastering the technical and human skills of financial planning, continue to refine your long-term goals. In the meantime, I’m going to share some thoughts on what your future leadership journey could look like, and how you might find your way there. Keep in mind, there is no one “right way” that applies to everyone. This is your personal journey, and while others have gone it before, this doesn’t mean you have to follow in their footsteps.

The Human Element of Succession Planning

Building a financial planning firm can be a deeply personal journey. As you set your sights on that next level of your career, it’s exceptionally important to engage with your leadership team in ways that honor and respect the sacrifices of the leaders before you. Just as you want to be appreciated and welcomed among their ranks, don’t forget to show gratitude for opportunities shared with you. Over the years, we’ve learned some top qualities and attitudes that make for an excellent junior partner or successor.

  • Commitment. Your employer took a chance on hiring you. They’ve invested time and money into bringing you into their team. Have you embraced their mission, their service model, and are you producing at the expected level? A great way to check your progress is to ask for feedback on your performance. Ask often, and work toward improvement (there is always room to improve regardless of experience or role). By sharing your willingness to learn and grow, you clearly show your interest in the company and its goals. When you love what you do, and how you do it, you become better at it. It’s really that simple.
  • Resourcefulness. Show up fully from day one. Bring yourself to work each day polished, rested, thoughtful, caring, and curious. It’s not about how much you know, it’s really about how you apply your knowledge in ways that matter to your firm. New employees often worry about asking too many questions. The best advice here is to ask for clarity whenever you need it. Most leaders prefer you to speak up, rather than run full speed at the wrong target. Note, there is a delicate balance between asking questions about things you should know how to do and seeking clarification on a new skill. Resourcefulness involves understanding what you should know and acknowledging your limits when you don’t. For example, seeking training on your firm’s portfolio management software—before you make a big mistake—can save everyone time and headaches in the long run. If you’re asking the right questions of your leaders, you’ll build rapport and trust and show that you care. You may also identify avenues to improve the practice. Be resourceful and gather your ideas in a way that show you have been listening and you’ve done your research, and then ask for feedback. When you arrive polished, rested, and thoughtful, you should begin each day with the right personal resources to make a meaningful impact. Over time, your leadership team will recognize your resourcefulness.
  • Teamwork. Remember that your peers, your boss, your fellow employees are all rowing in the same direction. Acknowledge team wins, even when (especially when) you are the one leading the project. Showing appreciation when someone helps you out, or helps out the firm, is one of the best ways to build rapport. Additionally, being that person who extends a hand to others is incredibly important to earning trust and respect from your colleagues. Those characteristics can influence whether you’re seen as reliable, which then allows your employer to comfortably hand you new responsibilities that may come with more opportunity.
  • Respect. Appreciate the opportunity you’ve been handed by taking it seriously. Invest time in getting to know those you’re working with, and what makes them excited about financial planning and building this business. Find ways to connect with your leadership team, and above all, share your sentiment around what they’ve accomplished and how you are excited to carry forward this work for many years to come.

Challenges and Opportunities

One of the biggest objections we hear from the leading generation is that working with young professionals is a drain on resources—both time and dollars. Our valuation data clearly supports the business case for building a successful partnership across the generations and expanding ownership opportunities to younger, talented, dedicated professionals. The key word here is “successful.” We work with advisers every day to build the right structure and strategies to support successful partnerships. Qualities of these successors are typically grounded in one thing: a passion for something within the firm. Whether it be supporting operations, teaching junior employees, engaging with clients, or making tough business decisions: you will have time to find your calling.

Raising your hand for new challenges and learning whether you have a knack for one area or another is critical during your first years on the job. It’s no secret that finding your way with the right firm can be a challenge. The first years of your career are the time for expanding your skills—and your opportunities. Following these steps may not lead you straight into the owner’s circle of your first job, and that’s OK. As you practice the habits that make you a good employee and learn from your mistakes, you explore the areas you love and improve your leadership potential. At the same time, you build the qualities that make you ownership material; you learn how to speak to owners and present your case for equity compensation and ownership. And if that doesn’t work out, you’ll have practiced the skills to strike out on your own and become one of the next generation of founders. Ultimately, your firm has made an investment in you, and with every investment comes risk. You reduce that risk when you contribute your best each day. If you fail, as long as you know you’ve done your best, it’s OK. Embrace the chance to fail, don’t fear it.

The path forward will always have unknowns that present new challenges. How you show up in those moments will certainly be influenced by the wins and failures that you’ve encountered along the way. Don’t ever take your failures to mean the effort isn’t worth it because being fully present and committed are absolutely worth their rewards. If you aren’t constantly moving forward, you aren’t moving anywhere at all. You’ve chosen a profession that is still in its formative years, and your career is equally limitless at the moment. All you have to do is unlock that potential and see where it takes you. 

Practice Management