It’s your firm’s partner meeting. The first item on the agenda is adding personal financial planning to the practice. While this is certainly very exciting, it presents an assortment of new challenges — not the least of which is getting the partners to approve the idea.
The partners are fearful of many things. You need to address these concerns from the beginning, so that the group has confidence in the practice area. Experience has taught us many things in this regard.
The practice model should be well-defined. A separate entity is usually advisable. Determine how the entity will be owned and how profits will be divided. Will you be compensated on a fee-only basis? Will you receive commissions? Will you sell insurance products?
Most of us have wrestled with these issues for years. For many, as our practices evolve, the answers to some of the questions change and will probably continue to change, along with the environment in which we practice. Be patient and find what fits your firm.
We all know that the public recognizes CPAs as their most trusted advisors. And we all know that the financial service industry is changing. Banks no longer give away toasters; they review wills and trusts, sell annuities and manage money.
CPAs are getting more and more involved in offering financial planning. This winter, the American Institute of CPAs stood behind its commitment by continuing its support of the Personal Financial Specialist credential.
It is imperative that CPAs who offer financial planning services be truly committed to the process and not take the discipline for granted.
Fear of not having the necessary skills to properly provide these services may make some of your partners uncomfortable with the firm practicing in this arena.
Getting all the partners involved in the financial planning practice is the best way to demonstrate your amount of knowledge, to get them to believe in what the firm is doing and the immeasurable value of the service to the client.
Getting a commitment
I have two favorite approaches to getting partners involved.
The first approach is to prepare a financial plan for your partner and her spouse. This should be done in the same manner and format that you would use with a firm client. Not only does your partner experience the process; she will receive some valuable advice and recommendations. In addition, hopefully, the spouse will become an advocate for financial planning and, perhaps, even a source of referrals.
The second approach is to work in tandem with a partner and one of his clients. Help your partner to identify a good candidate. Discuss possible planning issues and review personal and business tax returns. Ask your partner to set up an informal first meeting so that the two of you can discuss the concept of financial planning and what your firm has to offer. Assuming that you are engaged, keep your partner involved throughout the process and have him attend as many meetings as he wishes.
Nothing will develop your partner’s confidence in you as a planner more than positive feedback from one of their clients or referrals from clients for whom you have done plans.
All of us work very hard to attract new clients, to build and solidify relationships. It is perfectly understandable that your partners may be reluctant to jeopardize years of nurturing a relationship by selling a financial planning engagement. Try to put yourself in your partner’s place and think of how you would feel if you perceived that your relationship with one of your clients was potentially at risk because another one of your partners was trying to sell them a service that you did not totally understand.
After you have gone through this process with as many partners as practical (some may be stubborn and too resistant), consider those of your managers and supervisors with significant client contact. Develop a compensation program that will encourage the managers and supervisors to identify clients and promote the financial planning practice.
One the most important things that everyone must commit to at the outset is that financial planning is not a part-time job. If a client calls up with a question about their portfolio on April 5, what are you going to tell them — please make an appointment for after April 15? I don’t think so. How many successful CPAs that you know would tell you that they don’t have enough work to keep them busy even in peak periods?
Any PFP practice begins with a well-thought-out business plan. Crucial to that business plan is the allocation of resources, both human and economic, to financial planning; hours should be budgeted to accommodate planning practices.
The team must have the proper training, experience, credentials and licensure to conduct the engagement. Prepare the business plan. Assemble the team. Your partners will be your greatest advocates!
Randi Grant, CPA, CFP, PFS, is a director with Berkowitz Dick Pollack & Brant and its financial services affiliate, Provenance Wealth Advisors, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
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