Succession Planning for Independent RIAs

The Best Time To Plan Is Now

Practice Management Wealth Management

Succession planning has been an area of increasing focus in the RIA industry, particularly given what many are calling a looming succession crisis. The demographics suggest that increased attention to succession planning is well warranted: over 60% of RIAs are still led by their founders, and only about a quarter of them have non-founding shareholders. Yet, when RIA principals are asked to rank their firm’s top priorities, developing a succession plan is often ranked last.

What Is a Succession Plan?

Despite the headlines suggesting that there is a wave of strategic takeovers that will ultimately consolidate the investment management profession into a few large firms, the reality we’ve encountered suggests that most RIAs will transition ownership and leadership from one generation to the next internally. The reasons for this are fairly obvious.

Many RIA owners prefer working for themselves, and their clients prefer working with an independent advisor. Internal transitions allow RIAs to maintain independence over the long-term and provide clients with a sense of continuity and comfort that their advisor’s interests are economically aligned. Further, a gradual transition of responsibilities and ownership to the next generation is usually one of the best ways to align your employees’ interests and grow the firm to everyone’s benefit. While this option typically requires the most preparation and patience, it allows the founding shareholders to handpick their successors and future leadership.

When managers at RIAs start thinking about succession, they immediately jump into who buys out whom at what price and terms. While this is one piece of a succession plan, we would suggest, instead, that the starting point is strategic planning for the business.

One of the keys to understanding succession planning is understanding what it is not.

A Succession Plan Is Not…

A succession plan is not a continuity plan. A continuity plan ensures that your clients will have uninterrupted services in the event of a disaster. Your eventual retirement should not be treated in the same manner as a sudden death or earthquake.

A succession plan is not an exit plan. An exit plan is a business owner’s strategic plan to sell their ownership to realize a profit or limit losses. This line can be fuzzy, but strategic transactions rarely obviate the need for succession planning. Leadership transition issues can loom large even in strategic transactions.

The Time To Plan Is Now

If you’re a founding partner or selling principal, you have several options, and it’s never too soon to start thinking about succession planning. Proper succession planning needs to be tailored, and a variety of options should be considered. See our recent whitepaper for more information on succession planning.


Since our founding in 1982, Mercer Capital has provided expert valuation opinions to over 15,000 clients throughout the U.S. and six continents. We are a valuation firm that is organized according to industry specialization. Our Investment Management Team provides asset managers, wealth managers, and independent trust companies with business valuation and financial advisory services related to shareholder transactions, buy-sell agreements, and dispute resolution.