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Making a Good Life Happen – How to Keep Success in Succession

by Jim Bell, CFP®, President and Founder

September 2010



For good reason the topic of succession planning is foremost right now in every conference and professional trade journal for Registered Investment Advisors and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERS™. The average Registered Investment Advisor is in his or her late 50’s and 60’s, and most professionals with the CFP® designation are sole proprietors – so the public concern for succession is well placed.

Succession Planning Starts Early
I began focusing on succession for Bell Investment Advisors ten years ago when I hired Matt King to succeed my retiring investment analyst, Dr. Hy Resnick. To help me with that transition I contracted the services John Latta, CPA, an experienced business consultant, who continues to serve as our external CFO. Now that I am in my early sixties, and the President and Founder, succession comes up in almost every client and prospective client conversation – as well it should.

I am very proud of the fact that as we prepare to celebrate our 20th anniversary next year, we are an extraordinary organization of 14 people with 9 securities licensed professionals ready to take charge of any situation. Our securities licensed team spans multiple generations – 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Many of our clients express concerns about who will be there for their spouses, children and grandchildren; and in many cases, we are already working with three generations in the same family. We are honored that they think of us from the perspective of longevity and legacy in the context of our wealth management services. This honor inspires us to build an organization that will succeed at succession.

Succession is About the Hand Off
Recently, I came down with a bad cough in the middle of the night and needed to stay home the next day. I had an important meeting on my calendar with two new prospective clients who were ready to come in for final conversations.  I called my son Forrest, one of our lead advisors, and my relationship manager, Jerene Meissert, who had already developed a relationship with these prospective clients. I told them that I wanted both of them to participate in this meeting. 

It worked out beautifully because it turned out that the prospects’ main concern was the lack of succession planning at the investment management firm where they formerly had invested their money. This meeting resulted in two new fabulous clients. My sudden cough allowed us to demonstrate how prepared we are for succession – even though Bonnie and I are not planning to retire any time soon. We both love what we do.   

Succession is Preparing and Letting Go
What is it that makes succession successful? A well-thought out plan, and the advice and support of experts, including our corporate attorney, our CPA, our estate planning attorney, our life insurance agent, and our external CFO who are well aware of our emergency plan, should we need it, and our more extensive succession plan. We have been working on it for a decade. 

We began sharing ownership of the firm with our chief investment officer, Matt King, and our son Forrest, some years ago. We have built teams of lead advisors and relationship managers so that our client service, headed up by Bing Chan, is extraordinary. Three of our staff, Forrest, a lead advisor and financial planner, Dana Nelson, our Portfolio Manager and investment advisor, and Laurent Harrison, one of our Relationship Managers, will be sitting for the Certified Financial Planning exam in the fall. We develop our staff and when they are ready, let them demonstrate what they can do.

Successful succession is about developing your successors, and when they are ready, letting go so they can succeed.

Jim Bell, CFP® is President and Founder of Bell Investment Advisors, Inc. 1111 Broadway, Suite 1630 in downtown Oakland where he co-manages the business with his wife Bonnie. The firm has been providing customized financial planning, investment management and life coaching services since 1991. www.bellinvest.com 510-433-1066

Published in Piedmont Post on September 1, 2010

Piedmont Post

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