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Keeping Planning All in the Family

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Growing up, my weekends were spent working for my mother at her European-style bakery in Lake Oswego, Ore. When I wasn’t twisting Challah dough and frosting cakes, I was serving customers and upselling cookies.

These duties weren’t always my first choice. Though we got along well, I wished many times I was with friends at the movies, or sleeping in. And when it came to choose a career, financial journalism had a stronger lure than taking over my mother’s shop. But the subjects in our cover story made very different decisions when it came to joining their parents’ firms. For them, working with family was a labor of love, commitment, even freedom.

Hannah Basil, for example, joined her mother’s Chicago practice when she realized that a small family firm would give her more independence than her former jobs with a big bank and a start-up. And Sara Botkin joined her father’s practice when a horrifying experience during 9/11 persuaded her that family came first.

When writing Financial Planning’s cover story on succession planning, Senior Editor Charles Paikert had fully expected to hear tales of hurt feelings, stepped-on toes and perhaps some power struggles.

Indeed, working with relatives is “not all sunshine and rainbows,” as one of Paikert’s sources told him. Lois Basil, Hannah’s mother and owner of Basil Financial Group, told Paikert that, “When our stress level is up, we probably get a little snippier with each other than we would with another co-worker.”

But Paikert told me he was surprised at how well the families he interviewed got along. “Yes, there were ups and downs, particularly in the beginning when the next generation first came into the business,” he says. “But in the end, things worked out for all six of the advisory firms I interviewed, and the parents and their children seem to genuinely enjoy working with each other.”

It’s an entirely different matter when advisors go it alone. Completely alone. The life of a solo planner has its risks, even if it brings true independence. One advisor lost two clients when she was bedridden with back pain for a month and couldn’t meet with them, contributing writer Joseph Lisanti says in his story on solo planners.

Some have come up with unique solutions, such as back-up agreements with other advisors in which the other planner will take calls and answer questions in case of short-term disability or other emergencies. And some schedule their vacations during quiet months such as October.

There is no perfect solution for running an advisor practice. Or bakery for that matter. But our reporting showed us this month that it’s not who you have by your side, but how well you work together. 

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