We all know how important it is to have an emergency continuity plan in place should the unthinkable occur (i.e., the death or disability of a business owner). Statistics show that the value of a practice diminishes dramatically when a financial advisor suddenly passes away or becomes disabled. For solo advisors (i.e., no other owners and no internal succession plan), the Practice Continuity Agreement (or PCA) can provide a way to insure against sudden, unforeseen calamities.
The Mechanics of a Continuity Agreement
For advisory firms with only one significant owner, a Practice Continuity Agreement is the equivalent of a buy-sell agreement. A PCA would, in the event of a principal’s incapacity or death, provide for another advisor or advisory firm to step in and run the company during the period of incapacity, or, in the event of death, conduct an orderly sale, or possibly acquire the practice. A continuity agreement would provide for a means of determining the fair market value of your business and in certain instances, provide the funds necessary to carry the purchase.
How a Continuity Agreement Works
A PCA is an agreement between two firms stating that, in the event that you are disabled or die, the other firm will take over the practice either permanently or temporarily. Particularly in the event of short-term disability, where you may be unable to return to the practice immediately, a PCA can act as an effective back-up plan or temporary bridge. Some PCAs are bilateral in that both firms commit to the other to be the successor. Some are unilateral, usually where only one of the firms is realistically capable of becoming the successor.
What is Included in a Continuity Agreement
A definition of the circumstances that will trigger the succession
The successor’s obligations (usually this covers managing client relationships and providing ongoing client services)
The terms of the acquisition if the successor is expected to buy the practice
Provide a formula for determining the fair market value of the business
Establish the compensation to the continuity provider during the period of disability
Provisions for appropriate non-competition and non-solicitation protections for both the affected practice and the buyer/continuity provider
Indemnification and hold harmless protections for an incoming, unprepared buyer
Also, the agreement sometimes allows for support without succession, meaning that the firms agree to client cross-referrals or support during staff shortages
Communicating Your Continuity Plan With Your Clients
As with any type of succession planning, it is a good idea for you to inform your clients that you are implementing such a strategy. The circumstances under which such an agreement will actually be executed are always difficult, so having well-informed and supportive clients is essential. This is a chance to show your clients what planning for the future of the business actually looks like.
Continuity Planning is a Component of Corporate Planning
Because of the external factor in this arrangement, it’s important to regularly keep your continuity provider up-to-date. Calendar an annual meeting to discuss the plan and the steps needed to successfully implement it… and make sure it still makes sense; practices evolve and change during their lifecycle, and the provider of continuity services in the early years of a practice may not be a good fit in the middle to later years.
Additionally, a PCA should not be used as a succession plan in the traditional sense. There are much more effective methods to use when you ultimately create an exit strategy for retirement; however, PCAs, when structured correctly, are an effective solution for the need of sudden practice succession.
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