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Nearly 60% of Business Owners Lack a Transition Plan: Wilmington Trust

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New research from Wilmington Trust shows the power of planning for succession.

The survey, which asked more than 200 owners of privately held companies about their plans and goals for transitioning their business, found that 58% of owners of privately held businesses lack a transition plan despite financial risks of not planning.

According to the research, the top reason for business owners delaying transition planning is their passion for the day-to-day logistics involved in running their companies.

According to the survey, 78% of business owners who did not have a transition plan said they enjoy managing their company too much to start thinking about a future transition. In addition, 42% said they were too busy to start planning, while 44% felt that a transition was too far in the future to establish a plan.

“Business owners love what they do, so it can be difficult for them to imagine a day when they need to give it up,” said Matt Panarese, president of Wilmington Trust’s Mid-Atlantic region and leader of the firm’s National Business Owner Practice Group, in a statement. “The reality is that planning effectively and running a business are not mutually exclusive. Owners don’t need to walk away from the business they’ve spent their lives building to start thinking long term.”

According to Panarese, early planning can provide more flexibility and allow business owners to continue to work in whatever capacity they choose — before and after a transition.

“What business owners need to realize is the sooner they start planning, the better their odds of achieving their goals — both financial and personal,” Panarese said.

However, the survey finds that 47% of respondents age 65 or older still do not have a transition plan in place. Despite that, the survey also found that 67% of all respondents said getting older was the top reason for creating a plan.

The survey also asked business owners to describe the status of their future plans.

Of the 58% of business owners who do not have an existing transition plan, 27% said they had broad outlines, but nothing specific; 20% said they had considered, but hadn’t started planning; and 11% said they had not thought about transition at all.

Conversely, of the 42% of business owners who have already established a transition plan, half say they have a specific plan and have begun executing, and half say they have a specific plan but have not begun executing.

According to Stuart Smith, managing director of the M&T Investment Banking Group, which is part of the M&T Bank family of companies along with Wilmington Trust, there are many good reasons for business owners to start long-term planning.

“Advance planning enables owners to continue to run the business they’ve built, while addressing financial security for themselves and their families,” Smith said in a statement. “It can also help them obtain a better result once they decide to transition. Business owners have a singular focus on ensuring their companies continue to thrive, so allocating time to build a transition plan can be perceived as a distraction from important work. The truth is planning is important work.”

The survey results show that business owners have both a professional and emotional connection to their companies, and a sense of personal responsibility that extends beyond the company to employees and customers.

The two most important transition goals cited by survey respondents were “ensuring the company remains viable in the long run” and “taking care of employees,” both cited by 87% of respondents.

Coming in a close second was “ensure your customers are taken care of” at 85%. In third place, at 83%, was “financial security for you and family.”

The survey also explored perceptions of business owners about selecting transition advisors. More than 80% of owners listed tax expert (84%), lawyer (83%) and accountant (83%) as the top three most important advisors. Other top advisors included legal trust expert (65%), banker (45%), investment advisor (40%), family business consultants (14%), and executive coach (14%).

According to Panarese, business owners should avoid relying too heavily on a few advisors.

“Business transitions are a team sport,” he said. “De-emphasizing other experts can create barriers to executing a successful transition. Today’s business environment is more complex than ever, so owners need advice from a broad group of experts, including wealth advisors and investment bankers, who can play a critical role in drawing resources together to successfully navigate a transition.”

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