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Paul Saganey

Industry Spotlight > Advisors

For CPAs, Elite Planning. For RIAs, Richer Clients.

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Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is a well-known route to growth.

That’s true for financial advisors in Integrated Partners’ 26-year-old CPA Alliance.

“We’re challenging [advisors] to work with [wealthier] clients that normally they’re a little bit uncomfortable with,” Paul Saganey, president and founder of Integrated Partners, tells ThinkAdvisor in an interview.

Advisors who join the RIA’s CPA Alliance stand to gain clients who are 10 to 30 times more affluent than their average clients, Saganey says.

Sharing the accounting firm’s clients, IP’s advisors are, in effect, “guests in the home of the CPA,” as Saganey puts it.

The Alliance brings sizable pluses to both financial professionals, not the least of which is revenue sharing.

Accountants acquire more revenue and clients because through the advisors, they’re able to offer wealthier clients financial planning and products, among other services.

But these partnerships “aren’t for most accounting firms,” Saganey argues in his new book, “Optimizing the Financial Lives of Clients: Harness the Power of an Accounting Firm’s Elite Wealth Management Practice” (Houndstooth Press, October 2022), co-authored by Russ Alan Prince and Homer S. Smith.

The authors explain how, via the CPA Alliance, accountants can offer an “elite wealth management practice.”

The co-sourcing ventures are best suited to clients with complex business and personal financial needs and to other wealthy individuals.

IP, which was formed in 1996 to offer the program and is affiliated with LPL Financial, now has about 175 financial advisors and some 160 accounting firms in its Alliance.

Indeed, the Waltham, Massachusetts-based firm has expanded to 54 regional offices nationwide with $12 billion in assets under management.

In the interview, Saganey discusses the importance of accountants focusing on the discovery process to uncover opportunities for advisors to provide planning and strategic services.

Before forming Integrated Partners, Saganey was a regional vice president with Cigna Financial Advisors doing fee-based planning for wirehouses.

In the mid-1990s, he noted that accountants were starting to get licensed as advisors. That was when he opened his company to pair financial advisors with CPAs.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Saganey, who was speaking by phone from Waltham.

Market volatility and economic uncertainty, such as we’re now experiencing, means faster growth for IP, he notes.

“Many more clients are saying to their CPAs, ‘I don’t feel OK.’ That gives the accountant [a cue] to introduce us and do a financial plan,” which, he adds, will make them “feel comfortable.”

Here are highlights of our interview:

THINKADVISOR: You’ve referred to CPA Alliance advisors as “guests in the home of the CPA.” Please explain.

PAUL SAGANEY: We truly want to make our program look like we’re an extension of the accounting firm. So we help them create a division inside their firm.

We do our meetings in the CPA’s office, which gives the client a high comfort level.

The client is, in effect, working with a different division of the same accounting firm they’ve always worked with.

Do the advisors need to be with Integrated Partners?

Yes. They’re under our umbrella, but they keep their own practices, branding and identities.

The accounting firm’s clients that the FAs work with are high-net-worth or ultra-high-net-worth. Are the advisors accustomed to serving that client level?

We’re asking the advisors to work with clients that are a lot larger than their average client. So we’re challenging them and trying to get them to work with clients that normally they’re a little bit uncomfortable working with.

What are the biggest benefits for the FAs?

The typical advisor has a large, established, mature practice, but they want to double their revenue or assets without having to double their number of clients.

This program allows them to work with clients who are many times larger than their average client.

We present a formula to both the CPA and the advisor: 6 times 10, which means we want the advisors to work with 6 additional clients, and they’ll be 10 times larger than their average client.

If done correctly, the program is about [helping] clients that are 10 to 30 times wealthier than the advisor’s average client.

What motivates CPAs to enter these partnerships?

Most high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth clients have both significant financial and personal issues in their lives. The CPA wants to make sure their clients are going to be OK.

The clients will always be clients of the accounting firm, you write. Do the FAs ever say they want to take over those clients?

Revenue generated from the client is owned collectively by the advisor and the CPA. There are contractual agreements to protect everybody’s interests.

The accountant “always needs to stay involved to ensure that the relationship with the client intensifies,” you write. Please elaborate.

It’s one of the building blocks of the program that we have to be a part of the accounting firm’s culture. So we want to make sure we have the CPA’s buy-in.

It can’t be something they do once in a while or a one-off thing. The most successful relationships are when the advisor truly becomes part of the accounting firm’s offerings.

What’s one situation the accountant should watch where it’s appropriate to bring in a financial advisor?

The client’s tax return. I call it their financial autobiography. We do a lot of training with the CPAs to really dig into the tax return so they can find fact patterns where we can bring value to the table.

They may say to the client, “On Line 36 of your return, we’ve found either an opportunity or a potential problem.”

That’s how we’re typically introduced. The advisor comes into the client’s life to solve a problem that’s been found. Then the client gets to know us and what we do with financial planning.

Why is the client discovery process particularly important to these partnerships?

Because we’re talking about clients that have financial and personal lives! I find that advisors forget to connect the two.

When you do some digging, you find out all about their family and what they’re like, and what the client’s goals and objectives are.

If you really dig deeply, everything begins to present itself in terms of solutions.

This is probably where we spend the most time both in education and training — taking a step back and digging deeper.

When clients have a question, do they contact the FA or the CPA?

Typically they’ll contact the advisor. One of the hallmarks of our program is that we can’t add complications or an extra level of busy-work to the accountant’s [day].

So all the relationships go through the financial advisor and their staff — with communication back to the accountant about what the advisor is doing.

Is it a goal of the program to replace the client’s existing advisor?

It’s not about replacing a financial advisor who’s qualified. The new world of planning is all about collaboration among talented advisors.

Many times I’ve worked together with the client’s existing advisor. We bring our particular expertise to the table.

Do the accountants ever want to become advisors themselves?

At one time they did. In the mid-1990s, accountants were trying to be financial advisors. But they didn’t have the capabilities, experience or talent to do that work with their wealthiest clients.

So when we first started this program, we were almost exclusively working with the top 10% of CPAs’ clients. Now we’re running the program for the entire accounting firm.

But you focus mostly on their wealthiest clients. Is it hard for the FAs to make that transition to the top level?

It’s important to always increase the CPA’s confidence in the financial advisor’s ability to handle their wealthiest clients, both professionally and socially.

The advisors keep in the back of their minds that the CPAs are always making a determination of, ”Can I trust you in front of my clients?”

We ask the advisors, “What are you doing today to increase that CPA’s confidence in your capability”?

You stress in your book: “This is not about selling.” Please explain.

It’s about bringing exceptional value to the table. We keep our focus on solving problems. We have the right expertise to bring clients through the process and make them feel okay. It builds exciting relationships.

How has the current stock market turmoil and uncertain economy affected your program?

We grow the quickest and with the wealthiest clients when there’s turmoil. Right now, many more clients are saying to their CPAs, “I don’t feel OK.”

That gives the accountant [a cue] to introduce us and do a financial plan that the client can get their arms around and be made to feel comfortable. We can step in and bring that service to the table.


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