How CPAs can turn the great wealth transfer into opportunity

Convince your clients’ children to be your clients.
By Ilana Polyak

Over the next few decades, $30 trillion in wealth is expected to change hands from aging Baby Boomers to their children. This great wealth transfer presents a unique opportunity for CPA financial planners whose clients hope to leave their wealth to their children. But it also means that CPAs will need to think strategically about how to convince their clients' heirs to become their clients as well.  

According to a survey by InvestmentNews, some two-thirds of younger investors leave their parents' financial planners when they inherit wealth. Many feel that their advisers haven't established a relationship with them.

Yet if CPAs lay a solid foundation now, they can increase the chances that their clients' children will want them as advisers. Here are some ways CPAs can meet the needs of the next generation:

  • Get to know the family. If you wait until your clients pass away to reach out to their children, it might be too late. By that time, heirs may have their own financial advisers, and they may be more comfortable taking their inheritances there.
  • Jean-Luc Bourdon, CPA/PFS, principal at BrightPath Wealth Planning in Santa Barbara, Calif., makes a point of reaching out to the children of his elderly clients. "I want to know who to be in contact with if my client gets hit by the proverbial bus or if they lose capacity," he said.

    Sometimes adult children bring their parents' assets to him to manage when the parents are no longer able to do so themselves; though it's the parents' portfolio, the children are the go-to contacts. These adult children have taken the recommended step of securing financial power of attorney, but they do not want to directly manage the assets themselves, Bourdon noted. Because of those relationships, the children sometimes become clients in their own right. "Then when a parent passes, it becomes a natural transition," he said.

  • Play the long game. Your efforts to court clients' children may not bear fruit right away. Many times, Millennials and younger generations haven't yet accumulated enough wealth to become clients. Instead, think about building a pipeline of future clients by offering informal advice.
  • "The children of my clients may just be graduating from college, and I'll give them some career counseling as they're looking for their first jobs," said Richard Davey, CPA, managing member at Fiduciary Financial Group in San Francisco. "Maybe 10 years from now they will remember what I did for them."

    Other ways CPAs can assist their clients' children include helping them evaluate employer benefits packages and providing guidance on how to manage their 401(k) plans.

  • Hire younger professionals. Clients' children may prefer to work with someone their own age. Consider bringing on a younger CPA who can develop those relationships.
  • "I'm working with a family now and their grandchildren are in their mid-20s to early 30s," explained Peri Ann Aptaker, Esq., CPA/PFS, CEO and director of wealth management at KLR Wealth Management in Providence, R.I. "They speak a different language. The person who works with them has to be someone who is young and tech-savvy and communicates the same way these younger clients communicate."

  • Explore different business models. Older clients have complex financial needs, from retirement income planning to helping adult children or taking care of aging parents. But younger clients may not have so many moving parts in their lives and only need a fraction of the services you offer. You can appeal to these clients by offering an a la carte menu of services, as CPA/PFS Mark Astrinos does.
  • "It's not a degradation of the quality," said Astrinos, founder of Libra Wealth in San Francisco. "But maybe younger clients don't need the full package."

    In addition, Astrinos uses a fixed fee-for-service model, rather than the more common assets-under-management model. Because younger clients have a smaller asset base, they might not be able to meet minimums with some CPAs. Astrinos said charging different fees for different service offerings allows him to "articulate a value proposition in a way that still makes sense for me and makes sense for the client."

  • Invest in technology. Technology must play a central role in adapting a CPA financial planning practice for the future. Clients have come to expect a seamless, attractive interface because that's what they're used in other areas of their lives. Technology can also free up time for CPAs to spend with clients.
  • "I use account aggregation software, financial planning software, a digital vault [that allows clients to store their important financial and legal documents], calendaring software, and so on," said Astrinos. "All of these efficiencies free up my time to do things where the value is."

    Another important technology to adopt is virtual meetings, said Amy Jucoski, national director, wealth planning with Abbot Downing in Winston-Salem, N.C. Younger clients may not have the flexibility to meet in your office during normal business hours. Allow them the option to plan video conferences on their own schedules.

  • Make sure there will be an estate to pass on. CPAs are also at risk of a declining asset base if they do not help their clients prudently manage their estates in order to account for high health care and long-term-care costs.
  • The financial hit of dementia alone is staggering: The average lifetime cost of care after diagnosis for a single person who develops dementia is more than $320,000, and 70% of that is borne by families, according to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Patients could live with the disease for a decade or longer.

    "I tell my clients to get the best health insurance policy they can afford," said Aptaker. "You need a plan for long-term care."

By paying close attention to the challenges of the great wealth transfer and preparing now, CPA financial planners can put themselves in the best possible position to serve the next generation of clients.

Ilana Polyak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien (, a senior editor at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

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