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Financial Planning For Business Owners

Business owners are not looking for financial advisors to give them the life they want by making a killing in the stock market; these people have been able to create the life they want by themselves. In the early 1990s, at the beginning of my financial planning career, I was very fortunate to meet one of Canada’s most successful businessmen. He was in his late 50s and had much more life experience than me. He shared that 99.9 per cent of the investment advisors he had met over the course of his career did not have the foggiest idea of how to make money nor did they understand what successful business people were looking for when they sought out professional advice.

He told me that when he took a risk he got paid for it. He could buy a piece of property for a marginal amount, get it rezoned for a shopping mall and then get franchises to sign letters of intent to lease for five years or more when the property was developed. Once this was done he would go off to the bank and borrow on the future revenue that would be generated from these highly profitable leases to develop his properties and create a residual income. He knew he could take his own money and make 100 times the amount with 1/10th the risk that any stock broker could offer him and he was right. Business owners are not looking for financial advisors to give them the life they want by making a killing in the stock market; these people have been able to create the life they want by themselves.

Successful business people want their financial advisors to show them ways to keep their wealth. In essence, successful people want their financial advisors to provide them with financial, tax, succession and estate planning holistic solutions. They don’t need their advisors to sell them products such as stocks, mutual funds and life insurance to achieve their financial success. The point is they are already successful. Business people are looking for financial professionals who are positioned in the role of wealth manager. Someone who can see and understand the affluent business owner’s big-picture needs by constructing customized strategies to achieve their specific goals of wealth preservation, avoidance of unnecessary tax burdens, creditor protection, wealth accumulation and wealth distribution to themselves, their family, estate and charities.

Successful business owners have an understanding that a financial asset is something that puts money in their pocket, with minimum labor. They understand that a business can buy a car, but a car cannot buy a business! Liabilities are things that take money “out of one’s pocket.” For example a home is a liability even though you own the property with no mortgage, you still have to pay property taxes, utilities, and maintenance.

There are numerous advantages available to those who own their own business, who take the risk and have the creativity and fortitude to do something on their own. These people are compensated for it. As an employee in Canada, one’s equation of earning an income goes like this:

  • you earn;
  • you’re taxed;
  • then you get to spend what is left over.

When one is a business owner and self-employed in Canada, our government allows you to adopt a much more favorable equation of earning an income:

  • you earn;
  • you spend, you income split, and you defer bonuses;
  • then you are taxed on what is left over!

Business owners are different from the rest of Canadians, if for no other reason the Income Tax Act favors people who work for themselves. The biggest expense we pay in a year is taxes. Reducing taxes is not only morally and ethically right, it is also smart. There are three easy rules that keep your money in your pocket in this country and not in the government’s:

1. Find the right business structure for your business to pay less tax and protect what you have.

2. Learn to make more money by using the tax strategies of the rich such implementing health & welfare trusts, individual pension plans, retirement compensation arrangements, holding companies, charitable donations and estate freezes.

3. Pay less tax legally and still sleep at night.

The basis of success with working with a Certified Financial Planner is to have a financial plan. A true financial plan is more than simply buying and selling investments, or collecting “assets” that bring in no cash and are thus more akin to liabilities. The way most people invest, they might as well be driving in a circle. A true financial plan is mechanical, automatic, and boring. It applies “The Total Financial Planning Process.”


Clarify your present situation by collecting and assess all relevant financial data, such as lists of assets and liabilities, tax returns, records of security transactions, insurance policies, will(s) and pension plan(s).


Decide what you want to achieve by identifying financial and personal goals and objectives. Work with your financial professional to help clarify your financial and personal values and attitudes. These may include selling your business, providing for children’s education, supporting elderly parents or relieving immediate financial pressures to help maintain a current lifestyle and provide for retirement. These considerations are important in determining your best financial planning strategy.


Identify and recognize financial problems that can create barriers to reaching your financial goals.


Understand your choices, your financial professional should provide you with written recommendations and alternative solutions. The length of these recommendations will vary with the complexity of individual situations.


Implement the right strategy to ensure that your goals and objectives are met. A financial plan is only helpful if the recommendations are put into action.


To ensure that your goals are achieved it is very important to have periodic reviews with your Certified Financial Planner and other financial advisors to see if there should be revisions to your plan. Successful business people in this world look for and build networks of experts to help them achieve their life and financial dreams. The key to managing your financial future is to plan for it.

All highly successful people I have every work with had a very clearly defined, written life, career and financial plan. They believed implicitly and unshakably in their plan and were impervious to external circumstances. So they didn’t alter their plan every time the wind changed direction, and continued to work their plan steadfastly, no matter how long it took, until their plan inevitably succeeded.

Sources of Friction: Why Investment Expertise Often Fails to Help You and What You Can Do About It

Most of the time when I talk to people about the investment industry I get the distinct sense that they would rather talk about almost anything else. While there are certainly many potential causes for such an understated response, I also don’t get the sense that an overwhelming degree of satisfaction is usually one of them. Rather, there seems to be a persistent state of frustration lurking under the surface that occasionally reveals itself in comments like, “I’d like to be able to get more confident with my investing”, and, “Do you ever get to talk to the person managing the money?”

To the extent that lurking frustration exists, it is not for lack of investment expertise. Not only are there thousands upon thousands of investment professionals, but there are also terrific credential programs like the CFA and the CFP, a substantial and diverse active management industry that has a business model predicated on developing proprietary insights, and research that suggests it works. For example, the study “Best Ideas” [Cohen, Polk, and Silli, 2010] shows that the typical active money manager actually does outperform with his/her best ideas (the problem is that most portfolios also contain a lot of other ideas which aren’t nearly as good).

So why do investors continue to be frustrated when all of this expertise is available? The answer, in a word, is friction.

Sources of friction

Just like the progress of any vehicle is slowed down by the friction created by its contact with the road, so too is the efficient transfer of investment expertise constrained by a variety of structural sources of “friction” in the industry.

One important source of investment friction is the tendency of many firms to focus more on the business of investment management than on the profession of investing. Because the universe of significant investment opportunities is limited in a competitive environment, managers must settle for progressively less attractive alternatives as a fund grows larger — and this dilutes performance. The conflict of interest between an investment manager’s desire to grow assets (and therefore business profits) and an investor’s desire for a smaller fund focused exclusively on best ideas is one way in which investment expertise often fails to benefit clients.

A second source of friction is essentially a corollary of the first: Many firms fail to focus on the types of activities that are closely associated with generating superior investment returns. For example, many firms persist in charging high fees for investment services despite widespread evidence that high fees detract from returns. Many run portfolios that look very similar to their benchmarks rather than concentrating on best ideas (i.e., high active share). Many react (and overreact) to short-term results for which there is very little information content (i.e., low signal to noise ratio). Each of these types of activities is a well-known structural impediment to good investment performance and each is the result of a choice, a tradeoff, made by an organization’s leaders. While it is unfortunate such impediments exist, they are absolutely avoidable.

A third source of friction is over-specialization. When an environment remains stable for a long period of time the most successful entities are those that focus on a very narrow area of expertise. Examples include narrowly defined functional silos such as industry-specific analyst coverage and very narrowly defined investment mandates. In such an environment, flexible business approaches and policies to insure against large losses represent unnecessary opportunity costs. In a more tumultuous environment, however, the costs of focusing too narrowly can be debilitating and sometimes even deadly. It’s fine to pack only swim suits and t-shirts for the beach as long as the weather stays nice. If it gets cold and rainy, you’ll wish you had better choices.

What you can do

While various sources of friction often prevent investors from deriving as much benefit as they might from the industry, the good news is that they also provide a clear target for improvement. If you want things to run more smoothly and efficiently, just reduce or eliminate the sources of friction. For investment firms this is simply a matter of making policy choices — of choosing to focus, on the margin, more on the exercise of investing than on the business of investment management. For investors, this is just a matter of identifying the firms that are not only willing to accept, but to actually encourage, making the tradeoffs that benefit investment results.

Another way for investors to derive more benefit from the investment services industry is to find better user interfaces. Steve Jobs revolutionized the computer industry by developing a graphical user interface (GUI) that made it much easier for normal people to interact with computers. The same needs to be done with investment firms. While a great deal of investment expertise does exist, only a small subset of that resides with organizations that have cultures truly oriented to helping people. Without such a culture, the path of least resistance is for that expertise to first benefit investment firms and their employees.

The investment services industry is interesting as a case study because it defies so many well established norms in other industries. Exceptionally few businesses in a competitive environment can afford to persist with processes and behaviors that impede performance and client satisfaction. If you went to a nice restaurant and ordered an expensive meal and the waiter came out and just threw it down in front of you without explanation and walked away, you would probably be miffed and might consider never coming back. Oddly, the same behavior happens with investment firms all the time — except in these cases investors tend to resign themselves to accepting such treatment. You can do better, but you will almost certainly need to look for new approaches that avoid old, and predictable, sources of friction.