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As a business owner, you’re used to wearing multiple hats every day to ensure your customers are happy and your bottom line is growing. Thinking about selling your business may seem far off, but taking the time now to begin thinking about what a transition might look like ensures you’ll be prepared when you’re ready to sell and can help you maximize the value of your business along the way.
If you’re unsure where to turn for help, you’ll be glad to know there’s an organization dedicated to this very topic with thousands of members you can turn to with the experience and knowledge business owners need to plan for a successful transition.
The Certified Exit Planning Advisor (CEPA) is a unique designation for financial professionals who advise business owners on how to successfully sell or transition their business, a strategy referred to as ‘exit planning’. It was created in 2007 by the Exit Planning Institute (EPI), a company focused on educating professional advisors globally on how they can support the success of business owners to maximize value and sell on their terms through a business transition.
Let’s take a closer look at what this financial certification is, what it takes to earn it, and how you may benefit from working with a CEPA as a business owner.
What is a Certified Exit Planning Advisor (CEPA)?
The CEPA designation is for financial advisors and other professionals (e.g. attorneys, CPAs, business brokers, etc.) who wish to support business owners with exit planning. At its core, exit planning allows business owners to maximize value and successfully transition their business on their own terms.
Professionals who hold the CEPA designation learn how to blend exit strategy into the business as well as personal and financial goals of business owners. They use the Value Acceleration Methodology, a proprietary framework developed by EPI, which focuses on three major components including:
- Maximizing Business Value
- Personal Financial Planning
- Life After Business Planning
Through the Value Acceleration Methodology, advisors are able to educate business owners on how to build and preserve their wealth while simultaneously implementing the top business practices into their day-to-day operations.
CEPAs are often financial advisors, accounting, banking, insurance or legal professionals who have undergone a rigorous four-day course, which is taught by experts in exit planning and held several times a year at various cities throughout the U.S.
In addition to completing four days of courses, CEPAs have passed a proctored exam. The CEPA is known as the most widely accepted and recognized exit planning program in the world.
Should You Hire a CEPA?
A CEPA has the advanced exit planning expertise and depth of financial knowledge that may help you if you own a privately held business.
If you’re a business owner, a CEPA can guide you through process of transitioning out of your business. You can expect them to help you figure out your goals on a professional, financial and personal level.
Once you’ve determined your goals, they’ll work with you to design a strategy to help you meet them by the time you transfer your business. You’ll find that a CEPA has greater knowledge on exit planning than a traditional financial advisor more knowledgeable in the general financial planning needs of business owners.
Even if you don’t have plans to exit your business in the near future, a CEPA can help you prepare to do so in the event of an unplanned event like disability, divorce, or death. Their support may allow you to maximize the value of your business and pursue a happy exit that satisfies your goals, regardless of what they may be. In addition, a CEPA may reduce uncertainty for your key stakeholders, employees, and family.
What Do Certified Exit Planning Advisors Have To Say About Hiring A CEPA?
Deborah Meyer, CFP®, CPA/PFS, CEPA
“Selling a business that you built from the ground-up isn’t cut and dry. You have many options as a business owner, and it’s wise to get strong counsel from an experienced advisor who can help you navigate the complexities of a business sale. In fact, between 70% and 80% of privately held businesses that are offered for sale each year do not ultimately sell.
A Certified Exit Planning Advisor (CEPA) is specially trained to help you maximize the value of your business as you prepare to sell. Some CEPAs are focused on optimizing business operations, but a financial advisor who is also a CEPA can help you figure out an optimal sales price to ensure your personal cash flow and legacy goals are met during retirement. And if you’re charitably inclined, there are advanced strategies you can take as the business owner to give the most to charities of your choice.”
What Does it Take to Earn and Maintain the CEPA?
Those who hope to earn a CEPA designation must fulfill certain requirements set forth by the EPI. Here’s a brief overview of what that they are.
To be eligible for the CEPA, candidates must have at least five years of full-time work experience working with business owners directly. They often come from industries such as banking, insurance, accounting, estate planning, and law.
Education and Affiliation
CEPA candidates are required to hold at least an undergraduate degree and be a member in good standing with the Exit Planning Institute. In addition, they must complete an intense four day course taught by exit planning experts.
The course focuses on a variety of topics such as estate planning, private equity and Value Acceleration Methodology. It’s held six times a year and offers an interactive, collaborative environment where participants are encouraged to share their experiences and learn from one another.
Here’s an example of what is discussed during each day of the course:
- Exit Planning Reinvented
- The Need for Exit Planning
- Value Acceleration Methodology™
- Financial Planning for Business Owners
- Advanced Estate Planning Concepts• Integrating Charitable Intent
- Introduction to Value Enhancement
- Exit Planning Deliverables
- Basics of Business Valuation
- Ignition Controls Case Study
- Goals and Objectives
- Creating Action Plans
- Delivering Action Plans
- Importance of Teams
- Exit Options Analysis
- Understanding Private Equity
- Third Party Sales and the M&A Process
- ESOPs as an Exit Strategy
- Family Transitions
At the end of the four day course, candidates must take and pass a proctored final exam. The exam is a closed book and takes about three hours to complete.
To maintain their designation, CEPA holders are required to complete 40 hours of continuing education every three years.
What EPI Leadership Says About The Value Of CEPA Certification
We asked EPI Vice President, Scott Snider, to offer his perspective on the value of hiring a CEPA as a business owner.
Vice President, Exit Planning Institute
“For business owners thinking about how to rapidly grow value in their company and even integrate some of their personal financial goals into that growth plan, hiring a financial advisor who is trained with in the Value Acceleration Methodology, a CEPA, is critical.
Certified Exit Planning Advisors bring a different perspective. They bring a holistic mindset. To have not just a successful company, and a successful exit where you harvest that value, you need to have a significant one.
I think many of us as owners have successful companies but when we go to grow, or go to sell, we fall short on significance.
A CEPA Financial Advisor, allows us to see the full picture and build a strategy and plan to achieve all goals in the business, personal and personal financial aspects of our company and life. This allows us not only to have a successful company and exit, but have a significant one.”
How To Find The Best Certified Exit Planning Advisor For You
With more than 2500 CEPA designation holders, you’re likely to find several who may be a good fit for your business planning needs and individual circumstances.
How can I confirm the financial professional I’m working with holds the Certified Exit Planning Advisor designation?
You can confirm the status of a CEPA designation holder in the member directory on the EPI website.
What if I have a complaint about the Certified Exit Planning Advisor I’m working with?
If you have a complaint about a CEPA, submit your matter in writing to EPI Vice President Scott Snider at the following address:
14701 Detroit Avenue, Suite 430
Lakewood, OH 44017
About the Author
About the Author
Brian is CEO and founder of Wealthtender. He and his wife live in Texas, enjoying the diversity of Houston and the vibrancy of Austin.
With over 25 years in the financial services industry, Brian is applying his experience and passion at Wealthtender to help more people enjoy life with less money stress.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to encourage any lifestyle changes without careful consideration and consultation with a qualified professional. This article is for reference purposes only, is generic in nature, is not intended as individual advice and is not financial or legal advice.