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“Planning is so important”: Claire Shanahan, Director in PwC’s Private team shares her tips for managing your wealth

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By Megan Burns
21st Sep 2023
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“Planning is so important”: Claire Shanahan, Director in PwC’s Private team shares her tips for managing your wealth

Claire Shanahan, a Director in PwC’s Private team, shares how relationships are the most important aspect of her job, and why planning is essential to every aspect of managing your wealth.

A business and law graduate, Claire Shanahan may have initially been drawn to working in tax due to its mix of dealing with both figures and legislation, but where she has really found her passion is building deep relationships and trust with clients. As a Director in PwC’s Private team, her work is varied, from helping high net-worth individuals plan how best to transfer their wealth, to advising entrepreneurs considering selling their company, and assisting family businesses draw up their succession plans.

“I thoroughly enjoy my job,” Claire says, “it’s very much relationship-driven. When I started off my career, I was working solely with large corporations. However, when the opportunity arose to work with private businesses, and their shareholder groups, I felt it was an opportunity that could not be overlooked. With this type of client portfolio, you were, in some cases, meeting with people with responsibility for many areas of the business, from chief executives, finance directors, HR professionals as well as operations and marketing personnel. And it became very personal.”

She says she cannot help but become invested in her clients’ success. “It’s an honour that you are that trusted adviser who is dealing with sensitive issues.” Especially when it comes to complex matters like selling a company, or making plans for what will happen to a family business in the future, Claire explains, diplomacy is needed. “Sometimes you’re dealing with acrimony that comes with family businesses. There might be a breakdown in relationships among shareholders and you’re navigating through those difficult waters.”

However, successfully navigating those challenges is the best way to ensure the future of these businesses, and it is something Claire is adept at, with the reward of seeing businesses that she works with flourish. “That’s my favourite part of the job. You get such joy out of seeing your clients succeed. These are people who are in our community, you see their brands on vans driving past, or their products in the supermarket, they are tangible success stories.”

A key part of her role, Claire explains, is approaching every client with a completely open mind, as each case is totally individual. “Very often, the starting point is a clean piece of paper, posing questions to business owners such as, ‘what do you want to achieve, and what do you want for the future?’. I always say to people: tax will never drive a transaction. So we always start with painting the picture of, what do you think tomorrow looks like? Or five years down the line? I can help you achieve that vision.”

“You get such joy out of seeing your clients succeed. These are people who are in our community, you see their brands on vans driving past, or their products in the supermarket, they are tangible success stories.”

Even since the beginning of her career, Claire says she is heartened to see more female business leaders come to the fore, and she has always been inspired by female colleagues around her. In the transactions she deals with, Claire also notes that whereas traditionally many family businesses would have automatically passed to sons, there is no longer the same assumption.

“More and more you can see women are getting involved in the family business, or indeed other businesses and progressing through the ranks – now they’re a strong voice at the table. You can see that there are different ideas and perspectives coming through, and it’s certainly adding value and protecting the legacy of these family businesses.”

Another change she has seen in the last ten years is that family businesses are investing more time in considering their succession plans, and not just automatically letting their children or other family members take over.

“Now people are becoming more cognisant of the fact that their children, or niece and nephew, are not necessarily the best-placed people to manage that business. There’s more of an awareness of protecting the business, and its employees. We are seeing an evolving trend with respect to the segregation of ownership and management of a business. It’s delicate and it’s challenging, but the key question is, ‘Who is best placed to run that business?’”

Governance is also a big focus. Claire explains it is important to protect the rights of all the shareholders in a business and to have a robust shareholder agreement in place. Although not itself a tax function, it is essential to have strong governance policies in place to manage any shareholder issues which may arise down the line.

“It’s really important to have a shareholder agreement,” she advises, “because regardless of who you’re in business with, be it a friend, a third party, or your sister, unfortunately, you can go through situations that may be challenging, and you may need to rely on some sort of an existing agreement.”

Planning in general is something that Claire emphasises to all clients, whether they have come to her for help with their business or managing their personal assets. “Planning is so important, irrespective of whether you plan to sell your business in five years, retire, or ensure your children are provided for in the future. While it might be a challenge to sit down with family members or shareholders and have those discussions, doing so ensures you have achieved a more seamless transition.”

Money Management

Claire shares her top tips for managing your wealth.

Think ahead

Whether you want to ensure your children are provided for in the future, or you would love to retire at a certain age, or have a business that you’d like to sell or pass onto the next generation, Claire says the earlier you talk to a tax adviser, the better. “In order to ensure the most appropriate future plan is secured, you should be putting in place protections to make sure that you can create the most amount of value, and you should be having the conversation with your adviser as early as you can.”

Growing your business

Claire recognises that small business owners may not have the cash resources to make use of tax advisers early in the life of their company, but she explains that the sooner you speak with an adviser, the better. “As value grows, it’s good to engage in these sorts of discussions, especially before you take certain actions such as expanding into new markets or introducing a new shareholder.”

Creating structures

Governance has been a big focus for business owners in recent times, and Claire explains, “You need to have policies in place, like a shareholders’ agreement or a family charter, so everyone knows that if a certain eventuality happens, these are the rules they will adhere to. It’s a way of making sure a robust plan is in place to deal with any potential challenges which may arise at a shareholder level.”

The PwC Private team is dedicated to serving private businesses, family business ventures, high-net-worth individuals and entrepreneurs. To find out how PwC can help your business, visit pwc.ie/private

Photography: Kieran Harnett