Financial Advisor Insights

How Can Companies Create Effective Leadership Term Limits?

How Can Companies Create Effective Leadership Term Limits?
April 2, 2024


Leadership term limits are becoming an increasingly important consideration for companies across industries, but they are especially critical in the financial services sector. Financial and wealth management firms have a profound responsibility to their clients to maintain stability, consistency, and a long-term perspective. Implementing effective leadership term limits is one key way these firms can fulfill this responsibility.

In this post, we'll explore why leadership term limits matter, what makes them effective, and how top financial and wealth management companies are putting them into practice to drive sustainable success. We'll draw insights from recent research, case studies, and expert perspectives.

Why Leadership Term Limits Matter

There are several compelling reasons why financial and wealth management firms should embrace leadership term limits:

  1. Prevent stagnation and encourage fresh perspectives. Term limits ensure a regular infusion of new ideas and avoid the risks of a leadership team becoming entrenched and resistant to change.110 In a rapidly evolving industry, ongoing innovation is essential.
  2. Enable long-term strategic planning. With a clear leadership succession timeline, firms can take a disciplined, forward-looking approach to strategy, versus over indexing on short-term priorities.19 This long-range perspective is especially important in financial services, where clients depend on firms to steward their assets responsibly over time.
  3. Strengthen the leadership pipeline. Term limits create opportunities for rising leaders to take on expanded roles.10 This allows firms to test and develop leadership bench strength. Exposing future leaders to new challenges is an important way to build the skills they'll need at the helm.8
  4. Enhance governance and accountability. Preset term durations allow a board to regularly reevaluate a leader's performance and strategic fit.10 This accountability helps keep management focused on the firm's best interests.
  5. Promote diversity. Leadership term limits can break up homogenous leadership teams and create pathways for underrepresented talent.510 Diversity of background and thought is increasingly recognized as a competitive advantage.

While the case for term limits is strong, firms must implement them thoughtfully to realize these benefits. Effective term limits require advance planning, clear communication, and an unwavering commitment from the board and executive team.

Making Term Limits Effective

So what does it take to establish effective leadership term limits? While the right formula will vary based on a firm's unique needs, the following best practices provide a foundation:

Define the right term length. Terms should provide enough runway for a leader to make their mark, but not so much that they become untouchable. While the exact number will differ, terms of around 10 years are common in financial services.510

Stagger transitions. Avoid a disruptive mass exodus by staggering term conclusions. This allows for smooth succession planning and continuity.10

Prioritize succession planning. Leadership development can't be an afterthought. Firms must continuously cultivate future leaders through stretch assignments, mentoring, and thoughtful career pathing.8 Succession should be a standing topic in board discussions.

Align incentives. Compensation and performance evaluation should emphasize long-term value creation. This will motivate leaders to look beyond their own tenure and act as stewards of the firm's lasting success.19

Formalize governance. Term limits should be formally embedded in corporate governance guidelines. Establish a clear board-level process to manage leadership appointments, evaluations, and transitions.5

Communicate proactively. Transparency around term limits and succession is critical to earning the trust of employees, clients, and investors. Use changes in leadership as an opportunity to reinforce the firm's values and strategic vision.1

Leading Firms Embrace Term Limits

Several prominent financial and wealth management firms have successfully implemented leadership term limits. For example:

  • Morgan Stanley has a guideline of 12-year term limits for independent directors.1 This policy aims to balance fresh perspective with institutional knowledge.
  • BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, has a similar 12-year term limit for its lead independent director role.5 This ensures independent board oversight has regular opportunities for renewal.
  • Vanguard, another major asset manager, has a general 10-year term limit for trustees on its board.5 The firm believes this strikes the right balance between continuity and change.

While term limits are not yet universal practice, they are becoming more common as firms recognize the benefits of proactive succession planning. As the financial services landscape continues to evolve, expect more firms to embrace term limits as a tool for sustainable leadership.


Leadership term limits are a powerful mechanism for financial and wealth management firms to drive long-term success. By institutionalizing change and renewal at the highest levels, firms can position themselves to navigate disruption, innovate ahead of client needs, and develop future generations of leaders.

However, establishing effective term limits requires foresight and discipline. Firms must invest in succession planning, align governance and incentives, and build an enduring leadership pipeline. Those that do will be strongly positioned to build resilient, forward-looking organizations that thrive in the long run.

Firms that commit to building enduring leadership are better able to stay ahead of the curve, deliver on their client promises, and attract top talent. While there's no one-size-fits-all solution, the case for term limits as part of the toolkit is increasingly clear.