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UHNW Clients Demand Extraordinary Attention... And Salmon

October 5, 2016

Wealth managers for the super-rich work in a far more complex universe of investment options, financial goals and regulations than financial advisors working for the merely wealthy, sociologist Brooke Harrington contends in the British newspaper the Guardian. And client demands can be extraordinary.

What remains a key component of a successful practice even when billions of dollars are involved, however, is trust, she writes. And the ultra-rich — those with at least $30 million in investable assets — go about establishing trust differently.

Wealth managers help oversee an estimated $21 trillion for ultra-wealthy clients worldwide — and are credited with $200 billion in lost taxes every year, according to Harrington.

Dodging taxes through a complex network of transnational companies and offshore territories is demanding enough. Harrington compares the role of a wealth manager for the super-rich to that of both an architect who designs a bespoke structure and a contractor who makes sure the structure functions as laws change, hiring subcontractors when necessary.

For wealth managers, that means working closely with many other experts, including personal accountants, tax advisors, lawyers and various consultants around the globe, she writes.

The complexity is precisely what draws many to the profession, according to Harrington, a researcher who received her certification in trust and estate planning after a two-year course in wealth management in order to get access to the secretive world of high net worth wealth management.

The challenge doesn’t end with moving assets from one entity to the next while not giving it up to the tax man, she writes. Ultra-wealthy clients often have far more difficult demands than your regular financial advice client. Married clients may want to leave part of their fortunes to their mistresses, some want to protect their assets from certain heirs, and others need to ensure that embarrassing information about a family member isn’t used as blackmail, according to Harrington.

Managing assets for such individuals means that “the client has to undress in front of you,” one American wealth manager working in Switzerland tells Harrington. It requires tremendous trust.

And establishing such profound trust often demands extraordinary feats from wealth managers, according to Harrington. One wealth manager tells her of having to find a piece of missing jewelry for a client in another country. Another wealth manager had to arrange for a thousand sides of smoked salmon to be shipped from Scotland to Japan in a matter of days, Harrington writes. But wealth managers who can prove their worth end up managing assets for the duration of a client’s life — and often even longer, according to Harrington.

By Alex Padalka
  • To read the Guardian article cited in this story, click here.