From the June 2006 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

The Interpreter

Myra Salzer serves as go-between for her inheritor clients and their money

Myra Salzer is a modest person. While she has been an advisor since 1983 (her first career was as a chemical engineer), she hints that she's surprised to have been named to the Investment Advisor Leaders' Council, since she says that "in my opinion I have not arrived." But upon further reflection and deeper into our IA Leader's interview, Salzer's unique insights and passion for her clients becomes apparent, and her leadership position becomes clear. If you're looking to understand the unique challenges facing inheritors, you must speak to Myra Salzer. As with most good advisors, those insights into clients go beyond a dispassionate observance. There's true empathy in her voice as she discusses how difficult it can be to inherit money at a young age and to be bereft of many of the comforting if challenging circumstances and structures that shape the personalities of most clients (and people). Imagine if you were smothered for all your life with the affection and painstaking care we reserve for newborns. Imagine how low the expectations would be of you. Now imagine that you are trying to take some control of the assets you've been given. To whom do you turn? Who can you trust? Who won't take advantage of you? Try Myra Salzer.

On the state of your practice.

In my opinion I have not arrived. It's kind of pathetic, the little I've accomplished for as long as I've doing this--since 1983. It's disheartening that it doesn't get any easier.

I don't know if my practice is applicable to the general financial planning industry. I work only with inheritors, and my clients have inherited a lot of money at a young age. So we're not looking at retirement plans, we're looking at asset protection; we're looking at not screwing up--it's wealth conservancy. So a lot of the rules don't apply. We don't know anything about life insurance or mortgages. But darned if I don't know about QPRTs and CRUTs. It's a very little segment of the financial planning market--very, very small.

On how you're compensated and how your practice differs from other firms.

In my case, [on estate planning] we have one attorney on staff, and most of our clients are out of state, so of course we're working with an attorney in the state in which our client is domiciled, and usually they have a family attorney already in place.

Similarly, with investments, they usually have trust companies and their trustees or their family office doing that stuff, and we're helping to design an investment policy and implement it, but we only have discretion over a fraction of the assets that we're supervising.

For the most part, our fee structure doesn't vary whether we have discretion or not. We charge a flat rate; our minimum is $5,000 a quarter.

We may be coaching clients on how to work with their family office; or acting as interpreter or coordinator between their accountants, brokers, and agents. Our clients inherit at age 18 or 21 or 25, and are thrust into a position of responsibility without any training to protect them.

On what you call that service you're providing.

Inheritor coach.

On the services you offer clients.

It's guidance, friendship, a sanctuary--a safe place where they can talk about their challenges without any judgments. Many of our clients are in the closet about their wealth. They can't even find therapists who don't have an attitude about it.

On how you find clients and gain their trust.

It's a long process. Just to find these clients is a long process. There's no "Inheritors Club," where they talk about their problems, there's no "Inheritors' Magazine," and they all don't play polo.

It's not like we get 5,000 new clients a day; if we get five new clients a year, we're doing really well. It's not a highly leverageable business model. It's quite labor intensive.

On whether you offer family office services.

I don't represent the family office, I don't represent the family, I represent one member of the family. And usually, the majority of the time my client's the black sheep--the one who's ruffling the feathers, the one who's not going with the family office program or the multi-generational family culture--but is asking questions.

They're fascinating people. But [inheriting money at such a young age] meant that they were never going to have to work. It denies them opportunity and certainly doesn't promote high self-esteem or confidence.

On what led you into this niche.

It evolved after a couple of experiences in the 1980s with inheritors. I thought I could just get them together and they could support each other. So I formed these inherited wealth workshops in the late '80s that I kept up for 16 years. That got me the niche, because I started to get more and more clientele like that--from the workshops--and started to build a practice.

On the size of your practice and what you look for in employees.

There are five [besides me], but I'm looking for others. So if you hear of any financial planners who aren't intimidated by wealth . . .[We want] a confident, caring, competent person.

On the lack of sympathy for "poor little rich kids," since most people think a lot of their problems would disappear if they were handed a lot of money.

Sure, I'd buy a house, I'd quit my job, I'd buy a house for my mom. That's the first five minutes. What do you do with your life? That's why I just wrote The Inheritor's Sherpa (self-published), a book designed to help inheritors define a goal and build accomplishments toward that goal.

On advice for an advisor starting out.

Don't starve for as long as I did. I started fee-only in 1983; how stupid could you be? Being a trailblazer is not necessarily profitable. I didn't come from within the industry, I was a chemical engineer. After 12 years as the only woman in my department I was a mediocre engineer but a terrible corporate employee. It was a great background; I built some wonderful problem-solving skills. What I'm not good at is management. I got my babies, got my husband started in his area, and went to the College for Financial Planning. Walked out of [the engineering job] on a Friday and started the Wealth Conservancy on Monday.

On any plans to change your business model.

You'd think I'd be smart enough to do that, but my vision is to do more of the same, to grow the Wealth Conservancy, to have more specialists that are of value to my clients. I want a full-time philanthropy consultant on staff, I'd like to do more in terms of hands-on individualized work. I want the Wealth Conservancy to live on well past Myra, for it to work with my current clients' grandchildren. I'm my clients' advocate. They don't have others.

Editor-in-Chief Jamie Green can be reached at jgreen@investmentadvisor.com.

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