From the October 2008 issue of Wealth Manager Web • Subscribe!

RISK COUNSEL FOR THE WEALTHY WORLD TRAVELER: PART 1

Significant net worth provides much more than financial security. It enables the wealthy to leverage a world of exceptional experiences--from skiing in Chile to a Kenyan safari to yachting the Mediterranean. But along with that $2,800 Louis Vuitton carry-on, the affluent traveler brings a very different brand of baggage on his or her trips.

When even the most discreet among the affluent go continent hopping, their money can talk too loudly. The pull toward the most remote corners of the planet only heightens the risk. In haste, a wealthy world traveler may head off without a plan for dealing with dangers that may await. Losing your passport in a region of China marked by decades of civil unrest could quickly turn an exotic quest for inner peace into a bureaucratic nightmare. When you need a topnotch orthopedic surgeon after a fall on a rocky shoreline, or a pharmacy to replace a missing vial of pills, you don't want to find yourself on a lightly inhabited island 600 miles off the coast of South America with no idea what to do.

These scenarios will play out with growing regularity as well-capitalized Baby Boomers continue to retire and emphasize recreation over relaxation. Yet by any math, 65 is not 45--a fact that only heightens the physical risks prosperous Boomers face. This may explain the results of a 2005 survey by the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies in which nearly three-quarters (73.5 percent) of 1,585 respondents said their greatest concern when traveling is suffering a medical emergency. That figure is more than double the fear of being mugged (30.7 percent), three-times the fear of being injured in a terrorist attack (23.4 percent) and 10-times the fear of being sexually assaulted or abducted (7.6 percent and 7.2 percent respectively).

Your Unique Position

The wealth manager can help clients address these concerns. It's as simple as increasing your clients' risk awareness and leading them to resources that help avoid or recover from a bad travel experience. If the client is headed to Galapagos or Tibet, for example, it could mean conferring with him about the need for excess medical coverage or ID replacement services. Admittedly, this may not be in your job description, but by providing a "global lifestyle roadmap" to your clients, you can transform your standing with them from "valued" to "indispensable."

The "roadmap" is especially important because many clients will be on their own when traveling abroad, without the assistance of domestic staff and the medical, legal and security support to which they are accustomed. In the absence of those they trust most, clients are inclined to feel a heightened vulnerability. At the same time, they may bristle at being told they can't do certain things due to safety, security or legal considerations that don't apply back home. They want the full experience their chosen destination affords. Moreover, they've probably accumulated their wealth at least in part due to a high tolerance for risk, and they are not likely to take "no" for answer unless it's accompanied by an excellent reason.

The good news is that since 9/11/01, many security firms have intensified their focus on travel risks. Some insurers have aligned themselves with these firms, which screen for potential risks in clients' tentative travel itineraries.

Such experts provide real-time, on-the ground intelligence, as opposed to cut-and-pasted information from dated Internet sources. They can advise on safe passage--whether by air, water or ground--find the most secure accommodations, and even conduct background checks on temporary staff abroad or yacht crews. By connecting your clients with one of these firms, you reduce their vulnerability while engaging professionals who can deliver the tough messages to them.

Nobody takes a trip expecting bad stuff to happen. But despite best-laid risk management plans, it often does. In fact, according to that previously cited survey, 13 percent of respondents required hospitalization while traveling and 15 percent cut a trip short for a medical reason. Wanting to transfer to an advanced medical facility in a health emergency (a desire expressed by 92 percent of respondents) seems sensible enough. But, depending on the prognosis, a long trip could prove life threatening. At the same time, the quality of care at the local hospital may be decades behind American standards. Discussing these issues with clients before they travel doesn't just add value; it could be a lifesaver.

Andrew McElwee is executive vice president of Chubb & Son and Chief Operating Officer of Chubb Personal Insurance. He can be reached at amcelwee@chubb.com

Reprints Discuss this story
This is where the comments go.