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Cracking The Code On The Ultra-High-Net-Worth Market

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The rich are different from you and me. For starters, they need specialized, high-touch financial services and demand a high degree of financial knowledge and expertise from those who serve them. If you aspire to join the club, you must play by the rules–or work in a different market.

For those who can compete on this level, the ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) market offers exciting opportunities to serve the needs of clients with $5 million or more in net worth. There are 930,000 households in the United States who breathe that rarified air and they have a multitude of financial needs. Many of those needs involve prodigious amounts of life insurance and include estate planning and wealth transfer, charitable giving, business succession and executive benefits.

Wealthy families often rely on teams of specialized professionals for legal, accounting, financial planning, bank and trust, and insurance services. In many instances, these clients work with multi-family home offices (MFOs) that provide personal services for everything from paying bills and making travel arrangements to managing money and planning for wealth transfer. In 2004, the last year for which figures are available, MFOs managed more than $169 billion in assets for approximately 6,000 families, according to Bloomberg Wealth Manager.

But the UHNW market isn’t for everyone. If you want to crack the code, you must tread carefully. Like navigating within the membership of the most prestigious yacht club or country club, there are rules of deportment and engagement that must be followed:

? Think objectives, not products. UHNW clients are looking for financial professionals who focus on their unique financial needs, not the products that may facilitate the solution to those needs. You need to start with the client’s broad-based planning objectives in mind. The needs of clients within this realm are multi-faceted and sophisticated, so your knowledge of financial planning techniques must be both wide and deep. And you need to continue expanding it.

? Build relationships, first and last. Clients and advisors in this market value relationships above all else. Your reputation is everything. That means providing value for the client, whether or not you ultimately make a sale or commission. Don’t worry. If clients see you as someone who cares about building and maintaining long-term relationships, future opportunities will always come your way.

? Play nicely with others. Because UHNW clients typically work with teams of highly specialized financial advisors, you may be asked to assume a role. This is especially true with MFOs. Anyone who interacts with these teams must have the ability to work well together with professionals from different disciplines.

? Prove your mettle the first time. The UHNW market is closely knit, which means most of the players know each other. Failing to adopt a team-oriented approach or dropping the ball when your number is called can leave you on the outside looking in for good. You won’t get a second chance.

? Do not grab for the reins. Within the team approach, each financial professional’s role is defined early in the process, including those offering life insurance advisory services. If you’re asked to play tackle and block for the team, don’t try to suddenly take control of the planning process.

? Do your homework. Pre-work, research and planning are required to be a player in the UHNW market. Remember, you have been included on the planning team because of your expertise in a specialized area. Your expertise and skill can ultimately be responsible for tens of millions of dollars passing to multiple generations of a single family.

? Make frequent touches. One nuance that separates the UHNW market from the merely affluent is the need for personalized service. For instance, MFOs are designed for effectiveness rather than efficiency and require a high degree of personalization. Many offer concierge services and expect flexibility and adaptability from the financial professionals who serve them.

? Be clear and concise when educating financial team members. Specialization is often the word of the day when working with teams of professionals, especially when serving MFOs. You must be able to explain sophisticated financial planning techniques to professionals from other disciplines such as law, accounting and asset management.

For those who are willing to adapt and grow their knowledge of financial planning, the long-term rewards of working with UHNW clients can be significant. The dynamic growth of the market–Spectrem Group reports the number of families in this demographic has nearly doubled in the past 3 years–means there are tremendous opportunities for financial professionals with the right stuff.

With nearly 1 million families whose net worth is $5 million or more, there is no question the UHNW market is the most lucrative available. A growing number of these families need your specialized knowledge to protect and grow their wealth. The only question is, do you have what it takes?


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