Most successful advisors recognize the importance of connecting intergenerationally with their clients’ families. What happens when the advisor discovers the complexity of the family dynamics exceeds his or her skill set? Further imagine how exacerbated such a situation might be if it were a family with substantial wealth. It’s no wonder that statistics show that financial legacies are lost more often than not when wealth is passed on from generation to generation.
For advisors whose focus is working with high-net-worth individuals and families, ensuring that the family does not become another data point in the grim statistics is essential. But it takes more than skill as a financial advisor to make that happen.
According to Barbara A. Culver, CFP, CLU, ChFC, AEP, co-founder of Purposeful Planning (www.purposeful-planning.com), a training and development company that provides specialized coursework and coaching on how to work with wealthy families, most advisors lack the training, teammates and/or resources to help their clients use the family’s wealth wisely and create lasting family harmony. An advisor herself to wealthy families, Culver has over many years developed a process for advisors to use with these clients. The Purposeful Planning system helps them get past any issues they may personally have about the money and assorted family dynamics. The goal is to build family bonds and help the family wealth founder become “the entrepreneur of the family legacy.”
The Purposeful Planning program addresses several needs. First of all, it provides advisors with a deep understanding of the perspective, emotions and mindset of the client. According to Courtney Pullen, MA, LPC, a faculty member on the Purposeful Planning team, wealthy people tend to be suspicious of outsiders and consultants who claim to be able to help them; their experience has been that people become vultures or try to take advantage of them. Pullen suggests that advisors must look at “how they are” with these clients — and ask themselves where it is that they get tripped up. Once the advisor is conscious of his or her own barriers, Pullen and other faculty members teach them how to move through those limitations.
Research has shown that clients’ perspective on their relationship with an advisor is quite different from the advisor’s perspective. “To close the gap,” says Pullen, “the advisor must become more skillful in the discovery process and in developing the relationship with the client.” Only then can the advisor be successful with the technical aspects of the planning process.
In addition to the need for advisors to gain clarity about their own issues, it’s essential that they begin to understand the subtle — and not so subtle — issues that the client family is facing. The advisor must identify what is going on for the family to cause them to reach out for help. The program’s process helps advisors understand family systems and family dynamics, so that they can effectively connect intergenerationally with the family. This is necessary if the advisor is to be successful at helping the family come together around their wealth, rather than be torn apart by it.
“Every successful family does two things,” says therapist and Purposeful Planning faculty member Terry Hunt, EdD. “They ‘hold hands’ and ‘make plans.’” Sounds simple, but for many wealthy families, coming together in harmony is an enormous challenge. There is often a lot of competition among family members and the typical family structure is a pyramid, with the founder at the top. Inheritors often deal with the stigma of “poor little rich kid” and feel shame about their good fortune. In many cases, they have more of a sense of entitlement than ambition, and have never been challenged or encouraged to find their own passion or sense of purpose.
A third-generation inheritor himself, Hunt has devoted his life to helping wealthy families and the advisors who work with them understand and move through these problems.
To add to this, some sociologists and psychologists have identified a new phase of human development — emerging adulthood — between late adolescence and early adulthood. The experience of family members in this stage of life is so different from what their parents or their grandparents went through at that same age, that “many times the parents and the advisors can’t identify with what the emerging adult is thinking or doing,” Hunt says. “This can lead to frustration, alienation and even hostility between the young beneficiary and a trust system that was not prepared for the types of challenges that they may be facing.”