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High Net Worth Clients: How to Find Them, How to Service Them

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As F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “The very rich are different from you and me.” To which Ernest Hemingway is said to have riposted, equally famously, “Yes. They have more money.” The advantages of having clients with “more money” are obvious: higher income, fewer clients to serve, the opportunity to deliver higher levels of service. There are enough of them to go around, too: a survey that defined high net worth (HNW) individuals as those with $1 million or more of investable assets, excluding home real estate, found that there are more than 2.2 million of them in the United States. So it is no surprise that marketing to HNWs has been a significant growth area for financial planners over the last few years.

But the very rich are different in other ways too. For one thing, they’re elusive. Thomas Stanley’s famous book was called “The Millionaire Next Door” because he found that by and large, millionaires are modest, hard-working people who don’t flaunt their wealth. Perhaps apart from the fact that many of them are business owners, that means there’s no special way to prospect for them. That quiet neighbor in the modest house who wears off-the-rack suits and mows his own lawn might be, if not Warren Buffet, at least a millionaire. For another, even the ones who do flaunt their wealth are elusive. You’re not likely to prospect Donald Trump or Bill Gates, surrounded as they are with hordes of advisors. Finally, the mere fact of their wealth makes them intimidating in many advisors’ eyes.

Here, as always, knowledge is power. For prospecting HNWs, the first thing to know is where and how to find them, so that is where we begin. However, once you’ve found them the key thing is to know their psychology.

Different from You and Me?

There’s no question that you could prospect for HNWs by immersing yourself in the glitz of their most visible segment. You can vacation in Aruba in hopes of rubbing shoulders with them, stage lavish client appreciation events to draw them in, and engage in general social climbing.

However, the odds will favor you if you take Thomas Stanley’s information to heart and stay at home. If HNWs are all around you, why go all the way to Gstaad to seek them out? Instead, learn to spot HNWs. According to Stanley:

  • Look beyond appearances: Really, this should go without saying, but it can’t be repeated too often. As Stanley shows, HNWs can be found anywhere. And if their net worth is high enough, they don’t need to impress anyone and don’t care what others think they look like. Howard Hughes at the end of his life was just an extreme example.
  • Ask questions: Our “How to Clone Your Clients” series showed you how to construct a profile of your dream client. That profile can serve you well in prospecting HNWs. Referral sources and strategic allies can use it to limit their referrals to prospects who meet your minimum net worth criteria. And you can use it to ask questions of a prospect that will get to the heart of the net worth issue. In a prospect interview, simply ask directly. In less formal situations, you can get at your answers indirectly by asking more general dream client questions: What do they do? What are their goals? Their hopes and dreams? Their charitable objectives? What are their favorite leisure activities and vacation locations?   Get then to identify the niche that made them rich. Frame your questions to drive them toward their passions. You won’t be able to shut them up.

At bottom, there’s no mystery to identifying HNWs. It really requires no different skills from those a successful financial advisor uses every day: empathetic listening to the answers to good questions, from a service perspective. But once you’ve found them, how do you keep their attention and win their business?

Different from Each Other

Perhaps even more than with most prospects, knowledge of HNWs’ psychology is key. Don’t expect to get anywhere thinking of HNWs as some kind of monolithic block. Just as much as the mass affluent, they have distinct psychological styles with distinct bases, and you need to learn and work with these.

Know What They’re Concerned About

Some have suggested that there is a primary divide between two classes of HNWs: the merely wealthy and the super-wealthy. This is less a hard line based on net worth than a matter of psychology. The idea is that while the merely wealthy are still intensely focused on wealth accumulation, the super-wealthy have transcended this drive and are more concerned with wealth preservation and the uses to which wealth can be put. The merely wealthy have the same concerns as the merely affluent: securing their retirement, finding education, health care, and residence, etc.

The super-wealthy know they can afford all of these things. So they are concerned instead with asset protection and issues of stewardship, whether familial or social. Recall that Warren Buffet, wealthy beyond any thought of further wealth accumulation, is a vocal opponent of abolition of the estate tax, for social policy reasons. There does seem to be some empirical ground for this distinction, and to the extent it holds you will need a different approach and different tools for the super-wealthy. Think charitable giving, building trust within the family and in general preparing heirs. In general, if you are going to prospect the super-wealthy, be prepared to offer investment management services as well as the traditional financial planning demanded by the merely wealthy. These considerations suggest, too, that a good way to prospect the super-wealthy is to get involved with charitable organizations.

No matter what kind of HNW you are prospecting, be sure to locate their concerns early in the process and address them on a personalized basis. Cookie-cutter methods, such as generic pitches, cold calls, seminar invitations, and the like are useless. Rest assured, they’ve heard it all, and are perfectly prepared to tune you out if you can’t distinguish yourself from the pack.

Know Their Decision-Making Style

There are even greater variations among HNWs along another critical psychological axis: decision-making style. This stands to reason. No two HNWs made their money in exactly the same way, just as no two paupers lost theirs in the same way. An investor, an entrepreneur, and an heiress will all look at the world and their money differently. The investor is likely to be a hands-on type who knows, or thinks he knows, as much as you do. He’ll need to be prospected and serviced very differently from the heiress who may be downright phobic about money management as opposed to consumption. Individual HNWs will also exhibit very different motives for gaining and using their wealth, from wealth accumulation for its own sake through power and prestige to stewardship.

In your prospecting, you should zero in on these issues as quickly as possible. It’s important for you to consider these facts for two reasons. What kinds of clients do you like to work with? If you prefer high-flyers with a taste for risky new instruments, it makes no sense to prospect little old ladies no matter how big their bond portfolio may be. Second, apart from personal preference, who are you likeliest to serve best? Whose needs match your strengths? If you’ve read “How to Clone Your Clients, Part I,” you’ll recognize these as the questions you asked in constructing your dream client profile. Use them now as you prospect for HNWs.

HNWs are the most demanding client segment. To give them the stellar service they insist upon, you need to accommodate their decision-making processes, not the other way around.

Know How to Persuade Them That You’ll Deliver Stellar Service

Remember that HNWs are the hardest “sell” of any client segment, because more than with any other you must appear not to be “selling” yourself in any way. HNWs have been hit on so often that their first reaction to any financial advisor is mistrust. Your mission is to overcome that mistrust. How do you do it? How do you get over their presumption that you’re nothing more than a pitchman?

Don’t pitch! You need to persuade them that you are—as indeed you are—a service professional. You’re there to solve problems. So in your prospecting, locate problems and propose solutions—ones that don’t involve buying your products, to begin with. Like any other prospects, HNWs will only become clients if they know, like, trust, and respect you. The difference is that their initial resistance is much higher. The only thing that can overcome that resistance is the possession and projection of a strong service ethic.


In the ways that matter to prospecting and client service, the very rich are just like you and me. Once you find them, the key is to do what you do in dealing with non-HNWs: listen carefully to their concerns and offer the best solutions you can to their problems. In short, conduct yourself as a service professional. Only be aware that establishing the service relationship is likely to take longer because of the obstacles, explained above, to building trust. The wait will be worth it.

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This article was excerpted from National Underwriter Advanced Markets, the premier resource for retirement planning professionals. It was originally published by The National Underwriter Company, a Summit Professional Networks business and sister division of ThinkAdvisor.

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