A map is a spatial representation of contemporary reality, and as such Ellen Uzelac’s cover story “The Shifting Geography of Financial Advice” offers a snapshot of today’s reality.
It would be a surprise if the story didn’t reference an advisor pulling up stakes because he was fed up with California—the trek of small business people out of the Golden State for business-friendlier climes has been well documented for well over a decade now.
That doesn’t mean it is not a place of opportunity for financial advisors. It remains a hub of many of the nation’s wealthiest people, many of whom regard the lifestyle and climate as worth the price of high taxes and whose professions are less affected by intrusive regulation.
And it would count as a grave omission had the story not referenced the shale revolution that is remaking America’s wealth map, pegging North Dakota and southwest Louisiana as emerging wealth centers. Advisors seeking to capture money in motion could do worse than to set up shop in Williston, N.D.
Money is remaking the map, as it always does. There is tremendous wealth in Chicago, for example, yet a recent study by Morningstar has found that per capita liability for government worker pensions redounds to $18,596 for every soul in that vast city.
A high level of government spending generally signals a high rate of future taxation, which economic theory suggests dampens productivity.
Another aspect of contemporary American financial geography is the fact that for the past few years the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area has become the nation’s wealthiest region, replacing Silicon Valley. The average federal worker earns nearly 80% more than the average private sector worker, despite what you might have learned in school implying the opposite was true.
Replacing a center of innovation with one of redistribution would seem to confirm the view of critics that rhetoric about helping others often just means feathering the nest of government. Despite the needs of a place like Wilcox County, Ala. (median household income: $22,126), America’s wealth gets stuck in places like Washington suburb Falls Church, Va. (median household income: $121,250).
In this sense, the U.S. has joined Europe, where wealth historically has concentrated in grandiose capitals like London, Paris and Vienna in contrast to the American tradition of wealth centers residing outside of capitals: L.A., New York and Miami rather than Sacramento, Albany and Tallahassee.
Washington used to be a sleepy Southern city with a capital; today it is the heart of a “vast land mass” encompassing 717 square miles of high-end zip codes—a third of the area’s zip codes are in the top 5% nationally—according to a Washington Post analysis.
For those advisors not lucky enough to have a senator as a client, my prediction is that places like Texas and even “over-advised” Florida will remain places of growth as increasing numbers of ordinary Americans seek to keep as much of their wealth as possible safe from the taxman.
But wherever you are or want to be, your clients—perhaps more than ever before—reside in a State of Confusion—and could use all the financial help you can provide.