If you want to be a wealth manager, Pershing’s Mark Tibergien likes to say, it helps to have wealthy clients. And as all advisors know, their primary goal is to find, attract and retain the best clients, with “best” understood to mean the wealthier the better.
So how can we define wealth management in 2015?
The research suggests that independent advisors—read non-wirehouse advisors—are gaining market share as measured by number of wealthy clients and the amount of assets they bring to independent advisors. Yet the wirehouses continue to provide the bulk of “wealth management” as measured by assets (it doesn’t hurt that the wirehouses’ brokers are now called wealth managers instead). It’s true that some tried-and-true approaches to finding and serving the HNW will remain legitimate, since by definition wealthy people have complicated financial lives, and many are rightfully leery of those who want to serve them, since many have been preyed upon.
However, the traditional image of a wealthy client as an older person whose wealth came from an inheritance and is served by similarly hidebound firms that boast mahogany-paneled offices where wealth is managed through hushed in-person meetings over a leather desk is changing. Better technology has allowed independent advisors to offer more products to their HNW clients, which along with access to aggregated data gives advisors a better view of clients’ financial situations and allows them to provide better advice in the most appropriate portfolios. But technology is also leveling the playing field among advisors in terms of how they prospect for and communicate with clients, while the rise of robo-advisors represents both a threat and an opportunity to human advisors. Then there is the concept of “the wealthy” itself, which is also changing. As the country becomes more diverse, the wealthy—especially the emerging affluent millennials who will constitute wealth managers’ client base for decades to come—is changing.
Advisors who count on their personal charm and referrals from clients who are, like them, baby boomers will be hard-pressed to continue their growth if they don’t embrace technology and have specific marketing plans to attract that next generation of wealth. The “new wealthy” are not only younger, they include more women and are more racially and ethnically diverse. Most important, their expectations of their wealth managers are changing.
And when you want to sell or merge your practice, your firm will be much more valuable if your current client list, prospecting process and compensation model exhibits an appreciation for these changes.
A review of the latest research on the attributes of the wealthy, and many interviews with those who know the psychology and metrics of the wealthy and the advisors who serve them, suggest that wealth management in 2015 and beyond is and will be quite different.
Let’s begin with the numbers.
Who Are the Wealthy Now? Who Will the Wealthy Be?
According to the “Wealth-X and UBS World Ultra Wealth Report 2014,” the worldwide number of ultra-high-net-worth people—with assets of $30 million or more—is slightly more than 200,000, which the report said accounts for $29.7 trillion, or 12.8%, of total world wealth.
The U.S.-domiciled UHNW population comprises 69,560 individuals who hold $29.7 billion of wealth; the population increased by 6.2% over 2013, while the amount of wealth increased 6% (Wealth-X said it uses a proprietary database of wealthy individuals for its numbers). The report said the UHNW are holding 25% of their portfolios in cash and warns that “inflation may well be eroding the wealth of UHNW individuals at a faster pace than prevalent in the broader community.”
In addition, Wealth-X reported that there are wide changes in how the ultra-wealthy got that way: 91% of China’s UHNW population is self-made, “compared to only 43% in Switzerland.” One of Wealth-X’s conclusions: “Entrepreneurship continues to be one of the key cornerstones of financial success.” Another observation from the report: “UHNW individuals are well-connected. On average, their immediate social network includes seven other UHNW individuals, at least one of whom is a billionaire.”
Are there gender differences among the UHNW? “Female UHNW individuals globally tend to invest more in real estate and luxury assets, holding almost 16% of their average net worth in such goods.” (See “Women and Wealth.”)
Tiburon Strategic Advisors’ recent report, “Consumer Wealth,” reported that in the U.S.:
Moderate and high-net-worth consumers control over half of all investable assets.
More than half of consumer discretionary assets are controlled by consumers with $1 million or more in investable assets.
Nearly half of consumer financial assets are controlled by consumers with $1 million or more in investable assets.
Less than one-quarter of baby boomers have received an inheritance, but more surprisingly, only 15% of baby boomers expect to receive an inheritance in the future, which may shatter the myth that baby boomers are going to inherit trillions of dollars.
In its “High-Net-Worth and Ultra-High-Net-Worth Markets 2014” report, Cerulli Associates found that nearly 30% of U.S. HNW investors (with minimum investable assets of $5 million) consider themselves self-directed investors. More than half of those HNW investors, Cerulli found, have direct or online trading account balances between $500,000 and $1 million.
So there are many wealthy people in the world and the U.S., they hang out with other wealthy people, they control a high percentage of consumer investable assets, there may not be trillions of dollars in a soon-to-happen big wealth transfer and the ultra-high-net-worth may be over-invested in cash. But closer to home, who are these wealthy people? Perhaps more important, who are the emerging wealthy, and what do they want from their advisors?
According to Fidelity’s seventh annual “Millionaire Outlook” study, released in early March, the makeup of the nation’s wealthy is changing. While some wealth managers are ahead of that shift, many more haven’t realized the change or built their practices to attract the emerging and mass affluent wealthy.
“Advisors historically have gone up market,” said Fidelity’s Bob Oros, who now heads the RIA segment for Fidelity Clearing and Custody, raising their minimums and looking for wealthier clients. However, said Oros, “we’ve seen a drastic pivot looking back down market,” with “progressive” advisors using that new focus as part of a client segmentation strategy. Oros said the latest study shows “it can be a good business decision to serve this segment since they share so many of the attributes” of the higher-net-worth client. Progressive advisors “see where the puck is going” and realize that if they want to grow their business “in a more predictable way,” they need to serve the emerging affluent, which in the Fidelity study includes those investors age 21-49 with investable assets between $50,000 and $250,000, and annual income of at least $100,000.
The findings of the Fidelity study, Oros said, represent a “call to action” in which advisors must decide if they are “ready to serve this segment.” However, Oros noted that in many ways, the emerging and mass affluent group “is different” in terms of gender and ethnicity—two-thirds are female and one-third are non-white—and they are also a “much more collaborative group” who are “well-positioned to attain, or even exceed, millionaire status.” That’s due to the fact that they have been responsible themselves for achieving their current assets and income levels; that they tend to cluster in higher-paying professions; that they have many years ahead of them to continue to grow their assets; and they tend to exhibit higher risk tolerances in their investing.
The emerging affluent is self-directed, Oros pointed out, with only 48% of those in the Fidelity survey reporting they have an advisor. A different survey by the Center for Talent Innovation—“Harnessing the Power of the Purse”—focused on high-net-worth women worldwide and found that they are vastly underserved by advisors as well. Only 47% of the American HNW women surveyed said they had an advisor, and a whopping 75% of those under the age of 40 said they didn’t have an advisor.