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Portfolio > Alternative Investments > Private Equity

10 Ways the Wealthy Buy Privacy

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How many physicians do you know socially? Probably not many. You know lots of accountants and lawyers, but few anesthesiologists or heart surgeons. If there is a big hospital nearby, they must live somewhere. The seriously wealthy find ways to fly under the radar. How do they do it?

But First, the Greatest Story About Wealth and Anonymity

The Aldi supermarket chain is big in Germany. It’s actually two separate businesses that were owned by the late Albrecht brothers — Aldi Sud, owned by Karl Albrecht, and Aldi Nord, owned by Theo Albrecht, who also owned Trader Joe’s. The following is a direct quote from “The Trader Joe’s Adventure” by Len Lewis (2005, Dearborn Trade Publishing).

“In fact, the last time the brothers hit the headlines was in 1971 after Theo Albrecht was kidnapped. This is yet another reason the entire family is so media shy. Apparently kidnappers looked at this somewhat shabbily dressed man and kept asking him if he was really Theo Albrecht. Then they demanded to see his identification after throwing him in getaway car.”

How Do The Wealthy Buy Privacy?

Let’s look at ten ways seriously wealthy people maintain a low profile. Not everyone does everything, but a few examples should ring bells about people in your area.

1. Avoid publicity. In England, it’s said a gentleman’s name should only appear in the newspaper on three occasions: Birth, marriage and death. Publicity attracts attention. When you have money, lots of people want to separate you from some of it or help manage it. When you look at those “100 Richest People” lists, a few have no photos or very dated images.

2. Give anonymously. When charities look for donors, logically they do some research on who gave major gifts to the hospital, museum and other high-profile worthy causes. Most charities give the option to opt out of their published donor lists, having their gift listed as “anonymous.” They are doing good, not seeking recognition.

3. Unlisted phone numbers. This one’s pretty obvious. It gets tougher when they have multiple phones. Voicemail works as an effective screener. Don’t answer, review messages later. They have screeners at the office. Technology allows you to hide pretty effectively.

4. Hidden houses. In the U.S., we are into power lawns. Large properties are often positioned in a parklike setting. In the UK, a house “not visible from the road” is a privacy asset. This doesn’t require large amounts of land. A wall running along the property’s edge or a line of trees delivers the same result. If the house is buried in the woods, a gravel driveway (it makes noise when cars approach) or a battered mailbox often don’t get a second glance.

5. Blending in. We like to believe wealthy people wear designer clothing, carry expensive luggage and arrive by helicopter. In reality, they dress neatly, but not in a way that attracts attention. Celebrities are different; they want to be in the public eye. Wealthy people know anonymity is a cheap way to buy privacy.

6. Exclusive vacations. When someplace is remote, it often takes money and time to get there. Years ago, places like Acapulco, Montego Bay and the British Virgin Islands were playgrounds of the rich and famous because only the “jet set” could afford to get there. Cunard ships like the Queen Mary 2 continue to offer Queens Grill and Princess Grill accommodations with separate restaurants, deck space and cocktail lounge. It costs a lot, but it’s a ship within a ship. They spend money to keep out of the public eye.

7. Private schools. Your local schools may be excellent, but the seriously wealthy will pay something resembling college-level tuition to send their children to private school for their elementary and high school educations. If your child attends one of these schools, they usually know the names of all the other children.

8. Private clubs. Golf may be declining in popularity, but country clubs and city clubs still fill a role. Major cities often have a couple of private gyms or athletic clubs running on the same principle. Millennials may be attracted to high-end private wine or cigar clubs. They have a “not your father’s club” appeal.

9. Seek financial services elsewhere. As moderately wealthy clients become seriously wealthy, some advisors get the unwelcome surprise of transfer papers. Some wealthy people prefer their accounts are handled in another city where they aren’t known. The advisor may be doing a fine job, but they know word gets around where they do business and people start speculating how much money they’ve got. Better to be a small fish in a big pond elsewhere. Family offices also take the day-to-day responsibilities off their shoulders.

10. Hire services. You know your neighbor is wealthy. Although they may shop at Costco and the same supermarket as you, it’s unlikely they mow their own grass, shovel their own snow or clean gutters themselves. They place a value on leisure time and understand work gets done faster and better when you bring in the professionals.

Your local doctors aren’t doing all of these things, but they are likely doing some of them. Conversely, if you see a gated driveway heading into the woods or a house set on a hill, you might ask yourself: “What do I know about this person?” The answer might be “Nothing.” In that case, they have achieved their objective of maintaining a low profile.

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Bryce SandersBryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, “Captivating the Wealthy Investor,” can be found on Amazon.


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