Close Close
Popular Financial Topics Discover relevant content from across the suite of ALM legal publications From the Industry More content from ThinkAdvisor and select sponsors Investment Advisor Issue Gallery Read digital editions of Investment Advisor Magazine Tax Facts Get clear, current, and reliable answers to pressing tax questions
Luminaries Awards
Katherine Fox

Industry Spotlight > Women in Wealth

One Way to Boost Service to UHNW Clients

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.

As a fourth-generation member of a philanthropic family that has striven to pass wealth and values down across generations, Katherine Fox brings a unique perspective to her burgeoning advisory practice.

After beginning her career with a five-year stint at a larger wealth management firm in Portland, Oregon, Fox recently struck out on her own and founded Sunnybranch.

Sunnybranch is an independent, fee-only firm that works with clients who want to deepen their impact in the world through every aspect of their finances, Fox says, from their investments to major gifts.

While her work is grounded in a deep consideration of equity issues and a firm commitment to progressive causes that not all financial advisors may share, her practice management philosophy nonetheless offers some food for thought for other financial professionals, especially as they seek ways to distinguish themselves in the eyes of potential high and ultra-high net worth clients.

Fox says she started Sunnybranch to fill a much-needed gap in the wealth management space. Although “impact investing,” “socially responsible investing” and “ESG” are popular buzzwords, Sunnybranch takes a deep dive into what having an impact truly means to each individual client and their families, Fox says.

“I believe the privilege of holding wealth confers a responsibility to give back and an obligation to investigate how we can create meaningful change in the world,” Fox tells ThinkAdvisor, explaining that she is eagerly seeking clients who share this vision. This is why she is both a certified financial planner and a chartered advisor in philanthropy.

As recounted in interview highlights presented below, the nature of Fox’s practice means she seeks clients with a minimum of $1 million in investable assets, though her ideal is to reach a client median in the ballpark of $5 million to $7 million or more.

She feels confident she will get there, and she also feels wealth managers of all stripes could benefit from embracing, at least in part, the idea of putting philanthropy at the front and center of the UHNW client-advisor relationship.

THINKADVISOR: Can you please speak about your motivations for striking out on your own and establishing a boutique high-net-worth wealth management shop?

KATHERINE FOX: Absolutely, I enjoy talking about this topic and what motivates and inspires new business owners.

I started my career with a firm that is focused, broadly speaking, on impact investing. However, their approach primarily involved investing via private equity opportunities. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great firm that is independently run and does important work. However, as a millennial woman with a strong point of view, I eventually began to feel constrained by that approach.

For example, we served a client base that was really calling the shots about what the investments should look like. It was primarily a client base that was in their 60s, 70s and 80s, and they already had firmly established philanthropic identities and philosophies.

I began to feel that I didn’t have the freedom to support them and build portfolios in the way I personally wanted to. So, I wanted the independence of building my own approach and my own brand, and that is what resulted in the launch of Sunnybranch.

What did your client base look like then, and what type of clients are you seeking today?

At my prior firm, I was working with our larger and older clients who carried substantial wealth, in the range of $25 million to $50 million. Those clients are really well served at this point in time by the wealth management industry, both generally and in terms of philanthropic advising.

However, what I really enjoyed most was working with younger clients, say those with $5 million to $10 million. These clients are very wealthy, yes, but they are still in the building phase of their lives. Philanthropy, impact investing and giving back look very different for this cohort. With this client group, what they really need help with is creating a philanthropic identity.

With the older and fully established clients, they are already expected by their peers and communities to give back. Philanthropy is what is expected of you in that class of people, and you very likely already have a network to speak with. They can help you understand how to engage.

When you are younger, on the other hand, you don’t really have that same identity or community. Honestly, and I can speak here from personal experience, it can be really lonely and isolating for people who have inherited their wealth or found great professional success.

They often don’t have friends with the same level of wealth, necessarily, especially if their wealth is inherited. A skilled philanthropy and wealth advisor is what these people need.

This is something you have personal experience with, right?

That’s right. I first came into this space because I have inherited wealth, and this is a tension that I have struggled with personally. The vast majority of people out there have not inherited significant wealth at a young age. I have been fortunate because I have three generations of my family to look to for guidance and who I can look to as examples to emulate.

Whether their wealth is earned or inherited, younger clients often feel like they don’t have enough time and space to create a philanthropic identity. They are still working and raising their families, and this can be a personal pain point for many people in this position.

That’s why my message for other advisory firm leaders is to look for opportunities to bring this type of planning forward from the start in the high-net-worth advisory relationship and make it a key aspect of your client service and relationship.

Helping these clients in this way builds tremendous loyalty. It helps to address the legacy planning question, as well, because you will naturally create relationships with their spouses and children.

How does the topic of impact investing and activism fit in here? Is that an important part of your value proposition when engaging with a younger set of UHNW clients?

Yes, it is, but I will offer the caveat that my firm is operating in Portland and mainly seeking clients in the West Coast region who expressly share my vision, so that is important to consider. Not all regions or clients share my perspective.

I would start by saying that, based on what I hear from my clients, the large and well-established firms are struggling to connect with younger clients on these issues in a way that feels true and authentic.

The highest level of interest I see is not so much for an advisor that is offering some specific or unique ESG or impact investing opportunity. The real interest in this client group is in finding a firm aligned with their values from top to bottom.

What I mean is that, if you just offer ESG investment strategies but you don’t have a diverse staff or board and you aren’t personally demonstrating a commitment to the ideals that your potential client subscribes to, this effort will fall flat.

Now that you are a year into building your firm with this vision, are you optimistic that you will achieve your goals?

Yes, I feel extremely confident about the future of my firm. By no means am I the first person to have worked in this area, but I do think I have a unique perspective, given my background. I think it’s going to be interesting to see how quickly momentum picks up.

To be clear, I don’t plan to become a mass market advisor. My minimum right now is $1 million, and I would like it to be higher. My ideal client has somewhere in the realm of $5 million to $7 million in assets.

These people aren’t growing on trees and banging down the door, but it is the type of client I want to work with, so I will need to keep working hard to find them and pitch my value.  A big part of success will be making sure I am out there in the community and finding the people who are centers of influence in the philanthropic space.


© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.