(Dow Jones) Advising the ultra-wealthy may have more to do with clients' attitudes than their assets.
Knowing what sort of people you want as clients, and having the infrastructure to attract and retain them, is vital to a successful practice.
"In the wealth-management world, you have to be clear about who you want to serve," says Jeff Oberstein, a partner with the consulting firm Bain & Co. "It's hard for one firm to serve all segments in a way that makes customers happy enough to make referrals."
But the traditional ways of doing that sorting, by assets under management, age or service preference, for instance, may not be enough when it comes to those worth, say, $30 million or more. Defining other factors touching on personality, values, attitudes or lifestyles-called psychographics, as opposed to demographics-is key with this class of client.
"With psychographics you're going deeper to probe things that really have an impact on your clients' attitudes about money and investing," says Stacey Haefele, president and chief executive of the consultancy HNW Inc.
Done right, market segmentation not only turns clients into advocates, it informs what sort of investment products and wealth-management services a firm should offer. For example, financial-planning firms that cater to mass-affluent investors shouldn't worry about intergenerational family governance. And firms that serve centa-millionaires needn't be retirement-income experts.
Traditional measures such as assets and age might shape a firm's investment platform, dictate adviser-to-client ratio-and even suggest an appropriate look and feel for its office. "Segmenting on the basis of net worth gives you a rough sense of your clients' needs and the costs associated with serving them," Haefele says.
Tracking psychographic traits can help advisers to the ultra-wealthy sharpen prospecting efforts and refine service further. For instance, self-made people approach wealth management differently from those who have inherited their riches. People who made their own fortunes tend to be optimistic, less risk averse and have a keener appreciation of the role luck plays in success. Inheritors tend to be more conservative and cautious. In broad strokes, think riverboat gambler versus museum curator.
There are also distinct types of self-made millionaires, according to Haefele. Corporate executives often share personality traits, as do serial entrepreneurs.
And the presence of underage children in the home can make a freewheeling bootstrapper temporarily conservative in outlook-only to return to form once the kids are gone.