I recently attended a breakfast briefing hosted by Inheriting Wisdom, the specialty consulting firm that helps families navigate the unique dynamics associated with wealth. The principals, Drs. Carolyn Friend and Jamie Weiner, arranged to have three individuals from ultra-affluent families share their thoughts with a roomful of advisors on topics that ranged from building the consensus to sell a successful family-owned business to the appropriate conversations for introducing prenuptial agreements to non-family members and many, many things in between.
Over the course of the event, the word "trust" was mentioned repeatedly as a much desired, nay essential, quality. More specifically, one family member said, "I'm OK with you having a financial interest in our relationship, but I don't want your interests to advance or supercede mine." Another described trust as the kind of relationship in which "you would not deceive me for monetary gain." A third suggested looking closer to home for guidance. How do you define trust? What do you look for in friends or co-workers? How do you assess someone's trustworthiness? Do you seek the same qualities in nannies? Doctors? Mechanics? Dry cleaners? With some minor variations, the answer is probably yes. People want a professional that can be relied upon to take care of their offspring, health, car or clothes in the best possible way.
But, let's face it, entrusting your financial affairs to someone is almost as serious and important as entrusting your child to someone. You wouldn't leave your kid with just anyone and it's unlikely that you'd turn your net worth over to an unknown person, either. Instead, you'd probably embark on a lengthy and comprehensive search to find the right solution for you and your family. But when we think about our prospects and clients, sometimes we conveniently overlook the span of time needed for new, untested relationships to unfold. A process that's more like 1) meet, 2) have coffee, 3) go on a date, 4) go on many dates, 5) meet friends, 6) agree to date exclusively, 7) meet family, 8) vacation together, 9) send out joint holiday cards, and so on. Sometimes it's a whirlwind romance, but, more often than not, it's a delicate courtship that occurs over a period of months and years.
Thanks to advancements in technology and a world increasingly propelled by the convenience of Web-based businesses, search engines and smart phones, we want instant gratification. We want answers ASAP. We want to close business today. We want results and referrals now. But the business of private wealth is still, at its core, a relationship-driven proposition. A trusted and trusting relationship-and that takes precious time.