Cultural Learnings From Richistan

June 7, 2007

Even after more than a decade of observing and studying the high net worth, working on this issue has brought to light just how different these individuals are from the rest of the population. In lieu of sounding like a broken record-you must know the affluent to win their business-I'd like to offer some suggestions.

A senior reporter at the Wall Street Journal, Robert Frank, covers the private wealth space for the venerable newspaper. Every Friday he has an insightful column in the Weekend Journal section called "The Wealth Report," covering everything from how Wall Street hot shots spend their bonuses to the ways designers avoid having two socialites wear the same gown to a charity event. He also has a blog, accessible at where he posts mini stories a few days a week on equally amusing topics estates of the week, aristonauts, philanthrotainment, and the not-to-be-missed Rich-O-Meter. Do yourself a favor and keep an eye out for both and Frank's wry, rare look at today's wealthy consumers and investors.

Frank was scheduled to release his first commercial book, Richistan: A Journey through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich (Random House), this June. It's based on hundreds of hours of interviews with wealthy individuals and families; Frank estimates that most people he spoke with had net worths exceeding US$50 million. After speaking with him at length about his forthcoming project, you should think about adding it to your summer reading list as another resource to help you get inside the mind of your super-rich prospects.

There's an old stereotype kicking around that the rich wear ascots, have nicknames like Biff and Trey, and belong to country clubs. But "they're not like that," Frank explains. "Being rich is something different today. I wanted to provide a close understanding of today's wealthy beyond the clich├ęs and reality TV."

We've all heard that the rich are different, but Frank claims that you have to "spend time with them to understand how and why they are different." For instance, many of his subjects refuted the idea that they were rich because they were acutely aware of people with greater wealth than their own. In other words, a phenomenon that occurs when you have six household staffers and your neighbor has 14. Frank is quick to point out that his goal was "not to take sides on the important and emotional subject of inequality, but to tell stories with as much accuracy as possible." In that vein, Richistan will include topics like new interpretations on philanthropy, efforts to rear wealthy children with an awareness of and appreciation for their socioeconomic status, and even the contrasts between old and new money in Palm Beach. He'll also devote some time to three common stages of wealth-making it, living it and losing it-and the recent dynamics that have helped so many people generate so much money.

Frank's word of advice for our readers? "The challenge in servicing this market is getting to know them and what they really need." In short, your knowledge must be deeper than distantly formed perceptions.

And if all else fails-consider reading it purely for the entertainment value. Your day at the beach will be considerably more lively when joined by the billionaire who has a negative net worth, the cute couple (a hedge fund manager and an exotic dancer) that just put a 30,000-square-foot pool in their basement and, oh yeah, the plebes from Butler Boot Camp.