Joe Duran never liked “wealth management” as a description of what his company does.

He felt it was too limiting. It only told part of the story. “We customize our service to do what matters to you,” said Duran, the chief executive officer of United Capital.

To get a better handle on what matters to clients, the Newport Beach, Calif-based firm, which has $13 billion in assets under management, commissioned an in-depth study last year. United Capital hired Riedel Strategy for the job. That company, also based in Newport Beach, was started two years ago by husband and wife Barnaby and Alyssa Riedel (pronounced “rye-dell”). They use the techniques of anthropology, psychology and finance to do market research and communications consulting for financial companies.

“We think it is essential that advisors have concrete tools to help their clients to articulate their values and translate them into concrete plans,” Alyssa Riedel said.

Barnaby Riedel has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago’s Comparative Human Development Department.

The six-month-long study for United Capital concluded in February. The results suggest that financial advisors who want to help their clients reach their life goals need to take a different approach, Barnaby Riedel said.

Riedel interviewed 30 couples for an hour or two by telephone. That method is better than a face-to-face meeting because it gives subjects a feeling that their privacy is protected, he said. About half the couples were United Capital clients. All had investable assets of more than $500,000 and dependents.

“We wanted people who definitely had something at stake,” Riedel said. The stakes are higher when others are depending on you, he said.

Riedel discarded the traditional approach of dividing financial life into three periods: accumulation, protection and distribution. Life is more haphazard and unpredictable than that, Riedel said. And that approach shoehorns people into categories that might not reflect what their lives are about, he said.

The study found that most people, by a wide margin, focus on working and spending rather than investing and saving. “Working and spending accounted for 90 percent of what we heard,” Alyssa Riedel said.

Riedel asked for highs and lows and turning points. Eighty-three percent of the turning points in the narratives involved a trade-off of some kind.

For example, he said, the choice of what college or graduate school to attend was a turning point for some. Do you go to a school closer to home and cheaper or go to a pricier school with a better reputation? Do you start your own business or stick it out working for a company in a position that is not your dream job but it provides security?

A summary of the results reports that “our research found that people are happiest when their financial decisions are in alignment with their personal values – not when they have more money.”

For example, one subject made a good amount of money when he turned an ailing hospital around. But the money was not what made him happy. It was the recognition he received in the field for his accomplishment. “I got known, the man said.

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