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Keeping up When People are Much Richer than You

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Years ago, I went to the casino at the Hotel Negresco in Nice, on the French Riviera.  While standing at the roulette table, I saw an older woman place a bet at the last possible moment allowed.  The amount of chips she casually slid across the green felt was about the same amount as my entire vacation cost:  airfare, hotel, meals, everything.  It kind of puts things into perspective.  When you find yourself surrounded by people who are older and wealthier, what do you do?

Does this happen often?  Absolutely.  As a financial advisor, you are probably working your way into the circles of influencers and wealthy philanthropists in your community.  Local organizations very often need “new blood.”  If you attend enough charity galas, make friends and keep in touch, you are likely to be invited to pre parties and after parties.  If not, you are probably going out to dinner socially with your new friends.

Old Money, New Money

Let’s divide the crowd into Old Money and New Money.  One’s money whispers, the other’s shouts.  Some people are social climbers, writing checks to charities with the objective of getting into the right circles.  A financial planner in Pennsylvania once described getting onto the board at the hospital as being invited to join the CEO club.  Old money often sees running and supporting cultural organizations as an obligation of wealth.  Their families have been doing it forever.  They aren’t looking for a return on investment.  They are at the top of the mountain already.

Now you enter the picture.  You come with a major advantage.  If you are young, hardworking and trying to make your way in the world, that’s an attractive attribute.  It’s the Horatio Alger story. (1)  If they own a business, they understand sales.  They might wish their own people worked harder.  If they have children living privileged lives, waiting for their inheritance, they may secretly wish their kids were more like you.

Do’s and Don’t’s

You find yourself at a community event, wedding or theme night at the country club.  Everyone is talking with everyone else.  You’re on stage.  Your opportunity beckons.

Do’s:

  1. Dress well.  That one’s obvious.  Always dress well.  Shoes should be shined too.
  2. Smile.  That’s pretty obvious too.  It’s been said people make judgments in seven seconds. (2)
  3. Talk travel (1) Find a common interest, a safe subject.  Travel is pretty safe.  It’s winter.  It’s cold.  Are they getting away someplace warm?  Have they got a summer vacation planned?
  4. Talk travel (2) They’re going to Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands.  The people standing around are talking about their favorite places in the BVI.  You wonder: “Is this some secret language or something?”  Take a keen interest.  Ask why they chose Tortola.  How often do they go?  Draw them out.  Everyone loves talking about their favorite subject.
  5. Bring up river cruising.  The Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA) reported river cruising passenger counts rose 11% between 2015 and 16. (3)  It seems everyone is going.  You might be considering it.  Bring that up.  They will probably have experiences to share.
  6. Play the modesty card.  Downplay your own accomplishments.  Be in awe of their experiences.  You won’t be perceived as a threat.  You are establishing your credentials as a nice person.
  7. Know how the stock market closed that day.  It’s likely you’ve cleared the “What do you do?” hurdle.  Everyone with money is curious about the market.  Even if all your clients use managed money and you haven’t written a stock ticket in years, you must know the closing numbers.  If you don’t, it implies you don’t care about your clients.
  8. Talk about volunteer work and supporting charities.  You should have at least one major cause you support.  They do it too.  They serve on boards.  Everyone needs worker bees.  If many people in the room are philanthropists, this marks you as one of their own.  It can lead to some interesting invitations.
  9. Give to get.  Once you get into these circles, you will start to get requests to donate or attend an event to support a charity. If the committee list includes their name or they have handwritten a note on the invitation, try to attend or at least send a check.  Here’s the upside.  It’s generally understood if you support their charity, they need to return the favor when they get an invitation from yours.
  10. Be respectful.  It can take you far.  Admiring the excellent condition of their vintage car or the golf shot they just completed should go down well.  Very few people are offended by a compliment.  Just don’t go overboard.

Related: 10 Expressions Every Financial Advisor Should Know

Don’ts:

  1. “Don’t lie or exaggerate.  They will sense it.  You might drop the name of a hotel in the Caribbean you’ve heard about, pretending you stay there often.  They know the hotel suffered hurricane damage and is yet to reopen. 
  2. Don’t name drop.  We often do it to fit in.  As a financial advisor, it’s understood you are discrete about your clients.  Confidentiality is part of the job.  Unless you qualify comments carefully: “You might know one of my gym buddies…” there’s the risk that listeners will assume the names you mention are clients.
  3. Don’t talk about price.  Here’s a paradox.  Rich people are cheap.  It’s how they stay rich.  They like getting good deals, but don’t want to talk about it.  Bragging what a great deal you got on an airfare/wine/car implies you are cheap.
  4. Don’t brag.  Even worse than being a cheap is being a spendthrift.  Don’t go into detail about the great suite the resort gave you.  OK, maybe it was a loyalty card upgrade and didn’t cost a dime, but it sounds like you spend money foolishly.  That’s what their kids do.
  5. Don’t laugh at someone’s investment story.  I made that mistake once.  They know you are in the business, so they start talking investments.  So far, so good.  They bought a stock.  It tanked.  They lost money.  They might even laugh about it.  Their friends nearby might be laughing too.  Not you.  They just met you.  Money is serious business.  Expressing sorrow it didn’t work out is a sign of respect.  Get them talking about an investment that paid off.

The object is to position yourself as someone they want to be around, someone who doesn’t have an agenda.  They may see you as a future donor top their charity or a volunteer, but that’s pretty harmless.  You want to identify common interests, find a way to see them again and leave them with a good feeling.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horatio_Alger
  2. https://www.businessinsider.com/only-7-seconds-to-make-first-impression-2013-4
  3. https://www.travelweekly.com/Strategic-Content/River-Passion
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