True Wealth: Transferring Your Values With Your Valuables
Q&A with Family Meeting and Dynamics Specialist, Emily Bouchard
LR: What got you started working with wealthy families?
EB: Honestly, a prayer. It was a month after 9/11 and I was plaintively asking from my heart what could I possibly do to bring more peace into this world? In that moment I had a thought to create “cells of peace” across the country. Having no idea what that would look like, I started where I could – with families. At that time, I worked at an adoption agency finding permanent homes for children in the foster care system. I also facilitated a couples’ group and a group for stepmothers.
I began writing about the day-to-day issues stepfamilies face and launched a blended family coaching practice in 2003. A year later I was referred to a company specializing in preparing heirs for wealth transitions in their families. I honestly didn’t even know this kind of work existed. I studied the unique challenges faced by affluent families, and was shocked to learn from the research of Roy Williams and Vic Preisser that wealth transfers fail 70% of the time, with the money gone and with familial relationships in shambles. I started working with my first family in 2004, and have found this work to be the most challenging and fulfilling career I could ever hope for – my prayer was truly answered! By bringing peace and harmony into the complex families I am honored to work with, I not only make a difference in their lives, but I also see the ripple effect in the lives of their employees, their communities, and their grantees.
LR: Will you explain the concept of “True Wealth”?
EB: At Wealth Legacy Group, we draw from the wisdom of our mentor, James (Jay) E. Hughes, and his premise that a family flourishes when you nurture their intellectual, human, social, spiritual and financial capital.
LR: Why do you think people need to consider their other “assets” beyond the financial ones when transferring wealth?
EB: We believe that when you use your financial capital in service of your other resources, you then have a truly rich life, where you thrive, while supporting others to thrive as well. The majority of financial wealth is often transferred in conjunection with a significant loss. If you only focus on the intellectual and financial sides of the equation, and ignore the human, social and spiritual sides, you are likely to experience a great deal of strife and conflict within a family system. Considering all the facets of true wealth creates a life raft for the surviving family members to be secure and safe as they navigate that particular bend in their river.
LR: How do you extract values in a way that is most meaningful? What is the process?
EB: As you know from Dr. Bruce Feiler’s research that you featured in last month’s issue, the most powerful way to tap into a family’s values is through the use of storytelling. By the time a family heirloom or family property has transferred to a third generation, the stories that went along with that purchase are long gone. And often the burdens and challenges associated with those belongings overshadow any meaning that may still be attached to them.
We employ a variety of techniques to engage family members in researching, sharing, and capturing family stories and the values they teach. In some instances we facilitate family members in sharing their favorite memories associated with whatever is most meaningful to them, such as: family holidays, family trips, a first major purchase, etc.
We also invite them to look at the money messages and values that have been passed along generationally that have had an impact on them, both positively and negatively. We ask them to think about the first time they remember an experience related to money and to think about what messages they heard and what decisions ensued. We first have them write these out for themselves, as this can be quite personal. After building an experience together of safety and trust, we facilitate a conversation with their family members about these memories in a way that opens up greater understanding and connection.
Along with families, we also facilitate this process for confidential groups of women inheritors and women philanthropists, so that they can learn from each other’s stories. A wonderful outcome of this experience is that they often build a trusted community where they can begin to explore their personal values as well as their familial values.
LR: Do you have any examples or case studies of people your approach has worked well for?
EB: Oh, there are so many. One that comes to mind was of a family with an entrepreneurial widower with a daughter from a first marriage, four children from a second marriage, and a new wife and new step-daughter who was the age of a number of his grandchildren. We were asked to work with them to repair a major breakdown in trust amongst some of the siblings, and between the second generation and their new stepmother.
We chose to have an empty chair in each of our meetings to represent the mother who had passed away 6 months earlier after an extended fight with cancer. We wanted to presence her as much as possible, and we asked everyone there to share stories about her in relationship to the family’s “true wealth” – college trips and educational goals she had for her children and grandchildren, family and social gatherings that she hosted and what were her favorite parts of those events, her belief in God and how each family member experienced her spiritual side in meaningful ways, her approaches to skinned knees, bruised egos, and other human experiences, and her favorite idioms, phrases, and family stories about money.
The stepmother was present for these conversations and got to hear, along with everyone else, what family values were deeply ingrained and present in the family she was now a part of. We then shifted to her and asked that she share memories and stories from her life related to the five facets of true wealth and the family got to know her and what shaped her approach to life, love, and money.
From this place, we were able to explore past promises and expectations and how the estate plan and transition plan honored the original values of the deceased mother and living father. And then we opened up new possibilities for what this next stage in their father’s life could look like with his new wife, so that his children did not need to feel threatened, and he didn’t need to feel defended or offended by their concerns.
As this process unfolded, the older grandchildren who were present became curious about how their grandfather had made his money and how he came to own so many different businesses in three states. The more they learned, the more interested they became, and they requested the opportunity to go on a family road-trip to see the properties and film him telling his stories on site. He loved the idea and the family worked together to plan out the trip and to determine the best methods of filming and archiving his memories at each stop.
A few years later he was tragically killed in a plane crash and his family was so grateful that they chose to invest the time and energy and resources to not only capture all of his memories in that way, but more importantly, to create a trip of a lifetime that is by far their most cherished memory of all – having that quality time with him and everyone being together as they captured his values and his legacy for future generations he will never meet.
LR: What are the most common mistakes people make when transferring wealth?
EB: With regards to this particular topic, the most unfortunate mistakes occur when someone reads an article like this one and thinks that they can implement these ideas on their own, without professional facilitation. This can often backfire and have disastrous results.
I’ll give you an example. A father read a recommendation in a book that he should ask his children what they wanted of his at the time of his passing. He thought this was a great idea and the next time his daughter was visiting he put it into action. He asked her to tell him, of all the things he and her mother had, what did she really like and want. She was very hesitant to say anything as she didn’t want to appear greedy, and, because she was afraid of possible repercussions. He encouraged her and let her know that he really wanted to know. She chose in that moment to trust him and said that she always loved a hand carved nativity scene her parents had brought back from South America when she was a little girl. Her father immediately reacted, yelling: “That’s impossible! You can’t want that! You aren’t religious! You never go to church!” and then told her to pick something else.
You can imagine how that went. She simply said he was right and that she didn’t want anything and that she was just kidding.
This happens all the time with the most well-intentioned parents. They can see how important it is to be inclusive and to ask for the thoughts and stories and opinions of their loved ones, but they can often be less skillful in how to cultivate authentic sharing. Most families operate largely from what Patrick Lencioni, the author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, calls “artificial harmony”. Over time we are trained to know where the electric fences are and, as a result, we do not feel safe opening up beyond those boundaries. Families benefit greatly from having a skilled facilitator to guide them through the process and to help them build skills to communicate openly and entrust each other with what matters most – their human capital.
For your readers who feel inspired to apply some of these ideas on their own, I caution them to start very slowly and to follow a few simple guidelines:
1. Start by sharing a positive memory first.
2. Ask others to share a positive memory in the same vein.
3. Stay curious and interested.
4. Stay out of certainty, agreeing or disagreeing.
5. Listen. Listen. Listen…and avoid interruptions.
6. When they pause, simply ask them to tell you more.
7. Thank them for being willing to share with you.
8. If someone declines, don’t press them.
As a professional who facilitates conversations like these, I still find it risky and challenging to apply these principles in my own family. Luckily they are used to me continually trying, and this past year we had a breakthrough success. After our Thanksgiving meal, there was a lull in the conversation. I took a risk and shared how when I’d recently been on a date, the gentleman asked me to share a story about something that I was most proud of in my life. I told my family how I was taken aback at first, and then shared the story of how my experience as an eighteen year old counselor at a summer camp for children with cancer had inspired me to major in child development. Looking back, I was proud of myself for creating my own major and excelling at it. I then asked my family if they’d be interested in sharing their memories of proud moments. To my delight, and to my father’s great satisfaction (and pride) everyone did, including my two sisters-in-law from England and Germany. We left that experience with everyone feeling closer and knowing something about each other that we wouldn’t have known otherwise.
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Here’s Why Bitcoin Won’t Replace Gold So Easily
What a week it was.
First and foremost, I’d like to acknowledge the horrific mass shooting that occurred in Las Vegas, the deadliest in modern American history. On behalf of everyone at U.S. Global Investors, I extend my sincerest and most heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families.
The memory of the shooting was still fresh in people’s minds during last Tuesday’s Hollywood premiere of Blade Runner 2049, which nixed the usual red carpet and other glitz in light of the tragedy. Before the film, producers shared poignant words, saying that in times such as these, the arts are crucial now more than ever.
I had the distinct privilege to attend the premiere. My good friend Frank Giustra, whose production company Thunderbird Entertainment owns a stake in the Blade Runner franchise, was kind enough to invite me along. Despite the somber mood—a pivotal scene in the film even takes place in an irradiated Las Vegas—I thought Blade Runner 2049 was spectacular. Even if you’re not a fan of the original 1982 film, it’s still worth experiencing in theaters. Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s synth-heavy score is especially haunting.
CNET recently published an interesting piece examining the accuracy of future tech as depicted in the original Blade Runner, from androids to flying cars to off-world travel read the article here.
Still in the Early Innings of Cryptocurrencies
Speaking of the future, I spoke on the topic of the blockchain last week at the Subscriber Investment Summit in Vancouver. My presentation focused on the future of mining—not just of gold and precious metals but also cryptocurrencies.
Believe it or not, there are upwards of 2,100 digital currencies being traded in the world right now, with a combined market cap of nearly $150 billion, according to Coinranking.com.
Obviously not all of these cryptos will survive. We’re still in the early innings. Last month I compared this exciting new digital world to the earliest days of the dotcom era, and just as there were winners and losers then, so too will there be winners and losers today. Although bitcoin and Ethereum appear to be the frontrunners right now, recall that only 20 years ago AOL and Yahoo! were poised to dominate the internet. How times have changed!
It will be interesting to see which coins emerge as the “Amazon” and “Google” of cryptocurrencies.
For now, Ethereum has some huge backers. The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA), according to its website, seeks to “learn from and build upon the only smart contract supporting blockchain currently running in real-world production—Ethereum.” The EEA includes several big-name financial and tech firms such as Credit Suisse, Intel, Microsoft and JPMorgan Chase, whose own CEO, Jamie Dimon, knocked cryptos a couple of weeks ago.
To learn more about the blockchain and cryptocurrencies, watch this engaging two-minute video.
Will Bitcoin Replace Gold?
Lately I’ve been seeing more and more headlines asking whether cryptos are “killing” gold. Would the gold price be higher today if massive amounts of money weren’t flowing into bitcoin? Both assets, after all, are sometimes favored as safe havens. They’re decentralized and accepted all over the world, 24 hours a day. Transactions are anonymous. Supply is limited.
But I don’t think for a second that cryptocurrencies will ever replace gold, for a number of reasons. For one, cryptos are strictly forms of currency, whereas gold has many other time-tested applications, from jewelry to dentistry to electronics.
Unlike cryptos, gold doesn’t require electricity to trade. This makes it especially useful in situations such as hurricane-ravished Puerto Rico, where 95 percent of people are reportedly still without power. Right now the island’s economy is cash-only. If you have gold jewelry or coins, they can be converted into cash—all without electricity or WiFi.
Finally, gold remains one of the most liquid assets, traded daily in well-established exchanges all around the globe. Every day, some £13.8 billion, or $18 billion, worth of physical gold are traded in London alone, according to the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA). The cryptocurrency market, although expanding rapidly, is not quite there yet.
I will admit, though, that bitcoin is energizing some investors, especially millennials, in ways that gold might have a hard time doing. The proof is all over the internet. You can find a number of TED Talks on bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and the blockchain, but to my knowledge, none is available on gold investing. YouTube is likewise bursting at the seams with videos on cryptos.
Bitcoin is up 350 percent for the year, Ethereum an unbelievable 3,600 percent. Gold, meanwhile, is up around 10 percent. Producers, as measured by the NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index, have gained 11.5 percent in 2017, 23 percent since its 52-week low in December 2016.
Look Past the Negativity to Find the Good News
The news is filled with negative headlines, and sometimes it’s challenging to stay positive. Take Friday’s jobs report. It showed that the U.S. lost 33,000 jobs in September, the first month in seven years that this happened. A weak report was expected because of Hurricane Irma, but no one could have guessed the losses would be this deep.
The jobs report wasn’t all bad news, however. For one, the decline is very likely temporary. Beyond that, a record 4.88 million Americans who were previously sitting out of the labor force found work last month. This helped the unemployment rate fall to 4.2 percent, a 16-year low.
There’s more that supports a stronger U.S. economy. As I shared with you last week, the Manufacturing ISM Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rose to a 13-year high in September, indicating rapid expansion in the manufacturing industry. Factory orders were up during the month. Auto sales were up. Oil has stayed in the relatively low $50-a-barrel range, which is good for transportation and industrials, especially airlines. Small-cap stocks, as measured by the Russell 2000 Index, continue to climb above their 50-day and 200-day moving averages as excitement over tax reform intensifies.
These are among the reasons why I remain bullish.
One final note: Speaking on tax reform, Warren Buffett told CNBC last week that he’s waiting to sell assets until he knows the plan will go through. “I would feel kind of silly if I realized $1 billion worth of gains and paid $350 million in tax on it if I just waited a few months and would have paid $250 million,” he said.
It’s a fair comment, and I imagine other like-minded, forward-thinking investors, buyers and sellers will also wait to make huge transactions if they can help it. Tax reform isn’t a done deal, but I think it has a much better chance of being signed into law than a health care overhaul.
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