Most people think of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg when they think of the Silicon Valley mega-rich. Though not nearly as wealthy, there are plenty of other high-net-worth (or soon-to-be-HNW) technology entrepreneurs and innovators that need help from advisors.
After catering to technology executives for over 20 years, it has become clear to us that the wealth management needs of this group are different from other HNW clients and they require a different, and at times counterintuitive, approach from their advisors.
Here are three areas that uniquely distinguish the tech entrepreneur from the average investor:
1. Little appetite for risk. Risk is taken in the entrepreneur’s career and at their company -- not in their personal investments. It may seem counterintuitive to the outsider looking at the venture capital or startup entrepreneur, but when it comes to their family wealth, a counterbalance of risk mitigation is often the goal.
The risks associated with a startup career – like the constant need to raise capital, the risk of timing to market new products or services or the potential board or venture capital decision that removes them from their position altogether – seem to call for a less-risky investment approach with wealth taken off the table to be safely and intelligently diversified.
2. Highly rigorous scrutiny. The due diligence process among these tech entrepreneurs is intellectual, rigorous and academic. Highly educated and fiercely independent, the innovator will challenge the wealth management team to a thorough process of scrutiny. They will often require a rigorous and lengthy courtship of meetings and reviews that would challenge the patience of even the most focused and dedicated wealth advisor.
What's most unique is that often they will independently and intellectually arrive at the decision to hire a team regardless of whether or not they were referred from a colleague or friend.
Meanwhile, it’s also important to realize that the personal schedules of the tech elite are intensely demanding and taking the time for personal matters often takes a back seat to the day-to-day demands of their careers.
3. Suspicious of the establishment. The entrepreneur is just that, an innovator and as such, is generally suspicious of Wall Street and old world wealth management.
The tech founder is most comfortable in smaller, collaborative environments where problems can be surfaced and dealt with quickly.
When forced to work in or for large corporations, often the innovator struggles and literally counts down the days to their escape to the next startup venture. It's this personality trait that draws them to the boutique wealth manager where they feel at home and in control. It's the independent wealth management team that acts as a fiduciary -- to the level of a lawyer or CPA -- that appeals to the tech elite.
And like all HNW clients, the tech executive can span the last three generations from baby boomer to Gen X to today’s millennial startup founder and there are characteristics that set the generations apart. But one thing is constant: The innovator has different needs and must be related to in ways that they understand and are comfortable with.
To best serve these clients, advisors must have a clear understanding of risk-adjusted investment management strategies and a thorough and well-defined due diligence process set out for the entrepreneur client to follow and study. Ultimately, be prepared to be patient and connect with these clients as an entrepreneur yourself. Let them know you understand their startup mentality and the unique world in which they work and live.
Paul Boyd is a managing partner and wealth advisor at ClearPath. He has over 26 years of experience as a leader in the wealth management industry, developing and managing investment advisor businesses that catered to the tech elite in Silicon Valley.