In 2009, Cathy Morrison left her job of 23 years as senior vice president of the High Net Worth Group at Roxbury Capital Management and opened her own firm to fill what she saw as a need in the industry-helping clients deal with all the financial services companies in their lives.
At Pacific Financial Concierge in Los Angeles, she negotiates on behalf of her clients with insurance companies, on medical bills, credit cards and car leases. She saved one man $10,000 on a home remodeling project just by soliciting a few more bids. Today, she enjoys a robust business "helping people save money and spend more wisely," she says.
In 2006, CFA Magazine predicted that demand for concierge services among financial planning firms was about to soar. Since then, banks and credit card firms have hired concierges to make their offices more customer-oriented, especially for wealthy and elderly clients. There's also been a surge in small boutique firms like Morrison's, dedicated to offering concierge services for anyone who needs them. Their services include everything from wangling baseball tickets to wrangling over bills.
Morrison saved her first client $5,000 a year by bundling her insurance services and getting her out of the California FAIR Plan for homeowners' protection on her principal residence. It took about 30 hours of work and 50 calls, Morrison recalls. "No one has the time to do that for themselves." She charged about $2,000.
Of course, financial advisors don't have to leave their firms to offer concierge services. Small planning firms have been helping clients in these ways for years, and many are adding financial concierges to their staff.
The employee-client ratio is one to four at Perigon Wealth Management, an employee-owned firm based in San Francisco, with an office in Hawaii, that provides full-spectrum advisory services to high-net-worth individuals, nonprofits, institutions and retirement funds. "Many clients view Perigon as their personal CFO," says the company website.
A financial concierge can customize a package of personal and life management services that include trust administration, private banking services, retirement planning, tax consultation and estate planning. They also pay bills, book travel, provide personal assistant services and manage household staff.
High-end private banking firms are also looking for ways to make high-net-worth clients feel special. U.S. Trust has treated prospective and current clients to events with Rudolph Giuliani and Colin Powell, and invited 50 guests to a dinner and concert by Lincoln Center's Chamber Music Society. Chicago-based Northern Trust Corp. has entertained high-net clients at spring training baseball games; it's all part of the concierge movement to woo clients.
Barron's ranked Wells Fargo the No. 4 wealth manager in the country last year. Personalized concierge services are a part of the Wells Fargo package, including family ancestry charts. Two historians-Andy Anderson and Gretchen Krueger-work full-time in the Wells Fargo Family History Center, to document the ancestry of families with at least $100 million in assets, formally presenting free leather-bound ancestry reports. By Wells Fargo's estimate, the reports have fostered relationships leading to more than $1 billion in new assets for the bank.
Hollywood, of course, has long-embraced the idea of having personal financial concierges. Jess S. Morgan & Co. has been around for more than 40 years, helping any time money touches their clients' personal lives, says Jeremy Stahl. It collects all income the client earns, pays all the bills, determines and purchases all insurance needs, handles all real estate transactions, including home sales, purchases, leases, rentals of vacation homes and office needs.
The company is also involved in intellectual property rights, tracks income receipts, prepares all tax returns, tax budgets, does cash flow analysis and income projections for its clients whose net worth ranges from $1 million to $100 million.
ADDING THE CONCIERGE
Financial planning firms that work with upper middle-class clients are increasingly likely to offer concierge service. Sharlee Creters of SC Financial Services in Scottsdale, Ariz., offers both financial planning and concierge services, and gets referrals from attorneys, CPAs and insurance people for both. She offers financial concierge services on a monthly retainer basis; $1,000 a month for those with a net worth of under $7 million and $2,000 a month for those whose net worth exceeds $7 million
Planners are more likely to use their own staff than refer clients away, Creters says. Alan Goodstein, principal of Goodstein Wealth Management, created the position of financial concierge in his Encino, Calif., practice last year. "I saw a need for it. Certain clients are busy or always traveling," he says.
His concierge has priced clients' cars for them, accompanied them on attorney visits and made referrals for someone to pay their bills. It's a money-saver for him, Goodstein says, because it keeps clients happy and the concierges, who are not CFPs, cost less than having a financial planner do these tasks. His concierges are available seven days a week until 9 p.m. by cellphone.
Todd C. Chamberlain, principal of Masters Legacy Planning in Linwood N.J., hired a staff member as a financial concierge about two and half years ago, and recently added a part-timer. Before he hired his concierges, said Chamberlain, his staff took a Band-Aid approach to servicing clients' requests. The financial concierges are paid at the level of a "well-paid administrative assistant."
At first, Chamberlain thought about hiring an existing concierge service. "But we couldn't find anyone we were comfortable enough with to trust our 'A' client relationships." If you want to provide a higher level of service, you don't want to blow it by sending clients to someone who doesn't do a good job, he says.
Trillions of dollars are expected to be transferred as baby boomers inherit and pass their wealth to the next generation. When a client lives far away from an elderly parent, there's an even greater premium on trusting a money manager. Who is going to run mom's affairs for her-not just manage her money so that she can afford the care she needs, but price-comparison shop for Medigap policies, keep track of her health coverage deductibles and make sure doctors don't overcharge her?
Morrison tells the story of an elderly couple whose finances fell apart after the husband, who had always maintained their records, fell ill. His wife didn't know where to begin. Morrison came in and straightened out two years worth of bills, automated their payments and taught the wife what she needed to know to keep things in order.
She now checks in on them every few weeks and handles spot financial projects like renegotiating insurances at renewal time. She initially charged $50 an hour and now keeps them on a monthly retainer for 10 hours a month at $35 an hour.
She does everything from opening and sorting their bills to troubleshooting their computer problems. She constantly looks for opportunities to renegotiate their bills for insurance, cable, phone-any expense-related item.
Financial planners have a role to play, either by referring clients to separate concierges or opening their own operations. "I see myself as a hybrid, a go-between the client and the financial planners, accountants, business managers, even doctors," Morrison says. For a lot of her senior clients, it's also about addressing their worries about their financial and medical future. And yes, she spends a lot of time listening.
Ann Brenoff, a former syndicated columnist for the Los Angeles Times, is a Los Angeles-based writer whose work has appeared on AOL, Huffington Post and in the Los Angeles Business Journal.