One of the most crucial mistakes wealth managers make in their marketing -- and, even more fundamentally, in their practice -- is targeting clients and prospects solely on the basis of net worth or investable assets. I often hear, “Our sweet spot is individuals with between $1 million and $5 million in investable assets.”

It is generally true -- and I do mean generally-- that individuals with levels of wealth in common share similar needs. Targeting them based on what essentially amounts to what they have to invest is a fine place to start, but it’s a terrible place to stop.

Investable assets can never tell you why prospects have come to you, or what they need. What will help you, however, is understanding the source of their wealth. How did they acquire it?


Are the people before you hardworking, average-earning lifelong savers? High-flying corporate executives saddled with a vested interest (and stock position) in a single company that may never love them back? Or are they small business owners or entrepreneurs whose personal finances and business finances can be hard to distinguish? Did they inherit all their wealth -- or, perhaps, just enough that they can't quite quit altogether?

A client's source of wealth is an incredibly informative data point. It is key to understanding a client's values, work ethic, attitudes toward risk and investment personality. It may even give you a clue as to how clients might work with you as an advisor: Will they need an asset manager or a shrink?

For example, the 50 year-old "retired" investment banker who's been both successful in a high earning career and has never outlived her means is likely to be actively engaged and informed. There will be lots of discussions at the individual fund level in her investment decisions and she will be value conscious in what she's willing to  pay for performance. And don't be surprised if she manages a small pool of money on the side to see if she can "beat" you.

On the other hand, the 80 year old inheritor whose bond laddering can no longer keep up with his healthcare expenses is in need of fewer investment conversations and a lot more basic education and reassurance that although the security of fixed income can no longer meet his needs, adding more risk to the portfolio will help sustain his assets, not deplete them.  A life spent carefully guarding an inheritance not of his making has taught him to trust no one in its management, and to fear at a fundamental level its loss.

While each might have an equal size portfolio, it’s their source of wealth—self-made versus inherited—even more than their 30 year age difference that is a fundamental clue about how and why they might need, seek and use advice.


The act of planning is a personal one, dependent on very personal attributes: needs, goals, fears, aspirations, all born of individual life experience. And let’s face it, the role of wealth manager may be two-thirds financial planner, but it’s also at least one-third therapist. I don’t mean just handholding during a bad day in the markets; I’m talking about understanding what a client or prospect really wants to do. What motivates her? What does she want to achieve?

So when thinking about your clients and prospects, look beyond their bank accounts and see how they weigh meaning behind their money. Look at your current book of business and ask yourself, who are your best and worst clients, the most satisfying and most challenging to serve? Who are you uniquely good at serving?

There is a very good chance they have something in common. Consider the source, and you’ll come up with a far more meaningful, relevant position for your practice.

Stacey Haefele is President and CEO of HNW, Inc, an enterprise relationship marketing software firm to the Wealth Management and Financial Services Industry.

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