More Than Money
Issue #10

Learning From Each Other

Table of Contents

“Why I Love My Wealthy Clients”

As a poor girl raised in working class Los Angeles, I never would have believed I'd be a successful adviser to people with wealth. Our family conversations about money were limited to arguments about scarcity and failure. Now, at age 50, a recovering Marxist/radical feminist with a rusty left brain, I am delighted to be continually challenged and rewarded in my work as a socially responsible investment adviser. I have learned so much and received so many gifts from my clients.

Eight years ago, when I took this position, I worried with my activist friends that I would fail, sell-out, or be consumed by jealousy. One wise friend, herself on-staff of a large progressive foundation, assured me that I would confront and resolve many of my conflicts about money if I stuck with the job. She was right.

Early in my career, a woman came to see me who had lived simply all her life. Now her mother had just left her nearly a million dollars (received through a second marriage.) For our first several meetings, this woman sat in my office clutching a stuffed animal from our toy box, often crying as she shared her family history about money and her anxieties about understanding the processes of managing wealth. By allowing her the time she needed, we eventually developed an extremely functional and solid working relationship.

GIFT #1: Time. In the traditional sales community (which includes investment management) there is constant pressure to sell, sell, sell. Inheritors have shown me that is an inhumane way to make a living, AND it doesn't work for them. I have let go of those traditional and ultimately unsatisfying pressures and have learned to respect each individual's process.

Later, this client needed help with estate planning and taxes. Had I only given her the names of a good lawyer and accountant, she probably would have taken months to call them. Instead, at her request, I referred her to a counselor who specialized in inherited wealth issues. It took only one session for her to get clear on how to structure her will and trusts.

GIFT #2: Compassion. By giving her the name of a counselor, I acknowledged that her difficulties were REAL (in contrast to the sarcastic "I wish I had your problems" that people with wealth so often hear.) It has been tremendously expanding for me to let go of my resentment, fear, and jealousy, to see inheritors as people facing problems no easier or harder than mine, and to appreciate the unique and painful challenge of drowning in money.

A year later, this same client and I were having lunch. During a long walk along the river, we decided to tell each other our biggest fear about our professional/friend relationship. Her biggest fear was that my knowledge of her wealth would be used to wound her when she was least expecting it. Was I jealous? What a great question! After some thought I was able to answer that no, I did not begrudge her good fortune, and I felt no urge to criticize, judge or gossip. I now had the experience under my belt to realize people with wealth weren't inherently happier or sadder than me.

What was my biggest fear? Gulp. My biggest fear, I explained, was that I would make an error in her account, and she would talk badly about me all over town without me knowing it. She laughed, and remarked that mistakes were human, and it would never occur to her to complain to others before talking to me. We were both so relieved to have had this conversation. Three months later a small cash flow problem was detected in her account and I felt quite safe in calling to explain the problem and how we had solved it. True to her word, my client appreciated the information and did not criticize me or my firm.

GIFT #3: Honesty. I am learning that the best client relationships are forged by each participant being as human and honest as possible. Due to my own fears and stereotypes, I had mistakenly assumed it was unsafe to be genuine when working with wealthy people. My openness with this client has helped me to be more real with all my clients.

I'm not a counselor and can't afford endless time for extensive "hand-holding", but regular short updates from clients on their successes and struggles enable me to do a better job of responding to their financial needs. As a working class woman, I take great pleasure in doing my job well. I want inheritors to know that when they take the risk and effort to teach me how to best work with them, it's a tremendous gift to me.

I'm incredibly grateful that I get to work in this compassionate, ethical realm. I appreciate being paid well for my labor, but the true rewards of this work come from my emotional and spiritual growth.

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