The United States is on the cusp of the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in history. Over the next few decades, roughly $30 trillion in assets will pass from the biggest and wealthiest generation ever, the baby boomers, to their Gen X and Y offspring.
In all too many cases, younger generations are not adequately prepared to acquire this wealth, and the old adage, “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations,” proves true. Seventy percent of wealthy families lose their wealth by the second generation, and 90 percent lose it by the third, according to the Williams Group wealth consultancy.1
Ask the right questions
Perhaps those statistics wouldn’t be so dire if the parents’ financial professinal had won the children’s trust and retained the assets. But 90 to 95 percent of offspring leave their parents’ advisors after receiving their inheritance.2 Denise Fries, president of Fries Financial Services, in Bryan, Texas, is working to change that.
“About seven years ago, we instituted a process to meet the clients’ children and their heirs,” Fries said. “Since then, our firm has lost very few assets after clients died, in contrast to what happened when we had not met children before their parents passed away.”
Fries begins by learning about her clients’ families. “I was already asking a lot of questions about my clients’ children,” she said, “so I’ve just added a few more to my repertoire, such as: Which child is likely to be your executor and why? Do you generally approve of the way your children spend money? If you were to give your child $10,000, what do you think they’d do with the money?”
Eventually, Fries offers to facilitate meetings with her clients’ families to discuss their estate plans and educate the children on financial matters that pertain to their situations.
With her clients’ permission, Minoti Rajput, CFP®, ChSNC®, president of Secure Planning Strategies in Southfield, Michigan, educates their children on the parents’ estate planning matters and what assets they have.
Include families early on
“I see our clients’ children as an extension of the clients themselves,” she said. “Just as we want to see a husband and wife come together for their planning, we facilitate interaction between the parents and children when the time is right. We educate the younger generation of their responsibilities, so they are better prepared to inherit those assets and don’t misuse that privilege. This also helps the financial professional develop a relationship and trust with the next generation early on. My partner, Mehul, is always involved in these family meetings and later meets our younger clients and begins a relationship. To take advantage of families coming home for the holidays, we send out a letter to 10 clients before Thanksgiving or Christmas and invite them to have a family meeting at our office.”
When it comes to her clients’ aging process, Rajput sees herself as a comprehensive financial professional, counseling her clients and their families through the changes they face in areas of health, lifestyles, and relationships, legal and financial matters.
When asked what advice she had for other financial professionals, Fries said, “I would say look at your block of business and consider how much of the assets are owned by people who are getting older. And ask how you’re going to replace those funds if you don’t take steps to keep that money in the family and with your firm. It’s much easier to be the parents’ trusted financial professional who becomes the children’s financial professional than to meet the children for the first time during a very stressful time after a death and convince them to trust you. So I think it’s extremely important to make some sort of plan to get to know the next generation, perhaps starting with your oldest clients or your largest clients and working your way down.”
If you focus solely on your present clients with little thought to their families, you may actually be letting your clients down by allowing assets they’ve worked to acquire slip away when transferred to their heirs. And you could be missing a major opportunity to build your own business. Since the most effective way to expand your book is through referrals, earning the loyalty of clients’ descendants could not only prevent the loss of
assets you now manage but also build a strong bridge to peers of your clients’ heirs. This may increase your income for decades to come and improve your business’ evaluation for succession planning.
Additional Ways to Connect with Clients’ Children
Building effective relationships with heirs can ease your clients’ concerns, deepen your relationships with your clients, differentiate you as an intergenerational family financial professional and help you retain the assets you’ve helped your clients acquire. Here are some additional ways to begin building relationships with family members:
- Host social gatherings for clients and their families.
- Make sure clients know their children are welcome at any of your events.
- Tailor some presentations to specifically address their children’s life circumstances or concerns.
- When you meet clients’ children, ask what subjects they’d like more information on and whether they’d like to receive your newsletter. Occasionally mail a copy of an interesting article or email a link from a financial website or publication.
- Make periodic thoughtful gestures toward children: a personal gift, a congratulatory note or birthday card.
- Offer to speak at a millennial’s or X-gen’s Rotary Club or other organizational meeting.
- Offer to introduce them to a helpful business contact or service provider.
- Offer to do a complimentary 401(k) review.