Advisors and asset managers may work in the financial services industry, but we’re really in the relationships business.

Over the past few months, we’ve been providing tips to the advice community on how to enhance relationships with the families of their high-net-worth (HNW) clients because research shows that when wealth transfers from one generation to the next, the inheritors are far more likely than not to fire the advisor who worked with the family’s matriarch/patriarch, and find their own.

One of the primary reasons for this is advisors often fail to cultivate personal relationships with their client’s spouse and children. To help advisors avoid this costly fate, here are three dos and don’ts for cultivating relationships with wealthy families.


1. Create an org chart of your client’s family and assess your relationship with each member.

You might think you know your client well, but put pen to paper and draw an org chart of the family. First on the chart is your client, who happens to be the matriarch/patriarch, as well as their spouse. Next up might be your client’s children and their spouses, as well as their grandchildren. In some families, it may not be so straight-forward due to divorce. Families are complex, and it’s important to map them out on a piece of paper.

Next, take a hard look at where you stand with each person. Look yourself in the figurative mirror and give each relationship a real, honest assessment. How well do you know them? Rank each relationship on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the strongest. As you go through this exercise, you’ll notice family members with whom you only have a superficial relationship.

2. Break the ice and forge new relationships with family members you have no real connection to.

Ideally, your relationship with your client is a 10. However, maybe it’s only a six with their spouse, and completely nonexistent with their children. Ask yourself — what are the things you have done to cause those relationships to not be as strong? Maybe you’ve known your client for decades but simply haven’t worked to build a relationship with their spouse or children. No matter what the situation is, have conviction in yourself and find an artful way to make time for family members you haven’t connected with yet.

3. Be sincere in your effort to nurture relationships with your client’s family.

Investing time in your efforts to build relationships with your HNW client’s family will bear huge fruit in the long run, so be sincere in this endeavor. For any relationship to be successful ―whether personal or business―you need to be fully present in your interactions with the other person. This means being an active listener. It’s just as important for you to learn what their goals are. What are their hopes for the future? And if you’re trying to connect with a prospective Millennials client, understand that they’re eager for your advice. But they want it on their terms. This means high-touch, personalized contact both in person, and through digital mediums like Skype or email.


1. Be intimidated by the generation gap between you and your client’s Millennial children and grandchildren.

If you don’t have a strong relationship with your HNW client’s offspring, don’t be dismayed. Many advisors are facing this challenge. From my own experience, I know there’s more than a little anxiety among Baby Boomer advisors when it comes to bridging the generation gap with their client’s heirs. But through our research with Campden Wealth, we know that HNW Millennials highly value the type of advice that seasoned advisors are equipped to provide. A 2016 UBS study echoes this point, noting that while an overwhelming majority of wealthy Millennials want to work with an advisor, only a third currently do so.1 They’re just waiting for you to make the first move.

2. Be embarrassed about not knowing your client’s family well.

Don’t be intimidated by the fact that you may have known your client for decades, but don’t know their children well. Just because it hasn’t happened up until now doesn’t mean it can’t happen. It does require some bravery to step into the void and build a relationship that could have been established years ago. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be built now.

3. Focus solely on asset management as you build relationships with your client’s family.

In a prior job, I helped recruit an advisor away from a rival firm to join us at our private bank. He had a huge book of business and a lot of amazingly wealthy clients who stayed with him following his move. But there was one HNW client who was a holdout. We brought her in to teach her about our capabilities. She was a very sophisticated investor, and so we came into the meeting with a mindset of focusing our presentation on our products and solutions. During the presentation, I could tell she was beginning to lose interest, so when it was my turn to speak I used the time to look beyond the financial dimension of her life.

I told her that in order for us to serve her well, we needed to know about other areas in her life that were most important to her. This struck a nerve, and she revealed there was a big debate underway between her and her husband about whether or not to sell a house they owned in London. She saw the house as a purely financial asset and wanted to sell it whereas her husband had deep emotional ties to it and couldn’t imagine letting it go. Interestingly, as important as this topic was to the client, the advisor never knew about it. By moving beyond the financial realm, we were able to learn something significant about this client.

After the meeting she said, “We know what your company’s capabilities are. But what really impressed me was your focus on learning what’s most important to the people you do business with.” We ultimately won her business, but the lesson here is to focus on every dimension of a potential client’s life―not just the financial.

Follow @OppFunds for more news and commentary.

11. Source: UBS Investor Watch: “The Ties that Bind,” April 26, 2016.