Millions of American teenagers and young adults went back to school this month, and are already eyeballs-deep in algebra, science and history, to name a few subjects.

But there’s a good chance the one subject that will have a profound impact on their lives isn’t being offered by their school: personal finance. Unfortunately for many young adults, the first place they learn about personal finance is the “School of Hard Knocks.” Most of us have already heard some variation of the following story. A young adult is away at college. One day, they happen to walk by the bookstore near campus and see a flashy display table where they can get some cheap freebie in exchange for signing up for a credit card.

Fast-forward a couple of years, and they have an unmanageable credit card bill on their hands, on top of a massive student loan debt after graduation. When it comes to personal finance, the sad reality is that most American young adults are forced to learn by trial and error.

According to the Council for Economic Education (CEE), a non-profit organization that focuses on providing students with an economic and financial education, only 17 states require high school students to take a course in personal finance. And only 20 states require high school students to take an economics course.1

My daughter is a high school student in Connecticut, and she’s taking personal finance as an elective since it’s not mandated by the state.

“We know now that most students are not financially literate; they lack the basic fundamental skill to live in the 21st century,” Annamaria Lusardi, the Denit Trust Chair of Economics and Accountancy at the George Washington University School of Business, said in the CEE’s 2016 survey, which was funded by Wells Fargo.

For the majority of American young adults, a formal personal finance education is virtually non-existent. But for advisors to wealthy families, this gap actually presents a big opportunity for them to become an indispensable voice to the next generation.

Education can help advisors attract Millennial clients

For most advisors to the high-net-worth (HNW) community, their book of clients consists of Baby Boomers, a demographic that’s now moving into retirement and focusing on estate planning. As I’ve noted before in this column, their Millennial heirs stand at the cusp of the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in North American history.2

But advisors would be wrong to assume they’ll simply inherit their clients’ children as clients. Millennials only want to work with advisors they trust and know personally. As your Baby Boomer clients shift into the next phase of life, it’s critical to your practice that you engage their adult children and grandchildren now.

If you’re unsure of how to make an initial connection, lean on your clients to help you break the ice. Find out beforehand how much the heirs know about the wealth that’s being transferred.

Then, get to know them. Learn what makes them tick, and make sure they understand you’re not there to sell them something; that you’re only there to help. As the relationship takes root, you’ll gain a full understanding of what they know and what they don’t know about investing and wealth management, same as you would with any other client.

A case study on the value of an advisor-led education

Last year we partnered with Campden Wealth to study the investing behaviors and attitudes of wealthy Millennials. We interviewed and spent time with dozens of Millennials in conducting the research, but one particular interview really stood out in highlighting the immense value of an advisor-led financial education.

We spoke with a young woman who’s in her early 20s. In typical fashion, she didn’t have much interest in learning the ins and outs of investing and managing the family wealth as an adolescent. But as she approached college graduation, this young adult really began to think long and hard about her family’s future and the next phase of life.

She took it upon herself to ask the family advisor to tutor her in investing and wealth management. They met once a week for an hour, and the advisor used that time to teach the basics, and provide insights into why certain decisions had been made for the family’s portfolio―including asset class types, asset allocation and risk assessment.

“Since he was already our family advisor, it does help that he understands where I’m coming from, but I had to spend a lot of time with him to get him to understand me as an individual,” she said. Through the educational process, this advisor managed to establish a strong relationship with a potential next-generation client.

Platforms that can assist in the effort

Millennials have strong beliefs on how they’d like to invest, but they’re often unsure of how to structure their activities. Our survey showed that most wealthy Millennials are looking for the family advisor to step in and provide them with a framework of how to think about and approach investing.

As you work to become a source of knowledge and advice to your clients’ heirs, it’s important to remember that there’s no shortage of interactive tools that can help you engage them. Bank of America partnered with Khan Academy to launch Better Money Habits, a free service that teaches users to understand finance through videos and online tools. Some firms―including Merrill Lynch, UBS and the Institute for Private Investors―have launched boot camps for wealthy families, where they teach participants all aspects of the portfolio construction process.

But through it all, advisors must understand that if they’re successful in adding wealthy Millennials to their book of clients, they’ll be educating them indefinitely.

Learning about investing and wealth management is a lifelong process for everyone, including those of us who happen to work in the financial services industry.

This is the latest installment in our monthly series about issues facing high-net-worth families and their advisors. To learn more about what HNW Millennials want from their advisor, read an executive summary of the Proving Worth study, or gain access to the full report.

Follow @OppFunds for more news and commentary.

1 Source: The Council for Economic Education, Jan. 2016.

2 Source: Accenture report, 2014, via CNBC.