Understanding ultra-high- net-worth clients

Serena Cheng’s sensitive and all-encompassing approach helps her wealthiest clients and their families deal with complex issues

Understanding ultra-high- net-worth clients

by Darren Matte

MORE WEALTH brings more challenges. That’s something Serena Cheng, an investment advisor and director of wealth management at the Cheng Begg Wealth Management Group at Richardson GMP, has seen firsthand. Cheng specializes in ultra-highnet- worth families, divorcés and individuals in the entertainment business and professional sports, which has given her exposure to varying degrees of complex scenarios. Throughout it all, she has found that being a good, nonjudgmental listener allows her to help clients deal with any situation.

Cheng found herself in the financial industry purely by chance. As the child of first-generation immigrants, she was expected to follow her family into the medical field. “My whole family are doctors,” she says. “After my first year at university, I had to tell my parents that it wasn’t going to happen.”

Instead, Cheng began taking business courses but maintained her fascination with neurology and the way the brain works, which would become key in her career as an advisor. “I love people and understanding how the human mind works,” she says. “I find it so interesting how we have so many thoughts and patterns that are just chemical reactions.”

After graduating with a business degree, Cheng moved to Toronto, where she eventually found herself making cold calls at a bank-owned full-service brokerage firm. She excelled in the role and was recommended by her branch manager for entry into the advisor program.

“They give you 18 months of training with a mentor; then you graduate and are on your own,” she says. “It was a great experience for me, and I met a lot of people I am still connected with. I learned everything about the industry in that 18-month period.”

While her introduction to the role was purely coincidental, Cheng not only succeeded as an advisor, but was also having fun doing it. She instantly began forming connections with clients.

“My single biggest passion is helping my clients,” she says. “It makes me feel fulfilled. I think that I help people avoid conflicts – that is my gift. The financial industry became the vehicle to share my gift.”

Early on, Cheng developed a niche helping ultra-high-net-worth individuals and families. She became a specialist in legacy, estate and even family issues. One thing she noticed was that an increase in wealth generally led to more discretionary spending, which could lead some people down negative paths.

She set out to make her clients feel comfortable with her so they could talk about anything. That allowed her to help them by connecting them to the many experts and support systems in her network.

“Happiness comes from within,” she explains. “It’s hard when you’re dealing with people who are the next generation of a lot of wealth. The successful intergenerational families are able to pass on wealth with their children being fulfilled with their own passions and finding value in themselves. Money does not buy that.”

Dealing with such deep issues has been one of Cheng’s greatest challenges now that she has established herself as an advisor. Getting into the industry, she faced headwinds as a young woman without an economics degree. But she’s overcome those obstacles and has now built a 25-year career.

After 10 years at her previous firm, Cheng became one of the founding partners of Richardson GMP, a move that was driven by her desire to bring more to clients. “I knew I would have the tools and autonomy to build my practice, surrounded by a firm with the same voice and vision,” she says.

Based on the success she’s found, Cheng now encourages new advisors to find what they’re passionate about in the business and leverage that to help clients.

“As an advisor, you can do so many things – there’s no one way to do it,” she says. “Whatever you focus on, surround yourself with people who are better at the things you are not or don’t enjoy. It will create a synergistic situation where you can wrap your arms around every aspect of your clients’ lives.”