How the wealthy test you socially

How to avoid being blackballed on your way to proving you are a competent and trusted advisor

How the wealthy test you socially
Bryce Sanders

You are climbing the social ladder. So far, so good. Plenty of advisors and agents want to break into HNW circles. You’ve joined the right organizations and managed it. Although you might think the wealthy are cliquish, they can be surprisingly open-minded, especially if your route in has been through a shared passion or support of a charity. What could possibly go wrong?

You have a major handicap. You aren’t the first financial advisor raising their visibility in social circles. Others have done it before you. Even worse, they’ve done it badly. They’ve encountered social climbers with far less tact. The comfortably off don’t warm up to the New Rich.

This isn’t a private club where you can be blackballed. The wealthy have many techniques for testing you. Here are a few:

1. Promises kept

This is an unintentional test. It wasn’t planned, but is relied on later. Someone asks a business question. You promise to send them a report. Make a note. Send yourself a message. Get it done the next day. People assume the follow through in your personal life is an indication of your follow-up in your business life.

2. Secret told in confidence

Someone shares a story with you. “It’s in strictest confidence, of course”. Maybe it’s about someone’s infidelity. Whatever the topic, it’s really juicy. Except it’s not true. This unique anecdote is only told to you. You might think “I’ve been accepted! I’m one of them now!”  You pass the story along to someone else, “In strictest confidence”.  The story gets reported back to the original teller of the story. You blabbed. You failed.

3. Asking about your clients

It’s a variation on the confidentiality story described above. This involves clients. They ask if another one of their group is a client. “It’s just between us, of course.” Maybe they ask questions about their wealth. You are in a difficult position. Even if you simply admitted that person was a client, you have violated the spirit of client confidentiality. You’ve got to find a polite way of saying: “I don’t talk about my clients or even mention their names. Put yourself in my shoes. Would you be comfortable if I talk to others about your finances behind your back?” Clients can tell you are their advisor to as many people as they like.  That door only opens one way.

4. Drinking too much

You better be able to hold your liquor. Your capacity might be tested. People who get drunk are often seen as having poor judgment. This character flaw in your personal life is assumed to carry over into your business life. Don’t ever start a sentence with the words: “I shouldn’t be telling you this...”  Ditto for any sentences involving the words “in strict confidence.”  See above.

5. Talking disparaging about their own relative

One night when everyone is having a good time, they mention their sister is a lush and a spendthrift. You assume they are sharing a family secret with you. You’ve been accepted. Another day, in another conversation, they bring up their sister. You repeat back what you heard. She’s a lush and a spendthrift.  They are appalled! He closes ranks. It’s a family matter. She may be a drunk, but she is our drunk. The lesson is family members are “allowed” to speak disparagingly about one another. Non-family members are not.

6. Incredible accomplishments

Don’t lie. They know more than you think they know. You want to fit in. They visited the Bahamas. You explain you were there at Christmas. (true.) Instead of mentioning your modest hotel, you insert the name of the grandest hotel. They know the hotel has been closed for almost a tear because of storm damage. Busted! It might be a simpler, awkward situation, where they recount details of the hotel, none of them familiar because you never stayed there.

7. Give to get

They all seem to have a favourite non-profit cause. They approach each other to buy tickets and support the event. “It’s what we do” is the unspoken message. Sometimes you just get the invitation in the mail. If they’ve written a personal inscription or their name is on the gala committee list, the unspoken rule is you buy a ticket or send in a check as a contribution. The good news is that you get to choose your favourite charity and hit them up for tickets. It’s quid pro quo.

8. Not paying your own way

Generally speaking, the wealthy split checks in restaurants. It’s tempting to be a free rider, especially when someone says: “I’ll get this.” You pull out your charge card. You insist on paying your share. You might say: “My turn next time,” but you will lose track. You will be classified as a freeloader.

9. Asking for business is a tactless manner

You will know the right moment to bring up business. You will do it privately. This takes time. People need to get comfortable with you. You need to build your professional reputation. It might take six months or longer to raise your professional visibility. If you corner people in the elevator and say: “I would like to go over your personal finances sometime” you will get the opposite result. Word spreads like wildfire. After two weeks, no one will want to play golf or have lunch with you. On the positive side, they may approach you directly with an immediate need.

Avoid the landmines.  To become one of the group, you must play by their rules.

Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, “Captivating the Wealthy Investor” can be found on Amazon.