The reclusive billionaire is a frequent plot theme in movies. Howard Hughes was one of the most famous real-life examples. “Old Money” speaks softly while “New Money” shouts for attention has been true for years. Lots of wealthy people prefer to stay out of the limelight. How do they do it? As an advisor, how can this information help you?
1. They live on large properties. Real estate has traditionally been a great long-term investment. They aren’t big believers in subdividing and prefer not being overlooked by their neighbors.
Advisors: There are often properties with a discrete set of gates leading into the woods. A common feature is you cannot see the house from the road. It’s easy to not pay much attention or be too curious. Make a list of the addresses. Ask a realtor friend who owns them or research the information online through the local government’s real estate database.
2. Walls, not lawns. Power lawns are popular in America. A rolling green lawn leading up to a spectacular house is a sign of success. Take away the lawn, put the houses closer together and you have McMansions. Traditionally, great wealth arranges for a stone wall or dense line of trees to circle the property. They can enjoy the beauty of their lawn, but not be visible to prying eyes.
Advisors: Your aim is to find out who these people are. As above, write down addresses and do some research. You can do the legwork on your own, but local realtors can make it a lot easier. If you are involved with some high-profile nonprofits, they may host some events at these major properties. It will cost you, but you get to set foot on the premises and hopefully meet the owners.
3. Dressing down. We are used to the “red carpet” at the Oscars. Celebrities wear designer creations. Pictures get taken. They get publicity on TV. Old Money doesn’t do that. There’s an urban legend about the German supermarket magnate who was kidnapped decades ago. He dressed so plainly the kidnappers demanded identification to confirm they were abducting the right guy! (That’s another reason they dress down.)
Advisors: When you go to charity galas and museum openings, pay attention to the people who haven’t put on their finery, those who aren’t dripping in diamonds or wearing expensive watches. These might be good people to approach and start a conversation.
4. Make do and mend. You would think the wealthy have the newest and best of everything. One of the ways they stay wealthy is by avoiding discretionary spending. We met a fellow on vacation, kept in touch and had lunch recently. When the server asked: “Do you have any allergies?” he replied “Parting with cash.”
Advisors: When you attend community events and you know the “great and the good” are present, pay attention to the people who drive older, but well-maintained cars. Look for people whose clothing is not the latest fashion, but is obviously quality and in very good condition. Talk with them.
5. They belong to private clubs. They prefer to mingle far away from the crowds. Although golf may be declining in popularity and private clubs are struggling to find members, the best of the best don’t have these problems.
Advisors: You likely have a couple of clients who belong to the right clubs. It takes work to get in and staying in can be expensive, but it puts you in the right place. Step one may be accepting your client’s invitations to lunch or dinner “at their club.” You can decide if you want to take it to the next level.
6. Go where no one can find you. Back in the 1960s, people talked about “The Jet Set.” Certain resorts were only frequented by the people who could afford the significant costs incurred with getting there. You hear about private islands you can rent. Reality TV talks about chartering private yachts and the costs involved.
Advisors: It can get expensive, but consider vacationing in or near these exclusive places. Go to where you are likely to meet people.
7. The class system when traveling. Cunard has the reputation for having the last of the ships with this structure. The two Grill Level categories have their own dining rooms, cocktail lounge and shared sun deck space. Other cruise lines may have their own versions to some extent.
Advisors: The cost is substantially more than the entry level cabins, but you find yourself among people prepared to pay for privacy. Be aware the very top tier of these accommodations may have their own dining rooms integrated their suites, eliminating the need to dine where others can see you.
8. Work through intermediaries. The very wealthy are often collectors. They are known by sight and expressing interest in a painting or piece of jewelry can drive the price up. On an everyday level, they also need groceries and clothing cleaned. They “have people” who act on their behalf, so they can focus on other stuff.
Advisors: It may be possible to get to know these people. Lawyers and accountants who act on their behalf in the public sphere tend to be visible. You can learn a lot by word of mouth. In some cases, the people who act as agents for celebrities and sports figures may be public information.
9. They give anonymously. Great wealth often comes with the responsibility to use their money for the benefit of others. Old Money has patronized museums for generations. If you review the annual reports of major nonprofits like museums and hospitals, you will see the category “anonymous” in various donor categories.
Advisors: These donors might not want their names listed under high giving categories, but they might serve on the board of trustees or the gala committee. If they serve, they likely attend those events.
The wealthy have many strategies to buy privacy. It is possible to penetrate the veil and enter their world.
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 is available on Amazon.