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By Paula Carlson

PRACTICE MANAGEMENT

Tapping the family tree: Get ready for the great American wealth transfer

10/24/2023
By Paula Carlson | 10/24/2023

You may have noticed a trend across your client base—it’s getting older. We are on the cusp of the greatest transfer of wealth in history.

There is $84 trillion set to change hands by 2045i.

While the assets of the Millennial and Gen-X generations are relatively small now, in the years ahead they will hold trillions of dollars in assets. That’s why it’s vital to develop a strategy to reach out to the parents, children and grandchildren of your current customers to build relationships that span generations.

Currently, $35.8 trillion (42%) of the volume transferred is expected to originate from the high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth segment of U.S. households, about 1.5% of total U.S. households. To get ahead of this wealth transfer, it is key for financial professionals to maintain trusted relationships with customers in these segments and to connect and support their families in the legacy process well before a wealth transfer has begun. You want to be the known name and trusted advisor who has shown up and shown value, supported the family, and ultimately win their business for years to come with the next generation.

Attracting the next generations must be a core business and marketing strategy if you have customers in the wealth segment. Here are some key points:

  • Understand the opportunities and issues of each generation. While the most affluent age group is over age 50, many members of Gen-X have established successful careers and may consider investing with an advisor. Millennials are also starting to see an increase in their incomes and are slowly paying off their student loans. They may also soon be ready to become serious investors.
  • Provide expertise to all generations—then market that expertise. A mistake made by many wealth managers is establishing a minimum amount of investable assets someone must have to be served by their firms. This sends a message to your wealthy clients that you are not interested in serving their children, grandchildren and even parents. Instead, have a team of people who have expertise in serving all generations and market that on your website, brochures and other marketing channels.
  • Create a team of your centers of influence (attorneys and CPAs) that have expertise in the different generations. Just like creating a team with all areas of expertise, having a group of attorneys and CPAs who serve all generations is important to building connections across generations.
  • Collect stories of actual client situations. Whether the topic is the successes of proper generational planning or the nightmares of not planning, stories can be very useful when illustrating the value of generational planning with clients.

Family tree strategy

An important part of your process should be to create a simple family tree for each of your clients that highlights each generation’s typical life, along with financial planning opportunities and challenges.

Start by filling in the names of each family member in the tree, from parents to children to grandchildren. You might also leave room on the family tree to list the professional advisors on your team with expertise in each generation. Then explain to your clients how you plan to guide them through the generational planning process, working in conjunction with their team of professional advisors.

Once you’ve developed a client’s family tree, use it to educate them about financial planning opportunities and challenges that you can guide them through. Ask them about what legacy they would like to leave as individuals and as a family. It’s a tool you can use to begin every meeting on a personal level, and it keeps legacy top of mind for the clients and yourself.

This strategy can also work well with your new prospects. It may become something you review with them at every meetingnot just to make adjustments, but to learn about major changes in their family life and to build a more personal connection.

Consider sending the family tree document in an email as a thank-you gesture or print it out on hihg-quality paper and mail it with a handwritten note as a frameable keepsake for them.

As you become familiar with each family, you can remember names and begin to build new relationships with the full family, branching off of your initial client relationship.

Educate your clients and community

There are several additional ways to pursue your generational strategy:

  • Follow-up meetings. Once or twice a year, hold an informal, 30-minute “Family Tree” workshop for your clients that is open to their family members and professional advisors.
  • Formalize the follow-up. Use a brief survey at the end of the workshop to ask permission to follow-up with a yearly communication pertinent to each generation to demonstrate how family planning can benefit them. Or, ask how they would like to follow up on what they learned. Options could include reaching out to their other advisors or having a planning session with their family members.
  • Engage family members in other ways. Sponsor events to engage your client’s family members, including activities grandparents can take their grandchildren to, such as a children’s theater event, a movie showing, or a philanthropic activity, such as packing or preparing meals for those in need.
  • Sponsor cross-generational outings. You may wish to sponsor events for older parents to bring their adult children, such as an educational topic that could start the conversation about caring for your loved ones or leaving a legacy, or an event on healthy living or mindfulness throughout the years. It’s best to talk about all of these issues while everyone in the family is still in good health rather than during a health crisis or following a death. These events will give you an opportunity to get to know your clients’ family members in a casual environment where you’re providing them with a valuable activity.

Business rooted in relationships

While it takes a concerted effort to develop and pursue a family tree strategy, it can help expand your business while serving the best interests of your clients.

It will help you develop a deeper relationship with your clients and demonstrate you truly care about their entire familynot just their assets under management.

For clients, it can help make the ultimate transfer of wealth smoother. And for you, it provides a leg up on the competition in maintaining a working relationship with your clients’ next generation.


Paula Carlson is the president of Momentum, a financial services-focused marketing firm.

Cerulli Associates, “U.S. High-Net-Worth and Ultra-High-Net-Worth Markets,” 2021

The concepts in this article are intended for educational purposes only. Check with your organization for any specific policies or procedures they have related to these activities.