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By Paula Carlson


Tapping the family tree: Are you ready for the great American wealth transfer?

By Paula Carlson | 10/27/2020

If you’re like many experienced financial professionals, you may have noticed a trend across your client base – it’s getting older. In the years ahead, we will likely see the greatest transfer of wealth in history.

Nearly 45 million U.S. households are expected to transfer about $68 trillion to their children and charities over the next quarter century, according to a recent study by Cerulli Associatesi.

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.

Attracting the next generation must be a core business and marketing strategy. Here are some key points:

  • Understand the opportunities and issues of each generation.  While the most affluent age group is over 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, so they may soon be ready to become serious investors.
  • Provide expertise to all generations  then market that expertise.  A big mistake made by wealth managers is establishing a minimum amount of investable assets someone must have in order 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, have a group of attorneys and CPAs who serve all 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 discussing 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 family tree for one of your clients, use it to educate them on financial planning opportunities and challenges that you can help guide them through. Ask them what legacy they would like to leave as individuals and as a family. It’s a tool that you can use to start every meeting on a personal level, and it keeps legacy top of mind for the clients and yourself.

In fact, you might also use this strategy with your new prospects.  It may become something you review with them at every meeting – not just to make changes, but to learn about major changes in their family life.

Consider sending the family tree in an email as a thank-you gesture or print it out on nice paper and mail it with a handwritten note.

Another benefit is that you’ll become familiar with the family, so you can remember names and begin to build relationships with the full family, branching off of your initial client relationship.

Educate your clients and community

There are several other 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 them how they would like to follow up on what they learned. Options might 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 help engage your client’s family members, including activities grandparents can take their grandchildren to, such as a children’s theater event, a movie theater 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 will help start the conversation about caring for your loved ones or leaving a legacy, or an event on healthy diet or exercising 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, non-pressure environment.

The payoff

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 much deeper relationship with your clients and demonstrate that you truly care about their entire family ‒ not 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.

iCerulli Associates, “The Great Wealth Transfer,” 2018

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.

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