Extreme wealth doesn’t guarantee happiness – in fact, it can make
it even more elusive. Spear’s meets a variety of ‘wealth mentors’ who are helping the rich overcome their issues, write Sophie McIntyre, William Cash and Harriet Dennys
Wealth mentors often have to help HNWs understand how family dynamics can change, writes Harriet Dennys
F Scott Fitzgerald opened his short story The Rich Boy with the observation that the very rich are different from you and me because ‘they possess and enjoy early’. Yet this enjoyment is often short-lived. The external trappings of vast wealth can also be accompanied by internal anxieties that keep the one-percenters awake at night between their 1,200-thread-count sheets: ‘Does my wife love me or my money? Will my children become entitled underachievers? Who are my real friends?’
Clearly, few are equipped to empathise with these most first-world concerns. But Diana Chambers has the unusual life experience to counsel, say, a 30-year-old who is angry that her parents have surprised her with a $5 million gift tied up in trust. Chambers is a third-generation member of a UK business family who rejected a corporate career in a FTSE 100 company to work in the non-profit sector in the US.
Her experience of ‘scarcity and abundance’, as she puts it, informs her current calling as a wealth mentor: an emerging breed of alternative financial advisers who help UHNW families defy the maxim that money can’t buy happiness.
In layman’s terms, they’re agony aunts to the super-rich,
advising clients who have relational issues surrounding prenups, divorce and inheritance, or those who simply feel burdened by having too much money. ‘While these may be shrugged off as high-order problems, they are legitimate concerns,’ says Chambers, who relocated her Washington DC practice to Switzerland to serve a global clientele. ‘There is a need for mentors to help people understand the impact of their wealth on their relationships.’
The field of wealth mentoring has developed over the past decade in the US, driven by companies such as the wealth mentoring specialist DNA Behavior International, which has trained thousands of wealth mentors in the US, Australasia and Canada through its Financial DNA programme.
But wealth mentors have yet to make their mark in Europe. Simon Brown, a partner at BPH Wealth Management in Hertfordshire, is the first certified wealth mentor in the UK. Despite the profession’s small take-up on these shores, he believes wealth mentoring is an emerging trend – particularly as DNA Behavior estimates behavioural coaching adds 150 basis points to the value of clients’ investments each year.
Focusing on how money can enhance its owners’ lives also fits with the current movement towards seeking a more meaningful life, as When Breath Becomes Air, a dying neurosurgeon’s tale of self-reinvention, continues to top global bestseller lists. Brown says: ‘I see wealth mentoring as a natural progression from traditional wealth management. It is about trying to help people in a more holistic way; helping them find their life purpose.’
Chambers charges comparable fees to the traditional professional advisers. Some of her clients’ most common problems are published as letters in her book on identity and money, True Wealth: Letters on Money, Life, and Love.
‘Dear Diana,’ writes a wealthy 26-year-old student hoping to find a girlfriend interested in him and not his money. ‘When my fellow students go home to shared flats, take public transport and watch what they spend, I go home to a beautiful two-bedroom flat in Covent Garden, keep my BMW in a garage, and think nothing of it when I take off for a weekend of skiing. I’m leading a double life!’
Chambers also counsels a father of four who has concealed the extent of his vast fortune from his four children, aged between ten and 20, but worries that his eldest daughter will be pulled ‘off track’ when she inherits a life-changing sum on her 21st birthday. ‘We will no longer be able to shield our children from knowing that we are an exceptionally wealthy family,’ he writes.
The letters have been fictionalised to protect client confidentiality. But the theme running throughout the super-rich clients’ dilemmas is that money is inhibiting, rather than helping, their lives and loves. ‘Behind each letter there is a person one can see,’ Chambers says. ‘I have been asked these questions time and time again.’
Chambers resolves her clients’ issues using financial EQ, or emotional intelligence. She believes that helping a person understand their relationship with wealth is the key to allowing them to make considered choices, so the wealth becomes an asset supporting them to lead their most fulfilling life. When this relationship turns toxic, estranged families, divorce and squandered fortunes are the fallout – although Chambers’ clients aren’t always in crisis. Often, they simply need guidance on handling money wisely, after coming into huge wealth after selling a business, for example. ‘If a family makes money its ultimate priority, the people concerned can be lost in the process or lose themselves when they become subservient to the money,’ she says. ‘They no longer own the money; it owns them.’
As the super-rich find their voices in relationship to their wealth, this self-realisation is often accompanied by a desire to give back through philanthropy – to direct their legacy. Chambers, who is also a philanthropic adviser, says her clients invariably discover that giving money away is often more satisfying than creating it in the first place, and that her clients thrive when they choose to initiate or build on their philanthropy. Whereas the older generation have perhaps been concerned by financial returns on their portfolios, the younger generations are increasingly engaged by the social impact of wealth, sustainability and philanthropy.
Despite her years resolving conflicts between warring multimillionaires, Chambers believes there is nothing inherently wrong with money. It just needs to be put in its proper place – off-stage, rather than centre-stage. In response to an individual who jeopardised his marriage by prioritising a workaholic lifestyle, she advised: ‘You need to start by questioning your concept of game-changing wealth as a panacea to life’s problems. I am here to tell you it is not.’
Worrying about the burdens money brings is nothing new. Even back in 300BC, Epicurus said: ‘To be rich is not the end, but only a change, of worries.’ More than two millennia later, a gilded cage is still a cage. But the new class of wealth mentors hold the key to a more contented life.
William Cash meets a former Marine who is using that training to help troubled HNWs and their children
In Billions, the hit Sky Atlantic drama set in New York’s hedgie world, one of the key members of the entourage of billionaire fund manager Bobby Axelrod is not a trader, lawyer, or analyst – but rather a doctor who is the in-house ‘performance coach’ at Axe Capital. She has her own glass-walled psychiatric suite in the hedge fund office where she counsels those who have lost their trading confidence or have gambling, sex or other addictions; and she also helps her boss remain focused on conquering the world.
In America’s HNW universe, having a personal shrink or ‘life coach’ on call 24/7 has long been as normal as having a personal trainer, nutritionist, homme d’affaires, lawyer or hairdresser. Now an under-the-radar ‘personal development’ company in the UK (where there are 134 billionaires and Britain’s wealthiest 1,000 people are worth £658 billion between them) is quietly becoming a leading global firm for HNW families with problem or dysfunctional children, or for burnt-out and/or high-achieving CEOs who want to improve their competitive edge. This discreet HNW life coach consultancy, EAC (Extraordinary Adventure Club), is run by a former Royal Marines officer called Calum Morrison.
This quasi-secretive organisation – a one-on-one school of psychological development using personal development techniques to create bespoke wilderness expeditions – creates individual recovery programmes in remote corners of the world, designed around a client’s psychological makeup. These ‘therapeutic’ adventures range from jungle trekking with Morrison in Guyana to husky sledding across the Arctic. In person, Morrison, with his short commando-style hair, pressed suit and lean, muscular body, looks like he could be a personal security officer for royalty. His accent is clipped – it turns out he’s half Scottish and half Norwegian. He exudes discretion, trust and confidence. It’s not difficult to see why a CEO might entrust Morrison to take him – or his wayward 24-year-old ‘successor’ – motorbiking across the Mongolian wilderness and sign up to a 12-month programme that aims to get a client’s personal life back on track.
‘We have several types of clients,’ Morrison explains as we sip mineral water in the unlikely setting of the Royal Court Theatre bar. ‘One is that hedge fund-type individual, or the guy that sold his business, got money in his back pocket, but it doesn’t make him feel like he’s winning in life. Or there are CEOs who have spent too many years winning in the corporate world but have lost their sense of vocation or personal direction. They may have been through a divorce or just become burnt-out workaholics.’
This group have often been so focused on their work that they’ve lost any connection with the driving force that originally motivated them. ‘There’s still something about themselves that is yet undeveloped. They feel unfulfilled. My role is to change that,’ he says.
Another, larger group is the often rebellious children of global HNW families who have probably already been through a lot of therapy, along with various rehabilitation boot camps. Morrison has a close relationship with one of the world’s most exclusive ‘personal treatment’ clinics, the Kusnacht Practice in Zurich. The clinic, which specialises in addiction, depression and other issues for HNW families, is known as a last resort for children who have failed to recover at other treatment centres. Morrison works with the clinic as part of its ‘Continuing Support’ programme – always on a one-on-one basis: ‘We take them on after their initial treatment, often for up to a year – we assist and support them to rebuild their lives.’
With the ‘successor’ heirs and children of HNW dynasties, one of the key issues is a lack of self-confidence or identity. By embarking on a wilderness adventure with Morrison, they can learn the value of teamwork and self-sufficiency. ‘These heirs often find they never know where they sit within the organisation family,’ he says.
Treatment often starts with a four-day retreat with Morrison and his counselling team (including physical training and specialist counselling) in a cottage in the Cairngorms. ‘We take their phones away and their laptops,’ he says.
It’s a journey of self-discovery, often into the night of the younger HNW soul. ‘It’s about identity,’ says Morrison. ‘“Who am I if my father was a multi-multi-millionaire, billionaire? Who am I? What am I doing? What am I here for? How am I the same as other ‘normal’ people? How am I different?”’
EAC also works closely with family offices, with a growing clientele of next-generation HNWs who will inherit considerable wealth but need to be ‘equipped with the right mental framework and life skills’ to cope in today’s world of mass social media, online scrutiny and security threats.
Due to the high-profile nature of the families of many clients, confidentiality and discretion are critical to the way EAC operates. Most clients come from ‘direct referral’ from either a clinic like the Kusnacht Practice or existing HNW families Morrison has worked with.
‘Families have to trust us to deliver, and we trust them to be committed,’ he says. ‘They’re trusting us with their lives and the shape of their lives going forward. The families are trusting us with their children and they’re going to be sharing intimate details of themselves. So we feel very strongly about maintaining that privacy and discretion with them.’
Indeed, this issue of confidential information is part of the psychological cure. Morrison finds that taking the client away into wilderness often gets them to open up about issues that have been eating away at family dynamics for years. Often all sense of self-esteem has been eroded by a controlling family environment. This is where Morrison’s personal bonding comes into its own. Being a modern HNW ‘kid whisperer’ is, above all, about winning trust as a personal mentor.
‘Because all the work we do is one-to-one, we’re going to challenge them to think about themselves in a different way, we’re going to get them to stretch the envelope of their capabilities, we’re going to build resilience, self-sufficiency, confidence, reduce anxiety, whatever those issues are for them,’ he says. ‘When they’re out in the middle of nowhere, they’re reliant on themselves and their engagement with the environment that we’re working and walking through.’
When we meet, Morrison has just come back from Borneo, where he had escorted a troubled young HNW heir to give him experience of what it is like to live two weeks in a remote community that requires self-sufficiency. Before the trip the heir had told Morrison that she had a butler, chef and driver doing everything for her. ‘Out there in Borneo, she had to carry her own kit, cook for herself, look after her equipment and build up a resilient individual nature. It was a revelation for her that she didn’t have to have a personal butler on call 24 hours a day to survive.’
In the HNW universe, that revelation is at least a promising start to self-discovery.