Wealth Management 3.0 Is Here– Are You Ready? (Part 1 of 3)

July 12, 2012

Most banks today have wealth management clients with an average age somewhere between 70 and dead (no offense, Mom). Their books of business were largely built in bygone eras, from fortunes made in companies and industries that no longer exist.

These clients (and many of their advisors) are really not sure about this whole “interweb” fad, and they think Betty White is a great young talent.

The fact is, the world has changed and most banks have not caught up. Most probably never will. They will instead quietly slide off into obscurity like Don Johnson. Or worse, Philip Michael Thomas. At least Don Johnson had Nash Bridges. (Warning: if you readily recognize those names, you may very well be part of the problem.)

The segment of financial services we think of as ‘wealth management’ in the U.S. banking and brokerage industries today has evolved over a couple of broad eras, and too many advisors and executives don’t even realize that we’ve already entered another new era– one I call Wealth Management 3.0.

The term ‘wealth management’  is, of course, Latin for ‘don’t lose my pile of money, and make it bigger if you can’. It is also a term that was coined by the industry without its clients’ permission. Multiple surveys show that clients don’t like the term. Surveys also show that most clients define ‘wealthy’ as someone who has a pile of money at least twice as high as theirs. Maybe that’s because, as P.J. O’Rourke says;

Everyone enjoys pretending to be what he isn’t. It’s poor men who wear flashy and expensive clothes, pretending to have money. Rich men wear sturdy and practical clothes, pretending to have brains.

Nonetheless, today we begin an exploration of this industry evolution that is rapidly becoming a revolution, and we will lay out some imperatives for firms and advisors who want to survive and thrive in the new era

Meticulous researchers and conscientious historians labor considerably to deeply understand precipitating events and underlying causes. Readers of this blog know that I am neither, and therefore not burdened with such inconvenient details. I am purposely ignoring the long history of true ‘private’ banking in Europe and lumping many generations and iterations of evolution into three distinct (if arguable) eras for purposes of brevity and general laziness. Besides, sweeping generalizations are real time-savers.

Wealth Management 1.0 (1853-1982)

In 1853, some 61 years after the stockbrokers first began trading under a buttonwood tree (and presumably had since moved to more sensible indoor trading floors), some of the wealthiest men in America decided that their control of their respective piles of money ought not to cease with such trivial nonsense such as their own deaths. So they founded U.S. Trust, the first financial firm to act in a fiduciary capacity on the behalf of its clients’ trusts and estates.

Wealthy men hate to be left out of good ideas to protect and grow their own piles of cash, so over the next hundred years, other firms sprang up to facilitate all sorts of services related to the accumulation, preservation and distribution of personal wealth.

The wealthy denizens at the turn of the 20th century had to endure such annoyances as trust-busting, the advent of personal income tax in 1913 and the stock market crash of 1929. These indignations created many opportunities for firms to put their best ideas into practice to help the rich stay that way.

Much to the chagrin of more than one plutocratic robber baron, the post-World War II financial boom began to spread the wealth. The number of millionaires mushroomed from a few thousand to more than a half million by 1980, and wealth management practices spread beyond the ‘white shoe firms‘. Even to, egads, mere commercial banks.

Key attributes of Wealth Management 1.0

  • Key characteristics: Fragmented offerings- banking, trust, investment, brokerage and insurance services provided largely by specialists
  • Key firm capabilities: Creating and selling proprietary products and strategies, stock-picking, trust administration
  • Key client goals: Preservation of wealth, with eventual distribution to family members or large endowments
  • Key advisor skills: Narrowly focused subject matter expertise, membership in the right private clubs
  • Key advisor activity: Client retention, tying their rep tie into a perfect half-windsor knot

Evolving to 2.0

Most firms have had to evolve their business models beyond 1.0 to survive to this point; but as we shall see, many still depend on revenue streams attached to legacy clients that is not self-sustaining. Depending on which research you read, anywhere between $18 trillion and $54 trillion of assets owned by the Traditionalist Generation (those born before 1946) and Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) will pass down to Generations X and Y (no doubt with nary a trace of appreciation).

Business models and value propositions that worked for older generations are, at best, punch lines to the younger generations. At worst, they are powerful motivators to innovate their own disruptive start-ups to put grandpa’s firm out of business. Yet, many firms and advisors continue to whistle past their own graveyard.

Up next: Part 2– Wealth Management 2.0 (1982-2008)


  1. […] the intersection of leadership, advice and innovation to improve financial services « Wealth Management 3.0 Is Here– Are You Ready? (Part 1 of 3) Wealth Management 3.0 Is Here– Are You Ready? (Part 2 of 3) July 17, […]

  2. […] Wealth Management 3.0 Is Here– Are You Ready? (Part 1 of 3) […]

  3. […] week in Wealth Management 1.0, we explored the origins of the wealth management business in America. As in that post, I will […]

  4. […] families grow, protect and share their wealth– the very essence of wealth management. [See Wealth Management 1.0 (1853-1982) and Wealth Management 2.0 […]

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