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What I learned while working with the wealthy

A financial advisor must be an educator, a problem solver and, says Barbara Stewart, a keeper of secrets

By: KIRA VERMOND

Date: October 6, 2017

Who: Barbara Stewart

What: Researcher, author and CFA (chartered financial analyst)

Where: Toronto

Tip for attracting new clients: Get along with their dogs.

Ms. Stewart has been in the industry for 25 years, working with high-net-worth investors. She left her portfolio manager role in early 2017 to conduct research into how women approach money and investing.

Youíve been working with rich clients for years. Do high-net-worth people think differently about money?

You might assume that theyíve got so much money, maybe they wonít worry about it, but often they do. I remember a highly successful entrepreneur whose objective was to leave an estate of $2-million for each of his three sons. But until he had cleared $50-million, he was going to work himself to the bone. He was working seven days a week, but he was the most miserable man. And then Iíve seen people who are just incredibly generous and happy Ė and, yes, they have a lot of money. It can go either way.

Youíve said that for a lot of wealthy people, money is connected to well-being.

Right. I was sitting at home one Sunday morning and this guy called who Iíd been dealing with for years. He had a million-dollar portfolio, which is small in our business. He said, ďAre you sitting down?Ē He had won $11.6-million, and his wife was literally running around the block screaming Ė but he was calling me.

When the rush wore off, what happened?

After two months, he didnít know if he was going to keep the money with my firm or spread it out among a bunch of different money managers. I met him for lunch one day and he was wearing this incredibly expensive suit and acting kind of snooty. A few months later, he confided that he had bought tons of clothes for himself and his wife. Tried to look rich.

It didnít work?

They thought thatís what youíre supposed to do. They were dreadfully uncomfortable and stopped wearing all of this stuff. They realized, clearly, that they didnít want to become something they werenít.

Did he remain a client of yours?

The good news is they ended up giving all the money to my firm because they already knew and trusted me.

So just because you have money doesnít necessarily mean youíre financially literate.

No, often itís the complete opposite. Usually you deal with entrepreneurs. There are some executives, but a lot of the wealth in Canada comes from entrepreneurs. People who probably came over from another country with $15 in their wallet.

Do affluent women want something different from their wealth advisors than men do? Thatís your main area of research, right?

Over the past seven years, Iíve interviewed more than 500 accomplished women around the world. Women have a huge need for gaining productivity across their lives. With only 24 hours in each day, they have to cram a lot in: kids, spouse, work, family and fitness. You need to provide them with an overview of how they can better manage their financial lives in the context of the rest of their lives. I really take joy in doing that with female clients because theyíre truly appreciative.

It sounds like managing investments for high-net-worth clients means being an educator and a problem solver.

You will be asked to solve just about every kind of problem. You will hear deep dark secrets before anyone else does Ė including family members. Over the years, I have received phone calls on the weekend or late at night about: ďI'm thinking of leaving my wife. My business partner had a car accident and I want to buy him out. My daughter has cancer. I have been packaged out of my job as an executive. My husband is an alcoholic.Ē

How do you handle that? That must be a big burden.

Well, you have to try to not become emotionally involved. Itís about being professional in all situations. And so, you just carry that with you and keep it confidential. Everything is about confidentiality and trust in this business. I think if you werenít able to do that, you would last about a week.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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