Family History and Financial Advice

Advisers Go Extra Lengths to Keep Wealthy Clients, New York Times, October 15, 2013

This is not an article I would normally read. I’d rather not know about the lengths that financial advising firms will go to in order to keep their wealthiest clients (apparently hunting bears and arranging fishing trips). But look at this lead:

“KAREN McNEILL has a Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Berkeley, and is considered one of the foremost authorities on Julia Morgan, the architect who designed Hearst Castle, William Randolph Hearst’s 90,000-square-foot coastal retreat. Ms. McNeill has written extensively about Morgan, who designed some 700 buildings and helped open the field of architecture to women.

But since last summer Ms. McNeill has taken her skills as a historian and put them in the service of some modern Hearst-like Americans. As the head of family history for Ascent Private Capital Management, the ultra-high-net-worth arm of U.S. Bank, Ms. McNeill now works with wealthy people to create family and business histories.”

And I suppose, fair enough, rich people need history too. But seriously, maybe it’s just a vanity projects but the idea that a family history can help financial advisers better understand their clients and their needs is intriguing.

It’s common enough to hear people say that to understand yourself, you need to understand where you came from — but I had always interpreted that in a more personal, maybe spiritual way. Ancestors who were refuges, ancestors who came to the US looking for a better life, ancestors who lived in poverty — these things matter on a psychological level. Ancestors who were all blonde, ancestors who carry a certain gene, ancestors who suffered from depression — these things matter on a medical level.

But how does our family history, our ancestry effect us on a practical, logistical level? I wonder, if I had a personal adviser use a detailed family history to guide my decisions what would she use? What would she tell me?




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