FA Center: Financial advisers make rich people richer. But is that all there is?

In 1989, author Marsha Sinetar wrote a bestselling book, “Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow.” She urges readers to pursue a career that stokes their passion.

Many advisers take that advice. They love what they do. And the money follows: Median pay for U.S. financial advisers was $95,390 in 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Lately, though, the passion is waning for some advisers. They still love the practice of wealth management — customizing financial plans, constructing client portfolios and analyzing the ever-growing menu of investment products.

They’re just not as enamored of their clients’ wealth. Reassuring wealthy retirees that they can afford to buy a second (or third) vacation home has its merits. But helping them accumulate more and more wealth rings hollow after awhile.

Steve Oniya, a Houston-based certified financial planner, works with a diverse mix of clients. He enjoys helping them achieve their goals, regardless of their net worth. “It’s more gratifying helping them get over some hurdles to get to the life that they really want,” he said. “You make more of an impact that way.”

He compares his work to a firefighter’s job. Some days, they rescue people from burning buildings. Other days, they put out a dumpster fire. Yet they’re always driven to excel and perform at a high level.

Nevertheless, if an adviser serves rich clients who hoard their money, don’t give to charity and lack perspective on what matters most in life, a day at the office can feel dispiriting. “Sometimes advisers may be passionately opposed to certain clients’ values,” Oniya said. “In those instances, end the relationship or limit the scope.”

Oniya said he does not find clients’ wealth objectionable. He sees his role as an ally who seeks to understand — and not judge — others’ beliefs and values.

“I like to stay in the neutral camp,” Oniya said. “It’s easy to empathize with another person and see they are a person who needs help just like others. We’re generally here to advise them on how to be more efficient and effective financially in attaining their goals.”

The arc of an adviser’s career comes into play as well. To build a practice, newly minted financial planners might welcome pretty much anyone with sufficient assets.

Once they establish a stable book of business, advisers may get picky in deciding whom to serve. Their onboarding process might get more rigorous in an effort to determine if they’re aligned with a potential client’s aspirations, goals and priorities.

Some advisers shift gears as they gain experience working with different types of clients. They come to realize what they like most about the job and adjust their practice — and the type of clients they serve — accordingly.

“Everyone evolves,” said Angeli Gianchandani, a professor of marketing at University of New Haven’s Pompea College of Business. “Advisers may see there’s a greater reward and opportunity helping people in a different income bracket.”

As a self-test, advisers at a career crossroads might want to ask themselves how they’d respond to two clients. The first one says, “You saved me $5 million. Now I want to save $10 million to buy a bigger yacht.”

The other says, “You helped me pay off my student debt” or “You helped me save enough for a down payment to buy my first house.”

“You may feel more valued and appreciated as an adviser” if you pave the way for someone who lacks vast wealth to build a nest egg for the future, Gianchandani says.

Advisers who have misgivings about helping wealthy people attain greater wealth are not alone. Brooke Harrington, a sociology professor at Dartmouth College, interviewed 65 wealth managers between 2007 and 2015. About one-quarter expressed qualms about helping lower ultra-wealthy clients’ tax liabilities.

Still, another 25% did not feel such qualms. They saw their role as defending their clients from an unjust tax code.

More: Wall Street legend Byron Wien dies at 90. Here are his ’20 life lessons’

Also read: The IRS is auditing the rich. Can you fly under the radar if you’re not wealthy?


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