The Role of Courage in Multigenerational Families of Wealth

Date: May 13 2013

Marv Pollack

At every conference, there is a concept or word that stands out and becomes the catalyst of discussion at breaks and meals. Other speakers pick up on the term to demonstrate how their topic ties to this theme of interest.

At the Family Office Exchange (FOX) Wealth Advisor Forum in Miami this year, the stand-out word was "courage." It was initially mentioned by Maria Elena Lagomasino, of WE Family Offices. She was discussing the advisor’s role in initiating the conversation about often sensitive subjects like transitioning family wealth to the next generation. These are difficult topics that touch on family dynamics, aging, and mortality; topics many families try to avoid.  

Maria didn't use the word confidence. She went all the way to courage. Her point was that you have to be willing to risk losing the account to tell the client what they need, rather than want, to hear. You have to insist that they listen.

Maria's anecdote had a happy ending because the client heard what she was saying, mainly because she was willing to stand up and disagree. Her candor and courage stood out and became the basis of a long, productive relationship.

I found myself thinking about courage again a few days later, back in Chicago, as I was listening to an HBR podcast of an interview with 85-year-old poet Maya Angelou. She pointed out that people are not born with courage. Courage is built up over time by doing small courageous things. She said you would not set out to lift a 100 pound bag of rice, but if you begin lifting a five pound bag and then a 10 pound bag, you will eventually be able to lift that 100 pound bag. It's the same way with courage. Courage is a habit you develop. It comes from practice.

This made me think of another question that was raised at the Wealth Advisor Forum. When should you inform children of their family's wealth? It’s a difficult question. Many fear telling kids too early will risk spoiling their motivation. But not educating children about their wealth wastes an opportunity for them to learn important lessons about money management or to consider the power of family capital to fuel their entrepreneurial dreams. 

Speaking at the Forum, FOX Senior Consultant Charlie Grace recalled a recent advisor event where the speaker argued, "[if] you have children. Get them involved now."

Avoiding the issue means you are making the decision to address it later, which has its consequences. Parenting, like advising the wealthy, takes courage. I think the big lesson of the event was that it makes sense to start practicing courage as soon as you can. The most successful multigenerational families generally do.

Related links

FOX Guide to Family Education (Table of Contents, free to all)

Raising Financially Fit Kids by Joline Godfrey