Lickspittle consigliere: how the super-rich abuse their wealth managers as loyalty tests

Sociologist Brooke Harrington got her Trust and Estate Planning certification in order to study the super-secretive world of the wealth managers who are in charge of hiding the $21 trillion controlled by the world's super-rich from tax authorities, feckless descendants, religious leaders, tax justice activists, kidnappers and extortionists.

Super-rich people have to tell their wealth-managers everything, from the identities of their mistresses and secret second (and third, and fourth) families to the way they're fiddling the laws of conservative Islamic states to write their female relatives into their wills. It falls to wealth-managers to figure out how to keep their clients' money out of the hands of relatives who've been secretly disinherited, and know where all the bodies are buried.

In order to establish whether they can trust their managers, the super-rich subject them through a series of humiliating tasks, from buying thousands of salmon to finding lost jewelry without saying what city it was lost in.

Determining whether a wealth manager is worthy of their trust is a key concern of elite clients. Several people in the profession told me that they had been asked to perform extraordinary acts of service in the early stages of their relationship with a new client, simply to prove that they were up to the job. For example, Eleanor told me of one person who called her office in Geneva and told her: "I'm outside a restaurant in London and I just lost a bracelet – I need you to find it." In other words, the client was asking her to locate a missing piece of jewellery outside an unnamed building in another country. Eleanor somehow did this, billed for her time, and earned a loyal client for decades to come. "The very rich are willing to pay for that extra-special bespoke service – just like suits," said Mark, who is based in Dubai.

David, a British wealth manager who is nearing the end of a 40-year career in Hong Kong, had a particularly impressive story: "I was phoned up from Osaka once, by a client who said, 'I'm sitting across from Owagi-san, who speaks no English, but we are bowing to each other. He has just said to me through a translator that he needs a thousand sides of smoked salmon by Tuesday, and I'm relying on you to get them.' I said, 'I'm your wealth manager, not your fishmonger.' And the client said, 'Well, today you're a fishmonger.' So I had to ring up a friend who knew the guy from Unilever who runs the smoked salmon plant in Scotland. And the plant manager made it happen."

How to hide it: inside the secret world of wealth managers
[Brooke Harrington/The Guardian]

(via Naked Capitalism)