International Money Marketing, October 2001
What the media says
ost research into the health effects of money focus on the lack of it. But according to Dr Ronit Lami, head of the Allenbridge Affluenza and Wealth Service, it can be just as damaging - psychologically at least - to have too much money as too little.
The Allenbridge group's main business is providing financial advice and performance analysis of financial products but an increasingly high-profile sideline consists of psychological counselling for those afflicted by the burden of extreme wealth. This is not as ludicrous as it may seem: in this year's Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans there's more money at the top than ever before - a combined $1.2tn. But there's also a good deal more anxiety and guilt.
Lami, who was born in Israel and attended Bar-llan University before taking a PhD in psychology at Hull University in the UK in 1999, says: "Making or inheriting a large sum of money creates emotional and social challenges. We can offer to help to educate the children of very wealthy people to ensure they lead a relatively normal life."
Lami began her career working for PepsiCo in Tel Aviv where she was responsible for employee assessment and development. She became interested in "change work" - a euphemism for therapy - and began to offer counselling in what Allenbridge terms affluenza - the sudden wealth syndrome.
Excessive wealth can cause misery she says in a range or circumstances such as when wills are being drawn up.
So what can IFAs and other advisors do to make their high net-worth clients - and indeed other customers - more comfortable? "First, financial advisors should try to avoid technical language and communicate better by using terms their clients can more easily understand. Often clients are too embarassed to ask their advisor what the various pieces of financial jargon actually mean. This is stressful for the client and results in a lack of understanding." Lami also believes that fund managers need to provide their clients with information more frequently. "Sometimes, they see their clients only once a year and that is not enough."
Psychological problems are not a prerogative of investors, notes Lami, pointing to the implications of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center for the financial community at large. "Those that are left behind will experience much grief and even guilt and shame," she says. "It is important that the companies involved provide some form of support for the bereaved families." There may also be emotional difficulties for relatives of those who died suddenly perhaps even intestate, as a result of the attacks. Some people are likely to have to face the stress of bereavement of a relative or partner as well as the daunting task of having to deal with a large amount of wealth.
"The children and partners of those who died will especially need counselling," says Lami. "Unfortunately they will have suddenly realised that living in a rich, developed country does not necessarily guarantee security."
Some members of the family may feel slighted by the prospect of receiving what they regard as an unfair portion of the inheritance, compounded by emotional issues such as how they cope with the death of their benefactor.
Lami's solution is to get the family together so they can discuss how to arrange their inheritance. She says the children of the very wealthy should be encouraged to participate in charity work in order to get a better perspective on their own financial situation.
Her client base is international. "Many are from the US, although there are increasing. numbers from Europe," Lami says. "The US is better than Europe at dealing with issues caused by excessive wealth and Europeans are not yet good at dealing emotionally with this problem. However the situation is gradually improving and is better than it was 10 or 15 years ago."
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