To a wealth management advisor, “wealthy” isn’t a single category. From $1 million to $100 million, a lot changes in how you approach your wealth, strategize for growth, preserve for future generations and plan for your estate. High Net Worth (HNW) and Ultra High Net Worth (UHNW) investors differ greatly on financial needs and require a highly specialized approach by wealth managers who are well-versed in managing wealth for the ultra wealthy. A HNW individual will have between $1 million and $10 million in liquid net worth. The term UHNW refers to anyone who has over $10 million in liquid net worth. Net worth, however, is just the beginning; from investment strategies to estate planning to asset management, HNW and UHNW investors have to be considered differently. In this article, we breakdown how UHNW and HNW investors compare, as well as important differences in approaching financial planning for these highly wealthy clients.
What is Ultra High Net Worth?
Ultra-High Net Worth individuals have investable assets of at least $30 million and, while a small population, this group continues to grow, with the largest population of UHNW investors around the world living in the US. Half of all UHNW investors live in North America, mostly in metropolitan areas, and over 600 billionaires call the US their home. New York City claims nearly 9,000 UHNW investors, including over 100 billionaires. UHNW investors are primarily men over the age of 50, though the population of UHNW women is growing with women accounting for 1 in 5 UHNW individuals. UHNW investors are considered by the SEC to be “accredited investors,” meaning their annual income of at least $200,000 invested in each of the past two years. UHNW wealth management firms often work exclusively with UHNW clients, providing exclusive services and opportunities that are not accessible to the average investor.
What is High Net Worth?
In order to be considered High Net Worth, an individual will have around $1 million in liquid assets. Overall, the more investmentable assets a client has, the more time and resources will be needed to grow and preserve those assets, so a wealth management firm will take that into consideration when planning for a HNW client. As a result, like UHNW clients, many wealth management firms work exclusively with HNW individuals in order to provide the level of services needed for their growing wealth. LIke UHNW investors, HNW investors are considered by the SEC to be accredited investors with an annual income of at least $200,000 in each of the past two years.
Ultra High Net Worth vs High Net Worth Investing Strategies
Both High Net Worth and Ultra High Net Worth require specialized wealth management approaches, but there are still differences between how each approaches investing. UHNW investors, in particular, are more likely to have global reach afforded to them by their wealth management firm and are more likely to spread their investment allocation out internationally, as well as invest in less standard types of investments, such as collectibles and art. UHNW investors tend to value experiences over physical items, spending on travel and educational experiences. UHNW investors can be thought of as preferring a luxury lifestyle, versus focusing on luxury goods.
Because Ultra High Net Worth clients tend to be slightly older (63 is the average age for an UHNW investor, and 58 for HNW investors), their timeline and preferences for investing can vary from those of HNW investors; for example, charitable giving occurs at a higher rate in UHNW investors than HNW investors. UHNW investors also tend to prioritize reinvesting extra funds or profit into new sources of income to maximize compounding versus diverting it towards additional spending. Here are some of the areas that UHNW and HNW investors typically allocate investments to:
UNWW investors typically do not invest in CDs, money markets, mutual funds or standard retirement vehicles like 401ks, more often investing in
- Worldwide portfolios
- Bonds/Fixed Income
- Private Equity
- Gold/Precious Metals
HNW investors tend to have a more traditional investment allocation in:
- Cash and cash equivalents
- Real Estate
Ultra High Net Worth vs High Net Worth Families
As UHNW families accrue significantly more wealth, they usually find that wealth is accompanied by complexity and regulation considerations. While both levels of wealth can carry increased complexity, the tactics that can ease UHNW family burdens may not apply to a HNW family, or may increase complexity to a point where it is simply not worth it.
For example, many wealthy families may consider a family office, which may or may not be necessary or recommended. Additionally, HNW families can become used to having an attorney, accountant or wealth manager serve as a primary advisor, where UHNW may need to consider adding additional checks and balances, as well as additional perspectives, by working with a larger team of advisors. This allows each advisor to focus on their subject matter expertise area; for example, allowing their UHNW wealth managers to focus on investments rather than becoming mired down in more routine tasks such as bill pay, staff payroll and philanthropic giving.
For UHNW families, the cost of poor financial planning can be much greater, and their equity-heavy portfolios can make them more susceptible to market volatility. An UHNW investor who loses 33% of their multi-million dollar portfolio in a market crash stands to lose much more than a HNW investor. Because HNW individuals cannot afford to lose as much as an UHNW investor, they’re less likely to take a risk on investments like private equities, hedge funds and specialty real estate or collectibles.
While inheriting millions of dollars is objectively always a good thing, poor tax planning can devastate an estate and severely impact the amount that heirs actually inherit. Considerations like these are why it’s critical for UHNW families to work with wealth managers who specialize in ultra high net worth investing and offer a customized, tailored approach that considers their complete financial picture (and protects them in a downturn).
UHNW families can find they are in a situation of complexity that they need more support than a single advisor (such as a lawyer or wealth manager) can provide. UHNW investors may find they need support with:
- Balancing external and internal advisors
- Managing multiple family businesses and real estate investments
- M&A assistance
- Handling routine financial and tax matters
- Increased need for customized financial planning
- Increased need for portfolio rebalancing
- Family business succession planning
- UHNW estate planning
- Private foundation creation and management
- Trustee selection and family governance assistance
- White glove concierge service
HNW families, despite their significant wealth, may be able to rely on a smaller team of experts who they can manage directly, without the additional cost and complexity of a family office. Some of the considerations HNW families face are:
- Customized financial planning
- Optimized insurance guidance
- Tax planning coordination
- Assistance with college planning
- Financial planning and caregiving for aging parents
Ultra High Net Worth vs High Net Worth Estate Planning
Estate planning is a critical part of any financial plan, but the more wealth you accrue the more important it can become. Much of this is due to tax thresholds that impact an estate; for UHNW investors, this is the major consideration for their estate planning and they will need to actively work to take advantage of tax mitigation strategies during their lifetimes. For HNW investors, who fall below the estate tax exemption limit, there are still important considerations for planning for the legacy of their wealth, including taxes, but also potentially creating irrevocable trusts, charitable giving and insurance vehicles.
UNWW investors have a unique set of concerns when it comes to estate planning, as their estates will exceed the current estate tax exemption of $11,580,000. Some of the tax mitigation strategies they will want to work with a wealth management firm and estate lawyer to consider are:
- Private foundations
- Life insurance and asset protection
- Family limited partnerships
- Creating trusts
While HNW investors still fall under the estate tax exemption, some states impose estate or inheritance taxes at different thresholds. HNW investors should work with their wealth managers and estate lawyer to discuss:
- Irrevocable trusts
- Charitable planning and charitable trusts
- Life insurance and asset protection
Protecting Your Wealth
Every investor, regardless of portfolio size, is unique and requires a financial plan that reflects their specific situation, goals and the legacy they hope to leave behind. When it comes to UHNW investors, their considerable wealth (and often extremely complex investment allocation) creates unique needs that are best served by a UHNW wealth management firm. At Weber Global Management, we have the experience and global resources necessary to ensure our UHNW clients are prepared and protected in volatile markets. We work with each client to determine their risk tolerance and develop a customized, airtight financial plan designed to preserve and grow their considerable wealth, while ensuring they are on track to leave behind the legacy they had imagined. Not everyone is capable, or equipped, to handle the unique challenges – or leverage the unique opportunities – that come with managing the extraordinary wealth of UHNW investors. Ultra High Net Worth investors deserve a true partner they can trust to provide reasoned, rational guidance and global reach and preserve their wealth and legacy. To learn more about our resources and approach, reach out to us here.