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Quiet Down.

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

A good attorney friend called me up today to let me know that she’s changing law firms. Her name is Whitney Barton, and she’s moving from Sheppard Mullin to Withers. It’s a good move for her-- she’s an estate planning and tax specialist, and Withers specializes in those things. More importantly, though, Sheppard Mullin has about five times as many attorneys as Withers.

It’s a real trend among the professional community with which I work. Whether it’s accountants, attorneys, or wealth managers, those of us who specialize in working with high net worth clients are moving away from Fortune 500 companies to boutique operations. I myself established my investment company after leaving Wells Fargo a couple of years ago. There’s Whitney. Hollywood business manager John McIlwee recently left a thriving company with his name on the sign to set up his own firm with just four employees. One of my favorite accountants here in San Diego is a fellow named Michael Gerstein; good luck even finding a sign in front of his office.

We’re taking a more traditional approach to our businesses, making efforts to keep private the financial affairs of our affluent clients. Boutique firms are being buoyed by our clients’ demand for discretion and the wealth of information available to the general public here in the digital age. The fact is that, the wealthier you are, the more difficult it is to be private. It doesn't even matter how you came by your wealth-- by simply typing your name into a search engine, family members, friends, co-workers, and the general public can gather a lot of information about you and your finances.

Social alienation, awkward requests for financial help from family and friends, and endless solicitations for charitable donations are some of the unique challenges wealthy individuals encounter once the news of their finances becomes public knowledge. But there are steps you can take to protect your privacy.

Teach your family to value privacy.

Those who know you best know the most about your wealth. That's why it's important to establish ground rules with your immediate and extended family about how much to discuss wealth, business interests, philanthropic interests and your lifestyle with others. This is particularly important with teenagers and children who can sometimes talk about where the family went on vacation, what cars Mom and Dad drive, or what they received for their birthday without truly understanding the implications of those discussions on family privacy.

Make confidentiality a priority

One way to better ensure your privacy is to ask the professionals you work with (bankers, accountants, lawyers, wealth advisors) about the specific steps they take to keep financial information private. It’s not really important to get a detailed rundown of all of a firm's privacy guidelines, but there should be specific systems and procedures intended to safeguard your financial information about which the professional can answer openly and empathetically.

Limit access to financial information

Beyond policies and systems, you'll want to limit the number of individuals who have access to financial statements and other confidential information. Consider working with boutique professional firms whenever their capabilities are scalable.

Consider using an LLC to own your real estate.

By using an LLC to own your property, your name is kept out of most public records and web crawls.

Consult a security professional

Many wealthy families I know have consulted with security professionals to ensure their property and their families are well protected. A professional consultation will require a minimum investment of your time, but may more than pay for itself in peace of mind.

The quest for confidentiality is not a new thing, and given the extent of data breaches at firms like Equifax and Wells Fargo over the years, it was probably about time the financial services industry started to move in its current direction. Hopefully, these suggestions will help you to fly under the radar.

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