Firms, Family Offices Turn to Wealth Counselors


Szifra is quoted in this article featured in Private Asset Management, a publication of Institutional Investor, Inc.

By Melissa Karsh, Private Asset Management

February 9, 2009

Some family offices and firms are tapping into wealth counselors, typically psychologists or therapists with specialized training in the behavioral and emotional issues of wealth, as a way to better interact with and understand their wealthy clients during the turbulent markets.

Calibre, Wachovia Wealth Management’s multi-family office, recently hired another wealth counselor. Keith Whittaker, managing director and head of Calibre’s Family Dynamics unit, and Susan Massenzio, who works with Whittaker as a counselor, told PAM they have been speaking more frequently on trust-building through Webinars and other forums for private bankers and advisors. Whittaker said families want more attention on the human aspect of living with or losing wealth, and legal and financial disciplines often cannot provide this.

Wells Fargo’s multi-family office, The Family Wealth Group, recently employed two wealth counselors for both their relationship managers and family office clients. Calls to relationship managers Jamie Traeger-Muney and Rebecca Trobe with Wells were referred to a spokeswoman who did not respond by press time.

One wealth management firm that has signed on for service agreements with independent wealth counselor Szifra Birke, a licensed therapist and president of Birke Consulting, is Lexington Wealth Management. Kristine Porcaro, COO and co-founder, said especially in these times, wealth counseling for clients has played a strategic role in deepening client relationships and providing a more open discourse.

Jim Grubman, a clinical psychologist and head of Massachusetts-based FamilyWealth Consulting, said he has seen a 20% increase in referrals since the fall from clients and wealth management firms who manage at least $25 million in assets. Most of the counseling of late surrounds working with advisors who are burned out, exhausted ad considering leaving the field because of portfolio losses and client reaction to the Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities fallout.

Unlike the peer support groups that have sprung up among investors who were burned by Madoff, wealth counselors are providing private, professional services for clients and typically charge an hourly or per diem rater for consultations. Gary Shunk, a licensed psychotherapist and head of Chicago-based Wealth Psychology, and Birke both reported a 50% increase in client referrals and inquiries since last fall.