But that’s not always the case, says Jeffrey Seavey, an east Cobb resident who has made a career out of advising metro Atlanta’s super-rich. And the need for guidance becomes more acute the further down the generational line you go, as the children and grandchildren lose touch with the patriarch who built the family’s wealth.
Seavey, 48, heads up SunTrust Bank’s Private Wealth Management unit. The unit has a 100-year history of providing financial advice to Atlanta’s blue-blood families. Among its clients are heirs to the Coca-Cola fortune.
“For years we had the recipe for Coke sitting in our bank vault at SunTrust,” Seavy said.
The very thought of that vault guarding the family’s most valued secret implies the ultimate trust relationship.
The Private Wealth Management unit works with 63 families and has $1.1 billion in assets under management, Seavey said. The “poorest” of the clients is worth about $2 million, while the richest is worth $350 million. The average client has a net worth of $8 million to $9 million, he said.
But Seavey is anything but a stand-pat, rest-on-your-laurels kind of guy.
When he joined the unit in 2001, he quickly fell in love with the work, which he says is based on relationship building as opposed to the short-term deal-making and numbers-crunching he encountered during his tenure in commercial banking.
“In 2001, I reached a point where I became very transactional and missed being able to focus on relationships and build over time, as opposed to always thinking about the next big deal,” he said. “I got introduced to private wealth management and learned how to work as a trusted adviser. I really like being part of people’s families.”
But a few years into his new job, he sensed there could be trouble on the horizon. Gaining the trust of younger family members as the older ones died off could prove difficult if the soil wasn’t being tilled and fully prepped ahead of time.
“I kind of realized that the second and third generations of these families were not being served very well yet,” Seavey said. “From a business perspective, I realized it would behoove us to change the way we do business.”
So, in 2006, he tried something new.
“I proposed a new strategy, a partnership with a person younger than myself,” Seavey said.
SunTrust bought into the idea and Seavey ran with it.
He hired Natalie Schmook, who was then just a couple of years removed from college graduation, to start building relationships with the children and grandchildren of metro Atlanta’s uber wealthy. Some might refer to them as “trust fund kids,” and some of the stereotypes do apply, but more often than not, it’s more complex than what meets the eye, he said.
“It’s been a really good fit,” Seavey said. “Her role is so unique in the industry and within SunTrust itself. We began by introducing her to the children of our clients.”
Schmook’s job was to start building relationships with those children, who were in their early 20s to around 30, and to stay in close contact with them throughout into their 40s and beyond.
“That way they have a separate adviser than their parents. It’s enough separation to make them feel like they have their own adviser but enough connection to carry on the relationship with SunTrust,” Seavey said.
Schmook, who has an MBA and a background in corporate recruitment, has slid into her new role nicely.
“I go to a lot of weddings,” she said. “They really look at me as a friend. I hear about their cosmetic surgeries, their boyfriends, their husbands. It’s very personal.”
She said she keeps all the inside dope confidential.
“I don’t go back to their parents and say anything,” she said.
Sometimes she just lets them vent.
“One might say (about their father): ‘He’s got $25 million, why can’t I get $2 million? Why do I have to wait till he dies?’ Those are things they can’t say out loud to their parents, but they can say to me,” Schmook said.
The biggest mistake some families make, whether they’re wealthy or not, is not talking about money, say Seavey and Schmook.
They say you’d be surprised at how many wealthy couples don’t even have a will.
“We try to set up annual meetings with a neutral third party present to facilitate a discussion about family money issues,” she said. “So those meetings sort of force the issue. Over time they get better at it.”
Seavey said he remains the lead client on 60 percent of the unit’s clients, while Schmook is now the lead client on the other 40 percent.
“There (are) plenty of things we do that make no money for us,” he said. “But over time, it builds trust.”
There’s that word again. Trust.
In Seavey’s business, it means everything.