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Wealth Wise

5 tips for talking money with the family

Head of Investment at Alpian
Victor Cianni
Group 7 Article, 5 min read

There is a strong yet delicate link between individual wealth and the wealth passed down to us over generations. What can we learn from our familial connections? And how can we make this link stronger over generations to come?

Children, in all their innocence, often ask questions that can puzzle even the best of us. Some of these questions have answers that we just don’t know, like why are there so many languages in the world? Some have answers that we do know, but are hesitant to give, like is grandpa now in heaven? And some are so abstract that we don’t really know where to begin.

“Are We Wealthy?”

Though the question is phrased in a way that a simple “yes” or “no” would suffice, surely none of us with children has ever answered it in such a way. While the broader concept of wealth might relate to larger themes of freedom, purpose and belonging, even the more literal definition of wealth demands a closer examination. In its essence, wealth is as much an individual accomplishment as it is a generational one. To put it simply, we can understand our wealth as a function of two key factors.

Wealth Inherited

The first being that a significant part of our wealth is dependent on what we inherit from our parent, grandparents or other family members. Only when we account for this can we paint a fair picture of our wealth.

Inherent Wealth

After we do the math and add up the numbers, we must not forget to factor in our background. The values, principles and opportunities we receive throughout our lives are significantly impacted by our surroundings and the environment in which we grow. They have a strong impact on our ability to create wealth and what we eventually inherit.

To open a discussion of wealth is to answer the question of being wealthy in an authentic way.

The Generation Connection

In fact, if we just take a quick look at the world around us, the impact of these two factors becomes abundantly clear. What is more startling to see, however, is the link between generations. By examining the level of wealth from one generation to the next, we can see a few interesting patterns. So, what are the odds that we become wealthier than our ancestors? Let’s start with a pinch of statistics:

  • 66% of people with low-earning parents successfully move to a higher status, but a marginally higher one in most cases.
  • It takes 5 generations (on average) for those born in low-income families to approach the mean income of their society.
  • Children of very rich parents manage to stay rich (on average), but there are some downward pressures too. Very wealthy families generally see their wealth gradually crumble and disappear after 3 generations.
  • In the middle-income group, there is a higher level of income mobility. What that means is, people have a greater potential to change their economic status. But it can be in both directions!
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Nurturing A Wealthy Family Tree

The statistics are, by definition, indicative of average behaviours. Individuals have room to manoeuvre. Barring factors that we have limited influence over (like the impact of a global pandemic, the health of the economy, or social disadvantages) there are concrete steps that we can take to secure and grow wealth over generations. It starts with our own family circles.

As mentioned before, a significant part of our wealth is inherited. But, at the same time, money is often a taboo subject at the family dining table. Or worse, a source of bitter disagreements. An open conversation about money and inheritance with your children or your parents might feel awkward or uncomfortable, but there are ways to approach the subject that could help.

1. Decide to open the conversation

This is perhaps stating the obvious but making a decision to approach the subject of money, wealth and inheritance is a significant first step. It is important to come to your own realisation that, when it comes to talking about money, wealth and inheritance, the pros far outweigh the cons. In fact, I would encourage you make a list of pros and cons to see for yourself.

2. Create a safe and welcoming environment

Now that you’ve decided to welcome the subject, it is important to engage in a way that is meaningful. Having a dialogue about money and mortality is not everyone’s cup of tea; there will be questions that may seem difficult, awkward or unclear. There may also be clashing viewpoints and heated discussions. That’s OK. In fact, you can consider that to be part of the process. Not only is it important to be open to some level of friction, but it is also vital to create a space that is judgement-free and question-friendly. Approach the discussion with an attitude that assumes the best intentions.

3. Be clear about your intentions

Opening the subject of wealth and inheritance with family doesn’t begin with numbers, percentages and bank details. If there is a clear intention or desired outcome that you have in mind, state it first. Not only does this help avoid misunderstandings, having a basic agenda can also help your family create a frame for the discussion to follow.

4. Talk about the subject often

A big step towards normalizing conversations of wealth and inheritance is to make sure the conversation doesn’t end. Revisiting the discussion from time to time encourages everyone to lean in and participate. The more you discuss, the better you understand common goals, concerns and motivations.

5. With children, start the conversation early

Children often learn by observing the world around them. To foster an open dialogue for future generations, you could introduce discussions of wealth early in their lives. Not only will this let them know that the discussion is not off limits, but it will also let them explore, experiment and develop their own ideas of wealth and money in a relatively safe environment. More importantly, it could break the cycle of awkward conversations around money for future generations!

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Keep the Dance Going

To open a discussion of wealth is to answer the question of being wealthy in an authentic way. Nurturing an open dialogue around wealth, one that is inclusive of the different generations and their aspirations is very important. As practical and material as this topic may seem, these discussions bring clarity, knowledge and wisdom that can become the foundation to the pursuit of greater achievements.

To climb up the wealth ladder, generations have to dance together first.

Group 7 Article, 5 min read
About the author
Victor Cianni
Head of Investment at Alpian

Victor has more than 13 years of experience in wealth management. He has assisted many individuals, families, and institutions in their financial journey throughout his career, either by providing tailored advice on their investments or by managing assets on their behalf. He occupied a number of key positions within the investment divisions of CA Indosuez, Lombard Odier, and Citi Private Bank. He holds an Engineer’s degree in Bioinformatics and Modeling from the Institut National des Sciences Appliquées of Lyon, and he is a certified FRM. In his free time, Victor loves scientific readings and collecting rare books.