HNW Networking: The Perils of Keep Up With the Jones’s

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You are sold on socializing with the HNW crowd. You’ve joined the museum. You drink at the right bars and see each other at events. You are running with the big dogs. You are invited to parties at their homes. What could possibly go wrong?

Playing in their sandbox gets expensive. You are expected to buy tickets to various galas because they all serve on one non-profit board or another. You dress well. Does anyone in their part of town drive anything other than a German car? Thank goodness for car leasing.

Now you cross into “He who dies with the most toys wins” territory. They are passionate collectors, own expensive stuff and love showing it off. They travel a lot. They dine out in fabulous restaurants. Others spend money as it was water on watches and jewelry.

How can you compete? You can’t. The best you can do is carve out your territory and build a reputation as an expert.

Twelve Strategies to Maintain Your Sanity

How can you play the game without getting hopelessly into debt?

1. Don’t be smarter than them. They may collect stuff, but sometimes they get facts wrong. Don’t correct them, especially not in front of their peers. When busily bragging, public embarrassment isn’t part of the fantasy.

Lesson: Discretion is the better part of valor. Let their peers do the deed.

2. You can’t be all things to all people. There’s the wine snob. The car snob. The art snob. You are tempted to join their world. This involves building and filling a wine cellar. Getting an exotic car. Collecting expensive art. You are financially ruined.

The wine snob isn’t a car snob. The car snob isn’t an art snob. They own their niches. Building a clientele of HNW clients is your niche in the financial services industry. Lesson: Pick one niche and specialize. You are a wine snob. France is your country. Burgundy is your region. Do one thing and do it well.

3. Free stuff. There’s a great line Crazy Rich Asians: “No one likes free stuff like the rich.” As wine fans, some of the best bottles in our cellar were gifts from dinner and party guests. They assume ‘you only drink the best” so that’s what they bring.

Lesson: You’ve got your niche. Talk it up. Be respectful of others. Become the “go to” expert. People bring nice gifts.

4. Be impressed. If people are bragging, that’s what they want. They are staking out their territory. Don’t try to compete in their specialist area. You won’t win.

Lesson: Sometimes you must go along to get along.

5. Have a desire to learn. Your friend is the whisky snob. It’s all they talk about. Ask intelligent questions. “What distinguishes whisky from one part of Scotland from another? Stop talking.

Lesson: People who are secure are often eager to share their passion with fellow enthusiasts or those with a sincere desire to learn

6. Give to get. They travel. You’ve traveled. Keep notes when you travel. When they are going someplace, talk restaurants. They will have favorites. You too. If you haven’t been there, take a great interest. How did they choose that destination? If it’s after the fact, get a debriefing. Would they go back? What did they like best?

Lesson: People love to swap information. They also like to talk.

7. Know how to buy stuff cheaply. If you are going to compete, buy some of the basic stuff used. Auction houses are one of the best places to buy watches and jewelry because you know the ‘bid” price if you chose to sell is what the under bidder was offering the day you won, less auction costs.

Lesson: Try to buy the playing pieces far below retail. Your wealthy friends probably inherited the stuff anyway.

8. Split checks. When heading out for dinner or drinks, carry cash and chip in your share. It’s tempting to want to pick up the whole tab, demonstrating you are generous person. The HNW crowd plays by the same “split the check” rules themselves.

Lesson: Pay your way. Don’t expect to be a guest. Don’t assume the other person will pay next time. No one remembers.

9. I don’t have a grand house (1). Some folks enjoy one upsmanship. Who has the grandest house? Takes the most expensive vacations? Your house isn’t grand, but it’s well maintained, clean and tastefully decorated.

Lesson: Don’t be embarrassed. Entertain at home in small groups. BBQ outside in the summer. Wealthy people often worked their way up the ladder. They lived in townhouses. They respect that you live within your means.

10. I don’t have a grand house (2). You are newer to the business. You run with the right crowd, but you still live at home or you have young children. Toys are everywhere in your tiny apartment. You aren’t bringing in guests anytime soon.

Lesson: Entertain in restaurants. Is your spouse having a birthday? Get a private room at your favorite restaurant or at your golf club. (You are running with the big dogs.) You pick up the entire bill.

11. Be a good guest. Bring a house present when you arrive. Send a written thank you note afterwards. It shows you understand how the game is played.

Lesson: Even if they are recently rich themselves, many wealthy people look down on “new money” or others they consider gate crashers. You are in a different category because you know the rules.

12. Avoid mind games. This one’s tough. They can’t stop talking about the apartment they had in Singapore. They brag about dining in Michelin starred restaurants. They stayed at a luxury hotel in Paris. If they did this on their expense account, it doesn’t count. They were spending the company’s money, not their own.

Lesson: If they spent their own money on a lavish vacation, that’s their own achievement. Be suitably impressed. If they did it on the company’s dime, it doesn’t count. Don’t say anything, of course.

The object is running with the big dogs is to make a good showing, but do it on your own terms.

By Bryce Sanders

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