Dressing for success

By Philip Porado | March 1, 2010 | Last updated on March 1, 2010
2 min read

Take a walk along the underground passageways that connect the office towers in downtown Toronto’s financial district; you can pick them out. Advisors who work with high-net-worth clients stand out—although in many respects they do it by not standing out.

The secret is revealed by the way they knot their ties, the well-burnished but not gleaming shoes, and the restrained taste in jewellery. It’s in the cut of their shirts, the three-quarter inches of cuff coming out of a jacket that, naturally, has working cuff buttons.

These people sit across the table from the wealthy, and they’ve learned that to do so they must present a polished image. Wealth is a culture whose denizens are most comfortable with those they perceive as being on their level.

In our work on this special high-net-worth issue, we asked advisors about the softer side, literally, of fitting in with wealthy clients.

Many were reluctant to discuss the subject, preferring to go on the record about service offerings, investment choices, tax planning, and all the other things that make high-net-worth advising intellectually challenging.

Tailors and jewellers in the financial district were a bit more open, saying they have clients in the advisory business who seek their guidance on how to craft an understated look that shows the right luxe touches.

One jewellery saleswoman said, “The smart ones have learned to ditch the flashier watches in favour of something understated.” She recounts the tale of one advisor who recently traded in his diver’s wristwatch for something “round, gold, and slim” after a prospective client told him she “wouldn’t do business with a man who wore sporting gear to meetings.”

An extreme example perhaps, but it contains a useful lesson: wealthy people notice details, whether it’s the cut of the cloth, or the trim of their tax outlays.

To be sure, the brass tacks for advisor service come in the form of technical expertise—large sums of money call for more creative planning, deeper teams of experts, and advisors with the brainpower to connect with the needs of rich clients and get to the bottom of what they want done with their millions.

But, in many ways, the first step to starting these relationships is crafting an image that can garner the advisor a seat at the table.

Philip Porado