Bodyguard talking into earpiece
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For most students, preparing for business school means worrying about the fees or choosing the right laptop. It does not involve wondering where the bodyguard will sit. But then most courses do not cater for billionaires and their offspring. Welcome to the world of private wealth management.

Ad Kil, director of executive PhD programmes at Nyenrode Business Universiteit, has first-hand experience of this world. “Our course cannot only have the younger members of the family on it, but also the main successors as well, so privacy is important” he says. “Sometimes] guards are outside the classroom.”

Wealth management courses have been around in various guises for graduates looking to enter the asset management industry for years. But now business schools are actively seeking those wealthy scions of dynasties in the making who want to learn how to manage the family firm or money — and getting a response.

Institutes worldwide from Nyenrode in the Netherlands to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in the US, offer a variant on these courses.

Nyenrode’s course attracts both the wealthy and those seeking to work for the rich. “The participants are family offices and then also members of the bigger family firms,” says Prof Kil.

“It can be a very interesting mix: the professionals can learn a lot from the family members and the families can learn how consultants think.” Chicago Booth solely targets the wealthy and while family office executives may attend with principal family members, the course is closed to all other financial services professionals.

In the UK, Cass Business School at City University London offers a five-day private wealth management course explicitly designed for those with a net personal wealth in excess of $50m.

Learning how to manage your money in the light of micro- and macroeconomic trends is crucial, says one spokesman for the course. There are also opportunities to “connect with a group of peers who face the same issues in managing substantial assets”.

Another example in the US is The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, which has run its private wealth management programme in association with the Institute for Private Investors since 1999.

More than 800 family members have been through the course, says Richard Marston, a professor of finance who teaches the course. “One family member is sent on the course,” he says, “and then it’s several the next time. We see a lot of repeat families.”

Prof Marston describes his course as “wealth management unwrapped”. Modules range from learning how to hire an adviser to the different types of asset classes available worldwide.

“We presume they have little knowledge of running a company — or perhaps they are from the second or third generation who have careers outside finance,” he says, though recent intakes have been more investment-savvy.

“Over time it has become a more sophisticated group. We’ve been through several economic crises now, and 2008-09 traumatised many of these families [some of whom] made very bad mistakes at that time. They are much warier of simple approaches to investment than in the past.”

James Sefton, professor of economics at Imperial College Business School, would agree. Imperial offers an MSc in Investment and Wealth Management, where he has seen several students come from wealthy families who were “going to return to their portfolios”.

However, for those looking to manage the money of the wealthy, the industry has changed, Prof Sefton says. “Wealth management [is perhaps traditionally not] the most academic or technically orientated career but it is changing. You would not get a top job unless you had the [technical] skills.”

Prof Kil is also keen to stress the hands-on nature of his course. “What we don’t want are tourists,” he says. “[The course] is putting the knowledge you have into practice.”

As the generation that founded companies after the second world war looks to pass them on, demand is growing. Prof Kil says he could double the size of the course if he wished, but he prefers not to.

“It is not for everyone and not for start-ups. We want to keep it elite.”

First person: Do these courses work?
The company president

“My family had their liquidity event at the end of 1989 and I’ve been working [for them] since then, so what was really terrific about the programme is that it wasn’t just about money but the family dynamics aspects as well,” writes Susan Remmer Ryzewic, president and chief executive of EHR Investments and a graduate of the Wharton wealth management programme.

“One of the best parts is that it [involves] a case study approach, so not just material presented by the Wharton professors, going at it from a theoretical perspective. While I thought I was going to know a lot more than the other participants, there were concepts that had evolved a lot since I had taken an investment programme earlier on.

“As you get more involved you understand things at a different level. And I know that with my family we thought that after five years we’ll have this all set up and we won’t have to deal with it any more. But what happens is that as life evolves and you go through different stages of life and wealth management, the issues sort of re-occur in a different format.

“So it was really terrific in terms of refreshing my knowledge, but also in terms of making the connections with other people so you have them to turn to as you do have that sense of trust and shared mission.”

The investment analyst

“Imperial was the best fit for me as I had a good theoretical background from my undergrad [in banking and finance at Stirling university],” writes Callum Lee, an investment analyst at London Business Angels, “but I wanted to improve my technical skill set.

“This meant it was tough at the start of the course, [as] I didn’t just want to know how to do it in theory, but be able to sit down at a computer and get it done. I did have a bit of maths from my undergrad but the level and rigour of the maths content was quite a step up; they’re very good at wanting you to understand it from the very basics.

“One of the main benefits to me now is that if I find I have a financially related idea, I can apply my knowledge of what I’ve learnt and implement it immediately.

“For example, I had an idea about trading oil futures a few months ago, and was able to sit down, programme the strategy and back-test it myself.

“There were a lot of maths wizards on the course who understood all of the complex mathematics, such as stochastic calculus, but they had trouble with [other] modules; dealing with the relationship side of things and client-facing skills, for example.

“That was probably my strongest part of the course — while my colleagues helped me with the technical side, I helped those guys with the interpersonal side.

“We get our final results in November, but key for me were the networking opportunities and interacting with the people on the course . I learnt a lot from my colleagues and was able to improve as the course progressed.”

Letter in response to this article:

Centre of global wealth is shifting to Asia / From Francis Koh

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