Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Bunch of Bankers

The über-exclusive Yellowstone Club, 13,000 acres under the "big sky" of Montana, a retreat where the super-rich can relax, spend time with their families, or entertain. The entry fee is $250,000 (£130,000), though you'll have to be invited and you'll have to buy a house (the developers are currently building the world's most expensive, a $155m mansion ) in order to gain acceptance. It is rumoured that the members - of whom there are fewer than 300 - include Bill Gates, the former US Vice-President Dan Quayle and stars including Brad Pitt .

Pity them, they need help. A fortune can be a terrible burden when it must be protected, invested and sheltered from the tax man, parcelled out ready for future generations. Even giving it away is not easy, requiring all sorts of expertise to navigate the world of philanthropy and competing demands for donations and sponsorships. So step forward - the private wealth manager.

The private wealth manager is a banker-cum-broker-cum-butler to the super-rich.

He or she will be trusted with the family's financial secrets, relied upon to advise and to manage its financial needs, perhaps also, in a spare moment, to pick up an impossible-to-find box at a sports game or to deal with a pesky bill that has been overlooked.

"This is all about money," said Russ Prince the founder of Prince & Associates, a consultancy that studies the habits of the super-rich. "If you want to deal with the super-rich, it is important to have some measure of success of your own. A man in a mansion is not going to take advice from a man who lives in a hovel." .

Todd Thomson did not live or work in a hovel. At 45, Thomson was one of the finance industry's fastest-rising stars, and was heading the wealth management division of the banking giant Citigroup, which acts for hundreds of the richest individuals and families in America, making him one of the most powerful advisers of the super-rich.

His holiday home at the Yellowstone Club became a favoured venue for skiing parties for clients - and those he hoped would soon become clients. But Yellowstone was not his only indulgence. Far from it. When he was suddenly fired at the start of this year, what was revealed about his free-spending way with Citigroup's corporate credit card provoked shock and awe in equal measure. News that the beneficiary of much of his corporate largesse was one of America's most telegenic business reporters turned the usually austere front page of The Wall Street Journal into something akin to a celebrity gossip rag.

Thomson's attempts to impress his Yellowstone counterparts and other potential clients, had extended to a costly make-over for his 50th-floor office back in New York, where the views of Central Park were not apparently enough of a draw. The floor's boardroom, almost exclusively used by Thomson, is decked out with marble flooring and polished wood cabinets; in his main office was installed a tropical fish tank and Persian rugs and, in an expense too far, a giant wood-burning fireplace. Visitors have compared it to a "Swiss chalet" or the inner sanctum of the Wizard of Oz; Citigroup insiders dubbed it the "Todd Mahal".

Russ Prince says that contacts and connections are vital, and that moving in the right circles and giving the right impression can be a more surefire way of securing lucrative business than any other.

The top independent advisers typically take home more than $5m a year from perhaps just a handful of clients, and many take home double that. Those who operate inside much bigger financial institutions are lavished with bonuses that can break the million-dollar mark because of the profits they can generate.

Other clubs to join .

Palm Beach in Florida is the number one holiday resort for America's rich and powerful. The Bath and Tennis is its most exclusive country club. It was built by the architect Addison Mizner for Gatsby generation of the 1920s, and sits on several hundred prime acres off Ocean Boulevard.
The members are anyone who's anyone in American Society. Brits to have been welcomed range from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to the current Duke of Marlborough and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.
How much to join - if you have to so much as ask, you've no chance of getting in. For a ball-park figure, it's worth noting that at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club next door, membership costs a cool $250,000.

The poshest "yotties" retreat on the East Coast, it was founded in 1889 to organise regattas for weekending New Yorkers. Runs serious racing teams, coaches the offspring of the super-rich and, away from the water, organises cocktail parties and conferences for white-collar networkers.
Connecticut is spiritual home to the hedge fund billionaire. The club's Commodore, Peter J Cummiskey, and Vice Commodore, Samuel B Fortenbaugh III all made fortunes on Wall Street before deciding to spend more time with their yachts.
$10,000 a year membership fee , with about the same again in joining fees. But only if you can become a member - and the waiting list is more than 15 years long.


Ray said...

You can get free online access to Wall Street Journal and those other subscription sites with a netpass from: http://news.congoo.com

Peace out!

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