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Want to sell to the ultra-wealthy? Zero in on their identities

David Friedman is the president of Wealth-X, a Singapore-based research and consulting firm that focuses on the super rich – individuals with more than $30-million in investable assets.

Mr. Friedman says that in order to do well in the ultra-high-net-worth market, wealth-management firms need detailed information about potential clients – not just how many, but who they are. Armed with that level of detail, firms can target individuals and move toward "bespoke" services.

Mr. Friedman spoke to Noreen Rasbach from New York, where he is based.

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There's a lot of detail in your reports – not just how many ultra-wealthy people per country, but also that there are, say, 5,955 in London, England.

Most of the wealth reports out there weren't focused on just the ultra-wealthy; they did all high-net worth. They were using macroeconomic data, a top-down approach. We did the opposite. We created this curated database of the ultra-wealthy. When we give you a number, it's starting with actual real names that we're counting in our database. What it does is give granularity to this market.

The exciting thing about that for our clients has been that for the very first time they actually can say, "Okay, if we're focused on the ultra-wealthy, what's the market size?" Say you're a bank here in the U.S. and you're focused on the southeast – 'what's the market size for us in Georgia?' Then you say, "What's our market share? Now we know we have this many clients, and these guys are saying that there's this many of these type of individuals."

Then even beyond that – wallet share. We don't have the net worth of every single person in our database yet, but for those that we do, for the clients we work with, we estimate what their net worth is and what their liquidity is.

How focused is the wealth-management industry on the ultra-wealthy?

We've seen this trend over the last years with specific business lines focused on the ultra-high-net-worth market. So you've got U.S. Bank, for example, launching Ascent Private Capital. Wells Fargo just launched Abbot Downing. The minimum net worth of the clients they are looking for here are $50-million to $100-million.

And then you saw in the news that Tiffany, the luxury brand, has launched a new group focused just on the ultra-net-worth individuals.

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So there's this trend where you see, at the high end, whether it's luxury goods or private banking, whether it's portfolio design or designing a purse, it's all bespoke. Louis Vuitton offers bespoke purse making. At the highest end on the private banking wealth-management side it's about bespoke portfolios that really capture the essence of what your personal-wealth goals are.

So there's this big move away from broad marketing to bespoke services and what I call bespoke marketing. That is, targeting individuals.

Now, this is a pretty new trend because for the most part, before 2008, most of the big private banks were just being reactive. Whatever came in the door. After 2008 everything shifted.

What is bespoke marketing?

Say you're a luxury real-estate developer in Dubai. Usually what you would do is put together a package and send those packages out to all your prospects. And maybe you do something real unique, but they're all the same.

The new approach, and what our clients are doing with our intelligence, is saying, "I'm going to pick a certain number of people, maybe it's 100, 200 people. I'm going to put together a package, but I'm going to let the dossier, which is kind of a window into their heart, mind and soul, drive unique elements of that package we're sending to them."

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If you're in the advertising or marketing conferences, the newest thing is when you're advertising, you have to create a narrative. You're inviting somebody into a narrative. When you do this, when you let one of our dossiers create a bespoke marketing approach about how to reach that person, you're really inviting them to co-author a narrative with you about this product. It's actually letting the person and who they are shape the marketing strategy.

Now, this is very different because people traditionally think in terms of broad marketing. They don't think about an individual person and actually targeting a person, so it's a significant paradigm shift that we're empowering.

If you're Bombardier and you're selling a $50-million jet … assume that you have to be a billionaire to buy that, right? We say there's 2,160 in the world. So, that's your target market.

But the approach is individualized?

Yes. I'm an evangelist when I get up in front of private bankers and wealth managers and say, "You should be passionate about knowing your clients." You should be, and I used the term "an excavator" for who they are because that's your job. And, frankly, if you were really to do the high-end wealth design that includes managing their human capital, which is their kids and family; their philanthropic capital; the financial capital, which is the asset-management side; their physical capital, which is property and casualty – you want to really put together all those things.

And behind all those things are emotional drivers making decisions that often have nothing to do with rationality. And if you really want to do that well, then you need to understand every part of what drives them, and you need to be passionate about what they're passionate about. That's when you actually gain a lifetime client.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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