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Guest columnist
Lee Eisenberg   Expert: Author Lee Eisenberg
The nation's class system
The financial industry is obsequious toward the ultra-rich and rather oblivious of Americans with modest wealth.
Guest columnist

Where do you stand in the wealth spectrum?
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The treatment extended to a UHNWI approaches that accorded to royalty. As a UHNWI, you aren't offered a cardboard cup of day-old sludge from a Mr. Coffee machine. Now you qualify for a china cup of freshly brewed java from a gleaming French press. They'd better get another grinder or two. The Boston Consulting Group reports that 3,000 new households a year lay claim to $20 million or more in invested assets. Should you be among them, put your feet up and just whistle for service.

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If getting yourself to a firm's teak-paneled office is too much of a schlep, the investment advisers will high-tail it to you. They'll be more than delighted to take you to dinner at the best place in town and toast your success with the finest vintages on the menu. They go to this expense because they obviously respect your business prowess and find you personally charming. Mostly, though, they admire you for your assets. They will ply you with leather binders filled with laser-printed pie charts, bar graphs and three-dimensional wave diagrams. Over dessert, they will produce PowerPoint slides that show how your nest egg will incubate and eventually burgeon into a soaring phoenix that will carry your Number higher and higher, all thanks to their nurturing and personal attention.

There is yet one more place to park, higher up and more exclusive still. This spot is for people for whom even discreet, private banking is déclassé. On this level of the ramp you forgo the wealth managers at even the toniest trust companies and rely instead on your own "family office," complete with its own in-house investment manager and staff.

Typically, families with family offices have $100 million, $500 million, $1 billion, enough to blow off even the Lehmans, the Goldmans and the Northern Trusts of the world. At present, there are approximately 5,000 family offices around the country. Family offices are not for strivers -- at least not yet. But family offices may be going the way of fractional jets, shared yachts and high-end vacation-home clubs. People with only 20 million Numbers have begun to band together to create, in effect, multifamily offices to oversee their investments and estate planning.

Back down on the street, though, it's another world. Most people have to circle the block, just looking for a way to get into the damn garage.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: Nov. 1, 2007
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