Wealth Planner Nathalie Eser Wolfer helps clients decide where their wealth will go, when they are no longer around. The secret to success is a mix of law and psychology, forward-looking planning and good communication.
How did you come to be a wealth planner?
Nathalie Eser: Already when I studied law at the University of Zurich, I liked the topic of inheritance and succession planning. This is a very sensitive, personal issue, and to handle it well you must like people. You must be interested in them, in their lives, their achievements, their families, their fears, their dreams and their plans. Shortly after graduation, I started at Julius Baer, and 17 years later I’m still here. I was interested in the topic then, and I’m still just as interested in it today – it’s a great job.
Inheritance and succession planning – what does that involve?
First of all, being a good listener. No two people or couples have the same assets, the same family situation, the same lives. Spouses, children, relatives and ‘significant others’ are involved. With patchwork families, inheritance can get very complicated, with various spouses and partners, half-siblings, step-siblings and step-parents. Also, the larger and more spread-out assets and family members are, the more complicated the riddle. So I cannot hand out off-the-shelf solutions. I need to understand the client’s big picture: their wealth, of course, but also their family and their individual situation (e.g. nationalities, place of residence, personal circumstances and provisions in place). Once I obtained the holistic view, I know which other experts from within the bank or from our business partners need to be involved. We can then work with the client and family to develop a solution which best meets their needs. Death – which is part of inheritance – is a difficult topic. Many people don’t like to think about their own demise. But we do this in a gentle, structured way that leads to answers and solutions.
In your work, do you draw more on your financial or your legal education?
I rely heavily on two disciplines: my legal background and psychology. There is a lot of human psychology involved in my work. In almost every family there are hiccoughs, stories and sometimes intrigues – these tend to come out when inheritance and succession are discussed. Sometimes somebody feels he or she is being treated unfairly or being ignored or overruled.
What is the most common mistake in wealth planning?
Trying to move too quickly. There is a lot to consider, such as the needs of the people involved, the assets and the technical issues of law and taxes. Planning an estate and/or a succession is a process – you need to work through it peacefully, carefully, over time. If all the wealth and involved parties are in Switzerland and relationships are ‘plain vanilla’, clients usually need about three months to reach a solution. If matters are more complicated – e.g. the wealth or the family are complex and spread over various countries and jurisdictions, the process can take up to one year or even longer. This is especially the case in comprehensive planning which may include matrimonial and inheritance contracts, last wills and structures (e.g. trusts, foundations and life insurance).
What is the payoff?
A good example is the experience I recently had with an older couple. They wanted to treat their children equally, and they wanted to avoid disputes. The couple already has more than enough money for their retirement, so they wanted to pass on their unneeded wealth while they were still alive. This is nice, but also complicated, because it involved giving various properties to various children. Who gets the holiday house? Who gets the family home? Who gets the hunting lodge? These are emotional issues, and the properties weren’t equal in value, so this had to be evened out as well. They talked it out as an entire family, and we found a way to allocate and compensate everyone. We discussed and drafted gift and inheritance contracts, which were finally signed in front of the respective notaries. Now parents and children are happy – all is decided and properly planned. We place huge value on building trust with our clients and their children. This is the foundation of a solid relationship that can last generations. Many of our clients’ children - who haven’t banked with us previously - choose to continue the relationship with us for this reason.
What gives you the greatest sense of fulfilment?
Finding a solution that suits an entire family. Then the box is ticked – they needn’t worry any more, and they can get on with other parts of their lives. My main aim is to give my clients peace of mind.
In which area that is not related to Wealth Planning can you offer your clients advice?
There is one thing that jumps to my mind here: fashion. Before going on to study law, I completed an apprenticeship at an international fashion company in Zurich. It was there that I discovered this world, which has since become a passion of mine. I would feel confident in offering insights about the latest trends and must-haves – especially to female clients. In the office, I have quite a reputation for my fascination with style and fashion; my colleagues do not only count my shoeboxes under my desk, but they also ask me for my advice when they are looking for a present for their significant other.
This portrait is part of the 'Wealth Architects' series in which we introduce you to our employees. All of them have practical tips and tricks in their area of expertise for you.