“There’s always someone worse off than you” is a phrase often used to offer some kind of comfort to people facing difficult circumstances in life. Whether the miserable can be cheered up by contemplating the fate of the even less fortunate is a moot point.

The strategy could also backfire, as by the same logic, there’s always someone better off than you – an angst-compounding thought for those prone to such moods.

Despite the dangers of comparisons, however, humans are naturally curious about how they rank across almost every conceivable attribute next to the rest of mankind.

For the most part, people are happy to talk openly about where they may fit in the scale of things, but according to Wealth Benchmarks founder Doug Turek, when it comes to money they tend to be more circumspect.

“We don’t have conversations over the dinner table about money. It’s just not talked about,” Turek says. “We can’t tell the affluent from the wealthy.”

Which is where Wealth Benchmarks comes in. The internet-based system (which featured in the April edition of Professional Planner) has so far collated data from thousands of high net worth individuals who have, on condition of anonymity, supplied intimate details of their money and wealth habits.

Turek says more than 50,000 individuals have visited the website. Of those, 10 per cent claim to be worth more than $5 million, while two-thirds rate themselves as “millionaires”.

At a recent private banking conference in Syd­ney, Turek shared some of the findings of this rich database, contained in the company’s first Wealth Report.

He says the study aimed to create a profile of “who are the wealthy” as well as revealing some of their “secrets” and the products and services they used. The firm is currently collecting further research on how and why the wealthy use financial advisers, which should be available later in the year.

The high net worth individuals who contribut­ed to the Wealth Benchmarks report also received feedback about where they fitted in compared to their peers, which was a powerful motivator, Turek says.

“I’ve come to understand it’s them [high net worth individuals] searching for another touch point to guide them through this very anxious money management world, where they’re not sure they’re going to trust even their most trusted adviser – who either works for an investment bank or a private bank,” he says.

“You always wonder about conflicts of interest or [whether] an individual adviser may have other motivations.”

While individuals might find the benchmarking useful, or at least interesting, Turek says the broad results also provide valuable insight for advisers to the wealthy.

The firm’s first batch of research, for instance, has added a quantitative layer to some of the intui­tive perceptions of who the wealthy are.

For example, the primary driver of wealth, not surprisingly, is age. The Wealth Benchmarks report shows that 40 per cent of those over 50 had $1 mil­lion in assets outside the home while only 10 per cent of those at age 40 had achieved that goal.

The age effect is even more pronounced at age 60, where 60 per cent of those surveyed reported over $1 million in wealth outside the family home.

Income is the second most influential driver of wealth, the report says. According to Turek, this factor really only comes into play as an indicator of long-term wealth creation when individuals earn over $500,000 per annum.

“Some people earn a lot, but waste a lot too,” he says. “It’s really only when people earn over $500,000 each year that they find it hard to spend more than they earn and so save more,” he says.

The Wealth Benchmarks report also shows that the builders of long-term wealth tend to be: male; married; professionals and managers; more edu­cated; investors; have offshore links (either through employment or foreign wealth); and self-employed.

“We found the self-employed were two-times wealthier than the employed but the range in wealth is very large – if you go looking for the self-employed clients you’d better find the successful ones,” Turek says.

The Wealth Benchmark research is an ongoing project but he says the data so far could prove use­ful to advisers, such as private bankers, who work with the high net worth investor.

“You can be a better adviser by relating indi­vidual behaviour to general patterns… you can be a much stronger influencer,” he says.

As well, Turek says private banks could also use the benchmarking methodology to make new staff seem more established and knowledgeable than they really are.

He says: “They can talk as if they’ve been in the industry 20 years, when they’re really sharing the statistics of thousands of others.”

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