Money remains the biggest conversation taboo for high net worth individuals - but this is changing

By Janice Roberts
deVere CEO and founder, Nigel Green.

deVere CEO and founder, Nigel Green.

Money is becoming less of a conversation taboo for high net worth individuals but it still remains the most awkward topic, reveals a new global poll.

In an international survey carried out by deVere Group, one of the world’s largest independent financial advisory organizations, 43 per cent of those polled ranked personal finance as the most difficult subject to discuss with family, friends and colleagues.

It came ahead of politics (28 per cent), sex (14 per cent), religion (10 per cent), and health issues (5 per cent) in the study of 830 clients who have investable assets of more than ZAR 17.3m. The respondents came from South Africa, the U.S, Great Britain, the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong and Australia.

deVere, which has clients in 100 countries, carried out a similar survey two years ago in which 61 per cent of high net worth clients cited money as the most difficult topic of conversation.

deVere CEO and founder, Nigel Green, comments: “This survey highlights how money has become considerably less of a conversation taboo for the wealthy even within the relatively short time frame of two years.

“Having said that, personal finance – which can include income, taxes, pensions, debt, savings and expenses – clearly remains the most awkward subject for discussion.”

He continues: “Traditionally, money has been a no-go area in polite conversation. This is because money stirs up a great deal of intense emotion as it affects almost every area of people’s lives.

“For the better-off in many countries, there has often been a sense of embarrassment or guilt surrounding their wealth and, as such, it was and/or is gauche to talk about. There’s the misplaced underlying feeling that to talk about financial privilege is to flaunt it.

“This shame-like sentiment is despite the fact that the wealthiest individuals have often been and continue to be some of the most important job and wealth creators and philanthropists.”

He goes on to say: “But this social taboo of talking money appears to be being broken down.

“This is likely to be because business leaders, politicians, celebrities and even those who have inherited their wealth can increasingly not avoid having their finances in the public domain and discussed. This then becomes the social norm. The rise of the digital age and social media in particular we believe play an important part in this trend that is responsible for shifting the money taboo.

“It is also perhaps unsurprising that politics is becoming more of a taboo subject amongst our nearest and dearest. We’re living in a divisive political era, as evidenced by the rise of Donald Trump as a potential U.S. president and the Brexit vote, amongst other issues.”

Mr Green concludes: “By discarding the conversation taboo surrounding money, as a society we can recognize and celebrate how it can truly enhance people’s lives and achieve an unbelievable power of good.

“In addition, it will help shrug off the ‘head in the sand’ attitude to personal finances that holds many back from reaching their financial goals.

“Plus, when money is an awkward topic of conversation, it is easier for people to get an unfair deal. These people typically tend to be women and ethnic minorities. Silence about money issues can often allow the unfairness to continue unabated.”

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