The nature of wealth seems to be changing. Not only is wealth inequality higher than in the past. The acquisition of wealth seems to be occurring at a more rapid pace. The idea of the ‘millionaire next door‘ still exists but now seems passé.
A lot of this has to do with the changing nature of the American (and global) economy. Paul Graham in a recent essay, “How People Get Rich Now” talks about this very thing. Modern technology, when it works, generates sales (and wealth) faster than it did in the past. And this wealth is captured along the way by individuals. Graham writes:
Fast growth has a double effect on the value of founders’ stock. The value of a company is a function of its revenue and its growth rate. So if a company grows faster, you not only get to a billion dollars in revenue sooner, but the company is more valuable when it reaches that point than it would be if it were growing slower.
That’s why founders sometimes get so rich so young now. The low initial cost of starting a startup means founders can start young, and the fast growth of companies today means that if they succeed they could be surprisingly rich just a few years later.
Which is why we are going to hear more stories like that of Paul Armstrong, CEO of the newly public Coinbase ($COIN). The company founded less than a decade ago is now worth some $64 billion giving Armstrong a stake of $12.8 billion. The CEO of a public company is the highest profile winner in this case but there likely plenty of Coinbase employees who are now also instantly wealthy.
You can read about how this phenomenon plays out in a recent article “Confessions of an Overnight Millionaire” in New York Magazine. The anonymous writer talks about the many ways in which acquiring sudden wealth changes your perspective on life, even if you are planning to spend any of it any time soon. One aspect the writer focuses on is why it is so difficult to talk about in real life.
I’m not a private person, but this money feels offensive to talk about with other people…But it’s hard for me not to talk about it because it is on my mind. My dad said, “You don’t know how your friends are going to look at you, so don’t talk about it with them.” He also said, “Don’t talk about it with these relatives or your siblings; you don’t want them to feel insecure.” My mom has gotten bitter. She said, “You’re going to have more money than your dad and I combined, and we’ve worked all our lives.”
Which may be a reason why this person chose to write about their story in a major publication. This idea of needing to talk about what you are going through, even if it is about newfound wealth, is a major theme in a recent podcast. Cameron Passmore and Benjamin Felix recently spoke with Jennifer Risher author of We Need to Talk About Money: A Memoir. I recommend you listen to the whole thing but there are a number of levels on which wealth changes your relationship with the world including family, friends and the challenges of raising children.
The emotions that come with money make engaging with trusted third parties all the more important. Not only are advisors experienced in these situations they can also engage with the newly wealthy without all the emotional baggage that comes along with it. Blair duQuesnay at The Belle Curve writes:
There is a reason that people hire advisors and have hired advisors since the beginning of this human experiment we call money. They hire advisors who will look at their wealth a step removed from the emotions tied to those dollars. Staying rich is not embedded in human nature. It requires a ruthless lack of emotion about that which we hold most dear, our money.
There is no single formula for dealing with success and wealth. For many is likely requires a period of time in which they acclimate to their new reality. Which is probably a good thing. A long pause will help provide some much needed perspective. Because for many this will require a change in mindset. Ben Carlson at A Wealth of Common Sense writes:
The old saying is you get rich by concentrating but you stay rich by diversifying. Going from building wealth to preserving wealth is a complete change in mindset. Rule number one when dealing with vast amounts of money is this: don’t screw things up.
Over the coming months and years we will read more stories of rapid wealth accumulation. Each of these stories will be for the people involved, unique. They best thing these people can do is to find a way to talk though the inevitable emotions that arise. The next best thing they can do is find a way to make their wealth work in a way that fits with their values and goals. Which is easier said than done.