Written by Tom Burroughes, Group Editor of ClearView Financial Media and Publisher of WealthBriefing.com
21 December 2018
Illness is no respecter of a bank balance but access to wealth does open doors in terms of healthcare.
But for all their wealth, high net worth individuals rushing around the world running businesses can be heading for trouble. This also applies to the wealth sector practitioners who have targets to attain and hectic schedules. This all adds up to a heap of health issues.
Health and wealth should not be put into separate boxes. Wealth managers have to be aware of how ageing clients face greater risks of devastating conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Not all their clients may be particularly fit and healthy, either, whether it is the Alpha-type financial professional who prides themselves in working 60-hours weeks and who hasn’t visited a doctor in years, or the middle aged guy who brags of attempting triathlons but who brushes aside the odd “funny pain” in the chest after a monster run. This time of year is also a good moment to reflect on lifestyle, diet and exercise.
It’s therefore unsurprising that there’s a market developing in delivering specialist healthcare services to HNW individuals and families both where they live and on the move, and with a footloose lifestyle favoured by many HNWs, healthcare access “on the go” is important.
“People are looking for guidance at every turn,” Christopher Sidford, MD, founder and director of US-based medical business Black Bag, told this publication recently. (Dr Sidford recently gave a talk in New York about his business at the Family Wealth Report conference on managing different aspects of clients’ lives.)
Black Bag (the name comes from the color associated with a typical doctor’s bag of medical equipment) calls itself a “private emergency medical consultancy”. It gives clients immediate care guidance wherever they are in the world. The services on offer are a phone call away. A pre-approved list of emergency medical physicians can come to a clients’ assistance at short notice. This applies whether a client is at home or far away on vacation or a business journey.
“The idea is that people will call us wherever they are; we give them direction and where to go,” he said, pointing out that staff at Black Bag speak a range of languages to handle different enquiries. When clients get ill or have an accident far from their usual environment they can easily panic and feel vulnerable – the Black Bag business model is designed to avoid this. What Dr Sidford argues is that clients buy a priceless asset - peace of mind.
A variation on a theme on the other side of the Atlantic is The Private Harley Street Clinic, founded by Mark Ali, its chief executive and, like Dr Sidford, a seasoned medical professional with 30 years of experience in medicine. Dr Ali founded his current business in 2012 and is a consultant heart surgeon. Dr Sidford, meanwhile, has more than 20 years’ experience working in medical institutions, and prior to that, was a US Navy officer, serving as a faculty member of the Emergency Medicine Residency training programme.
The intersection of health and wealth takes many forms: there’s the need to get aid and treatment to clients, but at the same time, there are investment opportunities for HNW and ultra-HNW clients when new medicines, treatments and technologies are involved. As explained here by Steven Abernathy, founder of the Abernathy Group II Family Office, thinking about the health of physical assets and wealth is all of a piece with health in mind and body.
It is also perhaps not entirely coincidental that some of the world’s top wealth management hubs are also magnets for world-class hospitals, physicians and teaching centers: New York and Boston, for example, or Singapore, Switzerland and London. It is arguable that one of the selling points for an international financial centre such as Zurich or Singapore will not just be its low taxes but its medical care.
This sort of insight – seeing healthcare from all sides – fitted in well with how the “full balance sheet” of a client’s life was explored by wealth executives in New York at the FWR conference. This publication was struck at the passion Dr Sidford has for his business.
At moment, Black Bag cares for about 50 families; the majority are based out of the US but there are clients from outside the country as well, such as in the UK.
“The only limit on clients is that they have to be fluent in English,” Dr Sidford said. A lot of work is done to build a strong relationship with clients, and people get a 26-page contractual document specifying what services they can expect. With medicine, there are the usual regulatory requirements: Black Bag’s physicians have to be certified in whatever state, and state of the US, they are in.
The conversation with Dr Sidford took a turn when he suggested that the wealth management industry itself – its people – need to be more aware of its own physical health. Far too many individuals, whether they be advisors, lawyers, tax planners or bankers, aren’t taking sufficient care of themselves and are stressed out, he said.
“You need to fiercely guard your personal well-being,” he said.
Over at The Private Harley Street Clinic, Dr Ali told this publication about their premium health screen, the “Liferisk” assessment. (The other principal offering the Private Harley Street Clinic Platinum Service).
In the case of the health assessment option, a client is given what Dr Ali calls the most comprehensive health scrutiny in the world. The Platinum service, on the other hand, gives clients assurance that they’ll get best-in-class surgeons and physicians from across the world for a range of treatments and procedures at any time in that year. Dr Ali says his business does the job of finding and curating a bench of top medical talent. There is a strong trend of clients coming to him from the UK and Middle East.
“All specialties are covered, mainly by London based consultants but includes specialists across Britain, Europe and the rest of the world. In essence, they are all leading specialists in that particular area of expertise. We can interact with patients on a worldwide basis and liaise with local doctors. Medical services range from ‘simple’ golden hour advice to full scale collaboration with international hospitals to medical repatriation,” he said.
Dr Ali founded the business because the Liferisk assessment gives clients the ability to harness the latest medical technology and predict and hence thwart health problems before they become serious.
“Prevention is better than cure. Survival rates dramatically increase with early diagnosis of cancer, devastating and irreversible strokes can be prevented. In many instances, the first heart attack is fatal.
A lot of people are reluctant to confront health issues or admit they might have one, Dr Ali said. “It’s a culture issue, people prefer not to choose to do this, it’s more likely to be someone with their best interests at heart, like their wife or husband or their company that pushes the process.
“Think about the peace of mind that it’s would give you, knowing that you can have a clear future with your family and loved ones. A big issue in the world today for executives and professionals is not just the hours they work but the lifestyle (inadequate sleep, lack of exercise (cardio/strength training) and lots of long-haul air travel,” he said. On the other hand, should an issue be identified, it can be dealt with promptly with all of the benefits of early diagnosis and treatment.
He agrees with his Dr Sidford that the wealth management industry have an issue in terms of the health of its practitioners, never mind its clients – “In the same way as every other industry, yes.”
Dr Ali finishes off his comments with a concept he is particularly passionate about: “The Golden Hour”. This means that when a person has a serious problem, the first hour of diagnosis and treatment is the most important. And finally: “Prevention is better than cure. The new advances in medical technology now allows clients to literally change the course of their future rather than awaiting their fate."