Sunday, January 09, 2011

Does Wealth Have a Sexual Orientation?

Northern Trust has formed a new practice to provide investment and fiduciary services to gays and lesbians. Good idea? Not according to star financial adviser Ric Edelman, whose radio show I happened upon Sunday morning. He deems Northern's initiative demeaning to gays.

People not married to their partners may be either gay or straight, Edelman pointed out. Some 40 percent of babies in this country are born to unmarried mothers, and a significant number of these women must have long-term male partners.

True, and some unmarried heterosexual couples are surely affluent. Think especially of high-income earners in various fine or performing arts who seem more comfortable in wedding-free relationships.

The question that counts in financial planning, Edelman contends, is "Married?" rather than "What's your sexual orientation?"

Put it in operatic terms: Imagine a tenor and his girl friend. Now picture an alto and her girl friend. For investment and estate planning purposes, what's the difference?

In principle, Edelman has a point. In practice, I'm not so sure. The old aura of guys-in-a-frat-house still lingers over parts of the investment industry. That aura won't bother the tenor as he arranges trusts and retirement accounts to benefit his female partner. But it might be off-putting to the alto and her partner, and perhaps to tenors who happen to be in same-sex relationships.

From a marketing perspective, I'll side with Northern.

What do you think?

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