Updated Monday, August 31, 2015 as of 4:47 AM ET

Do Wealthy Clients Need an Escape Route?

Affluent individuals, especially those who live in high-profile areas like New York City or Washington D.C., often have heightened concerns about events that could pose a threat to their families. From acts of terrorism to natural disasters, we generally receive little or no advance warning of a major emergency. Establishing a plan for such situations can put “what-if” worries to rest.

Financial advisors may not be well-versed in survival skills, but a partnership with a trusted local security firm or specialist can go a long way to setting clients’ minds at ease regarding the safety of their loved ones and the lives they’ve worked hard to build.

When it comes to starting the conversation, a client’s portfolio review is often a good time to ask about personal security protocols for emergency situations. Start with the basic to-do’s outlined below, and be prepared to connect clients with a reputable expert.

1. Plan multiple escape routes.

When major emergencies occur, clients need a way to get out safely with their families – and fast. Each family should identify multiple destinations where they will rendezvous in the event of an emergency situation. Depending on the incident, this may be the home of a friend or relative who lives in a suburban or rural area removed from a major city, or a more remote location within driving or walking distance.

It’s also important to develop escape routes for a variety of scenarios. For example, a client with school-age children will need one route directly from home to the meeting place; one route that includes picking up their children from school or daycare; one route from their place of work to the home, school or daycare, etc. In an emergency situation, having the logistics worked out in advance – including who will be responsible for each aspect of the plan – will  save precious time and reduce stress. 

2. Pack a "bug-out bag."

A “bug-out bag” is a prepared survival kit that can be easily carried along in the event of a truly dire emergency. In addition to a supply of clean water and nonperishable food, recommended items include a drinking straw with a built-in filter that allows the owner to drink from ponds or streams if needed, as well as goods that can serve as currency in a situation where money holds little value: preferably gold or ammunition.

Clients often ask whether this kit should include documents like birth certificates or Social Security cards; while it’s important to safeguard those items on a day-to-day basis, they will not serve basic survival needs – leave them behind (ideally locked up).

3. Practice the plan of action.

Once a meeting place is established, clients should practice their emergency plans. Each escape route should feel familiar, and everyone in the family should understand his or her role in the plan: who will drive the car, exactly where each family member will be picked up from school or work, how they will communicate, and who should and should not be told the location of the safe meeting place.

No amount of money or planning can totally guarantee the safety of a client or their families – but preparing them to face an emergency situation and providing them with “peace of mind” is one of the most valuable services a trusted advisor can offer.

Paul Pagnato is a managing director and partner for HighTower’s Pagnato-Karp Group which specializes in meeting the unique needs of the nation's ultra-affluent individuals and their families. Follow him on Twitter at @PagnatoKarp.

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Comments (1)
Mr. Pagnato,

Thanks for addressing this important although frighteningly under-reported topic. Great points in all sections, but I'd like to recommend one controversial addition to the bug-out bag, and three "think about it's."

The "think about it's" are first: 1) with only gold as a coin of exchange, since even small amounts of gold typically hold great value, one could buy VERY expensive bread (or an awful lot of it). Perhaps some old silver - non-numismatic - coins would allow one to make more reasonably priced purchases in an economic crisis. 2) The potential for ammunition traded to an new/unknown partner to be "returned" at great velocity and without prior negotiation make THAT a barter to enter into with extreme caution. 3) Clients can put insurance policy information, social security card numbers, bank account routing and account numbers, even pdf copies of birth certificates on a thumb drive (kept in a small, sturdy, waterproof container).

The controversial addition is one you may have thought of including in the article, and thought better of it, since even mentioning it can generate greatly heated discussions. It is a gun - provided that one is proficient, trained, practiced, and knowledgeable of the myriad responsibilities and consequences carrying it and being willing to use it. If the clients have a security firm on retainer, or even a consultant who might accompany them in a crisis situation, a firearm may not be necessary. Hopefully the clients (or firm, or consultant) will never find it necessary to use it in a crisis.

It is nice to see an article like this in FP; thanks again for bringing it to light.
Posted by Nathan P | Tuesday, April 01 2014 at 2:02AM ET
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