Recent research for financial firm J.P. Morgan reveals six signs – the good life; wired; artisan; unplugged; legacy, and wellville – combine to reflect the cultural dynamics of today’s wealthy.
• The good life – pursues the “good life” with a what-they-want, when-they-want-it vigor. This passion runs from their homes (McMansions, summer and winter retreats) to their choice of travel (five-star resorts and private clubs via private jets), cars, food and clothing.
• Wired – empowered by e-everything as the internet and the new economy revolutionize how wealth is acquired. With information as the primary form of social and cultural currency, a gold rush mentality has led to a new workplace and a new breed of worker.
• Artisan – exudes a keen appreciation and desire for aesthetics, first-class workmanship and a cultivated sense of enduring beauty and grace. May even hire a celebrity architect, noted landscape artist or designer in an effort to leave a mark of personal style on every facet of their lives.
• Unplugged – takes pride in living a simple, balanced and self-disciplined life. The “unplugged” lifestyle is often rooted in traditional middle-class values, including family and hard work. Nearly 40% of those interviewed cited “health” and “happiness” as attainable goals through their newfound wealth.
• Legacy – emboldened by a responsibility to give back to their communities and concerned about how they will be remembered. The focus is on making a meaningful contribution and less on personal wealth accumulation, as evidenced by the move to create philanthropic foundations focused on addressing personal concerns. In 1999, Americans donated $144 billion to charities and foundations, with more than 80% coming from individual donors.
• Wellville – embraces a holistic approach to wellness that combines physical, spiritual and emotional well-being. A lifestyle that includes frequent visits to New Age bookstores and spas that promise physical and emotional relaxation, or in-office appointments with a personal yoga master. The attention to wellness extends to the home, where the principles of Feng Shui may be prevalent and organic and macrobiotic foods are popular.
“It’s easy to think of the affluent – the more than seven million millionaires in the United States today – as one large group whose needs are defined by their wealth,” said Jes Staley, president of J.P. Morgan’s private banking business. “In fact, the affluent market is defined by different behaviors reflected in lifestyle and trends. Today’s private banking client is as likely to be a global business owner as a family with inherited wealth or a dot com entrepreneur.”
Cummins Marketing Consulting (CMC) and Iconoculture, were commissioned to explore the impact of greater affluence – how individuals live, express themselves and feel about wealth.
As part of the research, CMC conducted in-depth interviews with hundreds of affluent Americans, gathering insights into how wealth impacts the way they think and feel about themselves. In addition, cultural anthropological studies – an emerging area of market research – were conducted in major cities throughout the nation by Iconoculture.
J.P. Morgan collaborated with the two firms to integrate the research findings into a wealth map, offering a comprehensive look at how the wealthy define their lives.
According to the Spectrem Group, there are currently 7.1 million American households with one million dollars or more in net worth (excluding their primary residence), a number which has doubled since 1994. In the coming five years, the number of millionaires in the U.S. is expected to grow by more than 10% annually.
The study by CMC offers a glimpse into how affluent people think and what wealth means to them. The overriding finding is that with wealth, people are better able to define the life they want and accomplish the personal vision they set for themselves.
“The majority of Americans are understandably in ‘reactive mode’ – their choices in life are dictated to them. The wealthy, however, are in ‘projective’ mode, and are able to actively shape their lives the way they want,” said Bill Cummins, president of CMC.
“For most wealthy Americans, the ability to define one’s life means more than acquiring conspicuous material things, it is an exercise in ‘being the real me’ which takes on several variations. The ‘real me’ may mean being a better parent through the ability to provide for children, being a visionary by dictating what to do with one’s own time such as traveling or retiring early, or being able to leave a legacy through giving to charitable organizations.”
“The six signs reflect the social, cultural and behavioral patterns of today’s affluent,” said Larry Samuel, Ph.D., co-founder of Iconoculture. “Individuals will show a blend of several signs, with one potentially being the strongest, or most pervasive.”
Founded in 1992, Iconoculture is a Minneapolis-based consulting resource helping companies get closer to the consumer. The company’s fundamental philosophy is not only to identify current and emerging trends but also to decode the consumer values and attitudes driving the trends.
Cummins Marketing Consulting was founded in 1997. Based in Santa Clarita, California, it is headed by Bill Cummins, a 30-year veteran of marketing research. In order to learn the inner dynamics of consumers, CMC uses “active” research techniques, such as ideation sessions. The firm has major corporate clients in the U.S. and Japan.
J.P. Morgan manages $370 billion in assets. The firm has U.S. private client offices in New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Palm Beach, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Dallas, and Wilmington, Delaware.