Charlotte Beyer has been a trailblazer in the wealth management business before the phrase “wealth management” was even being used.

In 1991, the then 43-year-old financial services executive founded the Institute for Private Investors as a peer-to-peer membership organization for very wealthy individuals and families who wanted unbiased information about investing and a place to confidentially share ideas—and problems.

The concept caught on, and 20 years later, IPI has over 1,100 members with an estimated $50 billion in combined investable assets. Individual members must have at least $30 million in investable assets to join.

Clearly, this is the kind of audience that wealth managers dream about, and about 150 firms are members of the organization, with varied levels of access to investors. “There simply is no better, more targeted way to be visible to families of great wealth,” according to industry consultant Jamie McLaughlin, former chief executive of Geller Family Office Services.
Now 63, Beyer stunned the industry in February when she sold IPI to London-based Campden Media, which hosts international investing conferences for ultra-high-net-worth families and produces research and publications aimed at the family office and family business markets. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

But Beyer is not about to relinquish her role as a grand doyenne of wealth management. She remains chief executive of IPI, and after a brief hiatus, has plunged back into day-to-day operational duties with renewed vigor.

WML: Why did you sell to Campden?
Beyer: Campden seemed to have the closest tradition to us. I picked up the phone and called [Campden chief executive] John Pettifor a year ago. I realized that if we were going to grow and sustain what we had built over twenty years we needed deeper roots and a broader horizon. They are a specialized media company with two unique publications and a very deep research capability. I saw this as a wonderful match.

WML: How long are you committed to staying with IPI and what are your succession plans?
Beyer: Isn’t Warren Buffett on his seventh succession plan? Right now there is no succession plan. It’s been eight months since the sale and I am a happily engaged and committed CEO. I’m having a blast and love the challenge of figuring out how to expand a membership model across the globe without stupidly assuming it’s been the same in every city.

WML: How do you reconcile what appear to be conflicting business models – IPI’s revenue comes from membership fees and Campden makes money from sponsors of its’ conferences who want access to an elite audience.
Beyer: A conflict will only arise if the norms inside the room are different, and they’re not. In other words, the safe harbor exists at both. Whether it’s put on by IPI or Campden, the norms are the same. A sponsor at Campden respects the non-commercial aspect of the event, and I’ve already been to four Campden events, so I’ve seen it. Sponsors are not standing up and doing pitches.

WML: How will IPI change? What will be different as a result of the sale?
Beyer: IPI members will be given the opportunity to be guests at Campden events and they will have access to Campden publications and research. Our safe harbor, community and code of confidentiality won’t change. Mindy Rosenthal came over from Campden as our executive director, and Kate McBride came over from AdviserOne as our director of content. We’re also adding Pete Sutherland as our associate director in San Francisco and Vijay Kumar as our director of membership.

WML: Only a very small percentage of ultra-wealthy families belong to organizations like IPI. Why do you think that is and are you going to try to broaden your membership base?
Beyer: We all want to stay in shape, but what percentage of us has a personal trainer? I’m not going to club someone over the head who has $30 million to be a member of IPI. If they’re not going to actively participate, it’s a waste of their time and money. That being said, we do need to replenish the 10 percent of members who don’t renew each year, and we are going to let it be known that we exist, what we do and how we’re different, and we now have the resources to do that.

WML: Will there be a marketing campaign?
Beyer: No, but we will be talking to the press and to advisors and lawyers who know us and can tell their clients about us.

WML: Who do see as your competition and how do you differentiate IPI?
Beyer: The competition is any event or group that vies for the time or attention of investors. Everyone is looking at the ultra-high-net-worth market because that’s where the money is. Many of our competitors have an additional business, whether it’s consulting or something else. We’re focused on the members and don’t sell products or services. We don’t have an opinion or advocacy positions. IPI members come to IPI to make prudent decisions for themselves and their families.

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WML: What about wealth managers and financial advisors? Where do they fit in?
Beyer: They can join as advisor members for $5,000 or be a part of the Leaders Council for $45,000. All advisors can post white papers on our web site and attend advisors’ roundtables where they make a presentation and then network with members. These are held once a month on both coasts.

WML: And the Leaders Council?
Beyer: The Leaders Council is part of the community with investors. They can come to our Forums which are open to investors and they are expected to be thought leaders and contribute. They may be speakers at these conferences, or not – and not all speakers at the conferences are members. Firms usually send someone who knows how to be part of the community, and they might meet clients, or potential clients.

WML: But how do you strike a balance between members who don’t want to be pitched and wealth managers who, let’s face it, want new assets, which is the lifeblood of the business?
Beyer: The balance comes from the norms and culture of twenty years of the events. Speakers are told there are non-commercial norms and that they can’t pitch their track record. The room itself will step in if they cross the line. One investor told a speaker: “Tell us what you know, not what you do, and if I like what I hear I will ask you what you do.”

WML: Is this current post-2008 environment a catalyst for wealthy investors to join IPI for investment ideas or are you seeing people more reluctant to be active investors?
Beyer: Both. Some families are saying this isn’t fun anymore, or have found an advisor and go on auto-pilot. Others do recognize that they can’t abdicate and have to know enough to know what questions to ask. They may delegate but know they can’t abdicate.

Risk management with liquidity is now the star of the show. Investors are looking at new ways to have liquidity as an overlay on any asset allocation. Anecdotally, I think there’s a growing trend to do more direct investments because investors feel they have more control. There’s a feeling that the public markets are not what they once were and are being driven by factors beyond anyone’s control.

WML: What do you think are the most pressing issues in wealth management?
Beyer: I think the industry got off balance and perhaps lost sight of the fact that profitability is critical, but so is figuring out what the client needs and wants. Both clients and advisors need to bring it back into balance. Goals-based investing shouldn’t be considered something new, but it is. Wealth management should be about the investor, not the investments.