May 4, 2009 / 7:14 PM / 10 years ago

Canadian bank teaches rich kids how to stay rich

TORONTO (Reuters) - Wealth managers at Bank of Montreal kept hearing the same things from Canada’s richest families: Help me! My kids know nothing about money and will squander the family fortunes.

Two years later, the one-day seminar aimed at the grown children of what the bank calls its “high net worth families” has a waiting list, and is taking to the road to teach heirs and heiresses across Canada how to manage their money.

“Word has gotten out about the program,” said Jean Blacklock, vice-president of wealth services at Canada’s fourth-largest bank. “Our competitors are not offering anything similar ... and parents are very happy to see how excited their children were after attending the seminar.”

Many were less thrilled before they attended, forced to participate by parents who control the purse strings.

“Levels of interest vary,” admitted Jim Davies, the New-York based expert who teaches the day-long course. “You get one who says: ‘I play the guitar and draw, and my father told me I have to go to this or he’d cut me off’.”

But the economic crisis and grim headlines have upped appetites for the seminar, aimed at teaching a few key generalities: how to set goals, balance a budget, and avoid getting swindled by Bernie Madoff-esque money managers.

“They’re concerned about that, of course they are,” said Davies, a New York Institute of Finance faculty member who has been teaching children of the wealthy for 20 years.

The code word for the seminar is discretion. Blacklock declined to name clients, saying only that parents have a net worth of at least C$500,000 — the average is C$1.8 million ($1.5 million). She said it is frequently a family affair.

“Siblings often come together, or we have cousin combinations,” Blacklock explained, showing the plush seminar room, 68 stories above Toronto’s financial district, where wealthy heirs had enjoyed wall-to-wall views of Lake Ontario only moments before.

Students, who typically range in age from 18 to 25 but can be as young as 14, have been ushered away to lunch and away from prying eyes, part of the ultra-discreet service the bank offers its best customers.

One student — a BMO summer intern, not a trust fund kid — offered a fly-on-the-wall assessment of the class.

“Everyone is very down to earth,” said Matt, identified, like all the students, by only his first name. “We talk about summer plans, internships. Just everyday chitchat.”

After two years of holding the seminar in Toronto, BMO is taking the show on the road this year, visiting cities like Waterloo, Ontario, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Calgary, Alberta, to reach more of Canada’s rich.

The bank is considering offering a similar program for the spouses of the very wealthy, who married into money and are too bashful to ask the basics.

The seminar, complete with hot breakfast, warm cookies at the break and lamb at lunch, is free — though Blacklock said the bank does manage to recoup some of the costs.

“After the courses, the parents are so pleased that, completely voluntarily, they do tend to give us more business.”

Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; editing by Rob Wilson

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