Privacy is an illusion for the ultra-wealthy – why your reputation is your most valuable asset

In a world where privacy is becoming a luxury even for ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) individuals, one thing remains priceless: a good reputation.  It’s invisible, intangible, yet it holds immense power, offering protection in times of crisis, a competitive edge in the marketplace, and even family unity.  Think of it like a fortress, crafted from trust and respect and forged from a narrative you control.  This fortress becomes your shield, deflecting arrows from nosy journalists, disaffected employees, or competitors, working to preserve your legacy.  

But is it worth investing in something you can’t touch or quantify? 

Reputation can be your most valuable asset, and treating it like any other business asset is the key to unlocking its full potential:

  • The Invisible Valuation Booster

Just like a strong brand bolsters a company’s stock price, a stellar reputation elevates your overall worth.  Investors, banks, and even potential acquirers consider your name’s value and  how it aligns with their goals.  A tarnished reputation can be a deal-breaker, eroding trust and confidence.  A strong reputation not only boosts the valuation of your assets but also can enhance the service you receive from business partners.

  • The Crisis Shield

A well-earned and consistent reputation for integrity, ethical conduct, and social responsibility can act as a shield.  A pre-built reservoir of goodwill can be the difference between weathering a storm and being swept away by it. The notoriously secretive Barclay brothers had few credits in their reputational bank account to draw on when they had their had their highly public family dispute.

  • The Deal Flow Magnet

In the competitive world of private equity and venture capital, access to the best deals is often a matter of trust and reputation.  There are plenty of family offices with patient capital, but those that have a demonstrable track record of delivering value, good judgment, and leadership skills win.  A compelling reputation gets you to the top of the list as an investor.

  • The Philanthropic Passport 

A positive reputation can turn you into a sought-after grant maker, allowing you to amplify your impact and make a real difference in the world.  Few charities now take the risk of accepting funds from you if there are unanswered questions which might pose a reputational risk to the foundation.  An anonymous gift must tick the KYC box to be accepted!

  • The Family Glue

In families where wealth and legacy intertwine, disagreements and conflicts can arise. But a shared commitment to upholding a positive family reputation can act as a unifying force, fostering collaboration, mutual respect, and a shared sense of purpose.  This invisible glue can bind generations together, ensuring not only the preservation of wealth, but also the preservation of your family’s values. 

So, how do you approach crafting your reputational story?

Investing in your reputation is not about self-promotion or vanity; it’s about taking control, having an authentic narrative, building trust, and securing your future.  It’s about recognising that in today’s world a good reputation is the ultimate currency, one that can weather any storm and pave the way for a brighter, more impactful future.  Proactive management of your reputation is as important as proactively managing your other investments.

I spoke to several experts who work with UHNW clients and wanted to share with you their key recommendations.

  • Brand yourself, don’t scatter yourself

William Clutterbuck, Vice-chair at H/Advisers, recommends his clients approach their reputation as a brand exercise. What do they want to be known for and what unique value they bring to the world?  Identifying their core brand attributes helps establish a consistent message.  Being known as world-class at one thing is truly powerful.  

  • Be patient and authentic.  Build reputational capital brick by brick

Building a strong reputation takes time.  Each brick is a thoughtful action, each layer a testament to your activity, values, and goals.  Sally Todd of Montfort Communications recommends that content is authentic, verifiable, and consistent; clients need to walk the talk and not be overactive with social media.  You do not need to have a view on everything and best to think twice about sharing political views. Remember good content will influence whom you attract. 

  • Don’t let others define you

As Paddy Harverson, Managing Partner of Milltown Partners, pointed out, today your digital presence is how 99 per cent of the world meets you.  There is a heavy price to pay for inaction. Public opinion reigns supreme, and accusations, however unfounded, can inflict lasting damage. So, investing in your own narrative keeps you firmly in control.

  • Beware the pitfalls of anonymity in the age of AI

You can maintain a private life, but you do need a public profile.  A blank online slate is a red flag.  Dave King, MD of Digitalis, advises that, in addition to curating a great online profile, you need to constantly google yourself to check for AI-generated falsehoods, referred to as ‘hallucinations’.  Large language models have revolutionised online research and content created by AI or lookalikes can be notoriously sticky and influence search engines.

  • Prepare for the storm

The internet has an infinite memory. Alex Godwin-Brown, Founder of BOAD, recommends clients maintain a proactive reputation strategy and a plan for damage control, including how to mitigate contagion risk.  Bad news affects not just you but family, partners and business associates. Kate Bright, CEO of UMBRA International, a specialist in UHNW security, works with her clients to build their ‘emotional security’ and their resilience.  The ability to get perspective to prioritise and think clearly minimises paralysis when the storm hits.

  • Humility is powerful 

Joe Phelan, Founding Partner at Phelan & Partners, warns against believing that the attributes and the profile that made clients super successful will transition into new endeavours. This is often the case when a successful entrepreneur turns their attention to philanthropy.  There is power in being understated, rethinking your narrative and applying a dose of humility. 

 So, the next time you review your assets, remember the invisible one – your reputation. In the court of public opinion, reputation is the ultimate currency.  Invest wisely.

Sally Tennant is the founding partner of London-based Acorn Capital Advisers


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