The private banker‘s role in wealth transfer planning

In an environment of recurrent crises that shake the economy and purchasing power, is it possible to inherit with peace of mind? What role can banks play in facilitating the process? Beyond its social and symbolic value, inheritance can become a heavy task if it is delayed too long. For many families, inheritance is a forbidden subject, and banking institutions can help to overcome this by taking on the role of facilitators and mediators.

The concept of transmission is linked to that of civilisation and, in its Latin origin, transmission (“transmissio”) designates the journey. Transmission is therefore what allows heritage or culture to pass through time and generations. The entire scientific community agrees that the distinction between humans and other intelligent species on the planet does not lie essentially in cognitive capacities, but in memory. The octopus, for example, is endowed with extraordinary intelligence and, throughout its life, learns and records new information that it does not pass on at the time of its death, forcing new generations to start from scratch. Nietzsche said that the man of the future will be the one with the best memory.

Transmission denotes the human capacity to project oneself beyond one’s own death. According to the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, transmission is « what enables children to pass from the world of their ancestors to the world of their descendants ».. Transmission guarantees the continuation of a family line, a professional activity or a brand. Thus, in addition to biological filiation, there is a subjective filiation that favours identification and mutual recognition within the family. Rather than a passive act of reception, inheritance is perceived as the responsibility to achieve the plans outlined by previous generations.

Transmission is often a sensitive and unpopular subject. It has been widely analysed from a philosophical angle, but it also undoubtedly permeates economic life and facilitates the takeover or reactivation of a company. At the intersection between financial and symbolic considerations, transmission gives capital an altruistic function but can also become a heavy burden. In an environment of recurring crises that shake the economy and purchasing power, is it still possible to inherit with peace of mind? What role can banks play in facilitating this intimate process?

Trasmission gaps

New social and demographic dynamics influence transmission. The increasing longevity of the population, changing family patterns and fiscal complexity are putting pressure on households. Above all, the timing of inheritance is being delayed, as are the necessary preliminary conversations: in 2020, inheritance was received on average at the age of 54, whereas in 1984 it was in-herited at the age of 42. Consequently, inheritances are more substantial, but they further dee-pen social inequalities and wealth gaps between older and younger people, who are inheriting later and later. Wealth assets are accumulating: the next generations could become the richest heirs of all time.

As life expectancy increases, older people put the issue of inheritance on the back burner and invest in their own happiness. Thus, it can be seen that inheritance is something that people prefer to leave for later and that they want to solve quickly. However, inheritance is not something that can be solved quickly: we need to know what we want to pass on and how to pass it on.

Other social configurations, such as family structure, also have an influence on the correct development of transmission. Large families and/or families bound by a marriage contract should show more foresight than single persons. Individualism and the “rise of singleness” (expected in-crease in the number of singles in the coming years) could lead to even more delayed inheri-tance and, without testamentary preparation, its compulsory application.

Families often fail to address the issue sufficiently in advance, mainly because it is often a source of strong stress. The typical image of a family lunch ending in battle and the risk of conflict between heirs contribute to making the issue of transmission a family taboo because it often involves evoking a person’s death or lack of capacity.

The combined effects of economic crises and new demographics (longer life expectancy, increasing singleness, etc.) therefore delay the time to deal with inheritance issues and make it difficult to anticipate. An inheritance can raise concerns for children or grandchildren. Our approach is to encourage them to talk to the generation in charge in order to ensure the continuity of the estate and also family harmony.

The bank advisor as mediator

While transmission remains a “forbidden” subject in many families, uncovering sensitive and intimate matters, banking institutions can take on the role of facilitators of freedom of expression through recreational activities or discussion circles.

When banks approach the issue with families, they cross the limits of household privacy and meet with issues where the law of silence or psychological obstacles prevail. In this context, banks offer mediation services for the successful completion of the intra-family transfer process. 

According to this principle, banks could go even further and intervene in family conflicts or help descendants to express their views to their parents. For example, round tables or free speech sessions could be organised on a regular basis in order to give a voice to all family members and overcome individual fears.

In a world that is accelerating and dehumanising, banks could represent a haven of humanity with family discussion circles. Regular meetings where all family members could take turns to express themselves freely, without risk of being interrupted or judged. On each occasion, the banker would listen and respond by offering the most appropriate information, thus adding a psychological function to his or her advisory skills. With the information available, families would be better educated, more informed and prepared for succession. Rather than passively receiving a transmission whose conditions have been blocked by the previous generation, children and beneficiaries could take the initiative in discussions, which could precipitate “inter vivos” donations or help to accept the rejection hypothesis more easily.

Through better preparation and freer and easier conversations driven by bankers, transmission would cease to be a sacred object and become a simple computer manoeuvre. Once all this was done, parents could concentrate on what really matters: the values and the cultural and emotional heritage they will leave to the future.


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