Lifestyles of the rich and frugal: Investable asset database uncovers secrets

Published 19th Jul 2019
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If you’ve ever read Michael Wolff’s 1987 novel “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” you may recall a section in which the protagonist describes how it is possible to earn a healthy $980,000 and still live paycheck to paycheck.

At the other end of that spectrum are the lifestyles described in “The Millionaire Next Door” which depicts frugal millionaires who analyze the price per pound of cars in the search for value.

For brokerage houses looking for new clients, telling one from the other is the difference between wasted time and smart targeting. But that can be quite difficult. Frugal millionaires might work blue collar jobs, live in modest neighborhoods, and drive used cars. At the other end of the spectrum are those who display all the trappings of wealth and success by wearing name brand clothes, living in the toniest ZIP Codes, and driving luxury vehicles, yet fret about their ability to retire.

The relationship between reporting a high income on a W2 and having assets to invest is not as strong as you might believe. The data for people who own businesses is better, but not much. We’ve come to that conclusion based on our calculation of investable assets, analyzed at the ZIP+4 level in the U.S., which on average is only three to four households.

To calculate investable assets, we take household interest and dividend data at the ZIP+4 level culled from our proprietary database. On top of that, we layered in wealth data from US Federal Reserve Bank to create a database of investable assets by household in the US.

Our data showed a low correlation between income and investible assets. In general, investable assets rise with income, but not as fast. And there are plenty of people with no significant income who have significant investable assets.

We are able to show that there are less than 250,000 households in the US with investable assets totaling more than $20 million, and that the average for this class of wealthy investor is about $36 million. For perspective, there are about 150 million households in the US that pay income taxes.

This information could be used by brokerages or financial asset managers to determine targeting strategies at an extremely granular level. Luxury products dealers might also see interest.

Companies that sell high end goods, like boats or jewelry, might benefit from integrating target data into their app. If the organization knows that person’s address, they likely have a good idea of their ability to purchase, and they can allocate sales staff to attend to them.

What’s more, the data can be scored not just according to who has the ability to make big purchases, but who has the propensity to. Imagine being able to spot that frugal millionaire, the one driving the Honda Civic out of her investment adviser’s parking lot, off to find one that offers better service. Or imagine being able to spot the flashy spender who uses the appearance of wealth to obtain preferential treatment.

With data, all of these things are possible.