Wealth advisers to frantic Republicans: Get a grip

Financial advisers say spooked clients talk of leaving the country or burying their valuables.

It was a tough week to be a financial adviser to rich Republicans.

Plenty of the wealthy fear President Barack Obama's election victory will lead to another four years of big government, higher taxes on their kind, further big increases in the federal debt, and other policies that could hurt the already limp U.S. economy.

Financial advisers say some clients are vowing to emigrate or convert their seven-figure investment accounts into cash. Some say they will bury cash and gold, while others are simply venting by sending profanity-laced emails that predict civil unrest and economic destruction.

"Some of them are inconsolable," said John Burke, chief executive of Iselin, New Jersey-based Burke Financial Strategies, who works mainly with small business owners. "I've never seen people so upset about anything in politics."

The anxiety is hardly universal. Some conservatives say there is no need to be overly apprehensive, since Washington will most likely make a deal about the so-called fiscal cliff - a $600 billion package of spending cuts and tax increases that begins to take effect at the start of 2013. Preventing those measures from coming to pass would boost corporate and consumer confidence, says this more sanguine group.

But more than half of the 15 advisers contacted by Reuters said they have clients who are distraught about the economic future of the country.

A SANE PLAN AS A COPING STRATEGY

The advisers themselves, however, are not predicting gloom and doom, though many see reasons for concern, pointing particularly to likely volatility in the markets as Washington wrangles. And Obama has already said that tax hikes on the rich should be part of any attempt to control the government's budget deficit.

"I have clients literally thinking they're going to be growing vegetables in their backyard," said Thomas Fross, who is co-owner of Fross & Fross Wealth Management, located in The Villages, a heavily Republican retirement community in Florida.

Fross said he has received about a dozen calls from spooked clients but thinks there would have been more had he not reached out last week to prepare them for Mitt Romney's potential defeat.

When clients want to liquidate their investments entirely into cash, Fross says he reviews their long-term goals and risk tolerance, and reminds them that it is the firm's practice to have clients keep a 12-month emergency fund in cash, plus enough in safe assets - such as short-term bonds - for five years after that.

Once the client has enough to cover that six-year safety net, Fross puts the leftover money into more aggressive investments, like stocks. "Any exposure to equities you're not going to see until 2018," he tells the skittish.

If the only way clients will sleep at night is if their money is all in tens and twenties, Fross will oblige. He said he has not had to do that yet.

SAFETY-DEPOSIT PASTURE?

Houston-based adviser Scott Tiras, who works for Ameriprise Financial, has clients asking him to "Obama-proof" their accounts and others resolving to move to Costa Rica. His clients each have between $2 million and $3 million invested with him, on average.

Last September one of them said he was so afraid of an Obama victory that he wanted to convert $250,000 of his assets into cash and gold so he could bury it in three different places on his ranch. Tiras tried talking him out of it, emphasizing the loss of interest and the risk of damage.

In a flood, "a treasure map doesn't work," Tiras told him.

The client agreed to hold off. When Tiras checked in after the election, the client was too upset to talk about it.

Burke, the adviser in New Jersey, is a Republican, and said he can commiserate with clients who saw Obama's campaign as an attack on small business owners. His clients, on average, have $700,000 in investable assets.

"The best thing I can tell them is it's only four years," he said.

Burke moved about 10 percent of his clients' portfolios into cash before the election in anticipation of the market's falling if Obama won. On Thursday, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down about 3.3 percent from Tuesday's close, Burke said he was looking to redeploy that cash for stocks that could now be good value, though he may wait to see if the markets fall further.

FROM ATIVAN TO ACTIVISM

Jennifer Hatch, president of Christopher Street Financial, a firm that specializes in financial planning for gay clients, said they are energized by the election outcome. But she has reassuring news for advisers whose clients are distressed.

During George W. Bush's presidency, she received many "I am leaving the country" calls. Some even researched the requirements for emigrating to Canada, although no one followed through. In 2004, after Bush was reelected, her clients calmed down and started channeling their anger in more rational ways.

"Turning their passion into some kind of activism is the healthiest way to deal with this," she said.

In the meantime, advisers managing basket cases will have to get accustomed to feeling like psychologists.

"It's hard to take those calls," said Kurt Rozman, president of Rozman Wealth Management in Brookfield, Wisconsin. His clients have $500,000 to invest, on average. "You feel the pain and angst in these people's voices."