Finance

Meet Stephanie Brobbey, the private wealth lawyer trying to get the rich to give up their money

Living with purpose sounds like a nice idea, but can often get lost in the stresses and strains of everyday life.

Stephanie Brobbey wanted to do things differently. The 35-year-old private wealth lawyer was on the cusp of partnership when she made a dramatic pivot to found the Good Ancestor Movement.

Instead of trying to get clients to build wealth, she now wants them to pass it down.

Ultimately, Brobbey wants those with plentiful means to reconsider what they need, to put a ceiling on that figure, and look to redistribute the rest in a way that can repair and regenerate society.

At a time of heightened awareness of the pressures on the planet’s resources and social inequality, Brobbey’s curious approach to wealth curation could be the next disrupter in the space.

Financial News asked what was behind her ambitions, and what her style of advice could mean for the wealth management sector.

Where were you in your legal career when you changed tack?

I had spent a decade practising as a private wealth solicitor in the City. I had built up a successful practice, developed great relationships with my colleagues, clients, and peers, and received several industry accolades. The crystallisation of my partnership prospects was imminent. 

What was the trigger for the pivot?

I had always been passionate about social justice. Over a number of years, I became increasingly politicised around wealth inequality, which made me rethink my career direction.

The final straw came when a close friend told me two things. First, according to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary. The other was that there were more foodbanks than branches of McDonalds in the UK. That was when I knew I had to change direction.

What is the Good Ancestor Movement about and why did you launch it?

The Good Ancestor Movement is a social purpose business which sits at the intersection of private wealth and social justice. We exist to disrupt mainstream advisory practices in the private wealth industry by challenging traditional ideas about the economy, excessive wealth accumulation, tax minimisation and the redistribution of resources and power in society. 

I am pioneering a radically different advisory model of wealth stewardship which serves more progressive wealth holders, and will ultimately redeploy capital into a new economy; one that is fundamentally redistributive and regenerative and serves all forms of life on the planet.

We are witnessing the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in human history. Somewhere between $35tn and $70tn will be changing hands between baby boomers and millennials in the next few decades. An increasing number of individuals receiving and/or creating wealth have strong social values and share concerns around the biggest problems of our time: climate change and wealth inequality.

They are challenging traditional ideas about the purpose of wealth, and are largely underserved by mainstream wealth advisory firms which tend to reinforce the prevailing narratives around growth, excessive wealth accumulation and tax minimisation, keeping these wealth-holders out of alignment with their values.

I launched the Good Ancestor Movement because it became very clear that we have a once-in-a-generation kind of opportunity to harness the power shared among an increasing number of values-driven wealth holders who are wanting to take a radically different approach to the stewardship of their assets. 

Most high and ultra-high net worth individuals would be interested in wealth maximisation — what’s wrong with that?

Fundamentally, we have been socialised into a culture that believes that our wealth should enjoy infinite growth. Certain economic theories and advisory norms tend to reinforce this notion. This becomes problematic as wealth accumulation becomes more extreme, which is often the result of the unsustainable extraction of natural resources, the exploitation of labour, and morally questionable corporate practices.

When thinking about wealth maximisation and financial returns, it is imperative that we question how such returns arise and who or what actually bears the cost of “growth”. 

Why do UHNWIs need to let go of their wealth?

If excessive wealth accumulation is a consequence of the extraction of resources and the exploitation of labour, then it is incompatible with the existence of a flourishing planet and healthy society. We need to understand that infinite growth is not feasible on a planet with finite resources. 

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The communities which are affected by extractive and exploitative practices tend not to derive much benefit from wealth generated and accumulated at their expense. In theory, they should benefit from redistribution through taxation, but this is not the case in practice. 

What is the broad impact of the current tax system on those that hold the most wealth and what change would you hope for? Who should drive that change?

Economic conditions since 2008 have afforded the wealthiest in society the ability to amass more wealth by acquiring assets, which have in turn benefited from a significant increase in value. Our tax system is geared towards taxing work rather than wealth.

Many of the wealth holders I am working with are starting to organise around the issue of wealth inequality and progressive tax reform, specifically demanding that higher taxes be imposed on them. Partners in Progress, the international branch of the Patriotic Millionaires, are campaigning for reform and wrote an open letter to the chancellor asking him to introduce a wealth tax on the nation’s richest people. I believe that wealth holders speaking out about the issue of tax is extremely powerful and persuasive.

Do you think your approach could disrupt the wealth management industry?

Giving agency to wealth holders who want to stop accumulating wealth through traditional investing certainly does have the potential to disrupt the private wealth management industry. It may start with a relatively small group of early adopters, but has the potential to effect change beyond the industry and transform wider culture and our collective relationship to the economy and wealth.

How do you expect your approach to wealth creation to impact the wealth industry, financial services, and society more broadly?

I anticipate that the private wealth and financial services industries will have to modify their respective approaches to create space for a new model of wealth stewardship that is genuinely rooted in deep values relating to society, our economy, and the environment.

Fundamentally, this will require individual practitioners and advisory firms to engage meaningfully with the objectives of more progressive wealth holders, especially those of the next generation, instead of employing traditional assumptions about unlimited wealth accumulation and tax minimisation in the management of private wealth.

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For society more broadly, our approach to wealth creation seeks to harness the energy and conviction of values-driven wealth holders in order to build regenerative economies and resilient communities, in which the most marginalised can thrive and enjoy shared prosperity.

What are the blockers to change, as you see it?

The dominant narratives about the economy are very powerful in shaping attitudes towards wealth, especially growth and accumulation. In the advisory industry and in wider society, taxation has become synonymous with waste instead of something which underpins the social contract. There is also a lot of anti-government sentiment. There needs to be a lot of education about the purpose of taxation and its role in any democratic society.

Where do you think your biggest challenge lies?

Supporting wealth holders with defining “how much is enough” and “how much is too much” in a world where, ostensibly, you can expect infinite growth and accumulate as much as you want.

What do you hope to see in five and then 10 years from now?

In the next 10 years, I would like to see a thriving movement of values-driven wealth holders committed to setting limits on their personal wealth and reducing their wealth over time by redistributing capital back into communities that have been historically harmed through economic practices and excluded from benefiting from the economy.

I would like that to be reflected by the existence of well-resourced social movements, grassroots organisations on the front lines of social and environmental justice issues, as well as emergent community wealth building initiatives with new and increased capacity. 

There are historical issues with how wealth has accumulated in the hands of the individuals that hold the most — what is the challenge in getting these families to help heal the harms of the past?

A lot of dynastic wealth originates from British and European imperialism, specifically slavery and colonialism which resulted in the exploitation of labour and extraction of resources and appropriation of land. This is an uncomfortable truth that individuals and families are now choosing to confront and seeking to repair.

To understand the whole story of the economy we have inherited today is to interrogate the full expression of Britain’s imperial power and colonial identity, and that is not something people find easy to reconcile with. 

What would success look like to you?

As far as I’m concerned, wealth holders shifting unrestricted capital back to marginalised communities, movements and groups in a manner that allows for democratic participation and self-determination. However, success should ultimately be determined by the communities, grassroots organisations and individuals who are fighting injustice, and whose voices must be centred throughout this work.

To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email Penny Sukhraj

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