Exclusive preview: HEDGE FUND WIVES
By Natasha Boncompagni and Tatiana Boncompagni
The job of a Private Banker was a lot like that of a quarterback: With Brett Favre-like precision (on a good day that is) we threw the ball to whichever division of the bank was appropriate for the client's need.
For example, if a client wanted to set up a tax deferred vehicle to pay for their grandchild’s college tuition, I’d set them up on call with one of our Trust and Estates officers. Whether Junior was able to get into the family’s Ivy League legacy, was thankfully not my problem. Likewise, if I thought a client should consider buying a piece of art in order to diversify their investments, I’d set them up for a lunch with one of our Art Advisors. A lot of my clients wanted to explore alternative investments in private equity and hedge funds, and I had built my own sub-specialty in that area over the years. I enjoyed helping people feel more secure about their finances (and thus future), but I also thrived on the challenge of uncovering interesting investment opportunities for my clients.
That said, I knew enough to know that in my current state, I was in no condition to be managing my divorce settlement money. I was going through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ grief cycle in what felt like the Valleyfair roller coaster Excalibur from my childhood: At one moment I was in such denial that I half expected my phone to ring and John to be on the other end. And the next, I wanted to rip Parsnip’s perfect little body apart, limb by limb, and deliver it to John in a Bergdorf Goodman shopping bag. I was clearly not in a place to be managing anybody's money, let alone my own— which is why I set up the meeting with Thorne Van Buren (no relation to the President).
So far my new private banker, hadn’t impressed me. Thorne spoke with a locked jaw, wore rimless glasses and (I suspected) dyed the hair around his temples gray so he would look older. He dressed in monogrammed French cuffed shirts, bespoke suits (with the first button on the sleeve undone so there was no mistaking it for off the rack) and wore the same shoes my ex-husband John did. On the wall of his office were diplomas from Deerfield, a prep school in Massachusetts, and Harvard, and on his desk there was a black and white, studio-quality picture of himself and his skinny blonde wife. Thorne seemed to be capable enough, but I didn’t feel like I was a priority to him. I only had fifteen million, which for a guy used to dealing with clients worth upwards of a hundred million, was small potatoes. He also seemed better suited to dealing with male clients, or at least ill suited to dealing with me, a woman who knew her LIFO (last in, first out) from her FIFO (first in, first out) and how to calculate the right WACC (weighted average cost of capital) for a DCF (discounted cash flow) analysis in less time than it took his secretary to pour a glass of Pellegrino.
Thorne’s assistant met me in the lobby and took me up to the top floor of the building, where CountryBank kept its executive conference rooms. The room I was in had had sweeping views over midtown and two Warhol silk screens of dollar signs on the interior walls. I took a seat at the circular black glass conference table and spent five minutes pushing down my cuticles with my thumbnail before Thorne appeared in the doorway.
And when he did, he was talking on his iPhone, an inexcusable offense as far as I was concerned.
“No, there’s no way I’m signing up for one more charity,” Thorne was hissing into his phone. “Listen to me, Marissa. We can’t. And as long as you’re going to spend the next week moping about your missed photo ops, I’ll tell you now that I’ve canceled the trip to Cap d’Antibes.”
“Do you want me to come back later?” I asked loudly, scooping my Ralph Lauren crocodile purse from off the floor.
Thorne jumped, surprised to see me seated in the conference room already, and told his wife he had to go. Walking toward me, he offered his hand.
“You’re looking well, Marcy,” he said, his lock jaw voice even more grating than I had remembered. Today he was dressed in pinstripes, a pink dress shirt and a purple tie shot through with chartreuse stripes.
“You too, Thorne,” I said.
“Like the Warhol room?” he asked, gesturing toward the silk screens. He watched my face, waiting for me to express my amazement and appreciation for the art on the walls. It was obvious he’d forgotten that I had worked in a bank and knew that all major financial institutions housed expensive art in their executive rooms.
“Well, that depends on what you’ve worked up for me,” I said, sitting back down in my seat.
“Oh great stuff, great stuff.” He unbuttoned his suit jacket and took a seat before sliding a slim pitch book across the table to me. “Take a look.”
Eager to begin thumbing through his recommendations, I opened it and studied the first page, which showed a pie chart illustrating the allocation of my assets right now. It was all one color, red, and marked “cash.” The subsequent pages offered three different investment scenarios: most conservative, mid range and aggressive.
The more I read, the more upset I became. Thorne’s pitch book was an obvious boiler pate template, with my name and amount of assets under management simply inserted in the appropriate places. Did he really expect me to pay a management fee for something that any standard asset allocation program could whip out in 5 minutes?
I closed the book, laid my pen on top of it and gazed at Thorne across the table.
“I know what you’re thinking. Where’s the Manolo Blahnik shoe allocation?” he said, tipping his head back and chortling.
“No Thorne, what I actually was thinking was, why on earth is this so plain vanilla? For what your proposing to charge me, I was hoping I’d see something a little more inspired today.”
He laughed again and adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose. “Now Marcy, this is a very balanced portfolio.”
“Are you serious?!” I squawked back.
He swiveled around to retrieve a porcelain plate loaded with pastel-colored macaroons and placed it on the table between us. If Thorne thought a dish of delicious looking cookies was going to keep me from serving him his favorite appendage to him on a stick, he was very wrong.
“It’s a geriatric allocation and you know it,” I said stridently. “I’d give this to a seventy year old retiree.”
“Actually Marcy, that’s not a bad comparison. Think about it. You’re pretty much retired, right? You’re not going to work again are you?”
“What gave you the impression that I was never going to work again?” I sputtered. I hated that he leaped to that conclusion. He never would have said that to me if I were a man.
“Alright, let me rephrase that,” he said, snarkily. “It’s not like you’re expecting to receive another windfall, are you? Or is there a Husband Number 2 in the wings?”
I’d worked with enough chauvinists during my investment banking days at Bloomington Mutual to know that getting offended by their remarks served no purpose. The only thing these guys respected was balls, and I was about to show him mine.
“Funny one,” I said, chuckling gamely. I adopted his same condescending tone. “Now Thorne, if you’re done with the stand-up act, do you think we can get back to talking about my money?
He opened the pitch book and turned to the equities section. Pointing at one of the pie charts, he said, “Did you see the Biotech section?”
“Yeah, but you’ve got a Principle Protected Note on it,” I parried.
“That’s because with a PPN you’re not in danger of losing anything, you put in while at the same time you’re getting exposure to a very sexy sector,” he shot back.
“First of all, I know how PPNs work,” I said calmly. “And second, I don’t think I’m at the age that I need to be wearing training wheels. If we’re going to take a position, let’s take a position.”
He offered me a few different options, none of which I found exciting or particularly intelligent. As a last ditch attempt to appease me, he threw me a low- volatility equity Long-Short fund that happened to be seeded by Zenith Capital, as in my ex-husband John’s employer. I nixed that idea straight away. Then I stood up and told Thorne that I would take his recommendations under consideration but was overall less than satisfied with them.
“These are good, solid allocations considering your life circumstances. You may not be thrilled with your options now, but in the long run you’ll be happy you played it safe,” he said.
I collected my handbag and pitch book and stood up from the table. “The last person who said that to me was my husband, and look where that got me.”
“From my perspective, it looks like it got you fifteen million dollars richer,” he grinned.
And that’s when I made up my mind that I would rather lose every single penny of my money, rather than let Thorne Van Buren get his pasty little hands on it.
I CAN'T WAIT TO READ THE REST!
And more about the drama between the sister co-authors.