Mike spoke anonymously due to privacy concerns. His identity has been verified by Insider.
I used to move US Special Forces troops around Iraq and Afghanistan. As a Navy Seal, I was awarded Bronze Star Medal in Iraq and a Bronze Star with V for Valor in Afghanistan. Now I move rich families around the world on vacation.
The idea for the Servius Group came after my cofounder Ethan (not his real name) was on vacation with a wealthy family at the Monaco Yacht Show. The family and other guests would travel between yachts in a small boat, and he was shocked when one of the guests revealed he was carrying $1 million in cash in his bag.
In summer 2020, Ethan and I decided to launch a company that would organize vacations with Special Forces-trained security. Our team consists of ex-Special Forces personnel, such as former Navy SEALs, Rangers, and Marines. Each team member has completed 10 to 12 combat tours, so they are masters of risk mitigation. We are also multilingual – I personally speak English, French, and Farsi.
We start working for clients a month before they travel.
We check routes, find English-speaking doctors, and see where the nearest US embassy and police stations are located. We send an advanced team to the destination and make sure their chosen restaurant isn’t in a seedy part of town. We look for the red flags.
We also vet staff working in venues and track private jets. And if a VIP family is enjoying a coastal or lake holiday, and their teenagers are using jet skis or cars, we tag the vehicles and track them for the parents. We also offer cyber protection for bank accounts and our client’s identity.
When we travel, we look like a member of the family.
We don’t wear suits or earpieces. While our services are expensive, we can make our clients’ travel insurance cheaper. When you’re entering a channel known for piracy on a $200,000 vacation, it helps to have ex-Special Forces personnel on board. We protect the family, but we can also protect the yacht’s contents – some of our client’s yachts have multi-million-dollar art collections on board.
Our first clients came by word of mouth, and we now work with luxury travel advisors Embark Beyond to support their VIP guests.
While some of our clients just want to relax on the beach, others want to have a life-changing experience.
We have a client who enjoys scuba diving for three months at a time. We dived with him in French Polynesia where it’s common to see humpback whales and manta rays. Safari is also really popular with our guests – we’ve been to the Ivory Coast, Mozambique, and South Africa. We’ve even joined clients on chartered yachts to the South Pole.
We recently provided security for a bachelor party that was held on a yacht in Miami. The men wanted to spend the day on the boat cruising around and visit some clubs at night. And no, we didn’t leave anyone behind.
If they want to trek to Everest Base Camp, as one of our clients did recently, we’ll first make a baseline assessment of their physical abilities to know that they can meet the physical demands of the trip.
If we have a guest who has never skydived before, we’ll hook them up with a Special Forces instructor. And if it’s your first-time scuba diving, our ex-Navy SEALs will be next to you with a safety line. But if it’s skiing, it would be more fun for the client if they book professional lessons. Are you going to find an ex-Special Forces person on the nursery slope? No.
The job only gets challenging for us when unexpected guests join the party, but we’re used to dealing with last-minute requests.
As former Special Forces, we’re trained for extractions. We once had a client who found themselves in a dangerous and vulnerable situation, so they contacted us and asked for an extraction. We got them out of that location, collected their valuables from elsewhere in the world, and took them both to a safe place.
So far, there’s only been one request we couldn’t accept, which was to take 15 guys to South America with 24 hours’ notice. The government said it was too short of a notice for visa approval.
We try to help our clients as much as possible, but there are two things we won’t do: We won’t help acquire drugs and we won’t be photographed.
Our guests could hire a ski guide or scuba diving instructor to join them on their trips, but they want to hear our stories. A ski guide may be an expert, but he’s never deployed in combat or sat in at a tribal meeting in Afghanistan.
I’ve been a certified public accountant for 50 years and currently work at a boutique accounting firm in Palm Beach, Florida. Many of my clients are high net worth individuals, which we define as anyone with over $5 million in liquid financial assets. These clients are often either retired or run successful companies, franchises, and manage large stock portfolios and estates.
For most wealthy individuals, tax preparation is a year-round affair and does not start a few weeks before Tax Day.
I often work with clients to plan out taxable events and transactions before they take place. For example, I have a client who wants to sell his home this year while the housing market is hot. He’s going to make a significant amount of money on the sale, so to offset those gains in 2021, we look at harvesting tax losses – or selling investments that may have depreciated in value and supplementing with another similar investment, which can reduce the capital gains tax.
When preparing taxes for those with high net worth, I make sure the expenses, losses, and gains match year over year. You don’t want to have losses for 2020 and gains for 2021, or vice versa. We try to match each year so we can harness the greatest tax advantage for the client.
Financial planning is crucial for UHNWI to save money on their taxes.
Many of my clients are initially surprised at how much communication and planning goes into the tax preparation ahead of Tax Day. Not every one of my clients needs year-round service, not everybody can afford it either, but our higher net worth people demand it. For wealthy individuals, tax preparation and planning is complicated so there is no set pricing package. Some clients add services like wealth preservation strategizing, which is not billed by the clock.
Wealthy individuals, in some cases, have similar tax situations as the average Americans, just with more assets and expenses. When a client of mine retires, their income decreases, and it’s part of my job to prepare them for all of the additional costs and teach them how to budget, as well as set up a pension plan or profit sharing plans.
Some clients who’ve retired have told me they were surprised to learn how expensive cell phone plans were and how much they were spending on car payments. They’re shocked at these numbers because while they were still working, many of these expenses were charged to business accounts or expensed by their company.
Clients often come to me with unique requests in hopes to help offset their tax bill.
I always tell my clients that paying taxes is a privilege, it’s a privilege to make a lot of money, and taxes are unavoidable. The biggest problem I face as a CPA is when a client comes in the first week of April and says they’ve either had a big capital gain or have had a large chunk of income and then wants to offset it. There’s not much I can do April 1st of 2021 for the year 2020. But if they’d called me during the summer of last year, then we could have discussed our options.
For instance, I have a client who is winding down a limited partnership. He invested in a real estate partnership years ago and it didn’t work out. He anticipated taking a tax loss on that partnership for 2020 because he’s not getting his investment back. But the partnership wasn’t dissolved completely in 2020, and he made big personal gains in the stock market. He wanted me to figure out a way where he could take the loss in anticipation of it winding down, and I told there was no way I could. It’s very unfortunate, but I can’t change the tax code.
Wealthy individuals also have the benefit of the new bonus depreciation law, where a business can make a large purchase, such as a fleet of vehicles or machinery, and deduct a percentage of that purchase from their taxes. According to the IRS, any vehicle over 6,500 pounds is a truck. So many large luxury SUVs can be considered trucks, for tax purposes. In December, I met with a few clients who’d bought a $90,000 Lexus SUV and a $110,000 Porsche SUV, and we were able to write that off in full because it falls under the bonus depreciation law.
My wealthy clients get most worried when they’re hit with a tax bill they weren’t expecting or didn’t know applied to them.
Many don’t know just how much the capital gains tax is, or how much the Medicare tax really is depending on how much you make. What also surprises a lot of people is also the difference between short-term gains versus long-term gains. Shorter capital gains is something you buy and sell within a year, whereas long-term is something you buy and sell in a time period greater than a year. The taxes are much higher on short-term gains, so I advise my clients never to sell an asset at the 11-month mark, but to wait another month to take advantage of the capital gains tax.
As an accountant, it’s my job to make the tax code understandable to everyone.
Most high net worth individuals are not educated on tax law. Those high net worth individuals who partner with a financial planner from the onslaught are in a much better spot to navigate and predict how much they pay in taxes yearly as opposed to those who don’t. It’s my job to help you avoid these losses, and prepare you to retire. So when looking for an accountant, look for those who pay attention and understand your business, not one who breezes through a 60-page brokerage statement in two minutes.
I recommend everyone regardless of their income level to consider sitting down and speaking with a tax professional, even if you don’t think you need to. Oftentimes, people with 1099s and W-2s have a lot more moving parts to their finances than those with millions of dollars.
The tax delay doesn’t affect my business much because I have been working with my clients on their taxes year-round.
Even though we are in close communications with our wealthy clients throughout the year, we still feel the crunch anytime tax season comes around. We are just better prepared. Because we haven’t been able to meet with clients much this year because of the pandemic, working with clients has been rocky, but successful overall with no big hiccups, as most tax information is already handled virtually.
I’ve always been good with numbers since high school, and my dad always told me the world will always need accountants and lawyers, and I chose to be an accountant. Being an accountant for 50 years, I’ve always found it fascinating working with people who come from nothing and then have an idea and then make something of it.
My favorite part of my job is listening to people’s stories and learning the ins and outs of their business. Some people think I do the same thing every day, but I don’t. As an accountant, I have an inside look at how some of the most successful businesses operate and have always enjoyed listening to my clients tell me their new ideas. The ability to really help families reach their goals and dreams is extremely rewarding. That’s why I love this profession.
A new report from Wealth-X found that, even during a pandemic, the very high net worth (VHNW) population grew.
Wealth-X defines the VHNW as those with a net worth between $5 million and $30 million. The report, called Very High Net Worth Handbook 2021, looks at where they are, who they are, and how big their ranks have grown.
In 2020, their global population increased “slightly,” by 1.3%, to around 2.7 million people. In 2019, by contrast, the population saw 10% growth.
“This was a sharp slowdown from double-digit growth a year earlier, and masked large regional differences, but was a resilient performance set against the backdrop of a global pandemic, national lockdowns, international travel bans, trade disruption and the deepest contraction in world economic output for a generation,” the report said.
Their total wealth also saw a similar increase, increasing by 1.2% to a total of $26.8 trillion.
Meanwhile, their global billionaire peers tacked on an additional $4 trillion to their wealth during the pandemic. That was a 54% increase for the world’s 2,365 billionaires, bringing their cumulative wealth to $12.39 trillion – a little under half of the VHNW’s cumulative wealthy.
But the VHNW class may be in for more growth than their smaller showing in 2020. The Wealth-X report anticipates that they’ll add around 1.2 million members, for a total population of 3.8 million. Wealth-X also predicts that their wealth will increase by $11.4 trillion to $38.2 trillion.
Those in the global middle class did not fare as well. A recent report from the Pew Research Center – which classifies the middle class as those who earn about $14,600 to $29,200 a year (or live on $10 to $20 a day) – found that 54 million fell out of the global middle class.
While the number of VHNW individuals grew, so did another group: A January report from Oxfam estimated between 200 million to 500 million people may have fallen into poverty during 2020.
Stanley (not his real name) is a house manager and butler for wealthy families in New York City.
His job involves everything from organizing bills and tracking charitable donations to taking wine cellar inventory and making sure everything inch of his employer’s home is spotless and dust-free.
Over the years, he’s had both good and bad employers, including one who would constantly fire and rehire him and another who would yell across the house and snap his fingers to get Stanley’s attention.
Despite the long hours and repetitive tasks, Stanley says he enjoys his work and has learned to set healthy boundaries with his employers.
Here’s what his job is like, as told to freelance writer Rose Maura Lorre.
Like many people who work in hospitality or the private services industry, I started out as an actor. And like many actors, I made a choice to stop acting because it was driving me nuts.
My wife was reading Tina Fey’s “Bossypants“ at the time and in the book, Tina Fey talks about “fake it ’til you make it.” That’s what I did: I acted the part of a house manager until I figured out how to be one. It just takes a little bit of observational skills and people skills and a good memory.
After I left acting, I first went into events and catering and worked my way up. While managing a big charity event in 2009, I met a project manager who introduced me to an ultra-high net worth (UHNW) family. The husband was in finance, the wife was an ex-bartender, and they had twin 4-year-olds, a dog, a pot belly pig, and a 20,000-square-foot townhouse. They hired me as a house manager and personal assistant, my first job in the industry. Those clients were a wild ride, real tabloid-gossip stuff.
When the wife had an issue with how I handled something, she would just fire me.
Then as I was walking to the subway or during my cab ride home, she would call me, apologize, and say she’d see me tomorrow. That happened four times in less than six months.
The last time she fired me, I made sure everything was in order, put her folder with her schedule for the following day on her desk as usual, quietly grabbed my coat, and left. Like she’d done in the past, I quickly got the apology call. When she said, “See you on Monday,” I said, “Why don’t we let this one stick?” That Monday, I still got a few calls and texts from her, but I didn’t pick up.
I’ve worked for six different families over 10 years.
Two of them, including that first family I worked for, were roller coaster rides – and short contracts because of that. Two were trial periods, after which I passed on their employment offers, and two have been better, long-term experiences.
The other “roller coaster” employer I worked for was similarly demanding, with an extremely busy and packed schedule. He was also a yeller; he would always holler my name. When he’d snap his fingers or yell, it was like somebody had shot a gun off in the house, and everyone would jump to attention.
Once, I walked into his coat closet after he’d pulled all of his coats off the racks. He’d made separate piles of coats, and I assumed he wanted me to do a seasonal switch-out for him. I dashed into the room with a smile on my face and said, “How can I help, Mr. So-and-So?” He looked at me and said, “What the f–k are you smiling at?”
But besides those particular clients, many of my employers have been great to work with. I’ve also kept in touch with former fellow staff members, and some of them have interviewed me for other jobs.
I currently work for an older couple, and it’s the best version of this job I’ve ever had.
I joined their household in January 2020. I work Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Before the pandemic, my hours were longer if my employers were entertaining guests. I wear business casual, and add a sport coat or blazer over my outfit for guests.
Since March, my employers have been in the Hamptons while I continue to care for their Manhattan townhouse and ship over any packages they receive there. When they’re out of town, I usually just wear jeans and a sweater or collared shirt.
Currently, the staff at my employers’ Manhattan townhouse consists of me, three housekeepers, and a driver. I contract outside vendors for IT, audio, gardening, and a wide array of specific maintenance for furnishings and antiques in the house. We also have a maintenance contract with a company who takes care of the house, but I troubleshoot little things like loose door handles, dead lightbulbs, and updating iPads and printer firmware.
My position has been called everything from house manager to property manager to butler.
When I described myself as a property manager, I’d hear, “Oh, you cut lawns?” If instead I say “butler,” people tend to romanticize what I do, like it’s “Downton Abbey” or “Remains of the Day.” I did once work in a household where I was their formal butler, and received guests in a black dinner jacket or a tuxedo. But I’ve also cleaned toilets, which is not romantic at all.
For the most part in this industry, people refer to their employers as “principals.” Meaning, that person is your principal focus. There may be other people you cater to as well, like guests who stay at the house, but the principal is your main focus.
One family I worked for had a house staff of 38 people. In my job as personal butler, I worked most closely with the head of house, the principal client, assisting with wardrobe, packing, communications, setting up and serving meals, and running in-house events.
In my current job as a house manager, it’s my responsibility to manage my employers’ expectations about what goes on in their home.
My job is to think proactively about what they’ll need and to avoid leaving anything open to complaints. If they’re talking to me – other than, for example, to tell me what they want for dinner – then I’m not doing my job. If their iPad isn’t connecting to the WiFi or the TV isn’t working in the gym, I haven’t done my job.
I do a lot of walk-throughs to make sure everything is in working condition. I turn TVs on and off at least once and sometimes twice a day. I also check all the lights, music, technology, and appliances. I sit down on the couch and look around, and think: Does everything look the way it’s supposed to look? Does it feel the way it’s supposed to feel? Is this TV working the way it’s supposed to work? Are there fingerprints on the table? Has the housekeeping staff dusted and moved the remote too far from the couch?
I’m not getting into my boss’ bed or trying out the sheets, but I do try to put myself in my employers’ experience. It’s the same thing I did in catering; I put myself in the guests’ shoes.
The gentleman I currently work for loves wine and keeps a modest stash at the house (about 300 bottles) with more in a wine storage warehouse, so I track arrivals and consumption and inventory what goes between their Manhattan and Hamptons homes.
I use spreadsheets to pay bills, file invoices and documents, and track everything from orders and shipments to various house inventories to gifts given and received, which can get quite complicated during the holidays with gifts and charitable donations.
I go over the house with a fine-toothed comb on an almost daily basis.
I check all areas for wear and tear, potential repairs, and moisture and leaks to catch any issues before they grow serious.
For cleanliness checks, I do walk-throughs in the dark with a flashlight to pick up on hidden moisture and dust. I also have an LED light that also picks up on dust you can’t see with the naked eye, like fingerprints or dog hair on the landing.
I take pictures of what I find to send to the housekeeper. I’ve also given them LED flashlights, so I can write “hello” in the dust I find and text them, “Go look for my ‘hello’ on the table.” The housekeepers I work with are great. If I show them a picture of something, they know exactly where it is to clean it.
The woman I work for also has an entirely separate townhouse around the corner that serves as her office. I go there to pick up things for her, check on the building, and sometimes assist with art hanging or putting together furniture. I also pick up flowers for the house, run to stationery stores and to the bank for house petty cash, and trek to FedEx and UPS on the regular to ship and pick up packages.
This all may sound intense, but it’s not my employers; I’m the over-the-top one. I’ve relaxed over the years in my own home, especially after having two children of my own. Still, I would follow my kids around with a Dustbuster if I could – that’s just how I am.
I typically make six figures annually with a bonus and benefits.
Since my first position in 2009, my salary hasn’t increased that much over the years, but the hours have decreased. I started at 60 to 70 hours per week on average, I’m doing more like 45 to 50 now, which is a huge positive difference to my quality of life.
When I first started at $100,000 in 2009, my hourly rate was sometimes $9, especially during the holidays. Back then, I only saw my wife at night. Now, I spend more time with my kids than ever before.
I learned early on that in this line of work, you have to be good at setting boundaries.
My current employers are very friendly and very considerate of the staff, but still, I maintain a professional boundary. I don’t want to be too involved in my employers’ lives. There are some situations where I have to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t get that involved.”
Certain things I’m very willing to do and other things I’m not. For example, I’ve never stayed the night at an employer’s house. I was asked to do it once, a couple of households ago. Their live-in housekeeper was going away on vacation and I think just for security and peace of mind, my employers wanted me there in her place. I said, “I don’t think my wife would really appreciate that.”
At my job, sometimes the most satisfying day can also be the most aggravating.
This job presents daily challenges, such as one time when a bird swooped into my employer’s glass atrium as we were setting it up for a business lunch, and it took us five attempts with ladders to catch down and release it. Those experiences are all in a day’s work.
The way I think about my job is, it’s like any other job, only I’m standing in my boss’ private living room while I’m doing it. Or I’m literally standing in their kitchen watching them eat. Most of these people are used to having someone stand there, though, so it’s not weird for them, and by now, it’s also not weird for me.
Managing wealthy homes is a great job, but it isn’t for everyone.
My advice for anyone thinking about getting into this line of work is to hop on LinkedIn and see if you can talk to house managers. Ask questions about the schedule they keep, pros and cons about the job, and find out if this lifestyle is for you.
There hotel and butler schools for training and certification programs, and estatejobs.com is also a good place to start. Still, be careful of programs that only feed into a pool for a domestic agency that charges steep commissions for job placement fees; some can be 40% of your annual salary.
For this line of work, you need the ability to manage expectations and communicate well and sometimes delicately with your employers, staff, and anyone else working inside the house. It’s a great career, just know that once you’re hired, you’re somewhat tethered to your employer like no other industry, since you become part of their private life. Know the stakes, and be empowered to create the boundaries that you need.