After a quick presentation on some market data (though not from SuperyachtIntelligence.com), the ever engaging Ashok Rajan, a family wealth manager who spoke at last year’s Global Superyacht Forum in Amsterdam—taking place next week… click here for info) took to the stage to outline how spending behaviour amongst his clients is changing.
Opening with a Stanley Marcus quote to set the tone of his presentation, Rajan insisted that what the superyacht industry must sell is satisfaction. The US is out of recession, he said, and luxury is alive and well. Pointing to some well-established trends in sales and marketing figures, he showed how luxury purchases have done extremely well. The issues that had stifled big spending amongst the ultra-wealthy he said—guilt and the bad impression spending during a recession has on those less well off—are resolving in the face of an improving economy. Rajan's clients, which include royalty and billionaire industrialists, are spending again, he said.
Though he was directing his comments at those who build, manage, flag and insure superyachts, Rajan’s comments can be taken to suggest that for existing and potential yacht owners, a yachting life can now be enjoyed with less concern for the appearance of indulgence. But I wonder: Is that really a motivator? Most of the owners I have spoken to over the years see their yachts and charter holidays as escapes and are unlikely to let others’ impression of how they spend their free time with family and friends alter their course. Nevertheless, Rajan's perspective offers some reference point for those of us who are in fact concerned with the moods and appetites of superyacht owners; I'd be delighted to hear from our readers on their thoughts on Rajan's insight.
There remains, Rajan said, a discernible change in how big purchases are made, as advisers increasingly focus on accounting and oversight. Since the economic crisis, Rajan's ultra-wealthy clients have had to take a longer, more arduous route through financial oversight, slowing of the process of large-scale spending—as with the purchase of a yacht. He said, and subsequent speakers agreed, that this lengthening of the spending and oversight process is here to stay, underpinned by new global financial transparency regulations. Purchasing a yacht may just take longer, but as family offices and clients acquaint themselves with the processes, the time between falling in love with a yacht and finally having her will surely shorten again.
To help his audience better grasp the emotional and intellectual approaches of their potential clients, Rajan presented what he sees as four workable profiles of ultra-wealthy spending behaviour. Acquisitive buyers are hunting for the best that money can buy; cost is rarely the issue. Inquisitive buyers take a more measured approach; these are the Americans and old European wealth bases. Authoritative buyers are sophisticated and informed; they know what they want and why. Meditative buyers take a Zen, contemplative approach to their top flight purchases. Rajan insisted that these profiles are useful guidelines in understanding how brokers, yards, flag administrations and others can engage better with their clients.
Later in the forum, during a legal talk on yacht transactions, Rajan interjected with a further thought: why hasn’t the US entertainment and music industry invested in marquee yachts, as Malcolm Forbes had famously done with The Highlander (which the family sold in 2009). Interesting question...Perhaps one we'll follow up with the brokers.
As owners, all of this analysis and model making might seem a bit creepy, but of course it's no different than it is for any targeted group of potential customers. Take it as a sign that yachting's business leaders are seeking more and better ways to sense the needs of their customers.
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