How To Give It: meet the wealth therapist

Emma Turner is on a mission to awaken the philanthropist within, says Chloe Fox

Emma Turner at home in London
Emma Turner at home in London | Image: Luca Strano

“To give away money is an easy matter and in any man’s power,” wrote Aristotle. “But to decide to whom to give it, and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power, nor an easy matter.”

If only he could have had a “fireside chat” with Emma Turner, the director of Barclays Private Bank’s philanthropy service.

A fiercely articulate, slender powerhouse of a woman, Turner’s raison d’être is to help wealthy individuals take the first steps towards using their wealth and skills for the greater good – if, and only if, that is something that they really, hand-on-heart, want to do. “I’m not in the business of strong-arming anyone,” says Turner of a recent meeting with a client, a very successful woman in her late 30s, who admitted feeling torn between her philanthropic urges and her desire to spend more time with her children. “I pointed out that, while the world was always going to have problems that needed fixing, she was never going to get this precious time with her children again so why not go away, spend time with her family and come back when she was ready? The relief she felt was palpable. It was like I had given her permission.”

Nor is Turner in the business of naming names – the most this model of discretion will concede is that the clients and their families (whose interests she represents) range from FTSE 100 CEOs and successful business owners to tech entrepreneurs – but she does admit she’s been referred to as a “wealth therapist” on more than one occasion. “I allow my clients the space to talk about how being wealthy really feels,” she explains. “Because the responsibility of it – especially if it has materialised very suddenly or unexpectedly – not to mention the preconceptions that come with it, can really feel like a burden. We all think, if I had x amount of money I’d be fine, but it really isn’t as simple as that. Great wealth can come with a great many problems.”

The majority of clients that Turner sees are 45 or older. And some have rarely talked about their personal wealth in public. One of her favourite opening questions is: “So what did you do when you first got it?” Seeing the look of surprise in their faces tickles her hugely. “When they eventually answer, it is almost always in a whisper,” she laughs. “Like it’s some sort of guilty secret.”

In many ways, Turner has a very un-British attitude to wealth. Born to English parents, she spent childhood holidays in America; following his divorce from her mother, her father married Geraldine Stutz, the retailing visionary responsible for transforming Henri Bendel from a carriage trade retailer into a chic emporium of designer brands.

Having worked in every possible area of giving – 10 years as a fundraiser for the Chemical Dependency Centre (now called Action on Addiction), 11 years as executive director of Goldman Sachs’s EMEA charitable services group and 10 years building Barclays’s philanthropy service – Turner is uniquely well placed to unlock some of the unprecedented wealth in this country where, at last count, only 50 per cent of multimillionaires donated 1 per cent or more of their annual income to charitable causes. Part of the problem, as Turner sees it, is the gulf of mistrust that has grown between major donors and the plethora of UK charities – estimated to number about 160,000, many of them not running at an optimum. By working closely with her clients, and through the partnership she is building with The Beacon Collaborative and the Institute of Fundraising, her ultimate objective is to help generate an additional £2bn in charitable donations by 2025.

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For most wealthy individuals, the major obstacle to giving is not a lack of desire, but a lack of clear understanding. “Time and time again, my clients are voicing a frustration at not knowing where to begin,” she explains. “When an individual looks to give money to charity, I tell them to look on it as an investment, to give it the same degree of scrutiny – due diligence on whether it’s the right kind of fit – as they would their private investments.” Which is not to say that Turner – a kind of Mary Poppins of the money world – is in the business of telling her clients what to do. Her role, as she sees it, is to give them the tools with which to work it out for themselves. “I teach them how to fish,” she says, firmly but kindly. “I don’t do their fishing for them.” 

She is flattered and baffled in equal measure by the “slightly bizarre” way in which people seem to trust her, but it’s clear that her skill is getting to the heart of the matter. “If a client comes to me it is because they have reached a point of being open to giving,” she says. “Very often that is because of something that has happened to them personally – a child rushed to Great Ormond Street, a parent nursed by Marie Curie, a friend with a rare illness – that has turned on their social conscience.” 

Tears are also a common feature of meetings, in which topics include issues close to their heart, why they want to give, how their families might react to their decision and what they ultimately want their legacy to be.

“I probably have the best job in the world,” Turner grins, before recalling a recent meeting with a world-famous entrepreneur – a hardened businessman by reputation – at the end of which he thanked her for making him feel, for the first time in years, like a human being rather than a money pot.

While she has no immediate plans to retire – “How could I when there is still so much that can be done?” – serendipity has dictated that she has plenty to keep her busy when she does. On her stepmother’s death in 2005, Turner found out – to her great surprise – that she had been made president of her stepmother’s foundation, putting Turner in charge of deciding what her legacy should be. “It took me a good year to get over the fact that she hadn’t put a few more noughts on my personal inheritance and a few less on her charitable outlay,” she laughs.

“But once I had got over that – and I often use my own story to illustrate the importance of family communication to my clients – I realised that she had actually given me the greatest gift of all. Because now,” Turner admits, before charging off to the next of the day’s multiple meetings, “I’m going to have to put my money where my mouth is. . .”  

All How To Give It editorial content was commissioned and produced by the Financial Times. Barclays Private Bank funded our reporting but it is the independent journalism of the Financial Times, and Barclays Private Bank was not given any editorial oversight of the content.

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