Al Lewis: Bad Timing for $7 Million Cry Babies


Fidelity Investments should list the names of all millionaires who refuse to feel wealthy because they don't have more than $7 million.

I would like to know who these ingrates are so that I can slap them.

On the first business day following the earthquake-tsunami-looming-nuclear-meltdown in the world's third-largest economy, Fidelity put out a news release headlined "42% of Millionaires Say They Won't Feel Wealthy Until They Have More Than $7 Million."

Imagine how they might feel huddled on a hill above a sea-swept city, not knowing where to find their next rice ball.

"The feeling of wealth is relative," Michael Durbin, president of Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services, explained in the release.

The investment giant handed the survey results to select reporters on an embargoed basis last week, before the earthquake hit, and it felt forced to stick with the planned release date, despite the overwhelming news, Fidelity spokesman Stephen Austin told me.

"Internally, we talked about how we wouldn't have put it out today if we had a choice," Austin said on Monday.

No one can predict the future. And, in Fidelity's defense, when is there ever a good day to release the haughty banter of pouty millionaires?

For those who are still just hundredaires, the headlines are gloomy: Unemployment, foreclosure, rising food and energy prices, scandal after shameless scandal on Wall Street, a skyrocketing national debt, and an engineered economic recovery favoring those with access to free loans from the Federal Reserve Bank.

Japan is rife with lessons that--rich or poor--anything can be taken from anyone in seconds. Yet some Americans feel compelled to complain: "I don't feel rich because I don't have $7 million. Waa! Waaa! Waaaaaa!"

Fidelity surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. households with investable assets of at least $1 million, excluding workplace retirement accounts and real estate. You know, people who really should feel like a million bucks. They represent about 5% of households, but hold 56% of the wealth, Fidelity said.

Thankfully, not all of these folks are jaded: 58% said they began to feel wealthy when they hit $1.75 million in investable assets.

But what about that 42% who can't seem to appreciate a good fortune? They are the ones giving the rich a bad name. And if you happen to be their financial adviser--well, whatever you do for them is never good enough, is it?

Gail Graham, an executive vice president at Fidelity, told me it's not really about greed, but fear.

"It really is a reflection of the anxiety of the pre-retiree," she explained. " ...Many of them have an innate fear of old age and picturing what their lives will be like in retirement."

They're baby boomers, sandwiched between elderly parents and college-aged children. They may live in expensive urban areas. Plus, they've been cautious entrepreneurs and business executives all their lives, and they need more savings to feel safe about the future, Graham said.

Geez, if millionaires are worried about their futures, how much more should the rest of us should be worried?

According to Fidelity, millionaire households planned to give an average $38,000 to charitable causes last year. They stepped up for Haiti and they're stepping up for Japan, Graham said.

"While you see those Madoffs, those terrible stories, there are solid citizens out there who happen to be millionaires," she said.

Still sounds greedy to me, needing $7 million just to feel rich. The median annual household income in this country is still less than $50,000. But fear takes hold of the human heart at every step on the socio-economic ladder--especially as the inevitable approaches.

"The last few years have been hard on people in terms of facing up to retirement," Graham said.

(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. The column is published each Tuesday and Thursday at 9 a.m. ET. Contact Al at or