I did a presentation to a group of young rugby players recently– around 35 of them – mostly men but some women. A number of them came up to me afterwards to ask questions. Others hung around the questioners listening to the discussion and most, stayed away and chatted to their friends over a few drinks.

As I walked out of the venue, I said to the person I was with, “It’s very obvious who is going to be financially successful and who is going to struggle throughout their lives and have very little.”

Why is it that some people are successful and others aren’t? Why do some seem to be so ‘lucky’ and others always ‘unlucky’? Is it so ingrained in people at an early age that they can’t change their destiny?

After literally thousands of clients over 35 years of meetings, I can be pretty sure of whether clients will be successful or not. It’s often clear early on whether we are going to be optimising the journey they’re already on, or engaging in a major realignment. From my personal experience, successful people have five major characteristics.

  1. They’re ambitious – they expect to be wealthy.
    The dollar amounts they talk about are much bigger than the norm. What they consider to be ‘normal’, others would consider exceptional. But not them – they set their expectations much higher than others but to them its no big deal.
  2. They focus on process not the outcome – they know that outcomes take care of themselves when the process works. And when they know they have a good process, they stick to it.
  3. They understand risk.
    They accept that growing assets requires risk and risk means that prices will go up and down. They take wins and losses in their stride. They usually look beyond the losses to future gains if they are happy with the underlying assets. If not, they cut quickly and move on. It’s just part of the journey for them.
  4. They trust others, but not blindly
    They surround themselves with high-quality advisers and build long-term relationships with them. They don’t expect their advisers to be perfect, but they do expect them to be knowledgeable and well researched. Although they will accept an occasional mistake, they don’t have blind tolerance.
  5. They’re opportunists – when others are fearful, they are bold. Most interesting about this is that they are bold in a matter-of-fact way. It’s no big deal to them to make big decisions when others are running for cover. To them it is so obvious.

These are the big five. There are also five characteristics I have noticed that are derivatives of the above but still always prevalent in people that are financially very successful.

  • They don’t spend more than their income.
    Even though they may spend a lot of money annually, it’s never more than their income. And for these people, it never has been – no matter how much they earned.
  • They’re patient
    They understand investment returns take time and they are in it for the long haul. They are usually the easiest to deal with in years of negative returns.
  • They’re self-aware
    They know their strengths and weaknesses and usually outsource what they don’t enjoy doing or have no interest in doing.
  • They don’t blame others
    They understand their life is in their own control and whenever something doesn’t quite go according to plan, they make the changes necessary.
  • They focus on the returns after costs not on the costs alone.
    They don’t particularly care about fees and want the people they deal with to be successful too. They often take a direct interest in the success of their advisers and partners.

These are only my observations and for the young rugby players, it’s not a formula that will guarantee success. Most financially wealthy people will admit that luck has played a role. That’s often the first thing they say.

As I said to the young rugby players, there’s no one way to be successful and everyone should choose their own path. At the same time, learning from those that have been successful will provide a foundation and increase the probability of success.