Legacy of a L’Oréal heiress

Key Takeaways:

  • The late L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, once ranked the world's richest woman, set an example for safeguarding her family legacy and contributing generously to causes.
  • The number of female billionaires is growing – and so is their influence, as wealth creators, philanthropists, and promoters of family and firm governance.
  • Talk to your UBS Financial Advisor about how legacy planning can help you clarify how much your family can do to make a lasting difference.

Liliane Bettencourt, the late heiress to the L’Oréal cosmetics fortune who passed away at 94 in September, will be remembered as much for her opulent lifestyle as for the example she set in safeguarding her family legacy and contributing generously to a variety of causes.

Whereas most people live one life, Bettencourt lived several. Ranked the world's richest women prior to her death, she sparkled as a high profile socialite and amassed yachts, property (she owned an island in the Seychelles), and works of art.

Bettencourt's philanthropy was legendary, and she supported causes across education, humanitarian projects and the arts. She had a seat on the board of L’Oréal, the company her father built from a small line of hair care products he formulated in the early 1900s. L’Oréal is now a behemoth with 2016 revenues of USD 26bn.

The French heiress inherited her wealth through the success of a consumer goods company – a distinction shared with the next three richest women in the world, according to Forbes' ranking. With Bettencourt's passing, the daughter, granddaughter and widow, respectively, of the founders of Wal-mart, Mars, and Ferrero all move up a notch.

These women are not alone. The number of female billionaires is growing, and so is their influence as wealth creators, according to the UBS/PWC Billionaires Insights report from 2015, which focused on women and wealth. The report found that the number of female billionaires globally grew by a factor of 6.6 from 1995 to 2014. According to the report, they are exerting growing influence as:

  • The driver of wealth creation as entrepreneur or in the family business
  • The promoter of family and firm governance
  • The passionate philanthropist

Many of these women, like Bettencourt, have a desire to improve the lives of others.

In the UBS Wealth Management Framework, legacy planning is one of three wealth management strategies designated the 3Ls – liquidity, longevity and legacy. The Legacy strategy clarifies how much a family can do to make a lasting difference, either now or in the future, for others.

Managing wealth with a purpose includes segregating assets that are in excess of what the family members need to meet their own lifetime objectives, and generally is the focus of estate planning. Investment portfolios in the Legacy strategy are typically invested fairly aggressively since the time horizon can usually be measured in decades and might also include collectibles, charitable funds, and second homes.

"Understanding your values and what you want to accomplish in life is essential to how you shape your wealth strategy," said Michael Crook, CIO's Head of UHNW and Institutional Strategy. "Investing is a deeply personal undertaking, which is why we always start with a discussion of what's really important to you."

This is true for all investors, not just people like Bettencourt who control vast fortunes. As women assume greater responsibility for increasing the family legacy, they will account for a growing share of investable legacy assets.

Planning is a discovery. And it's an ongoing conversation. Together we can explore the possibilities your financial resources offer you, your family and your legacy. Connect with your UBS Financial Advisor or find one.