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August 2, 2022updated 10 Aug 2022 1:16pm

What is a family office, really?

By Adam Garwood

Adam Garwood, private wealth director at IQ-EQ examines the use and misuse of the term ‘family office’

Something is amiss in the family office world. Look closer at some of the family office firms on LinkedIn and it quickly becomes apparent that many of them offer little more than investment management or advice. 

Whilst these services are critical to HNW families, sustaining wealth through generations requires more. Whether single-family, multi-family or virtual, a family office is a structure that should provide stability, governance, inclusivity, dynastic planning, lifestyle management and philanthropy. 

The ‘softer’ services that any family office needs to sustain wealth through multiple generations are often overlooked.

What types of family office support do wealthy families need?

One of the families I support centres around a single trust, for which I am the trustee. The main generator of income is the family business, yet while some family members have shown an interest in the business, others have not. 

As the family’s wealth enters its fourth generation, the number of beneficiaries has grown and opinions are beginning to diverge. Not to mention, each branch of the now-extended ‘beneficial class’ is in different countries with different needs, taxation considerations, aspirations, and, indeed, different ideas on risk and investment strategy.  

As head of the private wealth team, my job is to ensure the family recognise the current structure may no longer be fit for purpose and that the evolving family needs a new approach to ensure we make it through the next four generations. It’s unwise to underestimate the advantage of life skills, soft skills, and common sense when guiding a family towards this type of realisation. The key is to empathise with all family members on their own level and combine problem-solving with the ability to deescalate tense situations. A tall order, perhaps. 

family office provider
Adam Garwood is a private wealth director in IQ-EQ’s family office team

These are the big picture considerations, but a fully-fledged family office should also deal with the day-to-day, providing business and operational support, while also advising on personal and lifestyle matters, PR strategy, reputational and security risks.

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I was once asked, whilst sitting on a family office board, to ensure that the family’s property in the south of France was prepared for two months of summer holiday. Of course, this was not simply a case of ensuring the front door keys were in the safe box. What they needed, was for someone to act on their behalf, with their best interests in mind. Effectively, an extra pair of hands, to ensure absolutely everything was in order. 

I found myself in France, primarily to make sure the property was sufficiently secure for guests to visit; a task which quickly grew arms and legs. I became responsible for ensuring the family’s wardrobe was at the house, the wine cellars were suitably stocked, and the family jet was approved to operate out of France for the summer. 

At one point, we had a meeting on the property roof; a small square area with a knee-high perimeter wall and what looked like a chimney stack in each corner. A faded ‘H’ painted in the middle of the area. The meeting – organised to ensure we had no issues landing helicopters on the roof (the preferred method of delivering guests to the villa) – was between myself, as the family office representative, the French aviation authority, aviation lawyers, and the local authorities.  

As the meeting carried on, I could not add much to the legal issues being debated, however, I did notice that only three of the four chimney stacks were blocked, and one was open. A quick check downstairs confirmed the presence of a large open fireplace that was, very clearly, in use. I re-joined the meeting and flagged that the downwash from a landing helicopter would barbeque any guests in the sitting room if a fire was burning. This was met with a brief silence, followed by several French expletives and a swift note that the fireplace would need to be decommissioned. 

A trivial example, perhaps, but it does demonstrate the all-encompassing role a family office can play – from global investment management through to ‘miscellaneous’ practical considerations made in the family’s best interests.  

IQ-EQ’s family office team provides a full range of compliance, administration, asset and advisory services to investment funds, global companies, family offices and private clients operating worldwide.

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Image: Amnaj Khetsamtip/Shutterstock

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