Category Archives: Family Office

The Picture Seldom Tells the Whole Story

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September 19, 2016

Everything appears idyllic. An affluent mother and father look in good health and are ready to enjoy their well-planned retirement. They have three children, all of whom are successful in their fields of work. There are grandchildren in the family photo at the beach; a photo which captures happiness, prosperity, and accomplishment. So what is wrong with the picture? Nothing at all, except that such an “ideal” family is rare.

As a family office, our core mission is to be advisors to our clients and their families. Most people assume that advising is all about money. It is true that all of our clients look to us for advice and counsel on their investment portfolios. But often, and with increasing frequency, a major share of the time we spend with our clients is on matters other than their investments. Addressing family issues is typically not about making money. In fact resolving problems might be expensive.

Family dynamics can sometimes be hard to observe, for people both inside and outside the family. But nobody involved should look away. Difficult problems, from communication to education to generational transfers, have to be addressed and resolved. Each family functions in its own special way, but many face a situation where someone wants to go left when everyone else is moving right.

A wise client once said to me that money makes life easier, but it does not solve problems. That statement has stuck with me as I have seen wealthy families face problems that are difficult to fix or untangle. For example, many well intended matriarchs and patriarchs of families bequeath their families legal documents in the form of trusts or complex ownership structures. But time is a wicked partner to a neglected plan. Nobody has the crystal ball needed to see how a carefully crafted plan, which makes sense today, will work in ten, twenty or even fifty years time. Families evolve,  and their needs can change dramatically and in unexpected ways.

The less tangible part of what we do as a family office is help clients improve the financial well-being of their families. This part of our practice is not about managing money, nor is it limited to financial planning. It sometimes feels like acting as a consultant to the family “c-suite”. If truth be told, this is the most difficult, and rewarding, part of what we do.

We all know family dynamics can be fascinating and frustrating, not least when brothers and sisters in their fifties still hold opinions of their siblings based on something that happened when they were ten years old. A broker, or an online trading firm, cannot help solve these problems but this area is a core component of expertise within our firm. If, at some point in time, you face a major family problem please remember that your family is one of your most important assets, the management of which deserves the same expertise as your money.

Carl Gambrell

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Family Meetings for All

cheaper

August 22, 2016

We have spoken in the past about the various family meetings we attend in our role as advisors to our family office clients. We continue to witness how invaluable these discussions are, and we encourage each of you to think about using such meetings as a way to improve communication within your family.

Some of you might think an organized family meeting is only for the very wealthy. I believe that is not the case. The financial and nonfinancial issues that face each family are unique, but every family can benefit from discussing its hopes, needs, values, and legacy.

A family meeting should not be solely about finances. Many families discuss how they interact with each other, their sense of community, and even their faith. Some families are able to join together for weekly dinners, but for most families assembling everyone is a difficult and expensive affair. Whatever the challenges, having everyone together to discuss the issues facing the family is vitally important, especially as family dynamics become more complex with the addition of spouses, grandchildren, and even great grandkids.

Recently we participated in multiday retreat with over twenty family members, which culminated in a highly productive, open, and moving discussion about the family assets, which are illiquid and closely held. Other meetings in which we have been involved have been less formal. Often they surround the retiring wishes of the family patriarch and/or matriarch. One very poignant recent meeting had to deal with the illness of the matriarch of the family, and her candid and heartfelt thoughts close to the end of her long and fulfilled life.

It is critically important to discuss the plan for the future of a family’s assets, however big or small, especially given the risk of increasing wealth taxation going forward. The low hanging fruit for revenue hungry, populist governments everywhere is taxing those with assets. We expect that the readers of this weekly will face ongoing demands for their capital as governments seek to reduce the divide between the “haves” and “have-nots”.

Those that have committed to holding regular family meetings comment that it has helped eliminate uncertainty and misunderstanding. In many families there is an initial reluctance to engage in frank dialogue about the issues surrounding money for variety of reason such as fear of upsetting somebody, or lack of knowledge about what should be discussed. Getting started with a process for regular family meetings is not easy. After all, parents often disagree over both the family’s financial goals, and the extent to which they should be shared with their children. Some parents even feel an open dialogue with their children is unwise.

We have heard all the excuses for not engaging the family, but an educated and thoughtful approach to include your children in discussions of your assets can produce results which would pleasantly surprise you. The fact that it is easier to avoid the issues by kicking the can down the road does not make this the right course of (in)action.

Carl Gambrell 

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