Keeping it in the family

Tuesday 06 September 2016

By Richard Tribe, Head of Family Office - Europe


It is widely thought that the concept of a family office dates back to the late 19th century, with the Rockefellers being the pioneers. Popularity then really started to grow in the 1980s and since 2005 there seems to have been an explosion in the number of firms within the finance industry offering ‘family office’ services to keep pace with the significant increase in the number of substantially wealthy families around the world.

So what exactly is a family office?

While there are several descriptions, a traditional single family office is simply an entity that supports the financial management, organisation and maintenance needs of a given family and acts as its chief adviser and coordinator.

The assets are the family’s own wealth, often generated over many generations. The purpose of the family office is to effectively transfer this established wealth across existing and future generations.

In addition to investment management, the family office will also, typically, provide personal services to the family, such as managing household staff and making travel arrangements.

Multi-family offices

There are also multi-family offices which offer similar services but for a number of wealthy families at any one time. These services are provided by financial organisations and can be a much cheaper option than setting up on your own family office, depending upon the required size of the operation.  

Setting up a family office

To set up a single family office is a complex task. It involves the recruitment of your own staff and the operational risk for the office is borne entirely by you.

The benefit of this option is that you have full control over the family office and it will, therefore, provide exactly those services which cover your family’s needs.

The downside is the cost. Single family offices are in most cases established by families with an overall wealth of at least $200m, or who have wealth which is very complex, for example several operating businesses owned by the family.

Typically, the key staff within a single family office will be a tax lawyer, investment manager/specialist and an excellent PA.

Using a multi-family office service

By using a multi-family office service via an organisation, such as Equiom, you have access to a much wider range of specialist staff who, in turn, can access their own professional intermediary relationships to help facilitate any and all requests from the family.

There is still the benefit of having a trusted adviser as your single point of contact, who will coordinate and report on your worldwide financial affairs. This saves you having to deal with various professional advisers and allows you to concentrate on enjoying your wealth.

A good multi-family office can support the family with all its wealth planning needs. It will have gained wide experience in dealing with other wealthy families, so it is unlikely to see any unique situations or requests.

The benefits of a family office service

Wealth and asset protection, as well as succession planning, are two key areas for Equiom clients seeking family office services.

Ensuring that family members remain connected and helping to guide and coach younger family members are also key roles for a family office.

The classic ‘clogs to clogs’ in three generations scenario shows that wealth management and preservation is crucial to maintain multi-generational family wealth. There is often a lack of strategy within a family or, perhaps more importantly, a lack of communication between family members. An experienced family office should be able to build long-term relationships with all family members involved and educate the younger generation.

A family office may also focus on the more practical needs of a family, such as supporting it with the operational management of yachts and aircraft, providing secretarial and concierge services, and offering real estate management. These ‘lifestyle’ management services offer convenience and time-savings to the family and are extremely popular.

Concluding Remarks

Historically, single family offices have been centred around Switzerland and the US, but in recent years London has gained in popularity.

The decision to establish a single family office is usually only taken once in a lifetime, but with multi-family office providers, families can move in or out as generational needs demand.

Selecting the most appropriate provider to suits your family’s precise requirements, is a vitally important decision.


For more information on this subject, please contact Richard Tribe