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What is a family office?

15 Jan 2024

By Alex Dean, Head of Private Wealth UK, and Ilias Georgopoulos, Global Head of Private and Institutional Asset Owners

In the realm of wealth management and financial stewardship, family offices play a pivotal role, offering a bespoke and comprehensive approach to managing the multifaceted needs of affluent families. However, there remains some ambiguity around the definition of ‘family office’. To demystify the concept, let us delve briefly into the evolution of family offices, their key functions, and the crucial role they play in preserving and growing family wealth.

Understanding the core fundamentals of a family office

A family office is a private wealth management advisory firm that serves ultra-high-net-worth individuals and families. Unlike traditional financial institutions, family offices are tailored to address the unique requirements and complexities that come with substantial wealth. These offices go beyond conventional financial services, encompassing a spectrum of functions, including investment management, day-to-day wealth management, estate planning, tax management, and philanthropy.

The evolution of family offices

Family offices have evolved significantly over the years. Initially, they emerged as a response to the challenges faced by affluent families in managing their wealth effectively. Although family offices have been around for more than a century, with the most well-known perhaps being the Rockefeller Global Family Office, their real use has increased only over the last 15-20 years, in tandem with the unprecedented wealth creation and related globalisation of families and investment over the same period.

Consequently, these entities have grown in sophistication, employing a team of experts with diverse skillsets ranging from finance and law to philanthropy and lifestyle management.

Key functions of family offices

  1. Investment management:

At the heart of a family office lies its investment management function. These offices are entrusted with the task of preserving and growing family wealth through a well-diversified investment strategy. This involves not only traditional asset classes like stocks and bonds but also, increasingly in recent years, alternative investments such as real estate, private equity and hedge funds.

  1. Estate planning and wealth transfer:

Family offices play a crucial role in ensuring the smooth transition of wealth from one generation to the next. This involves comprehensive estate planning, which may include the establishment of trusts to safeguard assets for future generations.

  1. Risk management:

In a world of financial uncertainties, mitigating risks is paramount. Family offices meticulously analyse potential risks, whether they be market-related, geopolitical or specific to the family’s unique circumstances, and implement strategies to protect the family’s financial wellbeing.

  1. Philanthropy and social impact:

Many affluent families are deeply committed to philanthropy and ESG/impact investing. Family offices assist in formulating and executing philanthropic and impact-focused initiatives, ensuring the family’s charitable endeavours align with their values and goals.

  1. Lifestyle and concierge services:

Beyond financial matters, family offices often provide concierge services, addressing the diverse needs of ultra-high-net-worth individuals and their families. This could range from managing private jets and luxury real estate to overseeing household staff and coordinating travel arrangements.

Types of family offices

Family offices come in different shapes and sizes, tailored to the specific requirements of each family. The two primary types are:

  1. Single family offices (SFOs):

SFOs are dedicated to serving the needs of a single affluent family. They provide highly personalised services and are entirely focused on the goals and objectives of that particular family. Barton Consulting estimates that there are currently around 9,100 SFOs in the world.

  1. Multi-family offices (MFOs):

MFOs, on the other hand, cater to the needs of multiple families. While they may offer a broader range of services, they may lack the intense personalisation that SFOs provide.

MFOs often start out as SFOs but expand and evolve over time as families choose to share resources and benefit from economies of scale.

The importance of family offices

Family offices play a critical role in preserving family legacies and fostering the long-term success of affluent families. By addressing financial complexities, providing strategic guidance, and offering a suite of services beyond traditional wealth management, family offices serve as indispensable partners in the journey of sustaining and growing generational wealth. As the financial landscape continues to evolve, family offices are likely to remain at the forefront of innovative and personalised wealth management strategies.

Working with IQ-EQ has been seamless – you and your team understand our business, advise us appropriately, and handle your side of our collective partnership so that we can focus on making good investment decisions. Evan Gibson SVP, Merchants Capital

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