How a Family Office Can Support Your Financial Goals

If managing your personal finances takes on the same complexity as running a business, it may be time to consider starting a family office.­

A family office can provide insight and transparency into your spending, while helping you invest and preserve your wealth for future generations.

Below, learn how a family office can simplify your finances, provide peace of mind, and more.

What Is a Family Office?

A family office is a personal financial team that’s designed to streamline a family or individual’s accounts, spending, and investing.

These teams can manage complex financial structures, assets, and investments, while helping individuals preserve and protect wealth for future generations. Family office teams can be fully in-house, fully outsourced, or a combination of in-house and outsourced resources coming together.

Family offices become helpful when individuals accumulate more wealth than a principal or single bookkeeper can efficiently—and accurately—manage.

Components of a Family Office Team

Components of a Family Office Team

What Qualifies as a Family Office?

While nearly any financial team can qualify as a family office, some structures are more effective than others.

Here are a few family-office approaches individuals often take.

Self-Managed Personal Affairs

Self-managing your personal affairs means you continue to pay your bills and manage other personal operations.

Often, a personally managed family office distributes responsibilities across family members. For example, a spouse could act as the primary bill payer or person designated to handle the home operations.

Alternatively, the individual or family could hire a single bookkeeper or continue to use a business-employed executive assistant to assist with portions of the family office. However, the key decision makers are still in charge of managing the family’s personal affairs.

Single-Family Office

Individuals sometimes create their own single-family offices, which are structured like businesses, to manage their personal affairs and investments. Single-family offices can be composed of family members, friends, business partners, and professional employees.

With enough wealth and the right team, a single-family office can be the right answer for an individual or family. However, families should review the following considerations before pursuing this approach.

  • Cost. Personal CFOs and CIOs often require high salaries and sometimes request a portion of investments. Additionally, the family would need to consider the cost of a support team, office space, and overhead, which can ramp up quickly.
  • Experience. When choosing your team, pick someone who’s done it before. Individuals often choose a team they know and have worked with in the past. However, they don’t always choose professionals experienced in managing an individual’s full financial picture. Also, because this team will likely only work for the one family, it may not know industry standards.
  • Short tenure and transition problems. Single-family office teams can have high turnover. The benefit of historical data can be lost with when employees leave frequently. On the other hand, those that have longer tenure often don’t have transition plans for when they leave or retire.
  • Lack of transparency and fraud. Process and procedure are important for safe practices. Inexperienced employees can make mistakes, mishandle money, or give sensitive financial information to the wrong people. When establishing a single-family office, it’s important to establish good practices for handling finances and information safely. It’s also key to periodically have these practices tested by a third-party professional.
  • Control and focused commitment. The benefit to a single-family office is that the employees are solely focused on you and your family. The employees don’t need to balance their time between different families as they do in a multifamily office. Additionally, if you prefer responses during off hours, you’re more likely to receive responses on nights and weekends if you establish those requirements as necessary for the single-family office.

Multifamily Office

Some or all of an individual’s family office needs can be outsourced to a multifamily office. This structure contains pre-agreed upon fees and transparency, which can provide peace of mind. It also includes a system of checks and balances that helps reduce the risk that individual finances aren’t being mishandled or falling through cracks.

This approach is effective when managed by an experienced firm that applies systems and research that are proven to work. A few key areas of this approach to consider include:

  • Cost. A multifamily office is generally less expensive and less complicated to manage because an individual engages a professional firm to do the work. That means they don’t have to consider employee salaries, benefits, office space, or overhead.
  • Qualified team utilizing like-client experiences. Generally, a client is assigned to a qualified team that serves that client and other clients. This allows the team to apply experience gained on one client to another and provide best-in-practice processes, procedures, and recommendations.
  • A system of internal controls and adequate segregation of duties. A well-structured multifamily office utilizes documented processes and procedures for good safety practices. It should also have a system of internal controls and segregation of duties that includes proper levels of review. These systems prevent any one person from having too much insight into the family’s finances or control over spending.
  • Control and focused commitment. Multifamily offices are just that, a firm that works for multiple families. That means your team of advisors isn’t focused on just you and your family full-time. Although a good team should make each client feel they’re the priority, the team must balance their time among various clients. Additionally, multifamily offices are professional service firms and often expect reasonable business hours to be respected unless an emergency occurs.

Family offices become helpful when individuals accumulate more wealth than a principal or single bookkeeper can efficiently—and accurately—manage.

When’s a Good Time to Start a Family Office?

While new wealth may not seem complicated to manage, financial affairs can quickly become disorganized as individuals continue to accumulate wealth. This can lead to accounting and investing errors, which can be expensive and time consuming to fix. 

There are four key indicators that suggest it might be a good time to set up a family office team.

  1. Invoice and transaction volumes become overwhelming, leading to late or inaccurate payments.
  2. You experience a liquidity event.
  3. The estate plan is confusing or hard to remember.
  4. Personal and financial privacy become an issue.

1.    You or Your Bookkeeper Is Overwhelmed 

In general, if you or your bookkeeper is overwhelmed, it’s time to hire larger financial management. This is especially true if you anticipate making more money through assets and investments, but don’t have the time or desire to manage your personal operations.

Monitoring the financial operations and output for each of your assets can be complex and time consuming, especially if you invest large amounts of cash in property, household employees, and businesses. What’s more, managing your finances incorrectly can lead to significant consequences, such as unintended gifts.

2.    You Experienced a Liquidity Event

Individuals often put together a family office team after a liquidity event. Not only can liquidity events be emotionally challenging, they can also introduce logistical issues for many families.

For example, liquidity events often create voids of people and resources. Many individuals apply their business’s employees, resources, and services to their personal finance and management—a structure they lose access to with the sale.

A family office team can reestablish those resources in a more deliberate way that’s directly linked to your personal goals.

3.    Your Estate Plan Is Confusing

Estate planning is important to transfer assets to designated beneficiaries in the most tax efficient way. However, the legalese and various structures even with simple plans can get confusing and hard to remember.

Your legal and tax teams can create an effective plan, but if you don’t respect the plan or entity structure you can create unintended consequences, such as an ineffective transfer of assets or unintended gifts.

Your family office team is charged with understanding your full picture and your estate plan. This team can help guide your family to keep your plan on track limiting errors and unintended consequences.

4.    Your Privacy Is Compromised

We often forget how much private information is floating around on the internet. Home addresses, recent significant property purchases, and other personal identifiable information can often be found with a simple search.

Individuals and families need to consider ways to keep information as private as possible. Your family office team can help insulate you and your family. Some ways to maintain more privacy are:

  • Don’t use your home address. Your home address on checks, letters, and other material leads people back to your home. Instead consider a PO that forwards to your family office team.
  • Consider an entity structure for purchasing large assets if possible. For example, an LLC that’s owned by a privacy trust.

What Financial Needs Can a Family Office Meet?

An effective family office team can manage every aspect of your financial planning and operations, including:

  • Personal and family financial needs, including estate planning and trust management
  • Savings, investments, and philanthropy
  • Cash management and cash flow, including bill pay, accounting, reporting, and household employee payroll
  • Tax planning and coordination

Special-project considerations, such as buying a house or getting a visa in another country

How Do You Start a Family Office?

The following steps can help you set up your family office with confidence.

  1. Identify your needs and pain points. These might include cash flow and operations, legal, investment, and tax.
  2. Determine how much you want to invest in the family office. Family office teams can be expensive. Do your needs warrant a single-family office where you employ all team members, or an outsourced solution or a hybrid of both?
  3. Find your team.

Your Team: Who Should You Include in Your Family Office?

When setting up a family office, it’s important to pick an experienced team of advisors. Your team should be able to make recommendations, help you figure out what to do with your finances, and give you piece of mind.

Here are a few key members a strong family office team should include:

  • Family office operations team. This is the team that controls the spend, payroll, expense reporting, and document management. This team keeps you organized and moving forward with your goals. This team often works as the backbone or coordinator of the overall family office.
  • Investment team. Your investment team manages investments and overall investment reporting. This group can be internal or an outsourced firm that plays a role in your overall asset allocation as well as a client’s focus on direct self-managed investments.
  • Legal team. The legal team is generally outsourced in a hybrid model. It should be a team of people you trust that can assist with various common topics, such as household employee issues, real estate, estate planning, and entity formation.
  • C suite. The C suite is the overall advisory executives that pull the various teams together and report to the principals. This team can consist of several individuals in different capacities as in a business, but it often consists of one or two main individuals who you respect and trust to lead the entire family office enterprise.

We’re Here to Help

To learn how you could potentially benefit from a family office, contact your Moss Adams advisor.

You can also learn about additional opportunities available to individuals and families, such as estate planning, steps to strengthen your family’s financial position over generations, and more.

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