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Agreeing a purpose is first step in managing your online reputation

Lucy Birtwistle at the Stonehage Fleming Family Investment Conference 2023

Our latest Four Pillars of Capital research, launched this week, consulted a 300-strong group of survey respondents made up of our clients, their advisers and friends of the firm. The report found that nearly 90% of wealthy families are doing nothing to manage or keep track of their digital footprint. Given the fact that we all live more and more of our lives in the digital world, does that figure not betray a degree of complacency around the topic of reputation?

Lucy Birtwistle, Director, Family Office, is unfazed. “It doesn’t surprise me at all”, she told guests at the Stonehage Fleming Family investment Conference 2023 last week. “In my experience of working with clients, the impact of digital information on an individual or family’s reputation is frequently underestimated.”

It is a recurring topic, explained Lucy, at our annual ‘Next Gen’ course, hosted by our Family Governance and Succession team at our London offices every summer. “We always hold a session on reputation management and digital footprint is a growing part of that. Every time, it provokes one of the strongest reactions from the group.”

The Next Gen sessions are interactive and often involve an external speaker. This year, the presentation around reputation management was very illuminating, not least for Lucy herself. “For 2023 our speaker used me as a ‘live’ case study. The results were shocking,” said Lucy. “I thought of myself as a very private person with minimal information on the internet. The deep web revealed much more of an online footprint than I or any of our guests had realised. It was the only session from the Next Gen course where everyone left white as a sheet. They realised that there is so much of their digital life that is out of their control.”

The need to monitor and manage your reputation may be an increasingly significant part of life for our clients, but families should try to understand it as part of a wider risk management framework, with agreeing a purpose being the first step.

“If a family has a clear purpose underpinned by a set of values according to which they communicate, there should already be a clear understanding of how to talk about things online and ideally have an agreed family policy regarding the online presence.”

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