TRUSTED ADVICE – ENTREPRENEURIAL THINKING

Our highly experienced team provides independent corporate finance advice to shareholders and companies at every stage of the corporate lifecycle, from acquisitions and capital-raising through to disposals and liquidity events.

The team also advises clients on their direct investments and will introduce, structure, and monitor direct investments into private companies on their behalf.

 

ADDING VALUE TO YOUR BUSINESS

​We provide corporate finance advice to families and individuals, businesses and entrepreneurs. A key measure of our success is the value we help create for clients and their businesses, rather than the size or number of transactions on which we advise.

This approach has earned us a reputation for offering bespoke, considered and dispassionate advice. Whether you are looking for help with a specific transaction or a business relationship over the longer term.​

WITH YOU ALL THE WAY

Many of our clients appreciate our ability to commit to a long-term relationship to build shareholder value through partnership. Others recognise our meticulous approach in the execution of individual transactions.

​Similarly, some clients simply require expert guidance, whilst others require their advisers to take more of a principal role in the process.

DIRECT INVESTMENT ADVISORY

Our experience of advising families and entrepreneurs on their business and private investment interests has led to the development of our direct investment advisory practice.

We offer a customised origination and advisory service for those of our clients that seek a more focused exposure for their investments, or have more specific sector or geographic requirements, or a longer term investment horizon.

Many of our clients have extensive commercial and business interests and often view their private investing activity as a natural extension of this.

Our wide-ranging experience of working with and advising both corporates and investors leaves us well-placed to advise our clients on their private investing activities.

 

Return of the Homme d’Affaires

​Thirty years ago the term ‘Homme d’Affaires’ was well understood, describing a true adviser with real wisdom drawn from deep and broad experience of the world. The trend towards specialisation has caused us to forget the supreme importance of an individual who is able to look at the whole picture and pull together the advice of all the specialists.

Wealthy families are rediscovering the need for such individuals and in an increasingly complex world, they are not always easy to find.​

It is not quite clear why the English had to borrow an expression from French to describe the role of a trusted adviser to the wealthy, but until thirty years ago, the term ‘Homme d’Affaires’ was well understood and in common usage. It is strange that there was no equivalent in the English language the closest being the Italian word Consilieri. ​

​The essence was that such a person was a true adviser with real wisdom drawn from deep and broad experience of the world, including business, investment, families, the law and even philanthropy. The Homme d’Affaires was thus a reliable and impartial sounding board for nearly every major decision his client had to take. This might range from business acquisitions and investment to succession and inheritance, from personal relationships to dealing with awkward situations such as divorces within the family, where the parties involved are directors and shareholders in family businesses.

This does not mean that he would advise on the technical detail of every issue, but he would know enough to apply his experience, wisdom and common sense to ensure the decisions made were not only based on sound technical advice and on a proper understanding of the overall context.​

Over the last 30 years, the term Homme d’Affaires has pretty well disappeared from our vocabulary, as the remorseless trend towards specialisation has caused us to overlook the generalist. This generalist is someone who pulls it all together, is able to look across all aspects of a situation and make judgments and recommendations which bring together the advice of all the specialists.​

​It can indeed be argued that the focus of the specialists has become so narrow that they are less able to appreciate the broader context in which they operate or the relevance of their advice to the overall picture. By their nature, specialists tend to complicate their own fields of activity to the point where they create barriers to entry for newcomers, thus increasing their own market value. This makes it more and more difficult for their advice or their contribution to be evaluated by others.

It is therefore argued that the trend to specialisation has gone far enough. In the words of the late Kenneth Williams specialists “know more and more about less and less and eventually someone will earn their living from knowing everything about nothing!”​

This is indeed one of the many lessons of the banking crisis, where the boards of great banking groups have allowed armies of specialists to develop huge areas of business which are far beyond the understanding and control of the board itself. In the past, the boards of banks had some direct understanding and appreciation of ALL the major risks to their business, but this can never be the case again.​

​To some extent, the same applies to wealthy individuals and families. Their affairs are complex by nature, because they frequently mix the highly sensitive issue of family relationships, succession and inheritance with the ownership of one or more businesses, the management of investment portfolios, property and leisure assets, all overlaid with tax planning and efficient holding structures.

​Complexity is increasing as tax authorities become more aggressive and we live in an increasingly regulated and litigious society. The cost of professional advisers is thus rising at a rate which is simply unsustainable. The complexity of risk means all major decisions are inter-related and it is almost impossible to give sensible advice about one part of a client’s assets, without considering the knock on impact elsewhere.

​In other words, it is now not just desirable, but increasingly essential that all advice on major issues is channelled through someone who really understands the whole picture. Not only is this essential for proper coordination and risk management, it can also help reduce costs as the sophisticated generalist can much better commission, coordinate and evaluate the more detailed advice required from specialists.

​Take, for example, the case of a family which owns a substantial family business, where the cash flow has been under pressure and bank finance hard to come by during the recent crisis. Do they sell investments in a bad market to finance the business or are those investments intended precisely as a nest egg for a rainy day when the company ran into trouble? Furthermore, if you use family investments to support the business, how do you protect the interests of family members not involved in the business?

​Of course, ideally, the wise man and his advisers will anticipate these problems and have put in place structures and governance designed to achieve the right balance of risk and ensure all family members are treated fairly. The wise man will also have looked at the detailed risk correlations between the family business and the investment portfolio, to ensure that the market risks in the business are not replicated in the portfolio and that the potential liquidity needs in a downturn are fully assessed and anticipated, before committing to long-term equity investments.

There are however many other types of risk. Some are ongoing, such as monitoring the success and direction of the business, the performance and calibre of family directors and keeping an eye on family relationships, looking for potential sources of friction which might turn into major disputes, with catastrophic consequences. Then there are the one off occurrences, such as an acquisition of a new business, perhaps financed by significant debt, or a divorce where the ‘in-law’ is chief executive of a family company.​

Increasingly the management of risk means looking at the interrelationship between all aspects of the family finances and of the family itself – segregating risk into different compartments each overseen by a specialist is no longer enough.​

Then there is the matter of ‘strategic vision’. Who helps the family decide where it is heading, what the purpose of the wealth is and what their broad objectives are over the next generation. And again, how to pass on the baton from one generation to the next, ensuring that healthy rivalries in the business or other family concerns (such as a philanthropic foundation) do not spill over into family relationships, or vice versa.​

The notion of resurrecting the Homme d’Affaires is not entirely new. Very rich businessmen have usually found an individual from among their advisers or employees who steps up to the role. Lower down the market, private banks and wealth managers have for a long time been marketing the concept of a trusted adviser (often using the medical analogy of general practitioner), but they have too often undermined their own promotional literature by fielding relationship managers who lack the experience or gravitas for the trusted adviser role and are clearly trained and motivated as salespeople rather than advisers.​

It is one thing to articulate a need and another to meet it. Partly because of the product sales approach of many private banks and wealth managers, there is a massive shortage of people who genuinely merit the Homme d’Affaires title. It is not just a case of re-inventing a role that existed 30 years ago – in a much more complex world, the knowledge and experience requirements to fit this role have expanded dramatically, so they are likely to be outstanding individuals who command a very high price.​

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Quarterly summary and market outlook - April 2019

Disclaimer: This video has been prepared for information only. The opinions and views expressed on any third party are for information purposes only, and are subject to change without notice. It is not intended as promotional material, an offer to sell nor a solicitation to buy investments or services. We do not intend for this information to constitute advice and it should not be relied on as such to enter into a transaction or for any investment decision. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information provided is accurate and up to date, some of the information may be rendered inaccurate in the future due to any changes. © Copyright Stonehage Fleming 2019. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, on any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission. It has been approved for issue by Stonehage Fleming Investment Management Limited, a company authorised and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority and in South Africa by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority. It has also been approved for issue by Stonehage Fleming SA which is regulated in Switzerland by the Association Romande Des Intermédiaires Financiers and Stonehage Fleming Trust Holdings (Jersey) Limited which is regulated by the Jersey Financial Services Commission.

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Defining the Need for a Family Office

Many wealthy individuals, particularly successful entrepreneurs, reach a stage when they might benefit from the services of a family office. Their affairs become so complex and their transactions so numerous that they need an individual or team to keep on top of it all, to handle day to day matters as they arise, conduct necessary research, and brief them on the background when decisions are required.

They may wonder how the service of a family office differs from that of a typical wealth manager? The clue is probably in the name, in that the family office is at least as much focused on the family itself, as it is on the wealth.

FAMILY FOCUSED APPROACH

The ‘family focused’ approach recognises that the long-term preservation of wealth, across generations, is far more dependent on the family itself than on professional advisers and that engaging family members in the purpose and process of stewardship is a crucial ingredient of the service.

Equally, just as the family impacts on the wealth, so the wealth has a deep impact on the family and family members. There is little point in creating and handing on wealth if it does not help those who inherit to have fulfilling as well as prosperous lives.

So part of the reason for a family office is to integrate a plan for the management and administration of wealth with a plan for the family succession, which usually includes collective agreement on the purpose of the wealth and key objectives. It also includes family governance, essentially the framework for decision making, leadership and family communication. This is designed to unite the family in common purpose (as regards assets they collectively own), to help reconcile differences of view and minimise the potential for dispute.

In every family there will be some members who are actively interested in and motivated by the opportunity to manage and create wealth and others for whom wealth is simply a means of funding their lifestyle, thus being more inclined to rely on professional advisers. These differing perspectives need to be reconciled, which can have a major bearing on decisions concerning family assets.

The family office role thus demands deep knowledge and understanding of the family, as well as the assets they own and expertise across all aspects of their affairs, sufficient to contribute to high level decisions. For larger ‘multi-family’ offices, they will also contribute great practical experience drawn from other families going through similar circumstances.

But this is only part of the reason for having a family office.

KEEPING ON TOP OF COMPLEX ARRANGEMENTS

Apart from the significance of the word ‘family’, the other word is ‘office’.

The need for a private office can simply reflect the number and complexity of tasks to be undertaken and decisions to be made, bearing in mind that many of these decisions cannot be taken in isolation, and require the input of someone with detailed understanding of the broader picture.

Many entrepreneurs have numerous investments and ventures, perhaps held through different holding entities, with complex tax issues and sometimes quite sensitive family considerations. There comes a point when it is almost impossible to carry all the necessary background in your head and the need arises for more disciplined and well-structured processes and record keeping, supported by an individual who understands all the issues.

He or she must be able to identify problems, offer opinions and bring a degree of expertise and experience. In some cases, such an individual can become indispensable, allowing the entrepreneur to focus on his or her core activity, without having to worry continually about the details of their financial and family arrangements. Crucially, such an individual also gives peace of mind to those who are concerned by the prospect of an unexpected event leaving their spouse or children with a complex financial situation, of which they have very limited understanding.

THE VALUE LIES IN THE COMBINATION

Overlaying this, some aspects of the arrangements may demand significant professional input and the family office procures such input either from within its own professional staff or from an external firm.

It is this combination of managing family arrangements, providing expert administrative support, and bringing high levels of technical expertise and experience, that make the family office highly valuable and very different from a typical wealth manager.

The precise needs of an individual or family vary enormously, depending on circumstances. For example how large or complicated is the family? What is the mix of assets and how are they held, in which countries? What are the capabilities and objectives of family members and how is this likely to change in the future? To what extent are they primarily looking for administrative support and technical advice or do they also want someone who really contributes to major decisions and long-term strategy / succession?

Only after addressing all these issues is a family able to begin considering what sort of family office they require. The most important decision is whether to have their own dedicated family office (single family office) or to find a so called ‘multi family office’ which operates as a commercial business, serving a number of different families. In some cases a combination of the two may be appropriate.

FUNCTIONS OF A FAMILY OFFICE

The functions of a family office are, by definition, many and varied, to meet the needs and preferences of the particular family:

SOPHISTICATED ADMINISTRATION

A family office always provides extensive administration and reporting, which may require a sophisticated operating platform, depending on the nature of the family assets and structures.

This can cover numerous trusts and companies, bank accounts, investments, commercial ventures, properties, art collections and leisure assets. In many cases, the structures, the assets and the family are spread across a number of different countries, which adds to the complexity and the need for tax and legal advice to be followed meticulously in every movement of assets.

FAMILY GOVERNANCE

The family office will usually have responsibility for operating family governance, ensuring a proper framework for making decisions, arranging and facilitating family meetings, and organising family communications, which will include trustees, directors, and professional advisers, as well as family members. This is far more than an administrative task, as it involves proposing and agreeing the agenda, providing relevant information and analysis, obtaining and interpreting professional advice, prior to the meetings, often helping to resolve differences of view.

ASSET MANAGEMENT

Nearly all family offices are directly responsible for the management of liquid assets, such as cash and investments, although the day to day running of portfolios is often outsourced to professional managers. The investments may include private equity holdings, both directly held and through funds, so it is common for family offices to have an in house private equity or corporate finance team.

THE FAMILY BUSINESS

For those who have a family business, the family office will also play a role in helping to manage the relationship between the family and the business and, in particular, ensuring the interests of all family shareholders and beneficiaries are properly considered, when major decisions are taken.

PROPERTY, ART AND LEISURE ASSETS

Residential and commercial property have always played a central role for most families and the management of art collections has become an increasingly important function as the value of the art has grown. Many families also own boats, aircraft and other leisure assets.

PHILANTHROPY AND IMPACT INVESTING

Recognition of the need to focus more formally on their contribution to society has increased emphasis on philanthropy and impact investing, both of which also play an important role in passing down values from one generation to the next and helping to shape the family culture.

MANAGING TRANSACTIONS

Some families are very active in terms of regular transactions involving commercial ventures, property, art and leisure assets, and their family offices must be equipped to manage these transactions, including appraisals, diligence, structuring and funding.

TAX AND FINANCIAL PLANNING

Overlaying all the above, will be tax planning and coordination of advice, which is an ongoing process, as tax will probably have a bearing on nearly every substantial transaction.

TOTAL RISK MANAGEMENT

A sophisticated family office will operate a framework for risk management across the spectrum of the family’s affairs, including risks arising within the family as well as risks attached to particular assets. In the current environment, there is increasing focus on reputational risk and cyber security.

FAMILY EVENTS AND DISPUTES

They will deal with the implications of all routine family events, such as births, marriages and deaths and may play a key role in the event of family disputes, divorces and other problems. This deep and often sensitive involvement in personal issues means they develop and very close understanding of the family itself, which is extremely helpful in their guardianship of the family wealth.

STRATEGIC REVIEWS AND SUCCESSION PLANNING

Finally, the family office will normally be involved in all strategic reviews and major decisions and may play a leadership or facilitation role. This will nearly always include developing and implementing plans to pass the legacy to the next and subsequent generations, which is arguably the most important component of long-term wealth management.

ADVANTAGES OF SINGLE FAMILY OFFICE

The main advantage of the dedicated, single family office is direct control over the staff, who are entirely focused on the affairs of one family, free from the inevitable conflicts of serving other families or pursuing the corporate objectives of a commercial business (including targets etc). It should therefore be hoped that any advice received is unbiased and that the office will be flexible enough to respond to the changing needs of the family at any given time.

Privacy is also a considerable advantage, with sensitive information confined to the minimum possible number of people, all of whom are directly known to and employed by the family itself. Given concerns about data security this is an important factor for some families.

Finally, the single family office is usually not subject to regulation, which is an increasingly cumbersome and expensive burden for commercial providers.

These advantages can be of great importance to a family, but need to be weighed against the fact that depending on size of assets, they may not have the economies of scale of a commercial operation. In addition, there are a number of other attractions of going down the ‘multi family office’ route, or indeed of finding a compromise between the two.

ADVANTAGES OF MULTI FAMILY OFFICE

In theory, the main advantage of the multi family office (MFO) is that it has the economies of scale, and hence can offer a more sophisticated operating platform, much greater diversity of expertise and invaluable practical experience of other families, addressing similar issues.

The complexities of managing wealth in all its forms have increased dramatically over the last decade and require increasing input from specialist advisers. Having extensive expertise ‘in house’ can thus be much more effective in ensuring the correct advice is always sought and applied. In some cases they can apply the same advice across a number of families, also reducing costs.

For potential clients, the practical experience of other families is among the most attractive features of a multi family office, in that they are usually keen to learn how other families have dealt with similar situations and what lessons have been learnt.

The operating platform is of particular importance for those with diverse assets and holding structures, as it enhances efficiency and enables flexible reporting tailored to particular circumstances.

Finally, a further advantage claimed by MFO’s is that they provide a more attractive career for staff seeking the opportunities of a more commercial environment. They are hence better placed to attract and retain staff of the quality required and less dependent on a single individual.

THE INTERNATIONAL FAMILY OFFICE

Whilst the above advantages can be claimed in theory, the practice is that most MFO’s are quite small boutiques with perhaps only 30 – 50 staff in one or two locations, and a relatively small number of client families. Such ‘boutiques’ are limited in the expertise they can carry and in their international representation. They hence tend to focus on certain types of families with limited needs, some of them, for example, primarily focusing on the management of liquid assets, rather than the broader wealth of the families they serve.

For international families with a wide variety of assets, held through multiple structures, the future must be for larger, more international MFO’s, which can genuinely meet their needs. This means being able to add value across the totality of their affairs, but nearly always working in partnership with other professional advisers.

THE COMPROMISE SOLUTION

In general, the wealthier the family, the more likely they will want their own dedicated family office, especially to deal with more personal family issues. However, it is now common for such families also to use a multi family office, for aspects of their affairs which will benefit from greater economies of scale, access to a broader range of expertise, capabilities in a number of geographies and a more sophisticated operating platform.

CONCLUSIONS

Deciding on the need for a family office service is typically driven by the realisation that day to day management of the family’s affairs is becoming a task which exceeds the capacity of a single individual family leader, without restricting their involvement in other matters (such as running the family business). This often coincides with the wish to begin involving the next generation, which also increases the need for more formal decision making processes and family communication.

The very wealthiest families will nearly always want their own, dedicated family office, but quite frequently combine it with using selected services of a MFO or International Family Office to access its broader range of expertise and operating platform.

For all families, the decision about which type of family office must start with a thorough and frank appraisal of the family’s principal needs. They should think very hard before putting in place an expensive bespoke operation, if they can find a multi or international family office which already has the infrastructure, expertise and experience to meet their needs more effectively.

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Approach

Our approach is rooted in a deep and practical understanding of the family, its wealth and wider circumstances. We help families develop and implement their plans to pass on an enduring legacy.