Morne Patterson — Understanding Family Offices vs Wealth Management

Morne Patterson
9 min readMar 19, 2024

Family offices and wealth management firms are important in guiding the wealthy through the complexities of preserving and growing their wealth across generations. The concept of a family office goes beyond financial advisory, tackling asset management, estate planning, and risk management for one or multiple families. Key motivators for establishing a family office include ensuring the longevity of family wealth, orchestrating smooth wealth transfer, and creating strategies for investment management and entrepreneurial ventures.

As we go into the family office vs wealth management discussion, it’s important to understand their functions and how they cater to different wealth preservation needs. This article provides a comparison, discussing the services each provides, the customisation available to clients, cost considerations, and insights to help wealthy individuals and families make informed decisions when choosing between a family office and wealth management services.

What is a Family Office?

A family office is a private organisation that manages the wealth and personal affairs of ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWI) and their families, often with assets exceeding $10 million. These advisory firms offer a comprehensive suite of services tailored to the intricate financial, legal, and lifestyle needs of their clientele. Here is an overview of the key aspects of family offices:

1. Types of Family Offices:

· Single-Family Office (SFO): Dedicated to serving one family, providing highly customised services. Ideal for families with substantial wealth, SFOs offer privacy, control, and continuity but are more expensive due to their exclusivity.

· Multi-Family Office (MFO): These offices serve multiple families, which allows for cost savings through economies of scale. While they offer comprehensive services, families may have less control compared to SFOs.

2. Services Provided:

· A family office’s services span beyond traditional wealth management to include estate planning, tax strategy, investment administration, governance consulting and philanthropy.

· They also handle day-to-day accounting, property and staff management, legal affairs, and investor education, emphasising the importance of generational wealth management and transition.

3. Operational Structure:

· Family offices require a multidisciplinary team of professionals such as tax advisors, lawyers, and wealth managers to provide a holistic approach to managing wealth according to the family’s preferences and long-term goals.

· They operate independently, ensuring services are tailored without conflicts of interest, often resulting in a higher cost structure due to their personalised approach.

Family offices represent a bespoke solution for managing the complexities of significant wealth, focusing on the prosperity, privacy, and perpetuity of family assets while fostering family unity and providing growth strategies for future generations.

What is a Wealth Advisor?

Wealth advisors, often termed wealth management advisors, cater to high-net-worth individuals, offering a spectrum of services to manage assets and plan for the future. Their role is multifaceted, encompassing:

· Investment Management: Wealth advisors assess clients’ risk tolerance and devise investment strategies to achieve financial goals.

· Holistic Financial Planning: They consider all financial aspects, including retirement, tax, and estate planning, to provide comprehensive advice.

· Tax and Estate Strategy: Coordinating with legal and tax professionals, wealth advisors help minimise tax liabilities and ensure estate plans align with clients’ wishes.

· Real Estate and Philanthropy: They offer guidance on managing real estate portfolios and advise on charitable giving.

Wealth management services are accessible to a broader clientele, not just the ultra-affluent, making it a viable option for individuals with diverse economic backgrounds. The services they offer include:

1. Investment Advisory: Tailoring investment strategies to fit clients’ financial needs and goals.

2. Financial Planning: Providing a roadmap for achieving financial objectives, considering factors like income, expenses, and life events.

3. Tax Planning: Developing strategies to effectively manage and reduce tax impacts.

4. Estate Planning: Assisting with the creation of wills, trusts, and other mechanisms for wealth transfer.

Wealth managers may operate within small-scale businesses or large firms, often holding advanced certifications and focusing on building strong, trust-based relationships with clients. They actively involve clients in the decision-making process, ensuring strategies align with personal values and aspirations. With a team of experts, wealth managers provide advice across various fields, coordinating input from outside financial experts to craft optimal strategies. Generally, individuals with $250,000 in investable assets may find their financial situations benefit from wealth management services.

Differences in Services Offered

When comparing the services offered by family offices and wealth management firms, it’s essential to understand the breadth and depth of services each provides to their respective clienteles:

· Personalised Services:

· Family offices are known for their high level of personal attention, establishing trust and a positive relationship with the family.

· Wealth management services, while also personalised, cater to a broader market including high net worth individuals, mass affluent, and retail investors.

· Scope of Services:

· Family offices offer comprehensive services beyond financial management, such as lifestyle management, expense management, family governance, financial education, and philanthropic investment.

· In contrast, wealth management services are more standardised, focusing primarily on financial and investment planning, tax planning, retirement planning, and estate planning.

· Investment Opportunities:

· The investment scope of family offices is broader, providing tailored investment plans and a wider range of investment opportunities.

· Wealth managers typically offer pre-existing investment plans with limited options.

· Operational Independence:

· Family offices often boast a higher degree of independence, being privately owned and operated, thus aligning recommendations exclusively with the family’s goals and values.

· Wealth management services might operate within larger financial institutions, which could lead to potential conflicts of interest.

· Clientele Focus:

· Family offices primarily serve ultra-high net worth individuals and their families, offering highly customised and personalised services.

· Wealth management is designed for a broader audience, from high net worth individuals to those with less wealth.

The differences in services offered by family offices and wealth management firms highlight the tailored, comprehensive approach of family offices compared to the more standardised financial focus of wealth management services.

Clientele and Customisation

· Clientele Focus and Customisation Needs:

· Family offices cater exclusively to UHNWIs and their families, tailoring services to the unique needs of each family, including legacy planning and private trust management.

· Wealth management firms serve a more diverse clientele, ranging from high-net-worth to mass-affluent individuals, with services typically standardised to meet the needs of a broader audience.

· Customisation of Services:

· The level of customisation in a family office is typically higher, with services that may include personal education for family members, managing household staff, and custom travel arrangements.

· Wealth advisors provide customisation within the scope of financial services, focusing on personalised investment strategies and financial planning.

· Client-Advisor Relationship:

· In family offices, the relationship is deeply personal, often extending beyond financial advice to include life management and family governance, fostering long-term, intergenerational relationships.

· The wealth advisor-client relationship is primarily financial, with advisors often managing relationships with a larger number of clients, which can impact the level of personalised attention given to each.

Cost Considerations

When examining the financial implications of choosing between a family office and wealth management services, the cost structures reflect the scope and scale of the services provided:

· Family Office Expenses:

· Families with assets totaling $100 million may expect to pay between $1 million and $2 million annually for a family office, equating to about 1–2% of the family’s wealth each year.

· These costs are attributed to the need for a full-fledged professional team, including lawyers, insurance and investment experts, estate, business, and tax consultants, which is necessary to manage the complex needs of ultra-high-net-worth individuals.

· The high level of customisation and personalised services offered by family offices justifies their more significant expense.

· Wealth Management Fees:

· Fee structures for wealth advisors can vary. Fee-only or flat-fee advisors may charge between $7,500 and $55,000 per year, while percentage-based fees generally range from 0.6% to 1.2% of the assets under management.

· Additional compensation models include fee-based advisors earning a mix of fees plus commissions, and commission-based advisors who are compensated through the sale of investment products.

Comparing the two, family offices are generally more expensive due to their high-touch, comprehensive service model and are designed for clients with significant financial needs. In contrast, wealth management services are more affordable and cater to clients from varied economic backgrounds, with fees lowered due to standardisation and a broader client base.

Making the Choice

When navigating the decision between a family office and wealth management, it is critical to align the choice with the family’s specific financial needs and long-term objectives. Here are key considerations to guide the decision-making process:

· Assessing Family Goals and Complexity:

· If the primary aim is to preserve wealth for future generations and manage a complex array of assets, a family office may be the most appropriate choice.

· Should there be intricate personal matters intertwined with the family’s finances or a substantial wealth transfer is anticipated, a family office could provide the necessary comprehensive services.

· Evaluating Service Range and Customisation:

· Examine the variety of services each option provides. A family office often offers a broader range, including non-financial services, which might be essential for some families.

· For families whose financial affairs have become too complex or time-consuming, the extensive services of a family office might be more beneficial.

· Selecting a Wealth Advisor:

· Investigate potential wealth advisors thoroughly, considering their experience, background, and the services they offer.

· Verify their credentials, such as Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), or Personal Financial Specialist (PFS), and check their standing with professional certifying organisations.

· Consider affordability and ask pertinent questions to ensure their fee structure aligns with your financial capabilities.

The ultimate choice should reflect a balance between the family’s unique needs and the level of personalised service desired, weighed against the costs involved. Whether opting for the exclusivity of a family office or the broader accessibility of wealth management, due diligence is paramount to foster a beneficial financial advisory relationship.

Conclusion

Throughout this exploration of family offices and wealth management, we have dissected the nuances that differentiate these vital financial services, addressing the comprehensive and highly tailored approach of family offices in contrast to the broader, yet personalised, scope of wealth management. These insights underscore the importance of aligning service selection with the complexities of one’s wealth, the personalisation desired, and the implications on long-term financial goals. Considering these factors is paramount to ensure you entrust your wealth to services that resonate not only with your current financial situation but also with your aspirations for the future.

As we conclude, it is clear that the journey to secure family prosperity and achieve financial serenity is an intricate one, one that necessitates thoughtful decision-making. If your circumstances align with the refined services of a family office or the tailored strategies of wealth management — take action to safeguard and grow your legacy. Choose a path that harmonises with your unique needs, leveraging the expertise that best serves you and your family’s financial aspirations and heritage..

FAQs

What is the threshold of wealth needed to establish a family office?A family office is essentially a private organisation dedicated to managing the investments and wealth of affluent families, usually requiring at least $5–10 million in investable assets. The primary purpose of a family office is to enhance and preserve wealth across multiple generations.

How does comprehensive wealth management work?Comprehensive wealth management involves creating and following a detailed plan for your financial future, along with an investment strategy that supports this plan. The goal is to help you achieve your financial objectives.

When is it advisable for someone to consider a family office?A family office becomes a viable option when an individual or family possesses a substantial amount of wealth. Although there’s no strict rule, the consensus in the wealth management industry is that a family office is suitable for those with a net worth of at least $10 million.

How does a family office differ from a personal investment company?The main distinction between a family office and a personal investment company lies in their investment horizons and objectives. Traditional investment firms tend to focus on short-term quarterly results, often buying and selling assets based on their immediate performance. In contrast, family offices take a long-term view, planning for generational wealth and may retain assets that have potential for future growth despite short-term underperformance.

--

--

Morne Patterson

Morne Patterson is a positive, driven individual and considers himself to have good leadership skills. Visit:- https://mornepatterson.co.za