I have never met a bored family office executive. In fact, quite the opposite. Most family office executives, especially the good ones, are most often tired, harried, and haggard. Like most professionals, they are often quick in becoming a victim of their own success. The more they show the family that they are capable of doing, the more quickly that becomes the norm. So, in light of the time pressures that family offices operate on, I wanted to offer five non-obvious, but highly important questions that should be considered for a de novo or existing family office in how it manages its work.
First – How do you say yes or no?
If the whole family is the client, an issue can arise of defining what is in-scope and what is out-scope for the family office to do for family members. Being able to clearly, quickly, and consistently articulate to the family what you can and cannot provide in terms of services is important. Knowing where that line is also speaks to the family’s governance system and would be a key line of questioning for any potential family office employee to explore.
Second – What is your CRM Process and Software?
CRM or customer relationship management software has become de rigueur for sales professionals across industries. For family offices dealing with a broad number of family members (i.e. any more than 2), keeping track of client interactions, information being shared, re-occurring needs, etc pose a workflow management challenge that the family office must be prepared to face. A well structured CRM system, and accompanying processes, can help ensure that things do not fall through the cracks.
Third – What is your management system and project management software?
Management systems are very much en vogue at the moment, and rightfully so. If there is a common adjective to describe business in the current climate, it could easily be “busyness.” Companies are learning that they have to manage the on-going busyness of their existing workflow, as well as keep an eye on strategic priorities necessary for the continued evolution and success of the enterprise – family offices are no different.
In the face of busyness and complexity are emerging tools like The Four Disciplines of Execution (4DX), Scrum, or Agile development. Originally coming out of the software engineering world (where projects can easily run long and over budget), those 3 are important frameworks in a world of rapid change and shifting priorities.
As you consider how to manage the work of the office, I would highly recommend The Four Disciplines of Execution and Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time to spark creativity about beginning to structure and manage the FO’s workflow.
Fourth – How well known will you be?
Family offices have wide-ranging views on privacy. Some almost do not exist publicly – no websites, LinkedIn presences etc. Others are as easily discoverable as a reputable wealth management firm in the area. Regardless of the choice, having a consistent and articulated policy will be key. I often see family offices that want to be private easily found online with just a few Google searches. An online presence audit may be a good idea.
Fifth – Who is the boss?
Knowing where the buck stops is key. Is it a patriarch or matriarch? A Board? A family council? Working for a family office is consolidating your career risk with a single client – it is important to have a keen sense of who that client is. Importantly, FO executives need to understand where potential conflicts of interest are. If the entire Family is functionally the client, but the governance system allows a single person to remove you from your position – then it has become very clear “whose bread you eat, and whose song you will sing” to modify a common trope.
2020 has already been a year of tremendous change in how offices work with virtual options increasingly commonplace. In that window of change, these 5 questions may spark the ‘meta’ level discussion necessary to drive the office to higher levels of performance when the world eventually returns to normal.