Defining a family office is no easy task, given the wide-ranging variations that exist. Nowadays, private banks, law firms, accounting firms, and trust companies, among others, all offer family office services, further complicating matters.

The truth is, every affluent family essentially has a family office, whether they realize it or not. Within each family, someone is tasked with handling the responsibilities typically undertaken by a family office. In families involved in business enterprises, this may involve the chief financial officer or another individual overseeing both business and personal investments, collaborating with asset managers, managing real estate expenses, and overseeing private assets held by the family. However, the effectiveness of such an arrangement depends on the individual’s expertise and the extent to which their role is properly structured for such a diverse range of tasks.

On the other hand, a more formal family office is explicitly established by a family to cater exclusively to their unique needs. It is worth noting that no two family offices are the same. For instance, the senior accountant of a family business who is nearing retirement may assume the role of the family office head following a liquidity event. In this capacity, they would coordinate external advisors and provide comprehensive support to the family in matters pertaining to assets, structures, and succession. This represents the simplest form of a family office, where someone assumes a coordinating role.

Many families find the cost and management burden associated with a dedicated single family office (SFO) overwhelming. As an alternative, they may consider a multi-family office (MFO) that provides services to multiple families. [1]

This comprehensive overview is a result of collaborative insights from each Wigmore firm, driven by the increasing frequency of inquiries. For more information about the Wigmore Association, please visit our website and feel free to reach out to us.

[1] McCullough, T. and Whitaker, K. (2018). Wealth of Wisdom, p. 313. Sourced, 16 November 2023