Whether this article is seen on a newsfeed on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, or whether it is found directly on our website, it is highly likely that there will be a few raised brows. There may be thoughts of ‘isn’t that an obvious question’ or ‘surely people know the answer’.

Well the answer is that, in fact, defining a family office is not quite as straight forward as you may imagine, as the name ‘family office’ appears not only within independent family office businesses but within private banks, trust companies and accounting firms, each offering a very different service but under the same term.

Google answers ‘what is a family office’ by stating – ‘The term family office can refer to a family-controlled investment group, and also the two major terms: single family office or multi-family office. The distinction is important since, despite the similar names, they provide significantly different services.’ – but again, more jargon, what is a single-family office (SFO) and what is a multi-family office (MFO)?

As Philip Marcovici explains perfectly in Tom McCullough and Keith Whitaker’s new book, Wealth of Wisdom,

“The reality is that every wealth-owning family has a family office, regardless of whether they know it or not, and that it is difficult to find any two family offices that are the same. Someone, in every family, is taking care of things that a typical family office would deal with. A family involved in a family business may have the chief financial officer, or whoever is handling the books for the business, also keep an eye on personal investments, perhaps liaising with asset managers, and also paying bills on real estate and otherwise managing private assets the family holds. In effect, the individual involved is the family office, but the function may or may not be managed in a way that is best for the family, depending on how well structured the role of that individual is.”

The more formal family office is one in which a family sets up a single family office – a function put in place just for that family. Here, there is no one model that families adopt, or which is the right one. A senior accountant with the family business coming to retirement might be appointed as the head of the family office function, coordinating the external advisors providing support to the family in relation to assets and succession and asset protection structures. This would be the start of a single family office, the idea being to have someone keeping an eye on things in a coordinated way.”

And so, with a lot of responsibility falling on one individual in many cases, who may or may not have the most independent view and deliver in the way that is best for the family, it would seem like the most sensible thing to do to create a dedicated family office. This, however, comes at a significant cost.

This stance is where a multi-family office can become of interest, which is the type of family office that we are at Sandaire. The idea of this is that services are provided to more than just one family, including other potential clients such as universities, funds and charities.

The services provided by a multi-family office tend to be incredibly broad, meeting the requirements of each family in a tailored and personal way. This being said, the most common services vary from investment management services, consolidated management of all assets and liabilities, taking into account other aspects of a client’s wealth as the entirety does not tend to sit in one location, property advisory services, manager selection, family governance and next generation advice and services and guidance on philanthropic endeavours.

At Sandaire, as a multi-family office, we offer all of these services to our clients and in 2019 will be looking to broaden our offering ensuring that we continue to meet the demands of those families who require a family office for the reasons detailed within this article.

We think it is safe to say that it isn’t such an obvious question after all, with no one answer.