What Is A Family Office?
In Plato’s Dialogues, a listener thought he had a handle on what he believed when he met up with Socrates. Then, Socrates confounded him with question after question. At the end of the conversation, the listener wasn’t certain which way was up and Socrates had not even offered an answer. I always felt that the listener should have throttled Socrates for leaving him hanging the way he did.
Many individuals might be left with the same feeling when trying to define what a family office is. At a recent family office conference at Pepperdine University, the Chair of GenSpring Family Offices’ Western Region, Patricia M. Soldano repeated a common saying in the family office industry: Once you’ve seen one family office, you’ve seen ONE family office. The fact is that each family office might perform different services for the family or families it serves depending on the specific needs of the families.
Most definitions of a family office will include the standard wealth management functions. That is, a family office performs centralized management or oversight of investments, tax planning, estate planning, and philanthropic planning. But, if that is all an organization is doing for the families it serves, it seems proper to call the entity a wealth management firm and not a family office.