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Transforming the Family Office for Greater Digital Efficiency

family office
May 22 2018

By Karen Herklotz

From managing trusts to overseeing multiple businesses, investments, and properties, the needs of the family office vary widely. However, one thing family offices have in common is the need to create better efficiencies in the way they manage business assets and communicate with one another. What happens when family members and advisors are accessing critical documents, spreadsheets, and even calendars? Embracing digital technology is one way the family office can create better efficiency.

The Generational Divide

Just as all businesses find themselves mired in the multi-generational workforce, the family office faces the same challenges.  As many as four generations may have a hand in the family enterprise.

Fortunately, advances in technology have made these kinds of connections achievable. We’ve come a long way from the days when telephone calls and email were the only way to communicate.  Digital technology can bridge gaps and help maintain connections among individuals who are separated by lifestyles, personal priorities, or geography.

The explosion of technology has created some real challenges for the family office. Just like any other business endeavor, utilizing digital technology demands a strategic approach. Part of the approach should encompass goals of promoting efficient processes, saving money and maintaining family tranquility. 

Where to Begin?

A good starting point is to take stock of the technological proficiency of individuals within the family business. Senior members might score lower on the technological competency scale and resist embracing new technology. Younger generations, already adept at communicating via social media apps like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and YouTube, might be eager to adopt new digital tools.  Family members of different generations need to be open to trying new technology and also be understanding of how others like to share information.

One potential avenue toward a meeting of the minds is the concept of the reverse mentor. Historically, older mentors educated younger charges. Today, as the title suggests, reverse mentoring is when younger, tech-savvy individuals school older members in technological skills. 

Three Key Considerations

Let’s take a look at three key factors when considering new digital efficiencies:

  • Compatibility
  • Security
  • Upgrades for growth

Compatibility

When new digital technology is adopted, it must be compatible with the enterprise’s existing systems. Seamless transfers of information, files, and documents must become the norm.  It’s not likely that you’ll find one tool that does everything you want, so you’ll need to introduce tools that can work together without interrupting business processes.

Security

Security is of paramount concern. High profile incidences of digital security breakdowns are commonplace.  Cloud storage and mobile access provide excellent ways to connect family members. However, such access can be vulnerable to security breaches. Tap the expertise of an IT professional who can review best practices for keeping your systems – and financial assets – secure.

From an individual standpoint, you’ll need to address the security of both personal monetary assets and personal information.  Family information such as social security numbers, home addresses, and children’s names and schools must be protected as vigorously as monetary assets.

From a business perspective, it’s critical to protect assets. You’ll need to secure proprietary information, including estate plans, trusts and wealth management strategies.

Keep in mind that many security breaches result from the exploitation of vulnerabilities in outdated systems. You need a comprehensive, robust digital plan that will provide the latest technology while keeping the security of your family members front and center.

Upgrades

As your business grows, your technology must be able to grow with it. Your technology should be easy to upgrade. In addition to being skillful enough to accommodate changes in the business quickly, you’ll need to be ready to implement technology that doesn’t yet exist.

Implementation

Depending on the structure of your family office, there are different approaches to successful implementation. Given the nature of your business and the need for your programs to accommodate various generations, try creating a multi-generational task force. Consider carefully who can contribute best to this task force and include both business savvy individuals and younger technology savvy ones.

Do you have existing, internal IT expertise? When looking at the big picture, you may get to the point when you’ll need to hire a chief information officer (CIO) to oversee the implementation of new systems as well as to manage the existing, ongoing IT operations.

Another approach is to subcontract with an IT specialist who is adept at designing and installing a system that meets your business and family needs. A knowledgeable IT person (or team) will be familiar with “off-the-shelf” platforms which can be modified and/or customized to precisely your needs.

Or, you may want to create its own proprietary system, specially designed with your business and family members in mind. Not surprisingly, this would be the costlier approach.

To make the entire process less daunting, keep in mind that it all doesn’t have to happen at once. Many IT transfers or upgrades are implemented in a phased-in approach, which could last months and possibly even a couple of years to full integration.

By engaging a mix of family members and providing more efficient access to actively involved family members – whether they are onsite or need system access from a remote location – you will begin to see the benefits of your digitally transformed family office. To be successful, you must pursue it as strategically as any other business undertaking, and you must create it with consideration for the people for whom it is being constructed.  A financial expert who has a good understanding of the special needs of the family office can help you manage the process of updating your systems with the security you will need.

Questions about strategic planning for your family office? We would be happy to discuss your strategy with you. Contact Goldin Peiser & Peiser at 972-818-5300.

Note: This content is accurate as of the date published above and is subject to change. Please seek professional advice before acting on any matter contained in this article.

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