Family office decision
Determining what’s right for your family
Regardless of your background, source of wealth or family dynamics, managing significant wealth presents a wide range of unique opportunities and challenges. Making the most of your situation and supporting a strong legacy can require significant focus and resources.
Your Bank of America Private Bank family office relationship
Family offices are specifically designed to serve the unique needs of families with significant wealth. They can take many forms, and their structure and capabilities are often a reflection of the specific priorities and goals of the families they serve.
Determining whether a family office is right for you
Family offices can offer wealth and legacy planning advantages over more traditional forms of wealth management.
- Family governance structure: Family offices can provide a formal governance structure that helps families navigate difficult financial decisions. They are designed to provide transparency and a decision-making hierarchy that helps avoid conflicts during times of stress and change. While a family business or foundation can provide some level of structure, it is generally less comprehensive than that of a family office.
- Alignment of interests and centralized planning: In traditional wealth management relationships, there may be multiple advisors working with multiple family members. This can lead to contradictory wealth planning approaches and unintended risk. Family offices seek to avoid these pitfalls by taking a family’s holistic wealth picture into account and streamlining objectives so they align with family members’ collective desires and mission.
- Customization: A family office can offer a much greater degree of customization than other forms of wealth planning. Governance, investing, estate planning, philanthropy, business interests and other wealth considerations can be coordinated according to the family’s specific preferences and priorities. An office may leverage a diverse range of professionals with deep expertise in different specialty areas, allowing them to collectively help a family achieve its investment, estate planning, philanthropic and lifestyle goals.
Determining The Right Structure
Your preferences for control, confidentiality and cost may help you evaluate which type of family office structure may be best for you and your family.
Two Basic Family Office Types
- Dedicated to one family, although it often supports multiple households and generations within that family.
- Single-family offices can often be more expensive and may require a more hands-on approach. However, they can offer much more flexibility and customization.
- An office that manages the wealth of a variety of families.
- A variation of this type is the Multi-Client Family
Office, which has a lead family that takes on additional families to
defray costs. Most often, the lead family is much wealthier than the
additional families, although in some instances they are several
families who were partners in a business and therefore closer to the
What degree of control do you want over the family office? How centralized should that control be? Who should make family office employment decisions?
A single-family office can offer the greatest degree of control. It allows you to handpick employees and determine other essential aspects of operations. Due to the shared nature of responsibilities in a multifamily office, control is often less centralized within a single family or decision maker. If you decide that a multifamily office makes sense, consider how decision making is shared among families and how well aligned your priorities and areas of focus are with theirs.
How important are privacy and confidentiality? How important is security? Do you have confidentiality concerns with a multifamily office?
Although there are exceptions, a single-family office employed by actual family members is typically considered a more private and confidential structure than a larger multifamily office or institutional provider, which has a larger staff and serves multiple families. However, information control and confidentiality are only as good as the employment contracts, policies and procedures utilized. For example, many institutional providers have compliance and regulatory frameworks and employee policy safeguards in place to uphold confidentiality.
Security, and specifically cybersecurity, is another important consideration. Larger multifamily offices or institutional providers can usually dedicate more resources to security than smaller family offices can, though maintaining the confidentiality of information can be a bigger challenge with more employees.
How much are you willing to spend? For what services are you willing to pay more or less? How much time and energy do you have to devote to the office?
It’s no secret that having a family office can be an expensive endeavor. The staffing, IT, operational, and regulatory and compliance reporting costs can be high, not to mention the amount of time you may need to devote to it. It can easily cost $1 million to $2 million a year depending on the services provided and the structure. A multifamily office can be less expensive than a single-family office because the resources and operations are shared.
In thinking about what you’re willing to pay, it’s important to consider what services and capabilities are most important to you. If, for example, investment objectives or philanthropy are particularly important, you may be willing to pay more for much more personalized services in those areas. Outsourcing some services can be a way to help lower the cost.
The decision on whether and how to outsource family office activities is not just a financial one. Issues related to operating risk as well as privacy come into play. Additionally, the degree of family involvement and preferences will affect such decisions. Here are some ways to look at designing your outsourcing strategy:
What functions are most critical to your family office? As an example, families with significant tax, accounting and investment complexity will need a state-of-the-art information system requiring a strong IT individual and professional staff to operate it. Alternatively, they may not wish to maintain a dedicated staff given the risk of inadequate backup resources and potential difficulties when quickly restaffing critical positions.
Technologies change rapidly, and family offices will eventually face the decision to either reinvest in existing systems or purchase new ones. This approach should be evaluated against outsourcing your technology to a provider that will reinvest and update its platform, or having the ability to change outside technology providers to enhance your operations.
Typical family office functions
- Business Oversight: Manage real estate, private business interests and family partnerships.
- Portfolio Management: Develop investment policies, oversee advisors and monitor performance and risk
- Personal Risk Management: Plan and review insurance policies, health care, long-term care and debt strategies
- Integrated Planning: Develop wealth transfer, income tax and asset protection strategies
- Charitable giving : Establish and oversee charitable vehicles, tax reporting and IRS compliance
- Financial Administration: Manage portfolio aggregation, the general ledger, banking and payroll.
- Fiduciary Management: Oversee record keeping, tax reporting and various trustees
- Family Governance: Establish a family office board, advisory council, legacy plans and wealth education plans
Privacy and control
Some family offices wish to retain certain functions for privacy and control reasons. As an example, they may like to control their own checkbook and therefore wish to pay bills internally. Others are content to outsource their bill pay activity to a provider that has strong operating controls and reporting routines.
While some family offices employ a chief investment officer, most outsource the actual management of their funds. This decision is not based on costs; many investors enjoy the diversity of opinions they receive from external advisors. Also, many external investment firms have significant resources devoted to monitoring investments and managers.
Sometimes the key factor is how family members wish to be engaged in running the family office. For example, family members with tax planning or investing skills may enjoy taking an active role in managing these activities. Family members with real estate or private equity capabilities may play a leading role and guide the family office with these investments. The same is true for family members who are estate planning and tax attorneys or CPAs.
Personalizing your family office services
There is significant flexibility in how a family office manages wealth and operates, and you should build or find an office that reflects what’s most important to you and your family. Taking time to consider your mission and how you want to use your wealth can help ensure alignment between capabilities and your goals.
Investment strategy and management
How much control do you want to have over implementation? How customized should the investment strategy be?
Some investors prefer to maximize return on investment, while others seek to sustain steady wealth for as long as possible over many generations. Consider your investing priorities and whether investment strategy and management are important to you. If they are, you may have preferences on how the portfolio is structured or what types of assets should be included (for example, you may prefer they manage a physical real estate portfolio instead of investing in real estate equities). You may also want to employ a chief investment officer (CIO), engage tactical advisors for specific asset classes, or fully outsource investment management to an external CIO or investment advisor.
Wealth & estate planning
How important is it that you transfer wealth to future generations? How important to you is tax-efficient wealth transfer? Is there a business that may be sold or transferred?
Taxes can have a significant impact on the transfer of wealth, especially when there is a business sale or transfer involved. If you have a business or are generally concerned about succession and multigenerational estate planning, consider using a business or estate planning specialist who can help you identify appropriate wealth transfer strategies designed to reduce the impact of taxes and support your long-term legacy plans.
How important is philanthropy to your wealth management and distribution mission? Would using a giving vehicle such as a private foundation, donor-advised fund or charitable trust help you more effectively formalize your philanthropic strategy?
If philanthropy is core to your family’s values, you may prefer a family office with in-house specialized expertise in that area. Some families that are considering or have already created a giving vehicle, such as a foundation, choose to bring it under the family office umbrella. If you are interested in effective, efficient and impactful giving, you may want to have an advisor who has specific expertise in that area.
Should the office provide wealth education programs for future generations? How customized should those programs be?
Some families consider education to be a critical role of the family office. Offices can offer sessions to further the financial literacy of future generations. If this is important to you, consider implementing a financial literacy program or including an advisor on the team who can help develop customized lessons for younger family members.
How much reporting detail do you need, and how frequently do you need it?
In-house reporting can be more confidential and secure, but it can be very expensive and is often less flexible or customizable than an outsourced solution. Some families want the ability to aggregate reporting across multiple custodians or want cash flow and balance sheet reporting in addition to basic holdings and performance information, which can also be more expensive. You should talk to a family office advisor who can help you determine your reporting requirements and how to balance cost and complexity in finding the right solution.
Do administrative services require daily monitoring? What is the scope of the services they must support?
Consider the breadth of back-office solutions the family office will need to accommodate. This may include supporting legal, public relations or other professional services.
Navigating the Family Office Decision
Family Office Benefits
To what degree do you value…
- Structured family governance?
- Alignment of family interests and wealth plans?
- Customized wealth planning solutions?
Family Office Structural Considerations
- What is the desired degree of control?
- How private and confidential must it be?
- What level of expertise and staffing do you want to maintain directly?
- How much are you willing to spend?
- What supports/expertise do you want to rely upon from outside providers?
Personalization of Services
- What range of services and supports does your family require?
- How customized should the investment strategy be?
- How should future generations be educated about wealth?
- How important is philanthropy to your mission?
- How detailed and frequent must the reporting be?
- Is there a business that may be sold or transferred?
- What is the scope of the administrative functions?
Your Customized Family Office
Taking the Next Steps
Bank of America Private Bank has a long-standing history of providing family office consulting, advisory services, administrative and operational support, and guidance to wealthy families. Regardless of your goals and circumstances, we can help you navigate the various decisions related to setting up or joining a family office and connect you to the resources that best fit your needs.
The Chief Investment Office (CIO) provides thought leadership on wealth management, investment strategy and global markets; portfolio management solutions; due diligence; and solutions oversight and data analytics. CIO viewpoints are developed for Bank of America Private Bank, a division of Bank of America, N.A., (“Bank of America”) and Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated (“MLPF&S” or “Merrill”), a registered broker-dealer, registered investment adviser and a wholly owned subsidiary of Bank of America Corporation (“BofA Corp.”).