Family offices - better watch out for vermögen

Photo by Thinglass/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Thinglass/iStock / Getty Images

Do family offices have a bigger role to play in society than just managing the money affairs of very rich families? Yes, says a renowned social commentator and academic. In fact, they should be obliged to do so.

Family offices advice and their actions are not only a guide for the future of the family and business, but to the future of our society
— Dr Thomas Druyen

Thomas Druyen, a German sociologist working at the Sigmund Freud University in Vienna, reckons family offices will become more prominent in shaping society in the future, despite the fact that very few people have heard of them. “Their (family offices) advice and their actions are not only a guide for the future of the family and business, but to the future of our society,” he said in a recent article for a German newspaper.

Druyen’s most famous idea is linked to the German word vermögen, which has no direct translation in English, but is to do with the ethics of wealth, and not just the material form of wealth. From vermögen, Druyen coined the phrase vermögenskultur, which is the culture of vermögen. He argues that those with wealth - material and immaterial, or vermögen - are obliged to actively participate in shaping the future of society.

His thinking takes the social dimension of wealth a step further than the rich just having an interest in philanthropy, which is considered desirable, but not obligational. But, says Druyen, it should be obligational.

Might Druyen’s thinking on vermögen be an argument for greater transparency in the affairs of family offices? Druyen doesn’t say anything about this. But, given the role they will play in the future of society, and the vast wealth they manage, family offices are likely to have to open up more in the years ahead.