The family office event model is broken. With a few notable exceptions, like the Chicago-based Family Office Exchange and the wonderfully elusive Club B, family office events are a minefield of broken promises and dodgy presentations. They range from being terrible to, at best, just about good enough.
In large part, this is because they don’t provide families with what they want, which is an opportunity to meet their peers and hear from thought leaders on investment and governance issues.
Here are five ways to correct the problem:
Genuine families first
Family office events almost always degenerate into wealth management events, often dominated by salespeople. Putting genuine families first means developing a programme of events and services which is driven by the families, for the families. It also means a strict policy of accepting only principals and executives of genuine family offices by invitation only.
No paid-for speaking slots
Sponsors help pay for events, dinners, lunches and receptions – and that’s great. But if you are restricted to speakers who have paid for their slots, or your programme is dominated by them, then your short-changing your audience. This doesn’t necessarily mean no sponsors, but it does mean content can’t be bought and sold.
Speakers chosen on merit
The corollary of the above is that speakers should be chosen on merit. In fact, sometimes you may even pay speakers to attend. Family office principals and managers are busy people so they should hear from the best in the world.
It’s difficult, but not impossible, to see how a commercial organisation can organize the best events. They need to pack the room to impress sponsors and they need to maximize their profits, but both lead to a drop in quality. This suggests a consortium of families, or at least a very heavily family focused organisation, is the only one placed to achieve this.
“If you’re not paying for it, you become the product” so the saying goes. This is definitely true of family office events. Families and offices should fund the best events. Limiting the numbers to the genuine players and speakers to non-sponsors leads to the inevitable conclusion that families should pay.
This may prove the biggest challenge to fixing the model. Families are used to getting events for free, meaning they don’t budget to pay, and they have rightly become cynical about the over-commercialised events of the past. Nevertheless, there isn’t a better way of getting control over the agenda.
The time is right for a Global Membership Club for family offices.
Keith Johnston is CEO of the Family Office Council, a membership group for single-family offices