Lex van Dam
ViewPoint

Family offices are tired of conferences – something else is needed

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Conferences play a central role in the family office world and I should know, I have attended most if not all of them. 

The reason I participate is that I am paid to source high-quality investments either direct or in funds for my principals, and hope to find investment opportunities or like-minded investors at these events. 

It is just very hard to know who is a legitimate single-family office looking to meet peers, and who is actually looking for clients

Most of the higher quality organizers are doing a pretty decent job overall. The main issue for me though is that they tend to have too many sponsors, the agenda is too broad and there are too many service providers present. 

Often this leads to biased deal flow, or a too broadly based agenda including yet another opinion on family office governance, endless thematic blabla without an actual opportunity at the end, another chat on succession and next-gen issues. And of course the longer the list of delegates, the more the sponsors pay… 

This might be good content for some but it is of no relevance to my day job, or I believe of most of my peers. And when I say peers I mean other single-family offices that are professionally run, following a proper investment process which goes from sourcing, due diligence, structuring, and managing the investment all the way to a possible eventual exit. 

That brings me to another issue of most conferences, it is just very hard to know who is a legitimate single-family office looking to meet peers, and who is actually looking for clients. 

I might spend hours talking to someone who then ultimately is just another salesperson looking to manage other family office’s assets. 

I have nothing against salespeople doing their job, but I don’t want to feel mislead and I just want to meet my peers!  

I recently hosted breakfast for eight single-family offices. We started chatting about opportunities we were looking at right then. 

At some point, someone mentioned a deal he found interesting about a security company in the US. Someone else said: “Guys, I saw this exact same deal a month ago.” People started laughing, and then someone else said: “I saw it six months ago….”

Each of them was being pitched the same idea by the same salesperson at different times.  And this goes on all the time, we all see the same companies, the same funds, and the same brokers. There is so much experience, and expertise in our network it is incredible, all the way back to the operating companies which often were the source of the wealth. 

If we were to work together and coordinate between us as single-family offices we would save a lot of time, and money, and probably do some interesting new investments we otherwise would have missed. 

We set up SFO Alliance to cut through all this. It is a private club for family offices who want to meet, physically or virtually, to discuss the quality of deals on offer. 

There might be a company in town and one of our members would like to see who else has experience or expertise in this field, the Alliance can then bring a small group of interested parties together. 

Or someone has invested in fund I and II of a private equity fund that they rate very highly and would like to introduce them to other families for their fund III, again we can organize a meeting with like-minded members. Or as we discussed in one of our recent new member webinars some people like to know more about what credit fund to invest in while some members have already met over 20 funds and would be very happy to share their work. Or life settlements, or student housing, I can go on for a long time!

We have a board to vet the individuals who want to join the circle. If despite this someone inappropriate would get through this process other members will make us aware and the membership revoked. We are a curated network with curated live deal flow.  

We want our members, and no one else, to control the information exchange.

Membership is free, we are not aiming to make a profit from the network, and our basic costs are paid for by our content partners who provide educational content to our members and who support us in our mission. This educational content will be clearly marked and everything is purely on an opt-in basis. There’s zero pressure to attend any meeting or event. 

All I personally want out of this network is to meet my peers and to talk about possible investments in stocks, bonds, real estate, private markets, and uncorrelated special opportunities, either directly or through funds. We have over 40 members in two months so I believe I am not the only one.

And as a last note, I continue to be happy to attend other conferences, there is a definite place for them, however, I feel that the SFO Alliance is a great addition and fills a large gap in the market.

Lex van Dam is a director at Rinkelberg Capital, a London-based single-family office. He previously worked as a trader at Goldman Sachs and as a hedge fund manager at GLG Partners. He has been at  Rinkelberg for the past 15 years most recently responsible for deal sourcing

4 Comments

  1. My institute at the University of St. Gallen used to organize a Family Office Forum for family offices located in Switzerland but the challenge was that most family officers lack interest in attending such a conference.

    Even though it was purely organized by the university and there were no other sponsors or service providers, family officers were not particularly keen on sharing their experiences and investment strategy.

    I wonder if this is due to the cultural difference between countries and regions.

  2. I like the approach, since there is a wide range in quality at conferences. A number of family offices, including the family office that backs us – already have a few other families who operate in an investment ‘bubble’. If this facilitates the same, then it can be very worthwhile.

  3. There are a few challenges with what I’ve read here. I think the first is that very few large single-family offices attend conferences for a few reasons, one is there really isn’t a great deal of value for any family office to attend. What value or unique info are conferences presenting to an entity that already has a high level of resources? Zero.

    Many of these events try to use deal flow and networking as their major hook which are two things that sophisticated family offices don’t have issues with. As far as a digital solution is good there’s already quite a few of these forums and bubbles online. The challenges for this type of approach is to achieve scalability because there’s a trust factor that will never be overcome digitally. There’s possibly a technology solution to introductions and contacts but when it comes to actual deal flow and transparency around opportunities and diligence the outlook is not good. Ask for many reasons.

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