In the business world, enthusiasm has waned slightly throughout 2020 as “Zoom fatigue” became common. While video conferencing has helped companies continue to operate as they work from home, over time, people are missing the personal connection that comes from face-to-face communication with their network.
For wealthy families, however, there has been renewed excitement for video-conferencing.
For example, some families and their advisors try to come together once a year to discuss strategy, investments, succession, next-gen affairs, philanthropy and generally take stock of thing.
Even in a typical year, it isn’t easy to organise a meeting so that everyone is present. It is especially challenging to bring families together who live in different countries, as is increasingly the norm.
As a result of video conferencing, however, whole families have recognised that they can be present at that yearly family meeting via video.
We have heard of several cases of everyone in the family coming together at a yearly family meeting for the very first time.
The pandemic has also brought forward the next generation, who have become more involved in the operational side of the family office structure
In-person family meetings are always best. That said, there’s a new understanding that video can be a very viable alternative to ensure everyone gets together if that is a priority for the family.
Both families and their advisors are likely to see this as a very positive trend.
Family offices have always used an element of tech, with most led by an investment need. However, up until recently, communication and execution tech has been less visible, with family offices relapsing to good old wet signatures to finalise discussions.
The pandemic has now changed the way non-financial assets are now stewarded, with families aware they need to consider alternative ways to communicate instructions to asset administrators and international trustees.
We have seen an explosion in the use of Zoom, Blue Jeans, Webex and other communication platforms. Informal practices have followed – regular smart casual meetings and the occasional less smart ones.
Screen-based interactions mean families are able to put a face to the team of dedicated administrators who manage their affairs and perhaps travel less than senior relationship teams. The meetings reinforced the character behind the letterhead and the speed at which a family could gain an answer to a burning question.
This was very exciting in the early days and although, towards the end of 2020, the novelty of tech slowly dwindled, it has developed exponentially in terms of its execution capability.
The pandemic has also brought forward the next generation, who have become more involved in the operational side of the family office structure.
By their generational capacity to easily manage and leverage technologies to improve operations, digital natives have been key to family office transformation. They are increasingly keen to convince patriarchs and matriarchs of the need to build a solid, digitally focused infrastructure and committed to transforming some of the well-established family office processes and models.
Elsewhere, execution tech in the form of DocuSign has kept transactions moving and Trustees and administrators with good in house tech teams have been well-positioned to roll it out in the early part of the pandemic, as part of their disaster recovery plan. Home working and the portability of the business infrastructure has helped businesses get everyone back online and working with minimal downtime.
A good trustee is one who can react quickly to the challenges that families face in times of worry and uncertainty. And their reaction has been ahead of expectations.
Charlotte Murtagh, head of private office at Zedra