Family offices see opportunity in wealthy, under-served France
France’s wealthiest citizens were relatively late in creating family offices and some still don’t even know they exist.
That’s according to the country’s Association Francaise du Family Office, a lobby of professionals whose membership has flatlined at about 100 members for the past few years. Yet it sees huge opportunities for expansion, especially outside Paris.
“In many regions, the family office profession isn’t well known at all,” said Yuna Marquis, who represents the organization in western France and heads a multifamily office. “I’ve been surprised to discover some instances of people who don’t have one.”
The group estimates that the 300 richest French clans have more than enough means to benefit from single-family offices and the next 200 or so in wealth rankings could at least opt for shared services to better oversee their fortunes.
France is home to Bernard Arnault, the world’s richest person who founded luxury conglomerate LVMH and is worth $195.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The wealthiest woman, L’Oreal SA heiress Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, is also French.
Family offices have boomed in number worldwide over the past two decades, partly because of surging wealth across tech, finance and real estate. The vehicles, which manage the personal capital of the ultra-rich, are lightly regulated, nimble and can be as public or private as the founder wants.
Yet rich French people were slower to gravitate to the system, especially in regions outside the capital where many entrepreneurs started businesses and remain attached to their historic roots, representatives of the family office group said at an event Thursday.
Arnault got his start in Roubaix, once a powerhouse in the global textile industry. Another French billionaire, Gerard Mulliez, parlayed a single storefront in the same northern town into a sprawling retail empire, while media and telecom titan Vincent Bollore has ties to Brittany.
Wealth in France is spreading to younger generations through succession and the tech industry, said Frederick Crot, president of the Association Francaise du Family Office and head of the investment firm for Philippe Louis-Dreyfus, the chairman of shipping company Louis Dreyfus Armateurs. He sees growing demand for structures that run the whole gamut of wealth management, legal services, and advice on succession and governance.