How to tell if a family office conference is worth it
In-person family office conferences are making a comeback post-COVID — and family office professionals have become more discerning in which ones they attend. The best events are prized for their content-rich panels and global networking opportunities; the worst drop family office professionals into a shark tank filled with service providers.
“People are working harder, so everyone is trying to find a kind of equilibrium. They don’t want to stand around cocktail parties and see how many business cards they can collect,” said Steve Prostano, a partner and head of family advisory services at PKF O’Connor Davies. “These days, it’s much more about adding value to their lives.”
A majority of Greg Friedman’s clients — “typically the investment professionals, not the family principals” — will attend conferences that are geared toward family offices. “They range in quality,” said Friedman, chairman and managing director of Greycourt, a family office advisory firm. “And by quality, I mean the quality of the speakers, the quality of the topics and the perspective on marketing, which is a big one.”
Friedman thinks the importance of attending conferences depends on how experienced attendees are in the world of family management. “Maybe it’s someone who was the treasurer at the founding corporation but is now running a family office,” he said. “A good conference will include information on the investment side, the legal side, the tax side, educational materials that can be quite valuable because they’re learning.”
But for families who have been at it for a while, Friedman said, “The information conveyed at these conferences is, in my opinion, not highly useful.”
Understanding the mission and purpose of the group running a conference is the key factor in determining its practicality, Prostano said. Taking a look at the membership of that group can also offer some clues.
“Who is the organization targeting? And who are the attendees going to be at that conference?” said Prostano. “A family office should really assess what are the needs or the challenges they’re facing and then look at the agenda and see whether the content that’s going to be provided is really going to address those needs.”
TREND TOWARD TRANSPARENCY
For decades, family offices kept a low profile and prided themselves on their discretion. The thinking was that managing a family’s wealth was a uniquely private affair.
“Historically, family offices were confidential and sometimes clandestine,” said Steven Saltzstein, founder and CEO of Force Family Office, a firm that hosts events for its network of family offices. “But the more family offices become institutionalized, they’re realizing it just makes more sense to be out in the open so they can talk to other family offices about investment opportunities, talk to the sell side about funding, co-investment opportunities, or just speak with operators of companies they may want to buy.”
The new openness in the industry is in part due the recent surge in the sheer number and valuation of family offices. There were 7,300 global family offices in the second quarter of 2019, a 38% increase over the previous two years, per a Mordor Intelligence survey. According to Arizton, the global family office market was valued at $14.87 billion in 2021 and is estimated to increase to $21.11 billion by the end of 2023.
“There are just so many more single-family offices and multifamily offices,” said Saltzstein. “I think their goals in attending conferences are to do kind of a sector check, to share deal flow, to meet new family offices and create new co-investment relationships.”
PEER-TO-PEER INTELLECTUAL EXCHANGE
Greycourt’s Bernstein agrees that family offices have become a big industry. As that industry expands, so does the talent available to run them. He thinks conferences are a great way to get familiar with what professionals are currently available.
“The people you hire to run your family office, in most cases, have run other people’s family offices,” Bernstein said. “Everybody is interested in learning.”
When wealth preservation is the goal — as it is with intergenerational family offices — having the latest knowledge on topics like artificial intelligence or cybersecurity can be crucial in passing on assets to one’s descendants.
“Not only is the world changing,” Saltzstein said, “but there is a shrinking ice cube. The more kids there are in the family, the more grandkids, the more assets need to be distributed.