It used to be enough for an individual of high net worth to consult a lawyer, accountant or even a trusted friend or employee about how best to protect his family's wealth. Not any more. In these days of increasingly complex tax laws, widening ranges of investment options, overseas ventures and divergent interests of family members who wish to have a greater say in the affairs that affect them, heads of families are having to turn to more sophisticated methods of wealth management. The family office was an idea dreamed up by private banks that believed there was a gap in the market for protecting and expanding the jointly held assets of wealthy families. Family-owned businesses are among their biggest targets because their finances are among the most complex. According to a market researcher that specialises in wealth management, family offices are an effective way to manage the increasingly diverse range of specialists required to advise on a family's finances. Michael Maslinski, director of the London-based market researcher Maslinski & Co said: 'The provision of advice has entered a vicious circle: increasing technical complexity across all professional disciplines is driving the trend to further specialisation; and the more the advisers specialise, the more complications they introduce and the narrower the field they can cover effectively.' Greater regulation, greater accountability and increased propensity to litigate reinforce the trend. 'The result is that fewer professional advisers are willing, or able, to step outside the bounds of their specialist expertise,' Mr Maslinski said. 'The idea of your lawyer taking responsibility for overseeing your investment managers, as in the past, will soon be unthinkable unless he has specialist investment expertise.' He said selecting specialists required a high degree of knowledge of the subject and their reputations. Furthermore, the sum total of their output had to be distilled, analysed, cross-referenced and communicated to see how one piece of specialist advice affected another. 'The question of who should perform this role of selecting, overseeing and co-ordinating is one of the key drivers of the family office services being promoted by many institutions,' he said. A family office run by a private bank was also more structured and professional than traditional informal arrangements, under which an entrepreneurial head of family ran financial affairs with the guidance of professional advisers, he said. Mr Maslinski believed Hong Kong and other Asian countries would become a favourite hunting ground for private banks looking to offer family office services. There are signs the family office concept is taking root in East Asia. 'Asia could be a very big market. There are lots of family-owned businesses, and therefore the number of family offices could expand rapidly. There will be faster growth in Asia than in the west, because Asia is much more family-orientated.' Mr Maslinski said Asia may not have the generations of accumulated family wealth there was in the west, but this situation was changing, thus increasing the appeal of this innovative form of private banking. Family offices are also an effective way to iron out the competing interests of family members. 'Families may have different ways of wanting to preserve wealth, but that is what these family offices are set up for,' he said. 'There is a question of how the assets are held, of how the family is held together. For example, is it a family company or something else? Family members may want to hold money jointly or separately.'