More families are putting their assets in the hands of a dedicated advisory team THE FAMILY OFFICE, once associated with teams of dedicated advisers set up to run the fortunes of the world's richest families, has come a long way since emerging in the United States during the 19th century. Today, a family office is designed more to serve the financial and lifestyle needs of an exceptionally wealthy family and protect its future generations. The scope of the service varies widely. On one end of the scale, it could consist of one or two professionals liaising with fund managers and preparing periodic investment reports. At the other end of the spectrum: a large team of professionals hired to do anything from advising on and facilitating investment strategies, asset allocation, trust and succession planning - including tax and philanthropy - to managing aircraft, art collections and household bills. For some families, the office acts mainly as a forum for discussions aimed at ensuring the preservation of their religious, cultural and ethical values. There are two distinct family office models: the single family office and the multi-family office, which manages the interests of two or more families, who pool their resources. The concept of the family office is growing in popularity in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia. Bernard Rennell, managing director of Asia global wealth solutions at HSBC International Trustee, said two key factors were driving this interest. Asian families are becoming increasingly international, not only in the assets they own, but also where they live, the passports they hold and their tax profiles. This has led to wealthy families facing complex succession and tax issues that require a structured and disciplined approach. Secondly, the younger members of rich families - especially the second generation - recognise the need for a more structured and strategic approach to inter-generation wealth planning. 'Family offices can assist with many issues by bringing a more centralised and structured approach to the management of the family's wealth as an activity distinct from the family business or individual investments,' Mr Rennell said. One advantage of a family office is that it identifies the concerns that matter to a wealthy family. 'As well as succession, the main issue that really concerns family members is the purpose of the wealth and their role in connection with this wealth,' said Mr Rennell. 'Making money may be the passion of a first-generation entrepreneur, but his successors may not have a talent for business. They may prefer art, music or academic pursuits.' Mr Rennell said the criteria for setting up a family office should be based on the complexity of a family's affairs rather than on the size of their assets. 'Before establishing a family office there are a number of questions that need to be answered. These include what is the family's long-term strategy? What does the family want to achieve? What assets need to be preserved for the longer term and how should the next generation participate in the family's wealth?' Mr Rennell recommended that candidates for family office structures should look at the broader succession and legacy issues in a strategic manner. This could help them identify the appropriate governance arrangements, such as how much of the family's aspirations can be administered by the family members and how much require external support. He said that as families continue to grow, their needs tend to evolve with them. Key family members may choose to focus on wealth creation through entrepreneurial and business activities, leaving little time to address the other needs of the family. HSBC's private banking arm is the first private bank to establish an independent family office platform in Asia. A dedicated team works directly with family members or their family office on issues such as consolidated reporting and analytics, and serves as a conduit to other services such as corporate financing. 'The mission of HSBC Private Bank's family office services is to support the financial and supplementary needs of families by providing services, advice and solutions while working both independently and with family advisers,' Mr Rennell said. 'We offer a range of specialised financial services and products which are tailored to the needs of family offices and professional advisers dealing with the affairs of wealthy families and individuals. 'These services and products include all key infrastructure services that a family office and professional advisers might need.' He said a family office could provide additional benefits, such as bringing a family closer together through the establishment of a charitable trust where individuals work together towards a common goal.