Family Office

UHNW Institute Unveils Ambitious Initiative To Set Industry Standards

Charles Paikert US Correspondent New York May 13, 2024

UHNW Institute Unveils Ambitious Initiative To Set Industry Standards

The Institute – with which this news service is an exclusive media partner – is developing a new initiative to create a clearer, and more measurable, picture of the services that wealth managers and family offices provide.

Addressing “confusion in the marketplace,” the UHNW Institute is unveiling an ambitious year-and-a-half-long initiative to bring “standards and clarity” to the services wealth management firms and family offices provide wealthy families and individuals. 

Finding the best match between a client’s needs and the services that firms can provide “is too often a roll of the dice,” said Jim Grubman, principal at Family Wealth Consulting, a UHNW Institute board member and this year’s winner of the Family Wealth Report Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Accordingly, The Institute’s Integrated Family Wealth Management Initiative will “empower families to understand what they need, evaluate the firms they talk to, and hold those firms more accountable” to deliver what is promised, Grubman said.

Prospective clients “don’t understand the language [to describe] what they should be looking for,” said Katherine Dunlevie, president and CEO of The Family Office at Synovus. “They have a very difficult time differentiating between the various business models.” 

Given the “extraordinary amount of complexity” that is involved with serving UHNW families, it is also challenging for wealth management firms to decide “where they’re going to go in the marketplace and who they’re going to serve,” said Wally Head, principal of Personal Fiduciary Advisors and a UHNW Institute founding board member.

“The last thing a firm wants is a misaligned client,” according to Dunlevie, a member of the Institute’s advisory board who is co-chairing the initiative’s steering committee. 

Initiative is a "strategic priority"
Consequently, the Institute has made the initiative, which aims to codify industry standards for identifying and delivering integrated family wealth management services, “a strategic priority,” said Stephen Prostano, a founding board member and chairman of The UHNW Institute and partner at PKF O’Connor Davies.

The foundational cornerstone of the initiative will be the Institute’s trademark Ten Domains of Family Wealth: financial and investment management; estate planning and legal issues; social impact and philanthropy; risk management; governance and decision-making; leadership and transition planning; Rising Gen learning and development; family dynamics; health and wellbeing; and family-advisory relationships.

“This project is focusing on the services firms need to provide to meet the wealth management needs that are described in the Ten Domains,” Head said. “We want to reduce confusion in the marketplace, improve transparency regarding how firms provide their services to ultra-high net worth families and enable families to find the right firm or firms to meet their needs.” 

Defining key terms ‘very critical’
Key terms and concepts will be defined, firms will be categorized based on the wealth management services they deliver and how they deliver those services, and economic considerations for firms contemplating changing their business model will be explained.

Defining commonly used terms is “very, very critical to the success of the whole project,” said Dunlevie. “What exactly is a multi-family office? What exactly is collaboration? What does it mean to integrate wealth management services?”

“If we can define these things so that families are all reading off the same piece of paper as the firms, then I think families will be able to find the right firm for them.”

Families will have a needs assessment tool 
In order for families to do that, the initiative will include a needs assessment tool that will help them understand the options they have, the benefits of moving to higher level service models and identifying firms that fit their needs. 

Guidelines, standards, benchmarks and evaluation assessments will also be established for service delivery models of wealth management firms and family offices. 

For example, the project will examine attributes of centralized and decentralized service models, the use of internal and external resources and current or required staffing. 

Service delivery implementation for client relationships, information management, risk and compliance management, staffing, training and performance evaluation and compensation will also be evaluated. 

Firms will be surveyed “to determine how many of the Ten Domains they are effectively providing to their UHNW family clients,” Head said. “We’re also going to identify where the resources reside that are being used to meet the needs of those families.”

‘How are you delivering that service?’
Firms currently “may not be able to accurately describe the services they deliver or the service delivery model they use,” according to Grubman.

“That’s why we’re taking a very rigorous approach and asking, ‘How are you delivering that service?’ and ‘Where is that service coming from?’” he said. “We’re peeking behind the curtain to ask the how, where and what. Then we draw a conclusion, based on what they describe.”

Describing and setting benchmarks and standards will be critical for families looking for a set of criteria when evaluating firms, Grubman said. 

The standards will eventually be publicized by the Institute, he added, “to provide pressure on some firms who’ve been able to hide behind some of their misuse of certain terms and descriptions of services.” 

Initiative seeks feedback at November Symposium
Work on the initiative began earlier this year, aided by professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is acting as a project manager, helping to manage resources, handle documents and develop assessment tools. 

The project will continue in phases throughout the year, culminating at the Institute’s annual Symposium in November, where many of the tools and guidelines will be unveiled and feedback from members will be solicited. The project is expected to be completed in time for the Institute’s 2025 Symposium.

Richard Joyner, managing director of AITi Tiedemann Global, is co-chairing the initiative’s steering committee with Dunlevie. A subset of that committee will serve as the initiative’s executive committee, including Joyner, Dunlevie, Head, Grubman, Prostano, David Novick, managing director of Private Family Enterprise for PwC, and Tom McCullough, CEO of Northwood Family Office. 

See an example of other work FWR has done alongside the Institute. Readers can also visit the Institute's website here.  

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