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"A lack of adaptability within Family Offices is dangerous. Professionals run the risk of upsetting clients by not appreciating their culture as one different to that in Western Europe."

Part Three - Cultural sensitivity in Family Offices

10 Sep 2018

In the final part of this three-part series examining the evolution of Family Offices, Ocorian's Richard Joynt continues the discussion from July's AIJA seminar and explores how globalisation is forcing Family Office professionals to upskill in order to provide a more dynamic and culturally sensitive service. 

Moderator: Richard Joynt, Ocorian         

Panellists:  Amy Collins, Ocorian; Charlotte Senior, Grant Thornton; Niklaus Glatthard, Bratschi Advocates

In recent years, cross-border working relationships have become increasingly prevalent within the private wealth management industry. As the amount of wealthy people in developing countries has risen over the last 20 years, Family Office professionals in Western Europe have received a growing number of clients from Russia, the Middle East and Far East.

The need for cultural dynamism

With a growing spectrum of clientele hailing from a diverse array of backgrounds, Family Office professionals need to engender a greater degree of cultural sensitivity. It is integral that professionals are respectful of their client's specific cultural needs, altering the way in which they operate in order to recognise any cultural differences. To ensure clients remain happy and comfortable with a service, it is critical to address any gaps in expertise which could adversely affect clients and consequently, overall business performance.

During the panel discussion, it became evident that it is very much a case of advisers having to learn 'on the job'. Only those who have had previous experience in dealing with different cultures are able to make the necessary tweaks to respect cultural sensitivities, meaning some inexperienced professionals are left exposed.

Flaws in the system?

The main issue stems from the lack of resources that would enable professionals to learn the soft skills that are required when dealing with clients from different cultures. Family Office professionals learn the technical aspects of their role through their professional qualifications however, after this there is little support helping them to adapt to cultural sensitivities.

For example, when dealing with families from differing jurisdictions, it is important to understand the dynamics in the family relationships and what information can be shared amongst the patriarch's children. Some cultures encourage openness, expressing a desire to educate about the family business and wealth across generations. Alternatively, other nationalities can be very secretive and do not believe that sharing financial information with the next generation can be a positive thing.

A lack of adaptability within Family Offices is dangerous. Professionals run the risk of upsetting clients by not appreciating their culture as one different to that in Western Europe. If we do not deliver our services to them in such a way that they would deem appropriate, this can result in client dissatisfaction and a potential loss of business.

Family Offices must adapt

Over the course of the AIJA seminar, panellists discussed how approaching cultural sensitivities could be something which is covered in professional training, whether that be by training firms or the private wealth advisory firms themselves. It was clear to see that as globalisation increases and wealthy families from developing countries continue to spread their influence into Western Europe, the adoption of increased cultural sensitivity through professional training must start to take place sooner rather than later.

Ocorian's Family Office team have experience of dealing with cultural sensitivities and possess the experience to recognise and respect how different clients like to interact with their advisers. To learn more about our Family Office service, click here.

The AIJA event was organised by Bedell Cristin and chaired by their partner Ed Drummond.

Part One - Why are Family Offices on the rise?

Part Two - How to avoid family disputes when transferring wealth