The importance of family meetings

Family Meetings

If you and your spouse or partner are busy professionals, you may need to schedule “date nights” to disconnect and get some quality time with one another. If you and your teenage children text more often than talk, you may want to set aside “family time” at the dinner table to get a better sense of what’s happening in each others’ lives.

So why should this be any different than finding time to sit down and talk about family finances. Your heirs may feel like they are being left in the dark about the current situation, the roles of the different advisors, who are they and what steps are being taken with regards to the family fortune.

But before you bring in your children and grandchildren in for a command performance, you need to think carefully about how to organize an effective family meeting. This includes having an agenda to ensure a productive discussion, as well as engaging an independent facilitator who can ensure a smooth discussion of the key points, whilst ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard.

For example, a family meeting could focus on educating the younger generations about financial matters, from the basics about stocks and bonds to investment concepts like portfolio diversification and risk management. It is vitally important for your children and grandchildren to feel comfortable about asking questions and learn about the family holdings so they will be able to make well-grounded decisions once the founding members are no longer there to impart their knowledge.

Benefits for Financial Advisors

A structured discussion is also invaluable for the family office team, the different advisors, asset managers and trustees. It gives these professionals an opportunity to build relationships with younger family members, who will otherwise feel disconnected and forgotten and when the patriarch or matriarch passes, will likely decide to find their own advisors. One should allot time to review the portfolio, its construction, the estate plans and other matters. If one can cover all the open questions the during the family conference, a follow-up meeting could be arranged with the appropriate professionals.

A family meeting should be an open door to a dynamic two-way conversation with the different members of the family. Your progeny may have strong pro or con feelings about where you invest the family funds, or those funds allocated to them. By listening to their points of view, you can keep them engaged and included which will inevitably enhance their decision-making skills. 

You may also use a family meeting to kick off a “next generation” investing program, giving your children or grandchildren access to limited amount of funds to hone their skills. This process is usually monitored in terms of assets, risk tolerance and annual returns. An ideal learning opportunity for everyone.

Other Tips

Whilst it may be tempting to prepare a long PowerPoint presentation of the finances, the planning and the current setup, we believe that this becomes death by PowerPoint, which is counter intuitive. We find that it is better to have a few key slides that provide a framework for family discussions. Too much information in advance will likely slow things down or derail those all-important conversations.

We strongly recommend an independent third-party professional to facilitate such meetings, rather than the head of the family office team, to avoid any conflict of interest and more importantly, to enable a fluid and open conversation. An outside facilitator can also respond to the nuances of the family meeting, such as addressing uncomfortable topics, creating small breakouts and setting up any follow-up sessions. 

Remember that everyone benefits from a well-run family meeting. Don’t put it off until it’s too late

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