When six heavyweight family offices teamed up in 2011 to form the Wigmore Association they achieved greater clout on the investment research and manager selection side, in a difficult investment environment. But the association also opened up possibilities about the way family offices from different countries could work together.
The founding members straddle North America, Europe and Australia, and are SandAire (UK), Pitcairn (US), HQ Trust (Germany), The Myer Family Company (Australia), Northwood Family Office (Canada) and Progeny 3 (US).
Members attended a three-day summit in Melbourne in April to deliberate the shift of economic power from West to East, and will meet in Toronto, Canada in September. When the chief investment officers meet they swap ideas and discuss trends, but they also take the opportunity to meet local managers. The beauty of this is that the local family office can advise on the best investment managers to meet, thus time is spent more efficiently.
Membership to the exclusive organization is based on a “willingness to share information,” explains Karen Clark, director, client team at SandAire. And this willingness comes from “the belief that by doing so we will do a better job for our clients and we all benefit.”
On the group’s expansion plans, Clark says it’s not a “bigger is better” mentality. She says the dynamics work well at the moment and there is no need to expand. However, the members constantly review how the Association can achieve more.
“We all recognized that the future is not having a manager in Edinburgh investing in Japan - it’s having people on the ground, expanding your network beyond your community,” says Clark.
Competition versus cooperation
Collaboration between firms offering similar services raises the question of competition, as there has to be an environment of trust to share information.
“We don’t view each other as competition,” says Clark. This is partly a product of geography, as the offices are spread out globally, which also gives the maximum benefit in terms of research coverage. But “it’s also that the chemistry is crucial” between clients and family offices, she says, and this is “different in each office.”
Clients tend to be a tight fit, and working with one multi-family office doesn’t necessarily mean a client would be the right fit with another. Each firm has a particular skill set, specific strengths and focus, which are usually a product of its history.