Billionaires are notoriously difficult to cultivate unless you hang out on their yachts and your mantelpiece is crowned with their invitations – you don’t – it’s not? Hmm thought not. The key people they do listen to are the ‘family offices’. These institution began to take care of their money when billionaires, like the rest of us, got fed up with banks providing a rubbish service at extortionate cost. They are extremely private and usually work for one family only – hence their name – but take care of more than simple investments; they are there to advise the whole family about the sensible use of money and this may also apply to the family’s sons and daughters, so that the family wealth is properly used and builds over the generations.
One example, given in a recent Guardian article by David Batty on 13.03.16, is of a family member who loved to collect art but had zero interest in the family business. He was given the funds to set up an art gallery. This kind of sustainable investment keeps wealth in the family and ensures it is not wasted on drink, drugs, other addictions and peccadilloes.
Inherited wealth is a fragile thing and is said to dissipate in three generations, but in Britain today it accounts for 70% of all wealth, so this is exactly where we should be looking to fund our organisations. This is not needle in a haystack time as there are at least a 1,000 of these family offices in London alone. There is even a Family Office Council headed by Chief Executive, Keith Johnston, who estimates that UK Family Offices look after assets of around €1,000 billion. Given that, they are worth rather more than a passing glance.
Maybe it is time we began our cultivation of these guardians of extreme wealth so they can give fully informed advice about investment in society, especially at a time when the social fabric on which we all depend is being rapidly eroded. That may not be as unlikely as it sounds as one function of these offices is to create family rules; for example, getting the family members to meet on a regular basis, requiring family members to have pre-nups signed before marriage, setting out how the family wealth will pass down through the generations, and who is in or out of the family business. Similarly the rules could cover the family’s social investment programme, which may go some way to counter the current trend for billionaires like Zuckerberg to bypass establish charities and set up their own organisations.
Of course, wealth from a first generation billionaire may come with strings attached but ones we should welcome, and those are often that their money must actually make a significant difference to the problem they are concerned about – efficiency and effectiveness being values dear to the heart of successful entrepreneurs. Perhaps less welcome but rather inevitable is the desire to have one of their suits on the board of any organisation into which they are putting large sums, but on the plus side these can be highly effective people putting the usual zombie trustees to shame.
So, shouldn’t we be knocking loudly on these doors to billionaires, as well as cultivating our common or garden millionaires – just saying…
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