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Perspective NewsletterWorking in a family office is different. It can bring people who are accustomed to cold, hard calculations and analysis into a world where interpersonal skills are required and rewarded, in a boutique entrepreneurial environment.

When I was working at a financial institution surrounded by numbers in an extremely fast-paced environment, I became desensitized to the amount of money I was actually trading. It became very easy to lose sight of the fact that I was handling more money in one instant than most people see over the course of their entire lives.

While I was dealing primarily with pension funds and other large institutional investors, the focus was so much on the numbers that no time was spent considering the impact on the lives of those who would someday receive their retirement income from those funds. We were oblivious as to how any particular trade would impact a real person because we were so far removed from the human element as we carried out the trades.

Working in family wealth is the exact opposite of this. Instead of the human element being diminished, it is magnified, as we become involved in its first-hand effects on the lives of the families and those around them.

To be an effective family advisor you need to be expert, experienced and trustworthy, so you can help clients navigate through their often-complex issues with a clear and steady focus on their goals and objectives. While you need to be competent and have very strong technical skills, they must be accompanied by the ability to coach people through processes and discussions that have far-reaching effects and to recognize behavioural financial biases that may be holding the family back.

For people who crave rewarding work that really makes a difference in people’s lives, then working as a family office advisor might be a good fit for you. Working in such close contact with families on every area of their lives and their wealth allows you to see immediately the impact you are having.

As a family advisor, your work is constantly changing and your knowledge is ever-expanding as you help families through each stage of their lives and as you develop your skills working with other professionals (accountants, lawyers, investment and real estate professionals, etc.) to achieve the family’s goals. No two days are the same, as you are involved in holistic decision making and you are able to witness the impact of the process on the family’s big picture.

Family office advisors need to have excellent interpersonal skills, but these skills are not to be confused with those of a good salesperson. The family advisor is not there to sell a particular investment product, but rather to try to provide value and find solutions to an array of financial and life challenges. This sets the family advisor free from other considerations or pressure and allows them to focus on the family and what is best for them and all those to whom they wish to pass on benefits. A family advisor also needs to be able to manage conflict that might arise, and to be flexible and dedicated to deal with any of the unique challenges that might come their way.

We know that family office clients are looking for an integrated and professional approach to their wealth management. They want a bespoke and unconflicted service as opposed to a product-oriented one. They want their advisor to offer a tailor-made customer service which considers the whole range of expertise available to them.

The person coordinating all this effort on their behalf must have a good understanding of the family dynamics – their goals, their desire to make a social difference as they devise trusts, foundations, etc., and how they see the future unfolding for their children, grandchildren and their legacy for the future. They want the complicated burden of decisions lessened and the navigation of crucial pathways clearly illuminated and charted.

It is interesting to note that working in a family office may be a good fit for women involved in the financial industry. They say the gender gap is both a challenge and an opportunity and I believe that is very true when it comes to the family office industry. We believe that families value a diverse perspective and one that reflects their own situation. Family offices increasingly recognize this and are actively looking for talented women who can help fill this gap and improve the work they do for families.

In my experience, there are many benefits of working in the family office field. It provides the opportunity to work in a rapidly-growing industry with highly-skilled professionals and entrepreneurs who are helping families plan their future and take the necessary steps to make it happen. As a family advisor, you have the privilege of helping families navigate the interesting but complicated world of investment and financial planning. It is interesting and inspiring work as families’ stories unfold, and it is work that allows people with insight and dedication to come together to achieve good things. I am happy to be a part of it.

Northwood Family Office

Claire Hunt

Claire is a member of the client service team at Northwood working with client families in the areas of financial planning and investment management, with a focus on investment analysis. She is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) charterholder and a member of the Toronto CFA Society. Claire holds a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from Concordia University, and a Bachelor of Arts Honours (BA Hons.) in Applied Economics from Queen’s University.

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