Why have a regular family meeting?
12th December 2016
Many business families find that holding family meetings brings them enormous benefits. Although you may not feel that you need one, having a regular forum to assess performance and debate future activity can lead to a new sense of direction and unity for the whole family.
Charles Gowlland, partner, explains: “In a sense, families are running a mini-business. No business would operate without deciding what its plans are, its budgets, and how to deal with issues. A regular meeting is an invaluable forum to tackle nagging issues – don’t wait to do it at a family funeral or at Christmas.”
Holding a regular meeting is something that we encourage all our family office clients to do. If you are considering such a move, the following guidelines should be helpful.
1. Scheduling the meeting
Timing and frequency is important. Most large families will find an annual meeting is sufficient, as it may be impractical to gather far-flung or busy members more frequently than once a year. If necessary, smaller meetings can be arranged to tackle pressing issues in the intervals between yearly gatherings. Scheduling your meeting at least two months before the end of the tax or accounting year should give you time to consider the family’s financial position and implement any required changes. It will also give you the chance to set out strategies and aspirations for the year ahead, ensuring a coordinated approach from all advisers.
2. Who should attend?
The head of the family will decide who should come to the meeting, but as a general rule, all individuals with a stake in the family wealth should be invited.
You may also wish to include investment managers and accountants, tax, legal and property advisers, your land agent if there is a family estate, and a representative from family businesses where applicable.
3. Where to meet
Many families choose to hold their meetings in a neutral territory. If a family has a suitable building or country house they may opt to hold the meeting there, inviting people to stay overnight and enjoy dinner together. Those with a central office could also consider holding it there, where there may be a PA to oversee the logistics.
4. Allowing enough time
It’s strongly recommended that you set aside a whole day for the meeting, so that the business can be conducted without pressure. However, not everyone has to be there for all that time: you might wish to allocate a half-hour slot to each investment manager, for example.
5. Who should run the meeting?
The head of the family may wish to chair the meeting. However, many of our clients prefer to delegate this responsibility to the professional adviser with the closest links to the family.
6. Topics for discussion
An agenda will usually be drawn up by senior family members and key advisers. Certain items will be fairly standard: reports from advisers, changes in tax regulations and so on. Others will be generated by the family, and may centre on events that have occurred during the year, such as the birth of children or deaths in the family. It is also vital to table an ‘any other business’ item, so that all those present feel they have the opportunity to air issues that may be on their minds.
7. Involving younger family members
Most families begin to include younger members from the age of around 25 to 30, though even younger people may be invited to selected parts of the event, such as the lunch and the discussions on charitable giving. This can build up their experience and confidence, and give them an insight into how financial decisions are made. It will also allow them to begin forming relationships with trustees and advisers. Of course, careful information control is required so that youngsters do not gain access to material that the head of the family wishes to keep confidential.
About Smith & Williamson
Smith & Williamson is one of the UK's leading independently owned private client houses. For more than a century, a major part of their business has been the provision of wealth management services to ultra-high net worth families, their trusts, and family companies.