Whether it’s negotiating the purchase of a cruise-ship penthouse, shipping a valuable painting or hiring a tutor, many family offices in Canada do more for their wealthy clients than provide financial advice.
Concierge services may not constitute a big part of the work that a firm like Toronto-based Northwood Family Office does for its clients, but there are good reasons for it when they do, says its chairman and chief executive officer, Tom McCullough.
“What [clients] often want is someone who’s on their side, negotiating these things for them,” he says.
For Nellie Ladouceur, head of conciergerie at Montreal-based CEOS Family Office, taking care of unusual requests is part of her job. CEOS’s president and CEO, Eric Lapointe, is often the one who first receives the requests, she said.
In the past, Ladouceur has arranged for the shipment of a thoroughbred horse from Ireland to Montreal for the daughter of a client, and a rare violin for another.
Her team also has purchased condos for clients in Montreal, Toronto and Florida, she said.
“Or sometimes the client moves,” she added. One client sold a home in Florida and needed a relocation service for a move back to Montreal. “So we make sure everything has come back, including their art and their cars.”
Leasing an aircraft is one task Northwood was asked to take on. It’s something an ordinary personal assistant likely could not handle.
“There’s a financial component if you’re doing an aircraft lease,” said McCullough. “There are spreadsheets and financial calculations to do, and an executive assistant often can’t do that. So what [clients] are looking for is somebody who has experience doing it in the past.”
Their clients are busy people, he added. “They don’t want to do it themselves, and they trust us to have the judgment, so they ask us to do some of these things.”
They also want solid advice, said Ladouceur. “They want different opinions, and since we have a lot of departments, they will get the opinions of accountants, investment advisors, tax lawyers. With every step, they see, they learn and they get lots of professional advice.”
Sometimes clients will have multiple properties, and staff that they pay personally, be it a nanny, a caregiver or a housekeeper, so we can handle all of that payroll function for them.Mindy Mayman, partner, Richter Family Office
That rings true for McCullough as well.
“We help them source an answer by talking to other family offices that have done similar things,” he said. “That’s one of the real benefits clients get from being part of a multi-family office. Depending on the issue, we either know the person who does that task and will contact them directly, or else we will outsource finding that person.”
According to Mindy Mayman, partner at Toronto-based Richter Family Office, many of their clients initially come to the firm following a complete or partial liquidation of their business.
As a result, what often happens is they lose access to their corporate CFO or accountants, Mayman said. “Or sometimes if a private equity firm comes in, there’s more focus on making sure that there is no personal use of corporate resources. So this is a key service that our clients have found really necessary and helpful to them.”
Richter has added the services of personal chief financial officers to their core investment services.
“This personal CFO helps in all the areas of managing cash balances for the family, making sure that all tax balances are kept up to date, calculated and paid,” Mayman said. “Sometimes clients will have multiple properties, and staff that they pay personally, be it a nanny, a caregiver or a housekeeper, so we can handle all of that payroll function for them, as well as managing all of their properties and helping to oversee property insurance payments.”
Hiring staff, whether it be personal security, caregivers or tutors for the children, is a big part of personal services that a family office may be called upon to coordinate. “We wouldn’t do the actual activity,” said McCullough.
When clients need a specific kind of medical profession who is difficult to find using the public health system, we are called for that service.Nellie Ladouceur, head of conciergerie, CEOS Family Office
But, he added, “It’s more than just saying, ‘You should talk to a specialist.’ It’s our role to find that specialist.”
As the world has changed with the times, younger high-net-worth individuals may have different needs, he said. “Any sudden wealth, whether it be winning the lottery or a young tech entrepreneur or someone marrying into wealth, they have particular issues.”
At the same time, he said, “It’s a more self-sufficient generation. Many things they’ll just look up online. So it’s an interesting combination.”
At CEOS Family Office, a growing number of requests are health related, said Ladouceur. “Our health services department is in great demand, “ she said, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When clients need a specific kind of medical profession who is difficult to find using the public health system, we are called for that service. And to find it for them now, not in a week.” It’s a question of trust, she said.
Mr. McCullough said his firm is “almost like the trusted stand-in for the client. If they can’t do the negotiation or the management or the sourcing themselves, we’ll help out. That’s basically the way we think about it.”