Thought Leadership

Pitcairn and Global Family Office Partners at Wigmore Association Share Communication Tips for Families

"Working Together Globally to Help Our Families Thrive”

Written by Wigmore Association

When considering family communication during a crisis, our collaboration of global family offices agrees that the key is the three c’s. Consistentcollaborative  effective communication is fundamental to a family’s success in the short term and particularly in maintaining wealth momentum through generational transitions. In a recently written piece by US Wigmore firm, Pitcairn, they stated that research from Virginia Tech found that good communication can have a compounding effect. Families who communicate effectively are able to work through issues and enjoy relationships that are more satisfying over the long term.

1 – Virtual Connection

Long before COVID-19, a key challenge in family communication has been the difficulty in gathering all members together given their increasingly busy lives in many cases. Now, as families find themselves separated due to social distancing, travel bans, and shelter-in-place protocols, family communication is more important than ever. To address these challenges, many families are embracing virtual family gatherings through video conferencing tools and other technologies.

Pitcairn sees this virtual connection as an opportunity to stay connected during times of crisis, and also as an innovative means for family meetings once the world returns to a more normal state. For more information, Pitcairn has produced a best practice guide for families who want to conduct a virtual family meeting.

Mutual Trust additionally recommends virtual communications, outlining some ground rules at the start of the session, consciously going around the ‘room’ to elicit feedback, calling on specific family members for their thoughts, members physically putting their hands up to speak and seeking verbal agreement on action items and decisions made. Head of Family Office for Mutual Trust, Jeff Steiner says, “Most of our families are enjoying meeting from their own environments.  We have been able to get to know our families a little better with the inclusion of their children and their family pets to some of our virtual family meetings.” 

2 – The Increased Importance of Communication

Whether in the form of updates from your family office or regularly staying in touch through family meetings, Mutual Trust’s advice is for more communication, rather than less, in a time of crisis.  This is echoed by Sandaire, where Chief Executive, James Fleming, says, “there has been increased importance on communication, to build, maintain and develop stronger relationships”. This is done by keeping families updated with any changes during these rapidly changing times, as well as offering virtual discussions and other cultural reading/video recommendations to offer something outside of regular market and business updates.

All Wigmore family offices across the globe have increased their communication strategies during this time, providing regular updates to clients and developing strong feedback loops, as well as increasing communications through the Wigmore website and LinkedIn page to offer unique insights and expertise. Additionally, Turim, have started a periodic “client mood survey” in which they measure how nervous and anxious clients are feeling due to Covid-19 and what their sentiment is towards their investment portfolio, which ensures Risk Management is aligned with their client’s objectives, risk tolerance and risk appetite. Similarly, this is demonstrated across member firms through ‘family fire drills’ to assess risk appetites and ensure that families’ portfolios are appropriately aligned to these.

3 – Checking-In on Family Members

This is not limited to vulnerable or elderly family members who will need additional support during this time, state Mutual Trust. “Give thought to family members who are isolated or live in more remote areas, family members who may be away from home – studying or working abroad, families with young or school aged children.  Regular check-ins help to keep family members feeling connected and valued.”

Northwood agreed stating, “Checking-in on your family, friends and colleagues is always important, but during the coronavirus outbreak, this will be more important than ever, pick up the phone, have a video call, start a group chat or message family members on social media to let them know you are there.

4 – Put Structure Around It

Set milestones, so that you can measure your progress advise Wigmore firms. Without accountability structures it will be difficult to make progress. Pitcairn, also state “it is important to communicate essential information during family meetings or other structured times”.

5 – Listen

Remember that communication works best when it flows both ways.  Allowing members of the family to make their own contribution in their own way is essential. Where multiple generations are involved, remember that individual views mean different things to different people, particularly with Millennials. Sandaire states for example, “to one, charity may mean donating a sum of money to a local cause, whereas to another, charity is the giving of one’s time and effort. While both may be equally valid, try to encourage such things in a way that plays to each individual’s preferences and understanding.”


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