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Leaders List Interview: 60 seconds with Kecia Barkawi, VALUEworks

30 November 2021

April French Furnell

Citywealth caught up with Kecia Barkawi, founder of VALUEworks, a multi-family office based in Zurich to learn about her work supporting primarily women and young wealth owners.

 

Tell Citywealth’s readers about your role.

I am the founder and CEO of VALUEworks, an independent multi-family office based in Zurich, Switzerland. Together with 12 colleagues, I work across our service offering supporting clients in being responsible wealth-owners and accompanying them on matters related to family advisory, wealth structuring, and investment consulting.

 

Talk us through a typical day.

Apart from my personal routines, there is no typical day, and there is never a dull moment! Being at the side of client families brings new challenges, day for day. I am passionate about helping family members gain oversight of their wealth, holding structures and accounts, manage risks, and deal with the particular challenges that affluent families, in particular business families, face. Often, that means going back to fundamentals: family values and the purpose of family wealth. This can help solve complex problems, usually in collaboration with carefully selected international specialists and with the VALUEworks team of various specialists from lawyers, investment analysts and economists, to sociologists, psychologists and trust managers.

 

How has the family office advisory space evolved in recent years?

The family office space is more diverse, global and larger than ever before. The rich are getting richer, and there are more SFOs of all “colours and shades” being set up, with Switzerland as one of the key jurisdictions. MFOs are also rapidly evolving, with countless asset managers turning into MFOs, and various advisory services on offer.

At VALUEworks, we typically work with the family directly. There has clearly been a big shift in client profiles. When I started VALUEworks in 2004, our average client was male and over 60 years of age. Today, we have successfully transitioned to work primarily with women and young wealth-owners. They are drawn to us for our focus on sustainability and empowerment, supported by an international and diverse team of which a majority are highly educated women.

What is beautiful is that a handful of our younger NextGen clients managed to convince their parents to engage our services. Trigger points are around ESG and impact investing, and family governance. This would have been unheard of 10 years ago. It seems, in some cases, the transfer of power is happening ahead of the much discussed transfer of wealth.

 

Best and worst parts of your job?

Some of the recent highlights were working with female wealth-owners. And perhaps it is this work that also highlights some of the worst parts – my frustrations when our analysis uncovers how women are “taken for a ride”, paying higher fees, not receiving the information they ask for, and not being taken for full. Women empowerment will surely remain one of my focus areas!

 

Most memorable work moment?

There are these pristine and very private moments one shares with a valued client, when she or he confides something I know is not shared with others. Then there are moments when my clients give me their personal advise and share their wisdom. I also love the feeling when a client thanks me for my help in solving a big problem. It is the deeply rooted, authentic gratitude which is so rewarding.

 

What is the biggest disruptor in your industry?

Today’s wealthy families are faced with a lot of internal and external challenges. Internally, good communication and a common understanding of where the older family members come from, and where the younger generation is heading towards, is key. Senior members were brought up, usually to obey and join the family business. Emphasis on their skills, passions and ideas was less relevant. Today’s young generation is more outspoken on what they want. And joining the family business is just one of many options in the different stages of their lives.

When we look at family communication, much is “delivered” via email, WhatsApp and the like. This bears various risks, such as misunderstandings, not hitting “the right tone”, and various digital security risks. The latter are often overlooked, and can have a truly damaging impact on multi-generational families and their businesses. We help our clients and their SFOs to move to secure mailing-platforms with enhanced encryption, and engage specialists to lead social media trainings and analyse online profiles of family members. In my view, there is nothing better than in-person communication!

 

If you weren’t in the wealth management business, what else might you be doing?

I am an enthusiastic traveller, photographer and I love cooking. In 2003, I wanted to start a part-time education as a photographer and I frequently imagined having my own restaurant.

 

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