Citywealth caught up with Rebecca Fisher, partner and head of the family office group at Russell-Cooke to discuss the intergenerational transfer of wealth and businesses, and her top tips for families facing difficult conversations.
Tell me about your role and the family office team.
I am the head of Russell-Cooke’s Family Office group and partner in the firm’s Private Client practice. At the heart of the establishment of our Family Office was the desire to help families increase transparency and openness. We recognise that families, their wealth, and their business interests are inextricably linked. That is why we provide a wide range of legal and practical advice from wills, trusts, and pre-nuptial agreements to business and property portfolios via philanthropic aims and reputational issues.
Tell us about an interesting client instruction.
We’ve recently been doing some interesting work with a multi-generational family with assets both onshore and offshore in a variety of structures. The family were undertaking an onshore transfer of wealth to the next generation. In parallel, they were also increasing their – already significant – philanthropic activities.
Advisers from our Family Office hosted two generations of the family in a round table discussion about wealth transfer, wills, structures and potential claims. In addition, we advised on the creation of a charitable foundation that would ultimately be the focus of much of the family’s attention.
The discussion really helped to align the family’s values and attitudes to how they should protect their wealth. No question was too silly. That open forum really did cement our client relationship with the wealth creators but also with the next generation. It was a really positive experience.
What challenges do entrepreneurs face when it comes to the transfer of wealth.
Entrepreneurs are highly driven. They often exert significant control both in their business and family life. You rarely find an entrepreneur that “hangs up their boots” following a liquidity event. They are usually on to the next challenge. Sometimes this generation are reluctant to hand down wealth and/or involvement in a business. This is often due to a perceived lack of interest by the next generation, and concerns that they do not share the same drive, goals, or ambition. Rarely is this actually the case, and it highlights the role that advisers can play in facilitating these discussions. As we discussed in our recent Family Office report, much focus is rightly placed on “the voice of the child” in the context of welfare and upbringing, yet often the voice of that (sometimes adult) child is lost or unheard when it comes to discussions and decision-making regarding family businesses or wealth.
Top tip for families facing difficult conversations?
It is always prudent to have conversations before they become difficult conversations, but sometimes the passage of time means that is not possible. Do not be afraid to rely on your advisers to help navigate the issues and discussions. Many clients are surprised that these meetings are productive and introduce a sense of purpose and direction in terms of wealth transfer and cement family relationships.
What challenges (or opportunities) has the pandemic created for your clients?
The pandemic has resulted in families reassessing their structures and advisors. Many will have one sole trusted advisor and the pandemic has highlighted the need to broaden that circle, albeit perhaps in a small way. It has also made many families reflect on their personal circumstances and whether their current structures meet their needs. For many people across the globe, the pandemic has made them think about their mortality and brought into sharp focus the need for wholesale family audits and planning for the future.
Best and worst parts of your job.
I am still fascinated and enjoy meeting families from a variety of cultures and jurisdictions, some of whom face very different challenges. That keeps my work interesting with no two days the same. I always consider it a real privilege to be trusted by clients to share private matters that are of huge importance to them. Inevitably when you are advising clients in the private wealth arena there are life events which are incredibly sad and challenging. Navigating those difficult times is often the hardest part. It serves as a reminder that my job is ultimately about people and families.
What do you consider to be the most important attributes for a private client lawyer?
It is essential that you listen. Really listen. Many clients have an outcome they want to achieve but they simply do not know how to get there. That often leads to families not facing up to those challenging circumstances. You need to understand the family and the nuances of their relationships. Provide options, but most importantly, offer advice and give clients the tools to have challenging conversations. Steering clients away from the “too difficult” pile is also paramount. With that must come the ability to say ‘no’ and letting clients know when they may be taking the wrong path. They may not like what you have to say but invariably clients respect you for doing so.