Avoiding "shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves" in three generations is a challenge for all wealthy families. One tried and tested solution to preserving and enhancing family wealth is the family office. They are flexible offering privacy, participation and control by the family whilst acting as guardians and educators as to the family wealth. The family office does all the "heavy-lifting" allowing the family to focus on running the family business or just living life without the burden of managing such considerable wealth. Also, a family office can sometimes act as relationship counsellors between family members.

There are different variances of the family office including stand-alone offices, multi-family offices and offices administered by regulated trust companies.  A stand-alone office is independent having its own premises and employing dedicated staff.  These offices are not required to be regulated by the Jersey or the Guernsey Financial Services Commission because by definition they do not provide financial services by way of business to the public.  A multi-family office is an office serving like-minded families who share the costs of premises and dedicated staff.  A stand-alone family office can evolve into a multi-family office as one family shares it experiences with other families.  Family offices administered by regulated trust companies provide families with a range of services and can be a preliminary step before establishing a stand-alone office.

The structure of a family office can take many legal forms and can be a combination of legal forms involving trusts, companies and foundations.  Which form is best may depend on the family's drivers for establishing the office, the type of assets to be held and perhaps how the family intends to benefit from the structure.  For example, there might be one trust holding the equities in the family business, with restrictions as to the sale or charging of those equities, and multiple trusts benefitting each branch of the family; those individual trusts having sub-funds for investment and asset-holding purposes.  The sub-fund for investment purposes may have an investment committee with and/or reserved investment powers to certain beneficiaries whereas the sub-fund for asset-holding may be entirely discretionary with the assets ring-fenced in subsidiary companies of which family members can be the directors.

Often, private trust companies are used to act as trustees of the family trusts.  These companies are exempt from direct financial regulation and are usually orphan entities; their shares being held by a purpose trust which has the sole purpose of holding those shares.  Often the purpose trust will consist of an enforcer committee made up of family members whose consent is required before the trustees of the purpose trust can take action in relation to the shares in the private trust company.  Likewise, the articles of association of the private trust company are often personalised so voting at board level involves members of the family and there may be different combinations of family members voting at board level at different times.

Despite family offices not being directly regulated in either Jersey or Guernsey, regulation is a factor for families to consider.  Depending on the family office's activities, key employed staff located in Jersey or Guernsey may need to be regulated for financial services business and a family office might consider its own anti-money laundering regime.

A family office can be considerably effective in preserving and enhancing wealth across a family's generations.  It can also bring a family together where wealth has previously segregated the family.  Jersey and Guernsey are both attractive places to form a family office because of their long tradition of political, legal and regulatory stability with close links to the UK and the EU; they have flexible and robust laws, highly skilled professionals, mature well-regulated business environments and neutral transparent tax platforms.  Their international reputations are excellent; they are regularly assessed by MoneyVal and are consistently considered to be leading jurisdictions.

First published by Business Brief, June 2020

Originally published 1 June 2020

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.