Call for more gender diversity in family offices

Women's involvement in family office affairs is largely felt in the area of philanthropy, speakers tell AsianInvestor's forum in Singapore, with the investment side of the business still dominated by men.
Call for more gender diversity in family offices

There needs to be more gender diversity in the management of family offices, said panellists at AsianInvestor’s Family Office Forum in Singapore.

While delegates heard how having women involved at board level makes a positive difference, the extent of their involvement in family offices across the region was still limited.

Last month it was revealed by the World Economic Forum that globally, fewer women run large companies than men named John, and that the gender gap at work won’t close for another 81 years.

Nonetheless, there are strong advocates in Asia for greater gender diversity on not just corporate boards, but the governing boards of family offices.

Speaking on a panel on “Family Wealth in Asia” at AsianInvestor’s forum last week, Ivo Bartoletti, CEO of Oclaner Asset Management said: “Women, when they are involved, are much more hands-on and are very clear in communicating ideas.”

Soumya Rajan, chief executive of Indian multi-family office Waterfield Advisors, said women’s influence on family office activities has been felt more on the philanthropic side: “the investment side is still dominated by men”.

Korea and Japan have the lowest female representation at a corporate level, with Singapore also low on the list, according to Steve Diggle, managing director of the Hrothgar family office.

In India, Rajan says new regulations introduced in 2014 mandated at least one woman representative on each company’s board. However, India is a long way from achieving proper gender diversity, as many firms have failed to comply with the new ruling.

Veteran family office advisor Noor Quek suggested that while clear leadership for a family is vital, it is critically important to have independent people on the family office board, to get a different view.

She added that having grown up “in a traditional patriarchal structure, the secret of success is to be firm about what you want, but to allow others to be part of the process.” She observes a common problem for family heads is that they feel their private bankers and other advisers don’t understand them, particularly when the family has struggled over many years to build the business to where it is.

Things are improving in the family office space though, and Nadav Lehavy, managing director of SandAire in Asia, commented, “I see it much more that we are collaborating with women.”

Whether it be running a single family office, or managing a co-investment, the panellists agreed about strong leadership, be it the patriarch or the lead investor, especially for those times when things go wrong. But Quek stressed it is important to have “an inclusive mentality and to consider the talent pool in generational and gender terms.”

Anne Kim, investment director of Heritas Capital, said the most successful club deals are often those where the families have known each other for generations. “That may not sound like a recipe for sound management, but it works and that is why club deals are popular. They are not to be judged on short-term measures, but over the longer term. There’s a trust that comes from other families who have gone through the generational development.”

It is important to be aware of the pitfalls though. Diggle recommends structuring any deal so that if one party wants to exit early, it doesn’t destabilise the partnership. And for a club deal to work, TK Chiang, managing partner of Orion Partners, said the investment should not be too high a proportion of each family office’s assets.

Terry Farris, head of family governance at Taurus Wealth Advisors, said it was important to recognise just how different family businesses and family offices are, especially considering their maturity. At one end of the scale there are third- or fourth-generation families with well-established ways of managing their affairs that have been handed down and adapted by successive generations. At the other end, Farris says he has clients who are still building their businesses and have no need of advice on succession planning.

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