This news service talks to the MD of SEI Family Office Services about the work it does in the family offices sector and the challenges and trends it sees.
The COVID-19 outbreak, the associated lockdowns and state measures to contain the pandemic have hit many businesses and caused firms to change how they do business. And family offices are no exception to this. How have organizations serving family offices had to adapt and what sort of trends have come out?
This news service talked to Paul Freeland, managing director of SEI Family Office Services, part of US-based investments and technology group SEI. The interview also forms a part of our examination of family offices issues during March (check out this link for more detail about our forthcoming feature series.)
What has changed about servicing clients in the COVID-19 environment?
The questions we answer and the problems we help solve have certainly changed. We’re seeing a heightened focus on estate planning, tax planning and financial position reporting, but the way in which we service clients hasn’t changed. Prior to the pandemic, we were well-suited to handle a remote client service environment, using everyday tools like our online client support portal and self-service documentation center.
Our support team has always been a click, phone call or email away, and that didn’t change when the world went remote. As we got deeper into the pandemic, we continued to be diligent, collaborative and innovative. We continued to value each unique client relationship. We continued to help our clients maximize their investment in our solutions because that’s who we are and always have been.
Has there been an increase in certain needs of clients in this new environment?
At first, clients needed very mechanical solutions. We saw an uptick in requests for things like audit queries and workflow configurations to help provide remote oversight in place of legacy swivel-chair processes. But as the pandemic wore on, we saw more expansive technology and service needs emerge. Firms that had previously been tepid about implementing a client portal for family members began inquiring about a digital way to share quarterly reporting.
There was an amplified desire to expand service relationships through outsourcing as organizations, particularly family offices and banks, saw the benefit of partnering with a well-capitalized, global, tech-focused firm. Those conversations continue today. Everyone wants a contingency plan in this new world of unknowns, and more clients are looking to leverage SEI’s team of accounting and operations professionals to check those boxes.
What should clients be doing differently in light of recent events?
We saw many of our clients use the pandemic and ensuing economic downturn to get their houses in order. Firms used this opportunity to evaluate goals, projects and relationships - all of which are important right now. Above all, the pandemic has proven that wealth management organizations should be acknowledging the importance of choosing strategic partners that can be innovative, nimble and reliable, so that they can maintain continuity in the event of disaster.
Although recent events might have hit M&A activity, do you think that there are going to be further types of acquisitions in this space?
COVID-19 forced the wealth management community out of their offices and into their homes, which impacted the way firms have gone about M&A, but it arguably hasn’t completely derailed merger and acquisition activity. While in-person negotiating or onsite due diligence isn’t happening right now, wealth management firms are still working on strategic initiatives. It’s unrealistic to wait for life to return to normal or for offices to be bustling again. Digital tools have become invaluable, and wealth management firms are embracing the fact that even though the process is different, the function of changing and growing is the same.