Disruptions triggered by the coronavirus pandemic have prompted all types of businesses to run a magnifying glass over their processes and infrastructure to ensure continuity and viability. Although survival is not at stake for most family offices, the pandemic response is an opportunity for them to evaluate crucial technology systems, knowing that timely enhancements could improve operational efficiency, security and the long-term likelihood the family office achieves its business and familial objectives across generations.
Perhaps a family office has postponed outsourcing finance and accounting services or managed information technology functions. Maybe a family office has resisted moving to automated processes for payroll, accounting or document management. The pandemic-induced economic downturn is an impetus to move forward. It invites a set of questions with advancements in mind: What functions depend on your technology systems? How does your technology support our needs for accessibility, scalability and reliability? How do you create a platform that meets your goals?
“One of the challenges for family offices can be finding a starting point or knowing these kinds of tools exist,” said Christina Churchill, RSM’s management consulting principal. “Unless they’re very active in trying to find that information, nobody drops it on their plate. Everybody is trying really hard to do the right thing, but they just don’t know there are other choices.”
Many single-family offices have small staffs, some of which include employees who have worked for the family for two or three decades. Crucial responsibilities involving accounting or IT, for example, fall to a disproportionate few staffers, and processes have been carved into stone over time.
Outsourcing certain functions to a first-choice advisor, though, can improve back-office options without compromising loyalty. Leveraging digital technologies can create efficiencies while establishing a fixed cost for services and deeper, broader support. This can allow employees to devote more attention to providing timely information and analysis instead of repetitive tasks.
By outsourcing finance and accounting services, the family office has software and corresponding security components provided to it. That enhances compliance measures by establishing dual controls, which small family offices commonly lack. The timeliness and depth of financial reports improve also.
“This is very similar to what many family offices are doing with their brokers already, but they don’t necessarily see that in the same light,” Churchill said. “They have their third-party broker, who is managing funds and providing the financials for them on a website. Outsourcing finance and accounting services works much the same way—a third party records transactions, the family approves payments and reports are online.”
Outsourcing managed IT services creates additional efficiency and security, especially given the widespread shift to remote work during the pandemic. The service provider ensures workers have equipment they need, such as laptops. It can strengthen controls such as BYOD (bring your own device) policies and establishing protections for all devices, including the capability to remotely wipe sensitive data. It also creates a shift of liability because the provider becomes responsible for keeping software and servers operational and secure.
“Do you have device-level security? Or are you just using the same laptop your children are using for school?” Churchill said. “Someone accesses an unsecured website, you’ve got malware and someone is accessing your device directly.”
Managed IT services includes cloud functionality, which makes remote work more efficient. Laptops and mobile devices become portals to access files, which reduces the importance of what machines employees are using and where they are using them. Employees do not have to depend on thumb drives, which tend to easily be misplaced because they’re so small. Efficiencies extend to tracking software and communication channels during emergencies, and simply keeping up with family members who frequently travel.
Automation equates to efficiency
Some family offices manually perform payroll and accounts payable functions. Others might use accounting software or various databases to manage those, but they might lack the functionality and consistency necessary to work remotely or efficiently.
“Automation within the tool sets that they have is helpful,” Churchill said. “That allows for truly having remote workforces, so that they don’t have to go to the office and print checks and go to someone to sign them.”
Also, families want timeliness, accuracy and transparency with their portfolios. But relying on dated quarterly information, and working from separate spreadsheets and proprietary reports from individual managers make it difficult to clearly view investment performance.
From robotic process automation to automated bill pay to enterprise resource planning solutions, shifting toward automated processes can steer family offices away from spending unnecessary time and resources on manual bookkeeping.
Such advancements improve operational efficiencies, which propel family offices closer to their business and familial goals. Whether through outsourcing solutions or establishing automated functions, they will find those goals are within reach.