Ultra-High Net Worth Families Excel at Managing Business and Enterprise Risk, But Fall Short with Risks to the Family Itself
By Alliant / March 28, 2023
They fall short when it comes to risks to family reputation, providing risk education to rising generations, planning for personal threats and unexpected natural disasters, and formalizing family codes of conduct, say new survey results from Alliant Private Client
IRVINE, CA – Ultra-high net worth families, namely those with single family offices whose wealth results from private ownership of business enterprises, put a premium on understanding and managing risks to their businesses. Yet they are lenient about managing risks relating to family members themselves.
The vast majority 86% handle risk management planning at the highest levels of leadership, while 76% report they have no regular review process for risks to the family itself, according to the just-released Family Enterprise Risk Index from Alliant Private Client, which manages the insurance needs of affluent individuals and families.
The survey sample was comprised of individuals from 145 family enterprises, nearly evenly split between members of operating businesses (41%) and family offices (41%) and between family members (50%) and non-family members (50%), i.e., executives of the enterprises and family offices.
“Since most family enterprise executives—both family members and non-family members—are seasoned business leaders with experience at large organizations, it’s not surprising that the survey results show that enterprise and business risk is well managed, but some of the answers related to risks to family members and the family as a whole are concerning. For instance, we see the lack of plans for risk education for the rising generation as a significant worry,” said Cindy Zobian, Managing Director and Executive Vice President at Alliant Private Client.
“Since the research reveals blind spots related to family risks, we hope it will serve to encourage family enterprise leaders to recalibrate their approach and build family-level risk issues into annual risk planning,” she added.
The top five risks of concern to respondents (both family and non-family members) appear to relate more to the business, and less to family. In descending order, their top risks are talent, succession, family conflict, cybersecurity, and investment performance.
“It’s unusual that many family office respondents didn’t cite non-operating issues as concerns, especially those that might be beyond their immediate control that could ultimately affect family members’ lives—events like natural disasters, public health crises, and geopolitical instability,” said Linda Bourn, Senior Vice President and Family Enterprise Risk Practice Leader at Alliant Private Client.
The research also parsed the level of preparation for family-level risks. Only 41% reported currently having a plan in place for travel emergency preparedness; 38% a plan for natural disaster preparedness; 35% for communicating a family code of conduct; 32% for family reputation management, and 29% for personal threat assessments. “The absence of such plans is notable in an environment where negative media attention can have a swift and enduring impact on the family and their enterprise,” Bourn said.
By contrast, 77% reported that their management teams have implemented controls to identify and mitigate cybersecurity risk at the enterprise level; 69% have business continuity plans in place for unexpected disruptions; 64% conduct holistic risk reviews at an enterprise-wide level, and half have risk mitigation plans in place to mitigate known risks to the enterprise.
But, as alluded to above, 63% report that they do not have a process in place to educate rising generations about the unique risks associated with being part of a prominent family. “This is a major oversight, because something as simple as a social media gaffe or an inadequately insured rental car excursion could have a profound impact on the entire family’s reputation, and even finances,” said Bourn.
“The antidote to all of this potential risk exposure at the family level is a regular, annual risk review, conducted in addition to or alongside the regular risk review in place for the enterprise. It’s notable—and concerning—that only 24% of respondents said a family risk review occurs annually,” she said. “Most families in this category have a family meeting at least once a year when a discussion around family risk and planning processes should be implemented.”
The report points out that 70% of respondents have executives responsible for overseeing enterprise-level risk management on top of the three-to-four wealth planning services they provide to the family. The absence of a full-time risk manager for these successful family enterprises leaves the family exposed.
“Conducting annual family risk reviews can help identify the family’s unique risks and enable families to effectively structure key programs, including, say, a comprehensive insurance program to adequately address risk exposures,” Bourn said. “Again, we encourage families and their executives to raise the topic of non-business risk at the next family meeting, and that the conversation be designed in a way that encourages family members to ask questions that will help educate all generations.”
About the Family Enterprise Risk Index
The Family Enterprise Risk Index was a joint effort by Alliant Private Client, Center for Applied Research (CFAR), Cornell University Smith Family Business Initiative, and YMG.