Thinking of working for a family office? First look under the hood – and into the mirror.

“Financial advisors who are on the outside looking in can have very unrealistic expectations,” says Stephen Campbell, head of the North America Family Office Group at Citi Private Bank. “Being able to hire the right people is probably the greatest challenge a family office faces. Each family has its own unique culture and style.

Both advisors and family members need to keep the unique characteristics of a family office in mind when filling positions, says  Campbell, whose group works closely with around 300 families who have at least $100 million in net worth.


Advisors who want to work for a family office are often attracted for the wrong reasons, says Campbell, who served as the chief investment officer for a family office in Seattle. While a planner may be attracted to a family's name or wealth, family offices are looking for team players, not prima donnas.

“Family offices tend to have small staffs,” Campbell says. “People are called upon to do a lot of things. They may be doing bill-pay one day and curating an art collection the next. These are not siloed organizations … Everyone has to act in concert to respond to the needs of the family -- which change over time.”

Advisors must also be realistic about the job, he adds. “Some people think it will be idyllic,” Campbell explains. “They’ve had a good experience with the principal of the family and they think that’s how it’s always going to be. Or they’re used to traveling first-class around the world. But that may not be the policy of the family office.”


For top positions at a family office, having exceptional judgment is a critical requirement, Campbell says.

“The CEO is viewed as a proxy for the family,” Campbell explains. “Everything he or she does reflects directly on the family -- positively or negatively. Some in a high position at a family office has to be able to handle any situation that arises, has to be skilled at saying ‘no,’ and have a highly developed sense of diplomacy.”

So which advisors have the right fit? Campbell suggests that the job is well suited to an advisor in the later stages of a career. “It may be the right position for someone who has had a very accomplished career in an investment advisory firm, or an accounting or law firm, and wants a level of engagement with a client that they haven’t previously experienced,” he says. “There will be trade-offs, but it can be a situation that is creatively stimulating and very satisfying.”

Advisors interested in working for a family office should put the word out to their professional colleagues who work with wealthy families. Campbell also says that he advises family offices looking to fill positions to first speak to the practitioners they work closely with, such as accountants or estate attorneys.

“I tell them to talk to people they know and trust, and exhaust that network first,” he said.

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