The International Family Office Forum will take place in Zurich from 5 to 6 November. The independent industry expert Markus Hill will moderate a panel discussion with decision-makers from family offices on the topics of asset management, asset allocation, and due diligence. IPE Institutional Investment Editor-in-Chief talked to him about current topics that are increasingly being discussed by family offices, also against the background of the event.
IPE Institutional Investment: Mr. Hill, what topics will you discuss in your panel in Zurich?
Hill: The topics asset management, asset allocation, and due diligence will be discussed. I do not want to anticipate the final question at this point, concerning the panelists. In the run-up to the panel discussion, I have discussed certain potential issues regarding asset allocation and due diligence with various family offices and other market participants, independently of the panel question. What was interesting on the one hand was the openness of the discussion, on the other hand, I was amazed at the different facets of the answers. As the event in Zurich is internationally oriented, I had also spoken with foreign industry representatives. My impression was that the topic of “Cross-border networking” in the sense of professional exchange of ideas between family offices was more on the agenda. So to speak, the topic: What can we learn from each other? Where can we cooperate?
IPE Institutional Investment: That means concretely?
Hill: I have been asked by investors on several occasions to play more of a “neutral” role, if necessary repeatedly pointing out a critical trend in interviews or comments: The industry should perhaps look for creative solutions on how to promote the professional exchange of ideas with decision-makers without individual decision-makers feelings being oppressed by “aggressive sales behaviour” of certain sponsors (example: O-Ton, family office in Southern Germany). On the investor side, this can lead to the fact that even professionally high-quality events are sometimes no longer attended. This phenomenon has not only been addressed by family offices, but also by foundations and other investors. My impression is that many product providers are already dealing intensively with this topic, as the dialog between investor and provider can be fruitful for both sides.
IPE Institutional Investment: You have been talking to fund selectors and product specialists from different areas for many years. What role do the topic of family offices and product providers play at the event in Zurich?
Hill: My impression is that the industry is slowly developing different segments at events. Events, such as the IPE Investors’ Breakfast, which has a strong decision-maker focus, are taking place alongside events that are developing a more networking character for the industry. The current panel discussion in Zurich is dominated by decision-makers on stage and in the audience, who want to discuss specialist topics with each other at “eye-level”. Similar to Frankfurt, Zurich offers a good mix of “decision-makers” and industry meeting events. Both formats have their justification, and it seems important to me that transparency is guaranteed.
IPE Institutional Investment: Which topics are still being discussed in Zurich? What do you find additionally interesting?
Hill: A detailed overview of the topics can be found in the agenda on the Internet. There are different strands of topics. The international orientation of the event stands out, the organizer has successfully organized similar events in Germany. I take part in various events of this kind, nationally and internationally, one compares different “event designs”. To keep it short: Family offices from different countries discuss topics such as asset allocation, due diligence, real assets, social impact investing, risk management, etc. I am pleased that one can meet certain industry colleagues there again. Dr. Thorsten Querg from FOCAM, who participated in my panel at FundForum International in Monaco (topics included fund boutiques, selection, market entry in Germany, etc.) will, for example, moderate a panel entitled “How do German Family Offices invest in Germany? It is a pleasure for me.
IPE Institutional Investment: What other topics are you currently working on?
Hill: In addition to the usual “product scouting” activities, I am currently increasingly concerned with the topics of fund boutiques, independence, and real assets (infrastructure, etc.). This also leads to the fact that one should talk to investment companies like Universal Investment, Hauck & Aufhäuser but also houses like DWS and Union Investment, just as an example. It seems interesting to me that, as in the area of fund boutiques, there are many less transparent areas and “positive grey areas” in these fields. During discussions with investors, I notice again and again who does not know whom and who does not talk to whom, even though a great deal of solution competence would be available (products or services such as consulting). There is no ill will on either side, the “islands of ignorance” just find it hard to find each other. At the extreme: asset managers do not find investors, or investors find it difficult to push real asset projects because internal know-how would have to be supplemented by external know-how (example “renewables”: fund concept, project management, evaluation, etc.) A situation you may also know from your journalistic experience. By researching articles and attending the many investors’ breakfasts, one may often see the “red threads” between areas and players in the industry that do not seem directly obvious to others.
IPE Institutional Investment: Thank you very much for the interview.