New association to cater to 'exceptionally wealthy'

Group to focus on investing, peer-to-peer dialogue

Oct 12, 2008 @ 12:01 am

By Charles Paikert

There are already plenty of associations for wealthy individuals and family offices, but Angelo Robles, a Greenwich, Conn.-based consultant and former insurance executive, is betting that there is room for yet another.

Tomorrow, he is launching Family Office Association LLC with an investor-oriented event in Greenwich featuring panels on such topics as emerging hedge funds, structured products, art, wine, rare coins and developing an investment portfolio in China.

"We're going to be exclusively focused on the exceptionally wealthy," said Mr. Robles, the association's chief executive. Membership in the for-profit organization will be limited to individuals, families or single-family offices with at least $30 million in investible assets, and annual memberships will range from $7,500 to $75,000.

The peer-to-peer association will provide members with advice on setting up and running a single-family office and host events and discussions on investing topics and "lifestyle interests" of the wealthy, such as "household staffing, world travel and family aviation," Mr. Robles said.

He wants to emphasize the "peer-to-peer" aspect of the association which allows ultrahigh-net-worth individuals and families to "talk to other people like themselves in a safe setting."

Mr. Robles also envisions the association's members taking advantage of their "collective buying power" to obtain discounts on goods and services or access to investments or funds with high minimum requirements.

To be sure, the Family Office Association faces stiff competition.

The Chicago-based Family Office Exchange LLC and Wheaton, Ill.-based Family Wealth Alliance LLC are well-established organizations for family offices, particularly multifamily offices.

Tiger 21 LLC of New York is perhaps the best-known peer-to-peer association for wealthy individuals, and the Institute for Private Investors, also of New York, is a highly regarded organization for high-net-worth investors which stresses investor education and peer-to-peer discussions.

Those groups and others, such as CCC Alliance LLC of Boston, are "all great and all have a niche in the market," Mr. Robles said.

Nonetheless, he sees a "tremendous opportunity" in the market for the Family Office Association. "Our exclusivity makes us different," Mr. Robles said.

But industry observers and — not surprisingly — his competitors are more skeptical.

"The concept of exclusivity isn't enough," said Robert Ellis, New York-based senior analyst for Celent Communications LLC, a financial research and consulting firm in Boston.

"They have to add value that other organizations aren't doing," he said. "They're going to have to put some meat behind it."

The ultrahigh-net-worth market is projected to keep growing and will have "clear needs" for services, said Julie Neitzel, president of the Miami office of GenSpring Family Offices LLC, which is based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

"The question is not [whether there's] room in the market, but what value does a company or organization bring to this very specialized market?" she said.

PLENTY OF SPACE

The chief executive of the Family Wealth Alliance, Tom Livergood, conceded that "there is plenty of room in the marketplace" for an organization catering to wealthy families and individuals.

Nevertheless, the challenge for such an organization is getting the target market to find time to participate.

"Is there room on the schedule of the people they're trying to reach?" Mr. Livergood asked.

"People are going to ask, 'Why should I take time out of my busy schedule?'" he said. "The real competition [for the Family Office Association] is time."

As for the prospects for Mr. Robles' association, Family Office Ex-change president John Benevides said: "It will be interesting to see exactly what kind of services are provided."

Mr. Robles will face challenges competing with established organizations on a national level, but he can be successful in Greenwich, said Berke Nowak, a wealth manager for Highmount Capital in New York who works with high-net-worth clients.

But Mr. Robles, who was director of executive benefits for Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. in Itasca, Ill., from 2000 to 2004, insisted that the Family Office Association has global ambitions.

"We're reaching out to Brazil, Dubai and Europe," he said. "We want to be a true global peer-to-peer organization."

E-mail Charles Paikert at cpaikert@investmentnews.com.

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