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WE Family Offices Sets Out To Reshape The Landscape Of UHNW Wealth Management

Harriet Davies, Editor - Family Wealth Report, 11 April 2013

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WE Family Offices is trying to change the landscape of high-end wealth management with its offering focused on “wealth as an enterprise.”

WE Family Offices is trying to change the landscape of high-end wealth management with its offering focused on “wealth as an enterprise.”

While WE Family Offices is a new brand, it has in various forms been serving clients for a number of years - demonstrating the importance of personal relationships with clients, as it has retained them through times of upheaval.

“This company is really a continuation of a personal journey that Santiago [Ulloa], Michael [Zeuner] and I have been on for a long time,” says Maria Elena Lagomasino, known in the industry as Mel, who is chief executive and managing partner of WE.  

Talking to Family Wealth Report with fellow managing partner Santiago Ulloa, who founded the original TBK business which was the foundation of WE’s client base, she explains their motivations and strategy.

Both Ulloa and Lagomasino are well-known names within the industry, having held some of the most senior roles (chief executive and president of international, respectively) at GenSpring Family Offices until fairly recently.

They are both now, though, along with other former colleagues such as Zeuner, who is managing partner of WE, on a different stage of that personal journey.

“[It is] a culmination of all these years of experience and figuring out what is the right business model,” says Lagomasino.

What is the right business model?

In some ways WE is as much of a philosophy as a business model. Given the background of its management team, it goes without saying that the only source of income will be the client, and that a big part of WE’s job will be negotiating on behalf of those clients with the behemoths of finance – the JP Morgans, for example – to secure the best prices. But there is more to it than this, and it translates through to everything from the ownership structure to the families it will work with.

“It really is based on a belief that private capital can be a force for good,” says Lagomasino.

“It’s very important for us…who are these families, what do they believe in…we want to have the good guys, who want to use their capital as a force for good,” she adds.

And, of course, they must be very wealthy. Because WE’s model is highly intensive. Each family’s wealth is viewed as an “enterprise” (hence the name, which stands for Wealth Enterprise), and WE’s team begin as consultants, she explains, who act much like a business consultant might when brought into evaluate a firm. This approach extends to their entire balance sheet, including operating businesses, and even human capital.

The tale of one client family demonstrates this. The family’s operating business was being supported by their personal capital. While they still had extensive assets to support this, their advisor pointed out that it was a sure route to draining away all their personal assets and they needed to come up with a plan for the business – perhaps a sale – quickly. Ultimately they closed down the business, a hard step which meant admitting it had had its heyday and the model was no longer viable. But it meant the family were able to retain their wealth and put it into a new direction, where a more productive future potentially lay.

Lagomasino points out that when a wealthy entrepreneur buys a $10 million business, he or she could probably reel off at the drop of a hat its vital statistics. But the same rigor is rarely applied to knowing the granular details of their family’s finances. 

As part of this approach, WE takes a non-discretionary approach to wealth: it wants to work with clients that are involved in the "enterprise." Meanwhile, as well as consultants the family office acts as "the infrastructure and arms and legs of the plan,” says Lagomasino.

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