Ultra-Wealthy Families Made Tactical, Not Strategic Changes Post-2008

Cambridge Associates said families had long-term horizon, resources to ride out storm

Family offices that oversee assets for ultra-high-net-worth European and American families made tactical adjustments but few strategic changes in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, according to a new survey released Wednesday by Cambridge Associates.

The survey, which was conducted in 2011, involved 40 single-family offices in the U.S. and Europe whose median asset size was $534 million.

Family offices took several tactical steps to tighten their approach to liquidity, cash management and risk management in response to the financial crisis and ongoing post-2008 volatility, according to Cambridge:

  • 62% increased liquidity and cash reserves (with cash positions rising to 9.6% from 7.5% pre-2008);
  • 49% rebalanced portfolios;
  • 43% actively reduced portfolio risk;
  • 41% conducted more projections of cash flow and capital calls.

Only slightly more than a quarter of family offices amended their strategic asset allocation approach. Several increased allocations to hedge funds, distressed and real estate, while others decreased investments in public equities.

Family offices’ most significant alteration to oversight involved the monitoring of outside investment managers. Some three-quarters of respondents tightened performance monitoring and review of such managers, and nearly half updated their new manager due diligence. But only a third said they had added more risk metrics to performance reporting or to their policy statements.

Of the family offices that provided information about their use of external consultants or other advisory services, 83% said their reliance on those providers had either increased or remained constant since 2008.

“When it comes down to it, the most common response to questions about changes to family office oversight and management policies in the post-2008 period was that none was made,” Douglas Macauley, managing director at Cambridge Associates, said in a statement.

“Equally interesting were observations that the underlying family had a long-term horizon, had the resources to ride out difficult market environments and, for the most part, did not initiate changes in their investment policies in reaction to the crisis,” he said.

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