Maria Elena Lagomasino
Maria Elena Lagomasino
GenSpring Family Offices
3801 PGA Boulevard, Suite 555
Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33410
800.506.1989 or 561.746.8444
Type of Firm
Once limited to a few of the world’s wealthiest families, the benefits of the family office are rapidly becoming known to a wider circle of ultra-high net worth clients. A market leader among family offices, GenSpring guides more than 700 families around the world in their financial lives. As a leading alternative to traditional wealth management firms, GenSpring’s family offices combine comprehensive wealth management advice with the world’s most compelling opportunities with no conflicts of interest.
Responsibilities at Current Firm
Prior to joining GenSpring, Mel served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of JP Morgan Private Bank, an institution with more than $300 billion in client assets under supervision. Her career in banking began in 1977 at Citibank. She joined the Chase Manhattan Private Bank in 1983 and was named head of Chase's worldwide private banking business in 1997. Following the Chase-JP Morgan merger, she became Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the JPMorgan Private Bank.
For Maria Elena Lagomasino, CEO of GenSpring Family Offices, serving as the advocate for the 700 families GenSpring works for is not simply professional, it’s personal. In a financial world that is increasingly complex and dominated by private banks that are distributors of proprietary products rather than advocates for clients, Lagomasino wanted to build a firm where she could always be on the same side of the table as her clients and where those families could “understand who is helping them make decisions.”
GenSpring’s fiduciary duty to the families is the foundation of its mission to serve them. For Lagomasino, it’s “solving” for clients, not “selling” to clients. “Advising goes way beyond just doing the right thing.”
That drove Lagomasino to leave her post as chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Private Bank in 2005 and take the helm at Asset Management Advisors (AMA), a registered investment advisor that had 300 client families and about $8 billion in assets at that time. AMA became GenSpring Family Offices and an affiliate of Sun Trust Banks, “a partner that respects the distinct capabilities of GenSpring's conflict-free business model.”
The model is now unusual in the world of private banking. Lagomasino points out that banks which used to have fiduciary relationships with their clients have moved to the broker/dealer suitability model, and many clients don’t realize the impact of that metamorphosis. Once clients do figure this out, though, choosing between an advocate whose only obligation is to serve the client as a fiduciary, and a rep who is selling investment products, is an easy one. GenSpring’s assets have more than doubled during Lagomasino’s tenure, to $18.8 billion.
Since the onset of the financial crisis, Lagomasino has “seen different behavior,” in clients. They are much less willing to “trade three things:…control, to hedge fund or private equity managers; transparency—they didn’t need to understand [everything about] the securities,” before, and “liquidity.” The “strategy, track record and expected returns have to be much higher” if they are going to commit and lock up their assets. She’s found that “as families have learned to focus on spending, they’ve looked at their “sources and uses of cash,” and there has been a “significant dial-down in spending by some families.”
The families have also been feeling “uncertainty about the political and tax environment.” They are, “less willing to take a bet on a particular outcome.” Among the uncertainties that Lagomasino sees in the coming investment environment is whether there will be inflation or deflation, so she explains that clients “need a portfolio for all seasons.” To create that all-season portfolio, GenSpring has added allocations to gold and managed futures, where appropriate.
GenSpring runs separate women’s and men’s client retreats each year. For many women, it’s about how to “demystify” financial issues. The toughest financial issue for many women is to start asking questions about financial and investing topics. In some cases women are selling companies or have had other liquidity events. In others, because women live longer and so many end up widowed and making financial—and corporate—decisions, they really need to become equipped to master their financial situation. “The more competent their husbands and sons are about financial” issues, “the more the women are willing to delegate” that part of life. But the paradox is, the “single biggest issue men have is if their wife and kids can take care of themselves,” if something happens to him. So the goal is to make sure that women in these families are, “comfortable, involved and competent.”
—Kathleen M. McBride