Family Office

Single-Family Offices Fret Over Transparency, Data Demands – EY

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor, May 12, 2022

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The pace of regulatory change continues to change and with it demands – not always wise – for ever more transparency and disclosure. Family offices around the world are finding the process increasingly concerning.

A survey of more than 250 single-family offices worldwide shows that more than half of them (53 per cent) worry about rising demands for global transparency and information exchange – obviously important concerns for these traditionally discreet institutions. 

Almost half (48 per cent) of SFOs said increasing complexity of cross-border tax compliance is a burden and 46 per cent said regulatory uncertainty has become a problem since the pandemic erupted two years ago, according to the study from EY.

With many family members traveling regularly across borders, 72 per cent of SFO respondents highlight concerns about the potential tax implications of remote working, suggesting that enthusiasm for abandoning traditional work practices has its limits.

“The global tax landscape is transforming almost beyond recognition. Governments around the world are looking for new sources of revenue in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and other economic pressures. Beyond the huge implications emerging from global tax reform, SFOs must also watch tax authorities’ increasing moves toward digitalization, tax sustainability issues and the tax consequences of remote working,” Kate Barton, EY global vice chair – tax, said. 

As governments around the world try to repair public finances after the pandemic, and curb inflation, the world’s wealthiest citizens fear that they are likely to be targeted for higher taxes. Also, some market mishaps, such as the collapse last year of New York-based hedge fund Archegos, which was structured as an SFO, have put family offices under an unwelcome regulatory spotlight. 

Tax operations
Among other findings, the study showed that 64 per cent of respondents aren’t sure whether their tax operations perform robustly; respondents cited worries about processes, people, technology, cost management and risk monitoring.

EY’s study, which plots the attitudes of SFOs in 12 countries, explores challenges and opportunities that

family offices give priority to over changes such as regulations, economic shifts, digital technology, changing risks and approaches to how families should govern themselves.

The authors of the report said that many families and SFOs expand how they define their goals beyond financial results, drawing in ideas about protecting the Earth, human rights and wellbeing, and the impact of business on communities. Some 83 per cent of respondents said tracking nonfinancial metrics is important. However, only 30 per cent of SFOs do much to measure performance of nonfinancial metrics.

Cybersecurity and digital development
Examining SFOs’ approach to digitalization and security, the study found that 74 per cent of respondents said they had suffered a cyber breach in recent years, yet 72 per cent don't have a cyber incident plan and 61 per cent did not have processes in place for detecting IT breaches. Looking ahead, 81 per cent of respondents said they planned to act.

Questioned about broader risk management, only 49 per cent of SFO respondents said they were confident that they have processes in place to spot risks on the horizon, while 31 per cent agreed that decisions about risks facing their organizations were not taken at the highest levels.

Steven Shultz, EY Global Private Tax leader, said: “SFOs face a sobering mix of strategic, technological, regulatory and operational disruptions all amid unprecedented economic, social and geopolitical forces that are largely beyond their control. It is critical that their legacy is protected by supporting them to adapt to these trends.

“It’s clear that these changes present both challenges and opportunities, but in order to navigate them effectively, SFOs need to act now. The incredible pace of regulatory change in tax and beyond demands that SFOs learn to adapt quickly; and, in the face of rapid digitization, they need to review their technology and their protection against cybercrime. With reputational risk an ever-increasing threat, SFOs need to look closely at their risk management practices to ensure they are robust; and, when it comes to strategy and governance, it’s hard to overstate the importance of taking into account nonfinancial metrics.”

Among recent developments worldwide, Singapore has introduced new rules affecting the behavior of family offices. Each fund must be worth at least S$50 million ($35.93 million), and 10 per cent of it or S$10 million – whichever is the smaller amount – should be invested in Singapore. Depending on size, family offices must spend S$500,000 to S$1 million in the domestic economy each year, rising from S$200,000. Additionally, of the three investment figures which they are required to hire, at least one must be a non-family member, the rules state. 

Attempts in the US to push for more regulatory oversight of single-family offices have met with resistance. See an example here. 

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