2022 was a tough year for family offices. Portfolio values are down, interest rates have been rising and the main focus of many has been on controlling and even reducing operating costs and debt.
Against this background, putting off the purchase of a new portfolio and partnership accounting and reporting system might seem a wise thing to do, particularly when such systems can cost as much as an employee and come with, what is often perceived as, a large implementation fee.
And looked at in purely operating cost terms that may well be the right answer. But that presupposes that such software is truly a cost. Often, unlike an investment, it is hard to determine the cost and reward of implementing a new software solution. But here are some thoughts as to why a unified portfolio and partnership accounting, performance and reporting solution is a ‘must-have’ not a ‘nice-to-have’.
The Components Of Operating Cost
Often, cheap software means having a multiplicity of such systems, ranging from Excel and a standard accounting package, which was probably not designed specifically for the investment world. You may have a separate portfolio system, or several, as usually software may be good at private equity or marketable assets, but not both. It often means having to deal with external data and manual entry. Moreover, all that adds up to the need for people and time to make it all work synchronously.
Adding to the dilemma, if you take on a new unified software solution, then the cost is often not offset by the multiple software systems you eliminate. After all, specialist software is just going to be more expensive than an off-the-shelf accounting package and Excel, at just a few thousand dollars a year combined. Furthermore, as no one is going to be fired, a traditional dollar-based cost benefit analysis does not work. Indeed, such an exercise will only guarantee a negative (more costly) operating base.
The Real Currency Of A Family Office
Money is the product of family office success. It is not the reason for it. So, what factors determine success? What is the real currency of a family office?
Well, it is information. Furthermore, to be of value, that information needs to be both timely and accurate.
Only a powerful all-in-one software that unifies the general ledger, portfolio and partnership accounting, connected to automated data feeds from other information sources (banks, brokers, alt managers and alike), can deliver fast, accurate information.
Compare that with the multiplicity of systems, integrated by Excel and manpower, that most family offices use. This is the equivalent of a squirrel burying acorns in your garden. Believe it or not, relying on memory alone, the squirrel only ever recovers 50% of the acorns it buried. The reason the squirrel does not starve in winter is that it buried a lot of them! A good, but not efficient, survival technique that embeds underperformance.
So, as you grapple with all those systems and all that data, often manually, think about the real cost when it comes time to:
- moving money or understanding how much your net worth is when reporting to an outside co-investor or lender in order to make a new investment.
- transferring wealth to a child tax effectively, when the ability to source investments and track cash flows becomes really sensitive.
- simply accurately assessing exposure and risks of your investments and tax liabilities – this requires a degree of precision and timeliness to meet commercial and tax deadlines.
It should not take weeks and months of effort to understand and report these things, it should take minutes or hours.
Only a unified platform can do this quickly, accurately, with minimum effort to give you the highest awareness in your decision making.
The old saying of time is money was true in the pre-digital age. Those were the days when labour directly, or a person interacting with a machine, determined output.
In this digital world, information is money. The machines, the computers on your desk, now talk to other machines and do not need an actual person. So, if you want to be successful, ensure your infrastructure harnesses information accurately and quickly.
-Ashley Whittaker, President of Global Sales