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Horizons: Family Office & Investor Magazine

Arnaud de Coninck: Keeping Family Offices secure

Monday, July 26, 2021

Arnaud de Coninck is Head Partnerships at Trusted Family, an award-winning technology platform serving the world’s leading family offices, family businesses, and private companies. Its technology allows you to connect, communicate and collaborate securely with your family, team members, shareholders and board, from anywhere.

Matthias Knab: Founded by two next-generation entrepreneurs from European business families, Trusted Family has built the industry leading workflow and communications platform for family offices, family businesses and private companies. Arnaud, tell us a bit about your and the Trusted Family’s background.

Arnaud de Coninck: The two co-founders of Trusted Family, Edouard Thijssen and Edouard Janssen and I share a similar background: I am a sixth-generation member of a Belgium company called Solvay, a family business which is listed on the stock market.

Edouard Janssen is a member of my family business and Edouard Thijssen is a member of the family behind the Belgian Aliaxis Group, which is one of the leaders in transport of water and gas and sanitary systems. We all have the same challenges because our families are multigenerational families tied into a network of businesses and other assets, or challenges around the transition from one generation to the next. Transition is an enormous, multi- faceted task, not only how to prepare and educate the next gen in becoming responsible owners but also in having secure and transparent operational systems and processes in place, as well as healthy frameworks about governance and communication.

As you can imagine, these issues are not limited to us but affect countless families around the globe, no matter if, for example, they are transitioning from the first to the second, the second to third or from the 10th to the 11th.. The challenges that families face are often very similar and often exacerbated by the fact that family members start spreading out geographically and work in many different sectors, especially in our generation.

Trusted Family has created and runs dedicated platforms that help family businesses and family offices to manage meetings, share documents and deliver confidential information, in one secure technology solution. We also help private companies streamline board governance and shareholder communications to drive efficiency and deliver value.

Trusted Family leverages a decade of industry expertise and employs gold-standard best practices for securing all user information, data, and documents, to put your security at the forefront of our business. The company is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, with offices in London and New York, and family business clients in 27 countries globally.

Today we are the industry leader and work with about 160+ family offices, family businesses around the world who use our solution for improved communication and effective decision-making for board, shareholders, family members and external trusted advisors.

Matthias Knab: Can you share in more detail how the Trusted Family solutions make life easier for family offices, family businesses and private companies?

Arnaud de Coninck: Just looking at my own family which is diversified and spread all over the world. While very few family members are actively involved in the day-to-day operations of the businesses, there are also all sorts of committees, boards, shareholder councils and entities that require structure and a need for documentation and more effective transparency.

If you look at the main reasons for conflicts in families, things like lack of transparency and a lack of preparation of the younger generation are probably among the top three.

We built technology and processes that really have the potential to entirely remove the underlying problems. We also found that today, data management is as important as wealth management. I feel there are too many singe family offices out there that underestimate the value of data in our century. It is really key for family offices to preserve it, to control it and to build upon it for future generations.

Matthias Knab: Who is your typical user? And where have you seen spikes of growth or demand?

Arnaud de Coninck: Today we assist over 160 family businesses and family offices through a dedicated web and mobile platform. We have very different types of families: families with less than 10 members using our software to work efficiently together while others have hundreds of members looking to improve communication and create transparency. I would say that our main type of use case are families that transition from the second to the third generation when there are about 10, 15 members in the family who start to realize the importance of working together as a family. At this stage, a lot of things need to get thought through, planned, organized and archived to work more effectively together than just using emails or a simple drive.

Before working with us, our clients basically use a combination of tools and therefore information, data and documents are scattered all over the place. The idea through our platform is to be able to unite all stakeholders, external board members, external family members, advisors, into one ecosystem that allows the family to operate on one single platform.

Look, if we’re talking about just communication between father/mother with their son or daughter, then I would say go have dinner together or spend some quality time in person to answer all your questions. I think that would be step number one. But the same parents may also have a family office with diversifications, with a lot of stakeholders, external board members, investment committees working for him or her – well, then it becomes really vital to have a trusted and secured environment to share information.

We also found that a lot of private companies are taking up our solution as they also have a massive demand for board and shareholder meeting management software and communication tools, especially through this COVID crisis, where it’s been impossible to actually meet in person. Equipping themselves online with effective tools for managing boards, organizing boards, following up on boards and shareholder meetings is really what has helped us find a lot of recognition from those private companies as well.

The COVID pandemic has sparked a lot of growth as the world continues to digitize to optimize processes and work more efficiently. People and families who before might have been a bit reluctant to technology are professionalizing their practices to operate remotely.

Summing up, we help our clients really in two ways: One is working more effectively between their governance entities and external advisors; and the second aspect is the security and ownership of data. We enable this through a series of platform features helping users to schedule and run meetings, to annotate their documents, exchange notes and comments on files. We also have electronic signatures built into the system to facilitate decision making and hold people accountable.

As you can imagine, we keep developing, it’s a never-ending journey. We are a team of 27 people today, and half of our revenue goes into product enhancements and R&D.

Matthias Knab: You said earlier that people still need to fully understand the need and the responsibility around data management. Tell us more about that and how you help your clients keep their data secure.

Arnaud de Coninck: You are right, when I started working with families, it was very difficult sometimes to convince them of the importance of data management and data control. I think over the past 10 years all the cyber-attacks and security frictions made singe family offices realize the importance of professionalizing their approach to document management and information sharing.

But that is really true for the greater ecosystem in which we operate. For example, we partner with academic institutions which have invested a lot in family business practices. We also work with wealth managers, multi-family offices and private banks that are shifting some of their processes to offer a more holistic approach to serve the needs of their family clients that are evolving.

Matthias Knab: Let me go back to the security aspects. How does your platform protect people and operations to conduct business securely?

Arnaud de Coninck: For sure, a lot of awareness and training needs to happen at every level. On our side we have a security committee that meets on a monthly basis just to make sure we have the right processes and structures in place within our organization. We also provide security training for our clients and our end users on the most current threats.

As I said previously, data management is as important as wealth management and family offices need to control it, secure it, own it. When you start having a combination of tools, it becomes more and more complex for family offices to really control, own and understand where the latest versions are or who has versions of those documents. It is also important for families to realize the actions they have online can have repercussions in real life. Family officers and family leaders must realize the importance of this and invest to define a security policy and strategy for their members.

To dive into a bit deeper, Trusted Family is not the data controller, the client is always the data controller. So we’ll always have the obligation to give back clients data and to delete this one after a client decides to stop working with us.

We also have a structured process in place where every year several external firms audit our security measures, server infrastructures, web and mobile platforms to make sure we have the latest solutions, patches and technologies in place to help protect our clients’ data.

Anyone who runs an organization should be aware of the fact that the more separate providers and multiple tools are used, the more vulnerable they become. How are the interfaces between those systems secured? What is the role of email in the set up? Ideally, no sensitive information should be transferred through email, just as a starter.

Matthias Knab: When Trusted Family was started, you were very fortunate to all be part of family businesses already. I wonder, how did you start your expansion, and how do you see this space evolve?

Arnaud de Coninck: With many of us coming from family businesses, we understand the needs and unique specificities of the industry. Once we had it all up and running, it was then quite easy to introduce the platform through our networks to other families.

Clients then started recommending us to other families - the typical network effect. They go to conferences, they speak to other families in their own ecosystem about things that matter to them, like the challenges of communication, preparation of the younger generation, transparency, etc.

I also need to mention the crucial role played by family business advisors. They work hard to define the blueprint for families. The governance structures, protocols and processes that they define are essential for the long-term success of a family enterprise. The Trusted Family platform takes this information and works with our clients advisors to put all of this structure into practice supporting the family in their journey to success.

Our partners have been amazing supporters throughout the years and we include them in all the work that we do with our clients. If you think about it, succession is a never-ending topic, and so is education. Once you think you are done with one generation, it’s probably time to start with the other one!

To your second question about the evolution in this space: We do see more private companies adopting our solutions for real-time collaboration and accelerated decision-making across the board, so that’s a massive global market and an opportunity for many organizations to operate, make decisions and work more effectively together.

On the family office side, we see that many are continuously professionalizing their way of working. More technology softwares are being used for reporting purposes, cap table management, tax & legal solutions, etc. These should ideally not remain siloed, and so I believe the tech companies supporting family offices will be more integrative and collaborative. We have already been doing all sorts of tech integrations for our clients and are working on improving our API in order to help us work more closely with third-party solutions in a structurally secure and more effective way.

Get to know Trusted Family’s platform on August 26th 10 am ET (3pm UK time) when Arnaud de Coninck will demo the platform and share best use-cases from clients.

Register here for free: https://www.opalesque.com/webinar/#uw0

 
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