Angela Alvig, CPA

Family Meetings: The Big Day

Published June 202010 minute readInsights from Angela Alvig
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FAMILY MEETINGS: THE BIG DAY

Family meetings are one of the most effective tools that families can use to maintain family harmony. They’re a great idea for all families, and they’re especially needed for families that have significant wealth. 

Managing wealth is a complex activity, and can generate significant drama. Regular family meetings can help prevent the conflicts, drama and poor decisions which can erode financial accomplishments and, worse still, permanently harm family relationships.

In our last article, we laid out the process for planning a quality family meeting. In this article, we’ll talk about how to conduct the meeting itself, for optimal results. 

Launching the Meeting

Begin the meeting with a kick-off message from family leaders, expressing their gratitude for the family and the advisor team, and expressing their intentions for the meeting. This is a good time to emphasize positivity, to reassure everyone that it’s a safe place to be authentic and transparent, and to reinforce the message of “assuming positive intent” from all parties. Then, family leaders should hand over the meeting to the designated neutral facilitator.

The facilitator should ask all participants to remove distractions by silencing and flipping over their phones. Turn off any monitors in view, and convey that full attention and participation is expected.

Make clear the intention for an environment of mutual respect. Encourage people to speak for themselves only. The facilitator should make sure everyone gets to be heard, and discourage people from dominating the conversation or interrupting people when it’s their turn to speak.

Give participants an overview of how the meeting will go. Review the agenda, and explain how the meeting will be segmented. Let them know there will be a set time for questions at the end of each section of the agenda, so as not to derail the meeting. 

Have a senior family member speak about family legacy, as well as the family’s financial struggles, successes, choices and lessons learned. The goal is to build bonds, and help family members appreciate where they have come from.

If the meeting will take longer than 90 minutes, include breaks in the agenda. For all-day meetings, plan some short events that add some fun to the day.

Be Inclusive

Remember that everyone processes information differently. For example, introverts process information quietly while extroverts are prone to repeating information for confirmation and “thinking aloud.” Ask quiet family members for their opinion – it’s often the quiet ones that process things more thoroughly and have great insight, but may need encouragement to share. Other personality types may ask a lot of questions, but that doesn’t mean they are challenging you. They may just need the details from all angles before forming an opinion. 

Be sensitive to body language indicating unspoken questions, and invite people to contribute accordingly. It may help to assign one member of the professional advisor team to pay particular attention to body language, and identify people who clearly have questions but are holding back. 

Conclude with Clarity

Make sure to take steps to ensure proper closure of the meeting to foster as much attendee satisfaction as possible.

Once the official agenda items are completed, the facilitator should make sure to offer family members an additional opportunity to ask any final questions they may have.

Set expectations for where things will go from here, to manage expectations proactively. If this meeting is the beginning of a routine of regularly occurring family meetings, make that clear to the group and let them know a timetable for the next meeting. Perhaps temporary circumstances such as the administration of an estate dictate an increase in meeting frequency and/or complexity. Make that clear as well.

Be clear about any meeting follow-ups that family members can expect. If meeting minutes will be sent to the group, let them know when those will be sent and by whom. For any questions from attendees that were not answered during the meeting, establish who will research the answer, and how and when it will be shared with the group. 

A well-run family meeting offers a forum for multiple generations to discuss important and possibly sensitive financial matters. While concrete goals can include educating the next generation(s) about finances, identifying and sharing family values, and ensuring successful family wealth transitions, the ultimate intention of generating family harmony should never be overlooked. 

The Simplify Wealth team has significant experience in planning and facilitating family meetings for our clients. We believe that family meetings have immense value and are worth the effort. If you are considering a family meeting but don’t know where to start, we can help!