There is increasing recognition of the importance that family businesses play in the UK economy. But these businesses face specific challenges that are different from public sector, private partnership or large corporate entities. For example, succession planning, governance and corporate actions are all complicated by the structure of family ownership. A particular issue is that family business owners are often both company directors and controlling shareholders where their personal wealth and corporate responsibilities are completely entwined within the same firm.
To address these challenges, family business owners have historically taken advice from a variety of professionals such as lawyers, bankers and accountants. Trust and estate planning practitioners possess the knowledge and many of the competencies that family business owners need to manage their challenges. However, all of these professional advisors sometimes struggle to deliver the mix of technical, financial, legal and interpersonal skills that family business owners require. In particular, many legal and financial professionals lack the interpersonal and communication skills necessary to work effectively with multiple generations of family business stakeholders. As a result, relationships between advisors and owners may be difficult and outcomes suboptimal. Equally, family dynamics may block family businesses from developing an optimal engagement with their advisors that will achieve the best results for business and family.
The shared perspective: impetus for industry research
STEP and the Institute for Family Business (IFB) each have an interest in addressing an advisory skills and service mismatch on behalf of their respective members. STEP has advisor members who are skilled at delivering trust and estate planning advice to private clients. The IFB has family business members who are looking for advisors with a better mix of skills to satisfy their business succession, governance and strategic planning issues.
Recognising that both organisations share overlapping interests, it was felt that a joint research initiative would benefit both organisations’ members and the family business sector in general.
Research is an effective way to generate awareness and understanding of strategic issues if it is conducted in such a way that fosters learning and personal development.
STEP and the Institute for Family Business with UCG* jointly commissioned a research project to highlight respectively the need for soft skill development among legal and accounting practitioners and to develop a guide for family business owners to better engage with advisors.
The report has highlighted some new perspectives on how outcomes for families and their advisors can be improved, the findings serving as an important resource in developing future best practice in the family business advisory market.
The research revealed that it is not enough to be technically proficient or highly qualified to effectively advise family businesses - that is only the baseline starting point. Equally important is the ability to effectively deal with various personalities in a complex family situation and having listening, mediation, facilitation and conflict resolution skills.
The findings raise awareness of the need for stronger interpersonal communication skills among advisors, broadening of skills beyond technical competences, adopting business practices from other professions, and overcoming barriers to working more collaboratively.
*The Institute for Family Business (IFB) with Unquoted Companies Group (UCG) is an independent, not-for-profit, politically neutral, membership association which supports the UK family-owned business sector through Forums, Representation and Research.
Research carried out by Spence Johnson Ltd, specialist provider of marketing intelligence.