Earlier this summer, 170 family office executives from around the world gathered just outside New York City at a private compound owned by Citigroup.
Attendees of Citi Private Bank’s four-day, invitation-only conference in Armonk, N.Y. heard lectures from advisors to some of America’s richest and most prominent families. It was a chance learn how top peers have navigated the personal and professional circumstances their unique employers have faced.
But in making the trip to Armonk, attendees—who represented roughly $500 billion in personal wealth—also serendipitously got to brush shoulders with other gatekeepers to the most affluent, something especially valuable to them, according to Joseph Ebin, a manager at Scorpio Partnership, a consultancy to family offices and private banks.
At an event like this one, small talk in line for coffee could easily lead to a new friendship or a mega private equity deal down the road. Unlike in most investors’ portfolios, private equity (which includes venture capital, co-investing and private equity funds) accounts for more than 20 percent of family office investments, according to the UBS Global Family Office Report.
Attendees dubbed the conference “Davos for Family Offices,” a reference to the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in the Swiss city attended by high-profile chief executives and politicians.
Steven Campbell, the managing director and chairman of the Family Office Group at Citi Private Bank, said the forum is an apt comparison to the event he organizes.
There is significant demand for conferences like Citi's because the quality of events catering to family offices varies widely, Ebin said. Some can feel more focused on soliciting products or services than networking and education.
Each year for the past decade, UBS has hosted a similar conference at a compound it owns outside Zurich, said Judy Spalthoff, the executive director and head of family and philanthropy advisory at the bank in the U.S.
She thinks of Davos as “a place to convene” and could see why attendees would characterize a gathering of family office executives at a off-the-beaten-path like Armonk in that way. Seven years ago, UBS started hosting an annual family office event in the U.S. but it chooses a different city each time.
Campbell said the networking opportunities and other differentiators are why Citi's conference has exploded in popularity in only two years. The private bank sent 25 invites for the first conference in 2016 but word of mouth spread and dozens of others expressed interest. It ended up hosting about 60 executives the first year and knew it was onto something. This year, over 200 executives expressed interest in attending, but the compound could only accommodate 170 attendees.
The speakers themselves, who Campbell said he could not name publicly, draw attendees. All conferences have them, but at Armonk the lecturers are encouraged and able to share trials and errors “as candidly as possible,” Campbell said, since the event is “behind the gates, if you will.”
Members of the press cannot attend and recordings are prohibited. There are also plenty of areas for attendees to meet privately with one another.
“It’s really a venue where family office practitioners, for the most part, can interact amongst one another in a kind of safe environment,” said Campbell, who previously was the chief investment officer for a family office in Seattle.
The bank does not make attendees sign a confidentiality agreement and they haven’t had any issues with attendees sharing sensitive information inappropriately. Campbell said groups like that “tend to regulate themselves.”
Next year’s Armonk conference will be in early June and the Family Office Leadership Program has also created spin-off conferences to better cater to the private bank’s more than 1,000 family office clients around the world. This month the bank is hosting its first in Hong Kong, Campbell said.