In this conversation, Rebeka, brand manager and designer, sits down with Nicholas Schwarz, the Founder and CEO of The Cecily Group to ask him about his latest projects, and his innovative approaches in family office advisory, wealth transfer, and family governance.
Rebeka: You have a remarkable 20-year career in advising family offices and high-net-worth individuals. Can you share some highlights of your journey?
Nicholas: Certainly. My career has taken me across Switzerland, Australia, and Austria, where I currently reside with my family. I began at KPMG Switzerland, focusing on international taxation. My education includes an MBA in Wealth Management from the University of Manchester and an Honours Degree in Philosophy. I am also a certified Member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners.
Rebeka: Your educational background is quite diverse. How do you continue to expand your expertise?
Nicholas: I’m committed to continuous learning. I’ve pursued knowledge in investment performance measurement, financial analysis, and financial risk management through the CFA and FRM programs.
Rebeka: What practical experiences have shaped your career in family office advisory?
Nicholas: My experiences are diverse, ranging from establishing systems and processes for Family Offices to developing reporting tools that enhance strategic risk management in asset management. I also advise on improving performance and risk reduction in portfolios.
Rebeka: You also specialize in inter-generational wealth transfer and family governance. Could you elaborate on that?
Nicholas: Yes, I assist wealthy families in managing inter-generational wealth transfer, adopting family governance and values, and implementing family council meetings. These aspects are crucial for maintaining family legacy and harmony.
Rebeka: Can you tell us about your current professional setup in Vienna, Austria?
Nicholas: In Vienna, I lead a team comprising analysts, programmers, and advisors. Together, we provide comprehensive services for family offices and wealthy families.
Rebeka: What’s this next-generation tool you’re working on?
Nicholas: We’re developing a tool for family offices and wealthy families to ideate, coordinate, and strategically manage their legacy. This tool called The Family Council Canvas aims to revolutionize how family offices operate and manage wealth. We’re still in the development process but hope to launch it next year.
Rebeka: Where did the idea of Family Council Canvas come from?
Nicholas: During my practice as a financial advisor, I have come to realize that we must consider the bigger picture to provide effective assistance. This means creating personalized solutions that require a deep understanding of the advised family’s situation and organizational dynamics. It’s also crucial for the successful transfer of wealth and business to the next generation. The Family Council Canvas is based on the principles developed through my years of research and personal experience in improving communication between clients and advisors.
Rebeka: Your doctoral research at SDA Bocconi School of Management is quite fascinating. What’s the core question driving your study?
Nicholas: My research is centered on understanding why families and their advisors aren’t effectively communicating their needs and expectations, particularly in the context of high-net-worth individuals. This lack of communication leads to information asymmetry, resulting in agency costs and suboptimal outcomes.
Rebeka: What specific impact are you measuring in your research?
Nicholas: I’m exploring the impact of a family communicating its values, vision, and mission on the advisor’s ability to provide holistic advice. This is crucial because there’s often a disconnect between what families need and what advisors understand.
Rebeka: You mentioned common issues in family-advisor relationships. Could you elaborate on those?
Nicholas: Certainly. Challenges include families not wanting to disclose details of their private lives, no alignment on a shared plan, families underestimating the importance of their values, vision, and mission, and advisors not being adequately engaged or trained to delve deeply into family dynamics.
Rebeka: Your approach to collecting and sharing information is quite unique. Tell us about your method of managing research notes.
Nicholas: I have compiled thousands of atomic notes, organized using a system called Obsidian. These notes are structured around specific topics creating a brain-like structure. I share parts of this knowledge freely on our online platforms, believing it can improve succession planning and the advising process by fostering clear communication and proactive strategy development.
Rebeka: Why have you decided to make parts of your research public?
Nicholas: I believe in the power of sharing knowledge. Although the norm in our industry is to guard information, making it public does not devalue it. Instead, it can generate further discussions and enhance understanding in our field.
Rebeka: How can interested individuals contact you?
Nicholas: Anyone interested can reach out through my LinkedIn profile or by email. For updates and more insights, exploring our previous blog articles and subscribing to our mailing list is also an option.
Rebeka: Thank you for sharing your insights and research with us.
Nicholas: Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.