Profile: The woman setting the conversation on family office governance

Katie Royals, 16/10/2020

After a varied career, “everything has coalesced and brought me to the right place at the right time,” Catherine Grum says of her new role as partner and head of family office services at BDO.

Speaking to eprivateclient, the former 50 Most Influential explains she is now “bringing together all [her] knowledge and experience and building on the platform BDO already has with some great family office and family business clients.”

Ms Grum began her career as a solicitor in the private client team at Allen & Overy (now Maurice Turnor Gardner), before moving to Barclays Private Bank, where she was head of wealth advisory EMEA. After this, she moved to Salamanca Group at the beginning of 2014, taking the role of managing director, head of private office. Later, Ms Grum became head of family office services at KPMG in October 2015.

Through this experience, she gained numerous insights into working with wealthy families and developed a particular interest in philanthropy and governance work.

Catherine Grum

Despite still being relatively young in the industry, she’s a well-known figure, with seemingly endless energy for networking and speaking engagements. She has also been recognised by numerous industry bodies, including being named an eprivateclient Top 35 Under 35, before becoming an eprivateclient 50 Most Influential in 2015.

A new role for an industry leader

This led to her landing at BDO, with the firm’s focus on family business meaning her clients already have a “real fit with the services.” BDO also offers her the opportunity to expand on her philanthropy and governance work, something Ms Grum is keen to do.

“I want them to be thinking about succession planning and what that actually means for them and their families.

“It’s all about helping them to connect with their financial assets in a way that I think historically they haven’t done.”

Doing this in the midst of a pandemic when face-to-face meetings are harder to organise poses challenges. Ms Grum says the key is to be proactive and still video call or phone clients regularly, rather than just relying on emails.

Ms Grum says BDO was already looking to expand its philanthropy and governance offering, with her arrival expected to drive growth in this space.

Ms Grum believes a large part of this growth is down to the younger generations who have “really stepped up” in recent months, particularly in terms of technological support and philanthropy. For those coming of age at the moment, their role models are people like Greta Thunberg and Malala. This has led to a “really strong social conscience coming through.”

It’s also a confusing time for young people growing up with significant wealth, she says. The rich are not portrayed well in the media, and it can be difficult to escape this with social media and a relentless news cycle.

Finding the purpose of wealth

Ms Grum encourages the families she works with not to hide wealth from their children, talk openly about it, and determine its purpose.

“If families don’t, it can cause problems and lead to a lack of alignment.”

Establishing what a family believes in is often one of the biggest challenges. Ms Grum says she spends a large part of her time facilitating discussions with families about their values.

The most important part of these discussions is coming together and remembering what bonds them, rather than necessarily the final charter or document. She often encourages families to share stories of times they have seen their family values in action, as such events are much easier to remember and are often more enjoyable for the family members.

“[It’s important to] find ways of inspiring the next generation and for families to see the value in collective ownership and working together.” Philanthropy is often one of the main benefits – you can have a much greater impact if you combine resources, she notes.

“The historical approach to philanthropy was often ‘a barbell approach’ for families. They might have their family business and financial portfolio on one side and completely separate was their philanthropy. They felt that this balanced things out for them.

“Now, families are more willing to look at both sides and, if there are causes and values that the family believe in, they want to track it across everything they’re doing,” she explained.

When asked whether the momentum of increased charitable donations by some families during the pandemic will continue going forward, Ms Grum says she would like to think it will stay, but it’s important to establish whether the donations were additive to existing philanthropy projects or whether families simply brought forward donations they had already planned to make.

However, she adds, “there’s often a bit of inertia to try something new, but once you’ve broken those barriers down and overcome it, in a way there’s no going back.”

Onboarding in the time of Covid 

The challenges of the pandemic are not just limited to clients. Having started her role just two months ago, Ms Grum is yet to meet her new colleagues in person.

Despite this, “the people could not have been more warm and welcoming. Everyone wants to make it a success for us.”

Her team has a range of initiatives designed to keep people in regular contact, from social catch ups and quizzes, to ‘virtual desks’ and virtual coffee mornings. They also have regular partner catch ups, all of which have helped Ms Grum get to know her colleagues better.

 “It’s a great way of meeting people on a level playing field and getting to know them before you start working with them. It’s always much easier if you’ve got that initial level of interaction first.”

In terms of leading her team, Ms Grum believes it’s all about how you use tech. Used effectively, you can still work together as a team. In fact, in many ways home working has “really accelerated working together.”

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