As Leo Tolstoy pointed out, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” We believe the Anna Karenina principle applies to the protection of high net worth families, too. But only if we turn it on its head.
To paraphrase Tolstoy: “Successful high net worth family protection programs are all different; unsuccessful programs usually fail for the same reasons.” In this blog, we’ll examine the ecosystem of high net worth protection programs to understand the reasons why they succeed – and hopefully prevent program failure for more families.
The four keys to success
To achieve success in high net worth family protection, it is important to understand the ecosystems in which security services are provided for these families and individuals. These ecosystems comprise many different dynamics and stakeholders, the security team being only one part of a larger whole. All families are different, of course, and so are the ways the many interacting parts of a complex network operate together.
- Understanding the culture and lifestyle preferences as regards security – whether of one individual or an entire family – is the first key to success.
- Understanding all the other moving parts, how they all interrelate and how to optimize the interrelationships is the second.
- Building on this understanding to customize security programs that are based on trust and cooperation is the third.
- Safeguarding the program to adapt to changes and evolving needs is the fourth.
1. Customizing security to family culture and preferences starts with lots of questions and careful listening
Even executives who are used to some kind of protective services on the job can find security for the home and family bothersome at best and downright intrusive at worst. Putting up with outsiders at work is one thing. Having them close to family and friends at all times of the day is something else.
In our experience, the first step to a successful program is understanding the necessity of adapting security to the family’s culture and individual preferences rather than the other way around. High net worth families are used to lots of customization options when it comes to many other aspects of their lives, and security should be no different. Neglecting to customize security practices to the family’s individual needs and wants is a key cause of program failure.
While we’re all for watertight SOPs based on best practices, the reality is that these cannot simply be copy-pasted from one program to another. They need to be adapted to every new situation, especially when concerning the private sphere. And the best way to understand a family’s culture and preferences is to stop talking and start listening.
Here are just a few of the questions that are important to ask:
Strangers at the gate – or inside the walls: How does the family feel about having a residential security team on the property?
Bringing strangers into the inner sanctum of the home, even if they are there to protect and are very professional, tests the personal boundaries of any family. This can be especially difficult for people new to security.
The best way to deal with this issue is openly. Put the issues on the table, make transparent the pros and cons of different alternatives, and ask questions.
Is the family open to on-property security? To what extent and how? Can the residential security team roam the property when time allows to check up on things? When in the day? Do we need to stick to predefined routes or can we do random patrols? Are there areas that are off-limits to security, where the family insists on total privacy? If the family does not want security on the property, do we park on the street? Can we rent a house or apartment next door?
False alarm: What kinds of physical security equipment are used for security, and does the use of this equipment match the way the family lives?
Alarms, sensors and cameras are great security tools, but only if they get used. And they only get used if they are convenient and designed around the family’s lifestyle and preferences. Cookie-cutter solutions that get tacked on to homes and family habits often end up being more bothersome than helpful, so they don’t even get turned on.
How does the family use their current system? How does the equipment match their daily habits? How do family members typically greet guests – at the door or with a security camera? What would a parent actually do if he or she was awakened by an alarm in the middle of the night? Where would they go first?
Is the family OK with cameras? Where is it OK to record, and where is simple observation all that is allowable? What do we need to mask out as sensitive areas due to privacy?
What are the needs of all family members, spouses, young or teenage children? What about safety around pools play areas?
For high net worth families that have security teams at their residences, it’s important to remember that the tech is there to help the security team and should be run by them – not by the family. Basically, the tech should be seen as the team’s extended eyes and ears, covering areas that team members do not, for one reason or another, cover with team members.
Larger, more complex protective teams will monitor all tech, and provide other backup services, from an operations center. Whether this operation center is on the property of off depends, again, on the family’s preferences as well as the property’s physical layout.
What about security drivers and EP? Coordinating with other security elements
While residential security is typically a big part of high net worth security, it is not the only one. Security drivers and executive protection also play a role in many programs, and it’s important that all pieces work together as seamlessly as possible.
How do family members feel about driving? What about spouses and teenage children? Do they want to drive themselves, or are security drivers needed for some or all trips? If principals do drive themselves, are discreet security escorts an option? What about GPS tracking?
Do any of the family members use EP sometimes or always? If there is an EP team, it is critical to understand their role, too, and to coordinate this with other security pieces. Administrative issues are one thing, as the EP team might be paid for and managed through the principal’s corporation and separately from the residential team. Security issues are another thing: Whether the EP teams operate covertly or overtly, seamless protection is only possible when residential and EP teams cooperate closely – and understand exactly when and how hand-offs take place.
2. High net worth security doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so you have to know your stakeholders
The ecosystems of high net worth security comprise far more stakeholders than the family and protection professionals. To be successful, everyone on the security team must first understand all stakeholder roles and agendas, then respect and accommodate other stakeholders’ needs as they go about their jobs.
Let’s look at the main stakeholder categories and how they interact with protective security teams:
Family offices help run the financial affairs of many high net worth families, typically handling the financial side of the family “business” from real estate acquisition to the management of the family’s wealth. They also often help oversee the management of properties, and may be directly or indirectly involved in hiring and liaising with security providers. There are two different configurations that you can encounter here – the Single-Family Office and the Multi-Family Office.
Security managers must work closely with family offices on all financial and administrative issues, of course, but it is also important to keep them in the loop on all critical issues relating to program design and performance. Principals will often go through the family office when they want changes in their security, so it is key that family office managers have excellent insight into what we are doing and why, and that any HR issues are shared with them in an open and timely way.
Regular meetings to review administrative and other issues are highly recommended.
Estate management and staff:
Estate management, which is responsible for the day-to-day operations of one or more residences, may or may not be part of the family office. In any case, estate management is a close working partner of estate security and must be treated as such. Estate management and staff are the stakeholders that residential security teams interact with most frequently, so smooth cooperation is absolutely essential.
This is an area in which the security team must do its job and help others be successful in doing theirs. The protection team should aspire to be seen as an enabler and partner of the entire estate staff. While establishing boundaries is also important, creating trust and partnership among the family staff is paramount. This can be managed with clear, consistent communication as well as operational and financial transparency and an educational approach.
One area of collaboration is carrying out background checks for new staff hires. Another is developing and enforcing protocols for allowing craftspeople, caterers and other commercial guests access to the property. There are many more.
Security professionals need to understand that estate staff often have relationships with the principal family that go way back and can be intensely loyal. Cleaning personnel and gardeners may have been with the family for years or even generations. Young nannies might well be trusted more than a seasoned security manager with a black belt and military distinctions. Like all other stakeholders in the HNW ecosystem, everyone on the estate staff – everyone – must be treated with the utmost respect, always.
Private aircraft and yacht/maritime staff:
Traveling teams such as air and yacht crew often have intel about upcoming family plans before anyone else in the ecosystem.
Security teams need to determine the types and amounts of information that they can share with and receive from these teams. Establishing ground rules for sharing information so that the group avoids violating any family sensitivities is key. Again, the main idea is that we want everyone to be successful in providing their specific services to the family.
Corporate office and security staff:
We have covered the corporate side of security extensively in previous blogs and our book, so we will not go into detail here. Still, it is important to note that high net worth security teams often need to interact with the principal’s corporation, including executive administrative assistants (EAAs), corporate security departments and others, including intelligence analysts.
Family and residential security can be seen as a hindrance or an enabler depending on the relationships that are created. The goal is to always be seen as the enabler.
Proactive communication and planning are critical. EAAs and members of various corporate departments might also liaise with residential security teams as needed.
An EAA does not want to feel like he/she has to do the security job as well as theirs. Regular meetings to gather and share critical information will help the protection team provide recommendations and guide the protection support required. Such meetings are also an opportunity to address any concerns or questions the EAA staff might have about security.
Developing operational and financial transparency is an important way the protection team can educate the EAA. It is often the EAA that will field questions about security directly from the principal before they ask anyone else. Educating the EAA about your protective program will help her or him answer these questions and thus stay away from the uncomfortable space of not knowing the answers when asked.
Intelligence analysts may be tasked with understanding threats posed by persons or groups of interest or other factors. They might also be involved in monitoring online activities related to the principals, providing travel intelligence and other analyses.
Finally, it is important to remember that everyone throughout the ecosystem can also be considered as part of the overall protective effort. Excellent collaboration between security professionals and others working in the household runs deep as well as wide.
Everyone can benefit from security awareness training, for example, whether its housekeepers, gardeners or the principal’s spouse and children. Nannies with security driver training are much safer in traffic than those that have not received any special training. Fire safety and response training is relevant for all. And while tactical medical training should be required for security agents, other household staff members might be able to save lives if they, too, are properly trained.
Good security providers that want to become preferred partners add value not only on their own, but through working with everyone else in the ecosystem to raise the bar on comprehensive protective services.
3. Customize family security programs that are based on a good understanding of stakeholder needs, professional team members, trust and cooperation
Developing and implementing protection programs for families is different than doing so for corporate clients. Programs in corporate environments are structured, managed and delivered in keeping with corporate practices. Processes are formalized in ways similar to other business practices; decisions are made according to well-defined criteria; hierarchies are pretty clear.
Families are different. Emotions, feelings and personal relations matter in a different way, as do self-image and perceptions. That’s not good or bad, that’s just the reality of working in the context of the family. And security professionals need to get it.
Family programs must view all family members as principals – from the spouse to children, parents and even friends.
The important thing to understand here is that protection teams will be addressing different cultures, sets of expectations and financial arrangements/requirements – and that everything must be customized to match the family’s preferences, not a corporation’s.
Key differences concern family dynamics and planning. Family programs must generally be more flexible than corporate, more sensitive to emotional needs, and even more able to adapt quickly to changing plans. Team members need to be comfortable with even more gray area and potentially less communication and information. Even more than in corporate environments, this requires team members that have rock-solid judgment, creative problem-solving skills, and good intuition. They need to be people who like working with and for other people – in addition to being tactically competent.
Trust is earned by sharing information – and respecting confidentiality
The importance of developing strong, trusting relationships throughout the family ecosystem cannot be overestimated. Everyone delivering support to the family, whether on the security team, in estate management or the family office will have different levels of communication and kinds of interaction with family members. Sharing information, lessons learned and best practices across these groups goes a long way to establishing security program success.
But information sharing comes with responsibility and requires a mature understanding of confidentiality. Everyone serving the family in one capacity or another has access to different types of information. Some in the ecosystem should and do have more access to family members than others, and information is often compartmentalized with a purpose. Sensitivities about what should be shared with whom and when are critical.
The goal is for the team to develop trust with the family members and each other. There may be times when one group or person has more trust from the family members and will want to solidify their position with the family by not sharing information that should be shared with other parts of the ecosystem. This can set up power struggles that are frustrating and destructive – and never add value for the family or its protection. Professional managers are aware of this potentiality and work hard to create a team environment across the family ecosystem. Choosing team members and leaders that have sophisticated interpersonal skills and can keep their ego in check is a critical element in hiring.
4. Get ready for changes in the ecosystem and evolving client needs – and make sure programs are ready to adapt
Finally, no matter how hard we work to establish a great family protection program, we must face the fact that this, too, will change.
Babies are born. Young adults go off to college and new jobs. Personal relationships begin, evolve and end. Staff are hired and fired, or move on for many reasons, too. And yes, the risks, threats and vulnerabilities that inform security measures are also ever-changing.
Successful family protection programs take a proactive approach to these dynamics. They focus on ongoing quality control and HR development, develop ways to combat team complacency and boost responsiveness to client needs.