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Singapore 2024 - Eton Solutions’ Bryan Henning: Transforming the Family Office to Reimagine the Value it Delivers

Published

July 2, 2024

Bryan Henning, SVP and Head of International for Eton Solutions, offered delegates valuable insights into helping them work with UHNW clients who wish to establish or upgrade their family offices. Supported by a detailed slide show, Bryan explained how family offices can significantly enhance their value proposition and delivery through carefully selected technology allied to robust, proven organisational protocols.

A major force in the family office space

Henning, who is a Canadian citizen, South African by birth, but has been an integral part of Asia's wealth management scene since 1994, joined Eton Solutions as a partner two years ago when the US firm set up its international operational HQ in Singapore. He told guests how Eton Solutions was established in the US based on the founder's quest for a more efficient management platform for his own family office. Eton began marketing its solutions to 2015, the firm has grown to support around 665 families, administering approximately USD781 billion on its platform.

The company's substantial investment of roughly USD40 million in technology over the recent two years underscores its commitment to innovation. With Henning at the helm to guide the firm’s international expansion, Eton Solutions has been extending its reach across the globe, including - since late 2023 – building a notable presence in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).

“Our platform is built by a family office for family offices,” Henning reported. “We remain a predominately US-centric company with six of the top 20 families in the US on our platform. We have a worldwide team of about 350 today, and we are rapidly building out our international offering and connectivity.”

Singapore: Eton’s strategic international hub

Henning explained that Singapore was selected as the international headquarters due to its strategic location and business-friendly environment. “The decision has proven fruitful in facilitating our global reach amongst clients operating or starting single- and multi-family offices,” he reported. “We have successfully established a strong presence across Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, the Middle East and Europe.. This extensive network aligns perfectly with the increasingly global nature of UHNW clients. We can address the complex and international needs of these clients and provide them with seamless support regardless of geographical borders.”

Transformational technology

Henning then offered delegates an overview of how the Eton Solutions platform transforms family office management by integrating advanced technology, including that more often seen in major corporations. He said that many successful founder-owners with very large businesses are well accustomed to using sophisticated Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems that allow them, their accountants and lawyers to have fingertip access to detailed, up-to-date information. “At Eton Solutions, we aim to bring this level of sophistication to their family offices,” Henning stated.

He explained that the platform features a single integrated database that consolidates data from various sources, including daily feeds from banks. This enables seamless and simultaneous reporting for both investment and accounting purposes.

Data consolidation

“One of the major challenges family offices always face is data aggregation, where disparate systems can lead to inconsistencies in reporting,” Henning noted. “Often, Chief Investment Officers (CIOs), Chief Operating Officers (COOs), and Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) use different platforms, resulting in fragmented data. Eton Solutions' platform addresses this issue by providing a unified system.”

He also emphasised the importance of cybersecurity and data protection, noting that Eton Solutions is a cloud-native platform hosted on Microsoft Azure. Microsoft invests heavily in security, spending US$2 billion annually, which ensures that Eton Solutions' clients benefit from robust data protection. Each client has their own secure "sleeve" or lockbox within the system, akin to having a personal vault inside a highly secure bank. This structure ensures that client data is protected to the highest standards, with numerous industry accreditations and certifications supporting the platform's security credentials.

Making advanced solutions accessible

“In essence, Eton Solutions offers a state-of-the-art platform that brings the advanced technological infrastructure of large corporations to family offices,” Henning remarked. “By integrating data from multiple sources into a single, secure database, the platform ensures consistent and accurate reporting for investment and accounting purposes. This type of innovation is set to revolutionise the way family offices manage their wealth, and to operate at the highest levels.”

He told guests that Eton Solutions serves clients with US$50 million of assets to their largest client who has in excess of US$100 billion administered through the platform. He noted that their average client in the US has around US$2.2 billion in assets. Offering different packages to suit their size and ambitions, Eton Solutions provides a full suite of services, including advanced software and middle and back-office support from a dedicated team based in Bengaluru.

Catering to all stakeholders

Henning remarked that a key challenge for large, complex organisations of any type is managing diverse assets and relationships. Typically, family offices also have multiple generations involved, including matriarchs, patriarchs, and co-investors. Henning explained that Eton Solutions’ platform simplifies this type of complexity by going down to the sub-fund level to capture every detail of the assets and their relationships. For example, the system can tag an asset, such as a property, to multiple relationships, including various sub-funds, investment trusts, and co-investors.

Overcoming complexity

“This capability is powerful because it automates what many currently manage with complex spreadsheets, so we are offering a much more efficient and accurate solution,” Henning stated. “By providing this level of detailed tracking and reporting, we help ensure that all stakeholders have full transparency, making the management of complex family wealth structures far more open and manageable.”

Henning then discussed the company’s approach to managing complex structures such as Private Placement Life Insurance (PPLI) and asset mapping, stressing the importance of understanding asset locations and cash flows before making investment decisions. “The platform is designed to map all assets across various entities, providing a comprehensive overview that aids informed decision-making,” he reported. “The system’s primary function is to allow clients to see the impact of their investment decisions by rolling up data from all their assets and entities. This level of integration is crucial for managing complex wealth structures.”

On the go as well…

He noted that they also offer this on-the-go via a mobile app that complements the desktop platform. The mobile app offers clients an aggregated view of all their assets with a simple performance overview. While the desktop version provides more detailed and complex analyses powered by artificial intelligence, the mobile app is designed for convenience and quick access. For example, clients can approve or reject capital calls, make payments, and manage their investments from their phones. The app also supports secure messaging, allowing clients to communicate with Eton Solutions’ services team for various requests, all within a protected firewall.

Henning also explained that they simplify document management and asset tracking, ensuring that important documents are easily accessible and directly linked to relevant investments. And the platform also provides proactive notifications for essential tasks, such as insurance renewals and passport expirations. This feature helps manage personal and family assets efficiently, catering to the preferences of second and third-generation family members who so often rely largely on mobile access.

Future-proofing the operations

He then discussed a common question he encounters across different geographies regarding the long-term viability of their system to help actual and potential clients future-proof their business and their family office operations.

“The answer lies in the platform's AI integration,” Henning reported.

“By leveraging advanced AI capabilities, Eton Solutions ensures that our system remains adaptable and robust, meeting the evolving needs of clients over the next three to five years. We leverage our partnership with Microsoft and OpenAI, but it is not about replacing professionals like lawyers or others, but about making them more efficient and effective.”

AI and its implementation

He noted that Eton Solutions is committed to educating clients on the practical considerations for implementing AI. “One of the foundational steps is having a cloud-hosted architecture that is scalable, cost-effective, and easier to manage, offering robust security for cyber protection and data privacy,” Henning explained. “For family offices, which often operate without large enterprise budgets, this setup is crucial for future-proofing their operations.”

Expanding on these comments, he outlined the critical importance of data centralisation for effective AI integration. He said that to leverage AI's full potential, it's essential to have a centralised and consolidated database, essentially a central repository for all client information. “AI can only generate valuable insights if it has access to comprehensive, centralised data that is protected, closed-loop and fully secure,” he added.

Extracting optimal returns

Henning also discussed optimising the use of AI, for example the importance of a generative AI prompt interface. “Properly training AI with specific questions ensures reliable and accurate responses, avoiding the pitfalls of random, unstructured queries,” he remarked. “Understanding these foundational concepts is crucial for effectively using AI in data analysis and decision-making.”

Are you ready for change?

Henning then turned to the vital element of organisational readiness for effectively integrating AI into business operations. He noted that while Eton Solutions is well-advanced in this process, rolling out beta versions to many clients, it is crucial for organisations to assess their preparedness.

He recounted a discussion with a CEO about implementing AI, underscoring the need to understand its applications and establish robust compliance and governance frameworks.

He explained that the platform also features a user-friendly AI interface with pre-programmed questions, enabling users to quickly access detailed reports on key information such as private investments, commitments, and internal rates of return. “We also envision future advances where users can interact with the system through voice commands, making data retrieval even more intuitive and immediate,” he added.

Eton’s transformational capabilities

Drawing his presentation to a close, Henning elaborated on how the company's AI platform transforms information into charts, graphs, and different languages. He highlighted the platform's capability to create pie charts and bar charts, which may seem simple but are not commonly provided by typical AI solutions. Eton Solutions has patented some of these features, including the ability to translate outputs into foreign languages and currently has more than 100 use cases in production.

Henning emphasised the importance of using imagination when considering AI's applications. While AI won't replace mainframes, it significantly enhances productivity. Eton Solutions has integrated AI with WhatsApp, allowing users to interact with their database and request performance reports on the go, making it possible to manage portfolios from any location. “This functionality is available today, showcasing the truly practical applications of AI,” he told guests.

Bringing it all together

To close the talk, Henning stated that the firm is fully committed to helping clients achieve their wealth management goals through innovative technology and well-established governance protocols. “The trajectory of family office management is unmistakably moving towards a model where information, accessibility, and client service are not just enhanced but revolutionised through technology,” he concluded.

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Singapore 2024 - Eton Solutions’ Bryan Henning: Transforming the Family Office to Reimagine the Value it Delivers

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