Hussein sayed, a local anchor with cnbc, a tv network, beams from the stage as he welcomes participants to a conference on family offices (fos) in Dubai. Among those present are billionaires and their offspring, advisers and money managers, and a smattering of investment-minded blue-bloods, including Prince Michael of Yugoslavia. “We think there may be over $2trn represented in this room,” announces Mr Sayed, “though of course there’s no way of knowing.”
Now an essential part of every self-respecting billionaire’s stable, fos are booming. Their roles include managing families’ wealth, administering their assets and often other services, from the mundane (paying bills) to the knotty (succession-planning). The biggest have become deal powerhouses, capable of competing with global banks and private-equity firms on big transactions. But they are also, by definition, private—and therefore little understood. “We’re the most important part of the investment landscape most people have never heard of,” says one executive.