Financial Planning

Preserving Your Wealth: Is a Virtual Family Office Right for You?

Brian Thorp
Brian Thorp is the founder and CEO of Wealthtender and Editor-in-Chief. Prior to founding Wealthtender, Brian spent nearly 22 years in multiple leadership roles at Invesco. With over 25 years in the financial services industry, Brian is applying his experience and passion at Wealthtender to help more people enjoy life with less money stress.

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Is a virtual family office (VFO) right for you? Discover the benefits of virtual family offices for high net worth individuals and families facing complex financial challenges.

Stepping into the conference room of a traditional family office, you probably won’t be surprised to find plush leather chairs surrounding a mahogany wood table with a million-dollar skyline view of the city. While a luxurious environment for ultra-high net worth clients served by a traditional family office may be typical, a new and innovative approach has emerged in recent years – the virtual family office (VFO).

A virtual family office functions similarly to a traditional family office but with an online twist. Instead of requiring physical office space and in-person meetings, a VFO operates remotely, using individuals and teams who employ technology to provide their services online. This virtual team typically includes financial advisors, investment managers, tax experts, estate planners, and other specialists who work together to manage every aspect of their clients’ financial lives in a holistic and coordinated manner.

You’ll likely find dozens of nearby financial advisors well-suited to help you reach your money goals with a personalized plan. But it may be more difficult to find a financial advisor who specializes in providing coordinated virtual family office services.

Fortunately, financial advisors who offer VFO services can naturally meet online no matter where you (or they) live. This means you can choose to hire a VFO specialist advisor who lives hundreds of miles away if you decide their knowledge and experience providing virtual family office services is a better fit to help with your unique financial planning needs.

What You Need to Know About Virtual Family Offices

💡 In the Q&A below, you’ll gain insights from financial advisors who specialize in delivering concierge-style financial management and planning services to high net worth individuals and couples. You will hear firsthand the potential benefits of choosing a virtual family office over a traditional financial advisor to preserve your wealth for generations to come.

🙋‍♀️ Do you have questions not answered below? Use the form on this page to submit your questions, and we’ll update this article with answers from the financial professionals and educators in the Wealthtender community. You can also contact the financial advisors featured in this article directly to set up an introductory call or ask your questions by email.

💸 Smart Money Insights: The Benefits of a Virtual Family Office

This page is organized into sections to help you quickly find the information you need and get answers to your questions:

  1. Q&A with Financial Advisors Who Provide Virtual Family Office Services
  2. Get Answers to Your Questions About Virtual Family Offices
  3. Browse Related Articles

Q&A: Financial Advisors Who Provide Virtual Family Office Services

Answers to VFO Questions with Stephan Shipe, PhD, CFA, CFP®

We asked Winston-Salem, North Carolina, financial advisor, and VFO specialist Stephan Shipe to answer questions useful to individuals and couples interested in learning more about the benefits of choosing virtual family office services versus hiring a traditional financial advisor.

Q: What financial planning challenges do wealthy individuals and families face that make a virtual family office arrangement worthwhile?

Stephan: Ultra-high net worth individuals and families face a variety of financial planning challenges that can make a virtual family office arrangement highly beneficial. Their wealth often spans across multiple complex assets and investments, which requires sophisticated strategy and coordination. These are concerns that can’t be solved through a Google search.

A virtual family office provides a centralized platform to oversee and optimize their entire financial portfolio. Many of the challenges clients face stem from the volume of decisions and coordination that must happen. Investments in real estate, private equity, closely held businesses, and concentrated stock positions all require deeper analysis and planning because they affect more than just a bank statement. Inconsistent income is another issue whether it is payment from bonuses, RSUs, options, or windfalls. All of these challenges affect cash flow planning, taxes, estate plans, and wealth transfer. Not accounting for these issues in a comprehensive way opens the individual up to risk. These issues require proactive strategy, coordination, monitoring, and accountability.

Privacy, trust, and security are also top concerns. We are working with very personal information. Not just financial statements, but the hopes, fears, and dreams of our clients. We are discussing health issues, family relationships, and their businesses. This is the nature of a family office model. It allows the client to work directly with a small team of individuals to coordinate and research issues without the client having to tell their whole story to many different professionals or companies.

Q: For wealthy individuals and families who are unsure if they should work with a traditional financial advisor or a virtual family office team, what guidance can you provide to help them make a more informed and educated decision?

Stephan: Making the choice between a traditional financial advisor and a virtual family office team involves considering individual preferences and needs. Traditional advisory services suit those who have less complexity and have relatively easy-to-implement financial advice. A good example of this is a DIY investor who needs a financial plan and checks in with their advisor annually. An hourly financial advisor is a great choice in this case.

However, for high net worth individuals and families with complex and diverse financial needs there is understandably a more significant need than a once-per-year meeting. In these cases, a virtual family office can offer significant advantages. There just becomes too many plates for the client to keep spinning and regardless of their ability to manage the pieces of the puzzle, they have more fulfilling uses of their time.

By opting for a virtual family office, these individuals gain access to a team that they can pass all their financial concerns. The advisors are able to evaluate potential investment opportunities, monitor risks and opportunities in current holdings, and act as the main point of contact for other professionals that the client uses (CPAs, attorneys, brokers, etc.).

Strategies that were once falling through the cracks or delayed are able to be scheduled and monitored. The coordination between professionals is particularly important because of the many moving parts. It’s important that our financial strategy isn’t conflicting with any tax issues and is in line with the estate plan. Having the client act as the middleman between these professionals is a poor use of their time and risks information being lost in translation. Current and potential future investments can be reviewed and monitored at a deeper level. Moreover, the streamlined technology and accessibility of a virtual setup provide convenience, allowing them to stay on top of their financial affairs regardless of their location.

Q: How do the virtual family office services you offer distinguish your firm from traditional financial advisors who serve high-net-worth clients?

Stephan: The first thing that comes to mind is our comfort with complexity. Our clients’ concerns are unique and ongoing and our model matches those needs. We don’t and can’t offer any cookie-cutter financial advice to our clients. This is why the education of our advisors is so important. All of our financial advisors hold at minimum a Ph.D. in Finance and have extensive experience researching, planning for, and presenting multifaceted financial strategies.

Additionally, we do not manage assets for our clients and do not sell any products so there are no AUM fees or commissions. We attempt to eliminate as many conflicts of interest as possible and charge a flat monthly fee for ongoing services. This allows us to operate as true advisors and coordinators of our client’s finances and makes our role as an independent fiduciary even more clear.

The buck stops with us when it comes to financial issues our clients face. As part of this relationship, we want our clients to forward us any financial opportunity or concern that comes their way and know it is being evaluated and implemented into the plan if needed. They don’t need to worry about monitoring how their accounts react to market movements, whether their real estate investment has been showing a profit, or if the CPA accounted for the capital gains in the most recent quarter. Our role is to provide that oversight and advice on changes when needed.

Q: When you first speak with an individual or couple interested in virtual family office services, what questions do you like to ask to better understand their unique circumstances and determine how you can best help them achieve their goals?

Stephan: In my initial conversations with potential clients, I’m trying to find their “Why”. Very few people wake up one morning and say “today is the day I need an advisor”. Generally, there is a catalyst that sparked the need to reach out to someone who can take a lot of these financial concerns off of their plate. Starting with “Why” helps to see what their main goals are and whether our services match their needs.

We also discuss their current financial situation, including their assets, investments, and any existing financial arrangements as well as long-term objectives, such as wealth preservation, legacy planning, philanthropic endeavors, or business succession.

Fully understanding the financial picture of our clients takes much more than one meeting, so all new clients go through a full comprehensive financial plan so that we can pull everything together in one place and create a base strategy. This allows us to come up with a game plan for the roles we will play in their financial plan, who we need to coordinate with on an ongoing basis, and a service schedule.

Get to Know Stephan Shipe:

View Stephan’s profile page on Wealthtender or visit his website to learn more.

Q: Is there anything that comes up frequently in your initial meetings with ultra-high net worth individuals and couples that surprises you?

Stephan: One recurring theme that no longer surprises me because of how often I hear it is the importance of trust and continuity. Generally, one spouse acts as the family CFO. They handle the investment accounts, attend the CPA meetings, make the transfers, and do the bulk of the worrying when it comes to what would happen if they were no longer there to make those decisions.

These clients are looking for more than someone to provide advice. They are looking for a relationship, not only for them, but for their family. They want to be able to vet and build a relationship while they can so that their family knows who to turn to if they were to pass away unexpectedly. These individuals understand how dangerous the financial world can be for someone with a lack of financial knowledge and don’t want their family to endure those issues.

This is why it is paramount that we build strong relationships with our clients and remain as independent as possible. Our advice cannot be encumbered by conflicts of interest. We need to be able to walk into a meeting with only our client’s interests in mind and be on the alert for any red flags. It is also why we offer financial education to the future generations of our clients as an attempt to mitigate these risks.

Q: Is there a particularly memorable experience or a moment you recall with an ultra-high net worth client when you first realized they have unique opportunities and circumstances when it comes to their financial planning needs?

Stephan: Yes, I distinctly remember speaking with an individual who had accumulated significant wealth through their successful business and real estate ventures. What stood out to me was the multitude of philanthropic interests that they were deeply passionate about and their desire to provide many of these gifts anonymously.  However, their investments weren’t entirely liquid which created the need for advanced planning.

Their desire to make a positive impact on their community through strategic charitable giving and social investments presented a unique opportunity to align their financial goals with their values. It really showcased to me how our virtual family office could be more than just financial advisors but also trusted partners in supporting our clients’ broader life missions and legacies.

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About the Author
Brian Thorp, Founder and CEO of Wealthtender profile picture

Brian Thorp

Founder and CEO, Wealthtender

Brian and his wife live in Texas, enjoying the diversity of Houston and the vibrancy of Austin.

With over 25 years in the financial services industry, Brian is applying his experience and passion at Wealthtender to help more people enjoy life with less money stress.

Connect with Brian on LinkedIn

To make Wealthtender free for readers, we earn money from advertisers, including financial professionals and firms that pay to be featured. This creates a conflict of interest when we favor their promotion over others. Learn more. Wealthtender is not a client of these financial services providers.
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