"Multifamily office" is perhaps the trendiest term in the advisory field these days. But there's more to this movement than a couple of buzzwords.

For several years now, advisors have been coalescing their services and adopting a multidisciplinary approach to serving the upper tiers of America's wealth. One could argue the trend started roughly a decade ago, when "wealth management" was the catchy term of choice to describe the emerging comprehensive approach to delivering financial advice to the wealthy.

Judging from the flow of dollars, however, more than just semantics is moving the advisory industry. Real changes are afoot, as the financial crisis, the growth and movement of the nation's wealth and an ever more knowledgeable and demanding client base have combined to force shifts in the advisory landscape.

Single family offices-historically cloistered operations focused on handling the financial affairs of one family-have merged and expanded into multifamily offices, or MFOs, to be more efficient. The mass of financial advisors, meanwhile, comprising wealth managers, financial planners, attorneys, accountants, etc., are finding the multifamily office model to be their solution for satisfying the increasing service demands of their high-net-worth clientele. Banks, brokerage houses and other institutions that suffered a massive black eye during the panic of 2008 are also gravitating toward the service model.

Yet with the multifamily office trend still in its infancy, it's a model that is still trying to define itself. What exactly does it mean to be a multifamily office? What opportunities and challenges does the service model face in the years ahead? What are an MFO client's needs and how are they fulfilled?
Private Wealth magazine recently held a discussion with five professionals who either run MFOs or serve as consultants to them to shed some light on the matter.

The participants were:

Stephanie J. Gromek, principal, BBR Partners LLC, New York, N.Y.

Gregory T. Rogers, founder and president, RayLign Advisory LLC, Greenwich, Conn.
Janelle Sallenave, head of Schwab Institutional's family-office custody business.

Ralph D. Sinsheimer, founder and managing director, The Solaris Group LLC, New York, N.Y.

Beth T. Patterson, president, Waypoint Advisors, Norfolk, Va.