Wealth and Legacy: The Rise of Single Family Offices in the MENA – Key Takeaways

Wealth and Legacy: The Rise of Single Family Offices in the MENA – Key Takeaways

Family offices are key drivers for the future growth of the region. However, there is a great lack of independent research into the regional single family office space. To close this gap, the Tharawat Family Business Forum in partnership with LGT Middle East have conducted a survey with 34 MENA single family offices. Download the full report HERE and get insights on some of the concluding points in the following article.


The MENA Single Family Office Landscape

Families owning businesses in the MENA region are contending with significant transformational forces in the 21st century. As our report highlights, geopolitical, social, and economic shifts profoundly impact family businesses and their owners. Additionally, owning families are facing internal complexities such as technological disruption, the involvement of the next generation, the urgent need for robust family governance, and alignment on wealth and philanthropy. These external and internal shifts have necessitated a more holistic approach to governing not just the operating family business but also creating structures for the owning families. Our observations indicate that owners are responding by shifting family wealth beyond the traditional family business, historically a stable value-creating entity, to establish single family offices to navigate a more complex marketplace and diversify from the operating companies. Owners aim to create adaptable, agile, and robust infrastructures to continue their entrepreneurial legacy, supporting their families, and impacting society and the economy – the single family offices have emerged as one vehicle to do so.

Over the past decade, the term “single family office” has indeed become increasingly popular across the MENA. However, despite its trendiness, there remains uncertainty about what single family offices actually entail in the region—both in terms of their function relative to an owning family and its business, as well as their role in the broader market. Our report aims to illuminate the current state and encourage further research to better understand the rise of the single family office.

It is clear that no single family office is the same; as with governance structures in general, each family prioritizes the factors most pressing in their case, whether it’s establishing a specialized investment vehicle, structuring a wealth management tool, or centralizing governance and family services. Therefore, this report not only explores the purposes and values driving the establishment of single family offices in the MENA region but also examines their governance and wealth outlook.


Key Findings 

Our findings provide insights into the current state of multi-generational enterprises and their single family offices in the MENA region and hint at potential future developments. A few key highlights emerged from the gathered data:

Embedded vs. Standalone Single Family Offices

There is an equal split between embedded and standalone single family offices among respondents, indicating that owners opt for structures functioning as part of the operating family business, as well as for legal entities set up completely independently. Establishing an embedded single family office shows a close relationship with the operating company, likely driven by cost efficiency and operational synergies. Conversely, standalone single family offices often seek to professionalize and separate investment, wealth management, governance, and family services from the operational business. Interestingly, 52.9% of standalone single family offices are legally registered onshore within the MENA region and situated in the same country as the operating business, indicating a preference for familiar jurisdictions and maintaining synergies.

Types of Single Family Offices

The landscape of single family offices in the MENA is diverse, with owners establishing various structures for both internal and external reasons. We can distinguish three main types of single family offices according to their primary purpose:

  1. “The Investment Firm” – Predominantly standalone offices focusing on investing family (or corporate) capital to generate profits.
  2. “The Wealth Management Office” – These can be standalone or embedded and focus on managing the family’s wealth and estate planning.
  3. “The Governance Bureau” – Mostly embedded offices that function as a vehicle to implement family governance, such as supporting the next generation and organizing family gatherings.

Each family customizes these functions according to their specific needs, and the data shows that single family offices range from very focused and specialized all the way to serving multifunctional roles that integrate aspects of all three types.

A new Era of Governance

The past two decades have seen a noticeable shift in the MENA region: traditional operating businesses are increasingly employing governance systems to manage complexity and stay competitive. This trend is also evident in emerging single family offices: While 79.4% of owners indicate that family members work in the office, 62.6% also have a non-family CIO. Boards of directors and investment committees are common governance bodies within these offices, demonstrating that single family offices in the region employ a holistic approach to governance from the start, involving both family and non-family talent.

Evolution from Family Business to Family Enterprise

Among surveyed families, 85.3% of operating family businesses remain under full family ownership, and 97% of owners report active family involvement in management. However, today’s owning families’ interests clearly extend beyond the operating enterprise to encompass broader family interests. With increasing family complexity, economic and social changes, and the need to use more tools for wealth and legacy preservation, four factors primarily led to the establishment of single family office structures:

  • Institutionalizing and centralizing family investments
  • Managing financial risks
  • Organizing family assets
  • Succession planning

This evolution reflects an overall transformation in the MENA region from a traditional family business-centric model to a more holistic “family enterprise” ecosystem, including not just the core family business but also new ventures, financial investments, legacy planning, and philanthropic activities.


Concluding Thoughts

The evolving landscape of single family offices in the MENA region strikes a delicate balance between preserving important family legacies and adapting to the fast-paced complexities of the 21st-century marketplace. The specific economic and socio-political realities in the MENA region require family enterprise owners to consider their family-owned assets holistically. Through our comprehensive survey, we have uncovered insights that underscore the commitment of family enterprises not only to sustain their wealth but also to adapt to a changing global economic environment. Our findings indicate that MENA single family offices reflect a deep dedication to familial roots and employ forward-looking strategies aimed at enduring success. As these offices integrate more with global economic trends, their strategies will increasingly need to be agile and globally informed to remain resilient. The journey of single family offices in the region is a testament to a blend of tradition and innovation, poised to strengthen their impact on both regional and global stages, heralding a new era of family governance, entrepreneurship, and wealth management.

Extract from the Report ‘Wealth and Legacy: The Rise of Single Family Offices in the MENA’, Tharawat Family Business Forum, 2024.