25 years of Marcuard Family Office


Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors Ulrich Burkhard looks back

Ulrich, 25 years ago you and two partners founded Marcuard Family Office as one of the first independent multi-family offices in Switzerland. A novelty at the time. What motivated you?

Our goal was to build an innovative business model to provide comprehensive and interdisciplinary advice to entrepreneurial families in ways that would differentiate us from other advisors in the oversaturated financial sector. In particular, we wanted to differentiate ourselves by offering a transparent service model that avoided the inherent conflicts of interest of most service providers – typically banks – that were common in those days. Therefore, retrocessions and kickbacks, the selling of our own financial products or the mixing of responsibilities were all a no-go for us from the very beginning. That may sound banal, but it was clearly contrary to the culture in the Swiss banking sector at the time.

Did you succeed?

The idea sounded good, but we had to work hard to achieve it.  After the first six months, we were almost at the precipice with our young company. First, we had to convince clients and established network partners to work with us. Accordingly, we missed our optimistic targets in terms of business volume. Although we founders invested all our liquid assets in the company, the capital cushion was not sufficient. We also came to realise that we had not defined our profile sharply enough, which we only managed to do about two years after the founding. Only a further capital raising and a transfer of a 30% stake to another partner got us through that early “valley of death”.

What has changed since then?

A few things. Both the market and we look different today. We now have around 35 employees. We started out as a team of three. Assets under management have also multiplied. This growth has enabled us to position ourselves more professionally and institutionally. With a larger team, we have been able to expand and deepen our expertise, improve processes and infrastructure and broaden our range of services.
The market has also evolved. In 1998, we were one of the first multi-family offices. The concept was new and the services and benefits still had to be explained to clients in detail. In the meantime, our model has become more common and competition has increased. However, due to both increasing regulatory requirements and more nuanced and specific client demands, the complexity in our client segment has increased so much that a new start today would only succeed with a lot more capital. Increased regulation is forcing smaller competitors to merge or sell due to the higher cost base. Fortunately, our size allows us to remain independent. This is our declared goal and, in our view, indispensable in order to serve our clients with the required level of quality and the freedom from conflicting goals.  

And where is MFO heading in the next five years?

I’ll leave that question to the younger partners!  

Ha! Understood. But can we get you to offer a brief outlook anyway?

I have already mentioned the importance of securing our independence for the long term. To this end, we have set up a programme that allows the younger partners to build up their shares in order to ensure a smooth generational transition internally, within MFO. In addition, we want to continue to grow organically so that we can continue to invest in our team, our processes and the quality of our services. Growing organically means growing with our clients and evolving our offering to meet changing or new client needs. Strict and proactive management of regulatory and business risks is also part of staying financially healthy in the long term.

Thank you Ueli for the interview!

Ulrich Burkhard

Founder & Chairman