The story of the Gruener brothers, Eduardo and Mauricio, is the story of a family establishing a multi-family office in Miami in July 2003. Like most of their clients, they are from Mexico, and both wished to treat their clients as they themselves would like to be served by a wealth management firm. “One family at a time, that’s how I can summarize the culture of the group. We see the client as an extension of our own family, and that’s how we also consider the professionals who work with us," explains Eduardo Gruener.
GFG Capital started almost 15 years ago. Mauricio was then working for Credit Suisse, in its wealth management division, after having worked for Republic National Bank of New York and for Lehman Brothers. Eduardo's curriculum is equally outstanding, but in his case always in the area of investment banking; first in Bankers Trust, and later in Deutsche Bank.
When they decided to launch GFG Capital, their combined knowledge was perfectly complementary. "Between the two of us, we covered two important parts of banking, private banking and investment banking, and we decided that we wanted to start this business together, with the philosophy of sitting on the same side of the table as our clients and eliminating the conflicts of interest inherent to private banking. From the beginning, we knew that we wanted to launch a wealth management area and an investment banking area. Real Estate, our third area of expertise, came later. These three divisions make up the group today, although we started with the multi-family office, GFG Capital," says Eduardo.
The firm now has another office in San Diego, California, from where they serve both international and domestic clients. "We are a dynamic team of 18 people, within a very family-like environment. We manage close to 900 million dollars for our family office clients. We are registered with the SEC. I would say that 60% of our clients are families in Latin America and 40% are US residents."
Eduardo tells us that the profile of their main clients is that of self-made entrepreneurs. "They are families that started businesses, which have done very well and grew up with us. Part of the organic growth of the group is because we serve many families of this type. Obviously we also have other types of clients, such as second generations, but I would say that our 'core' is this. The highest percentage of our families is Mexican, followed by families from the US and Colombia, in that order."
Witnesses to industry changes
"14 or 15 years ago this business was not as we know it today. We started with the wealth management division and, especially in the Latin American part, we noticed that when we talked to people about what a multi-family office is, it was a very little known concept. Families, even the largest ones, operated at that time with private banking and when we told them why it was important to have a family office with their own interests and capable of designing a global and coordinated strategy, it was difficult for them to understand it", recalls Mauricio.
Perhaps the key to the whole issue was explaining that diversification was not about opening different private banking accounts in different banks, but based on analyzing the portfolio in a global way, he explains.
From private banking to family office
“At the end of the day, the bank earned money from the product it sold, but we apply a 'fee' for the assets managed and for designing a strategy aligned with the objectives of the entire family and with its risk tolerance. We eradicate the source of conflict of interests that private banking has. Fifteen years ago, this that is now so common was actually a very innovative concept. This was an important part of the group's success. At present, the large families of Latin America attend to their financial needs with a multi-family office and I would say that, in fact, many do not even have a private bank anymore. This has been one of the most radical changes in the industry in the last decade."
It‘s true that it didn’t happen overnight, it was a gradual transformation, he clarifies. "Things in our countries are a little slower than in other markets," laughs Eduardo; adding later, in a more serious note: "At the end of the day, what counts is the model of multifamily office that we have and the benefits that we can offer".
He also explains the benefits that this structure adds. "The feedback we receive from our clients is that the possibility of managing multiple custodians is a very interesting value-added service. When you are with a private bank it’s that one bank and that’s it. But from GFG Capital, we help our families to manage and supervise all their relationships, either in one or in many banks," says the youngest of the Grueners.
"Our investment philosophy is active and most of the work is done through asset managers, but at the same time there are certain strategies where there is not as much possibility of generating alpha, where we use ETFs. However, for us it is more of a product to complement the portfolio", he adds when talking about the investment instruments they use in their day-to-day.
Client profile in Mexico
When asked about what their Mexican families are asking for, both brothers agree that this type of client is becoming more and more sophisticated. The proximity to the United States and the high exposure to international markets are making the market less local and more global.
"The Mexican client is increasingly more like the American in terms of the type of strategies he seeks in order to manage his assets and the type of products he wants to access. We must also bear in mind that the Mexican market has grown a lot, it’s a market with very high liquidity, and the number of issuers in its stock markets has increased exponentially. At present, the Mexican family, or Mexican wealth, feels very comfortable in local markets, but it delves a lot into international markets. This segment is where GFG Capital has more second generations."
Eduardo firmly states that what this type of client asks for is "to interact with people as little as possible", to be able to consult by themselves the movements, performance, the portfolio’s risk statistics, previous operations, or the duration of the fixed income, for example.
"This level of transparency and accessibility is one of the things that differentiate us significantly. We have invested a lot in technology. We have just launched an interactive platform for mobile, web and tablet, which allows the client to get into their profile and manage the information. Having the information when they want it is something that is very important for millennials."
He adds: "Since in other areas of the business we also do investment banking and a lot of real estate, this is a perfect complement to the family office and allows us to really give global solutions where we attend to everything that has to do with your finances. This is much more comfortable than having to rely on many different providers."
Families who migrate to the United States
Another area of knowledge of the GFG Capital team concerns migration to the US and the previous steps a family can take to leverage some tax advantages. "We advise on how to manage your pre and post-transfer investments, always in the good hands of a tax-consultancy office," they explain.
"What these families must know when they migrate to the United States," Mauricio explains, "is that regardless of their immigration status, whatever the type of visa, or even if they don’t come with any, several things can be done to prepare their assets for the moment they become US residents for tax purposes."
The example he provides is the creation of a trust to avoid inheritance tax. "If we deposit the family's capital in a trust where the beneficiaries of that money are the next generation, the inheritance tax is eliminated. It is a way to generate a lot of fiscal efficiency. But you have to do it before you arrive. The planning and execution of a scheme of these characteristics has to go hand-in-hand with the financial part. That's the part we play."
Trump’s tax reform
Obviously, in this regard, Trump’s tax reform is going to create many changes in the US. The Gruener brothers agree in that, while in principle this reform will only affect families in the US, there are channels for foreigners with investments, which is something that generates revenue for the country, to benefit.
If you’re a foreign owner of rental property in the US, you must pay 35% tax on ‘ordinary income’ and from 15% to 20% on ‘capital gains’. With the tax reform, if the ‘corporate tax’ is reduced to 20%, many of these families could channel their investments through companies and reduce their income tax to 20% rather than 35%. As we see it, tax reform will not only encourage companies in the US to be more competitive, but will also attract foreign investment,” concludes Eduardo.