More than three decades ago, Maria Elena Lagomasino began working with wealthy families at Citibank. “I began my career as a relationship manager working with South American clients.” she says. “I found what was to be my calling: preserving and protecting family assets. Since then I’ve dedicated my career to working with families, helping them to protect their wealth, create living legacies, listening to them tell me their challenges and helping them find solutions.”
In January, Lagomasino teamed with business partners Santiago Ulloa and Michael Zeuner to form the leadership team for WE Family Offices, a registered investment advisor firm. In that role, Lagomasino typically works with families with at least $50 million net worth or more. “We help families to think about their wealth as a business and tap into the same processes and best practices used to create the wealth in the first place,” she says. “We help them build what we refer to as wealth enterprises.”
When selecting a wealth manager, Lagomasino says one of the most important questions to ask is “How are you paid?” Advisors should not accept any fees in the form of sales commissions or incentives, so clients can receive truly independent, un-conflicted advice. She says, “The proper role of a financial advisor, and an advisory firm, is to serve and empower families, not to sell them particular securities in which the advisor or an affiliate has a financial interest.”
Over the years, Lagomasino says she has seen two common mistakes by professional services providers. The first is lack of coordination and communication among advisors, resulting in mistakes that can be costly to the client. The second is taking complete control of the wealth management decisions so the client becomes a passive participant. “I believe clients should stay informed around the key decisions regarding their wealth management, continuously learning and always being engaged,” she says. That includes keeping younger members of the family active and involved in the process, so they gain knowledge for the future.
“I often ask each family member to pick the one wealth issue they’re most concerned about,” Lagomasino says.
“I have found this strategy helps to open doors to communication, and enables the family to come together to set the priorities for their wealth, a process that leads to better results.”
Noting that the values of family and private capital have been integral parts of her life, Lagomasino says, “I have been honored to help families navigate their own challenges of life with wealth. My favorite aspect of working with them is watching the ‘ah-hah’ moments of relief when they realize they are not the only ones experiencing difficulty. When I am able to help them find a solution to whatever challenge they are experiencing, whether it relates to their spending, their children, estate planning, or any of the myriad of challenges associated with a life with wealth — I am reminded why I chose this career in the first place.”
Maria Elena Lagomasino is CEO and Managing Partner at WE Family Offices in Miami. She was formerly CEO of GenSpring Family Offices, a multi-family office that was originally established in 1989 as Asset Management Advisors (AMA). She also served as chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Private Bank, and served as head of Chase Manhattan Private Bank’s worldwide private banking business.