Michael Guidry is the founder, chairman and CEO of the Guidry Group in Houston.
Rich people and their families, especially those with high public profiles, are targets for criminals – some people have been kidnapped and even murdered. Michael Guidry explains why it is essential to plan for the worst-case scenario and have good systems of protection
The ranks of the well-to-do, broadly those with a financial worth of more than h1 million, continue to expand in the UK, Europe, Asia, and the US. But with wealth comes significant requirements to safeguard family, property, and other important assets, including information that could be used for targeting purposes. Protecting people is foremost and will centre on the principal, immediate family members, certain relatives, and perhaps some key members of staff. Protecting assets involves security measures for all residences, offices, vehicles, yachts, aircraft, and management of other valuables, such as artwork, rare books and the like. Planning and preparation are critical and will help bring together the various facets of personal and physical security, combining a detailed assessment of risk with appropriate responses. Even the best of security plans will never provide total protection, so crisis management planning – preparing for when things go wrong – is also essential.
Just as good businesses plan to prevent and mitigate the effect of risks they face, families should similarly work towards a higher degree of security to reduce risk and create greater peace of mind. High net-worth individuals and families must devote the necessary time and resources to security. While it is often unpleasant to contemplate the consequences of a potential security-related problem or incident, it is not something that can be ignored or wished away.
Wealthy individuals must recognise that they face a greater risk of being attacked than the general public. Reasons for this include: having a high profile through business or other endeavors that attract media interest; possessing expensive assets; being seen as a source of finance, including voluntary giving; or even being involved with investments that draw the attention of environmental, animal rights, labour or other activist groups.
Whatever the reason for an attack, the results are often worse than they need be because of a failure to plan on how to respond to them. Normally a straightforward security plan and a simple crisis management plan will be sufficient, but time and effort must be invested in such steps.
Direct terrorist attack is generally a low probability, although the likelihood of getting caught up in a terrorist incident has increased since 9/11 and the attacks in Madrid and London. However, experience in a number of countries indicates that if domestic terrorism occurs, wealthy families are often targeted after government institutions and major corporations.
Threats will not only originate from outside sources. Frequently, a staff member or close acquaintances can do significant harm, either intentionally or inadvertently. Identity theft is a recent phenomenon that takes a considerable effort to resolve. Media reports suggest that information is obtained primarily from the internet, but in fact most of this information comes from family sources. Pre-employment screening and background checks are essential for staff and others in close family contact, such as contractors, nannies, care takers, drivers, chefs, and advisers. Access to sensitive personal or business information should be limited exclusively to those who absolutely must have access to it. Also consider controlling access to family members from unknown parties, such as: screening telephone calls, or unexpected visitors, both at the office and home.
The casual thief will merely steal what is available. The more determined criminal will undertake research, often obtaining inside information. This is frequently provided, deliberately or accidentally, by family or staff. Assets are most likely to be attacked. In many instances, while annoying this is regarded as something that can be accepted because no physical or psychological abuse was involved.
High net worth families should prepare for managing a kidnap, and similar incidents where decisions made will influence the outcome. Planning, training and briefing are preparatory elements. Even if the plan is never used for a kidnap, the principles involved are valuable and will apply to any type of emergency or safety-related situation such as robbery, theft, or even a serious automobile accident.
There are vast amounts of personal information residing in the public domain, and this should be high among a wealthy family's security concerns. The integrity, credibility or assets of a family or business may become a target based on such data. Controlling what others know about your family and specific family members – both from public and private sources – is essentially important to safeguarding your family.
Whenever feasible, a family should endeavor to prevent information from becoming easily accessible. All telephone numbers should be kept private, including mobile, hard-wired, and fax lines. Although as celebrity Paris Hilton recently learned, even unlisted mobile phone numbers can be uncovered and compromised by a determined hacker. E-mail accounts should likewise be kept confidential. Additionally, consideration should be given to transferring ownership of residences, vehicles, yachts, and other personal assets from the family's name to a corporate or partnership entity. It is also very advantageous to utilize business addresses as family members' mailing addresses, rather than providing the address of a personal residence.
Before starting to make plans, the family needs to decide what the balance will be between security and lifestyle. Effective security may be intrusive if risks are to be reduced, but good procedures and modern technology can help minimize the impact of security on family life. There are three principle initial parameters to be set.
- Objectives, including reference to the lifestyle the family wishes to adopt.
- Organisation, focusing on a designated family security 'sponsor' and the programme manager.
- Coverage, describing which family members and relatives are to be covered.
As families grow, the extent to which members are included in the security plan will change. It is often possible to develop a plan that can cover family members to different levels. The main aspects to be covered in the security plan are:
- family profile, including information held in databases and websites;
- physical security (residential, estate, guards, monitoring)
- personal security;
- security procedures;
- travel security (including security of private aircraft);
- office security;
- employment of staff, including background checks.
The development of a security plan should be regarded as a normal management activity. Expert assistance may be helpful in creating the plan, and in some specialist aspects. In most instances it can be fine tuned and managed by someone in the family office.
Once set up, a family should be able to manage its security plan on a daily basis, with outside assistance being available for emergencies, training, updating, or if traveling to higher risk international locations. Effective planning will better prepare a family to manage an emergency situation and help reduce the shock effect of a crisis.
Children require particular attention in the security plan. They should never be needlessly exposed to risk. Their safety must be evaluated, and procedures established about escorts and instructions while at school. Older children in university raise a separate set of concerns, as this will often be the first time that they have left home.
Affluent individuals and families usually have special security and risk management requirements. This necessitates that security be approached in a detailed and systematic way. Risks will change as family dynamics, interests and businesses develop. They need to be assessed regularly, and effective responses put in place appropriate for the family's wishes and lifestyle. Time and effort must be invested in planning. This can help lower risk exposure or, should the worst occur, help the family respond in a structured manner, thereby increasing the likelihood of a successful conclusion to any incident, and limiting potential harm to family members.