Wealth & Purpose: Laughing all the way to the bank

By Emily Griffiths-Hamilton

What purpose does your family's wealth serve? In our Q&A series, Emily Griffiths-Hamilton explains how her 'family bank' uses fun to focus on human and intellectual capital (as well as financial assets) and pass on the right values to the fourth generation.

What is the purpose of your family wealth?
My family, working together as a team, intentionally has fun conversations regarding our shared purpose/vision for our wealth. We call this the 'family bank” approach and it's done to further strengthen communication and trust within our family and prepare the upcoming generation for their future roles, responsibilities and opportunities. This approach begins by specifically broadening the definition of our wealth to include not only our financial capital but also, more importantly, our human and intellectual capital, because we recognise that our family bank is only as strong as its individual members. In practice it means that if, for instance, a family member wants to buy a car it needs to be justified. This transaction would be approved by the family bank members to help that individual travel to university and improve their overall potential, not simply as transportation to travel back and forth to the shopping mall. The primary purpose of our financial capital is that it be used as a tool to endow individuals with the self-esteem and self-worth to lead independent, purposeful lives. Our shared vision is for each generation of our family, as stewards, to leave our family bank, including the financial assets, even stronger than the one vouchsafed to them.

What are your family values?
My family believes that our uniquely held shared values are the solid foundation of our strong family bank. And just as important as determining what our values are is deciding what role our values play in our family. Ultimately, our values serve to guide each family bank member in making family decisions regarding the stewardship of our shared human, intellectual and financial assets.

My specific family's shared values are based on a long history — well, a long history in Canadian terms — now transitioning into our fourth generation. They began as the greatest legacy from my maternal grandfather, veterinarian Dr William Ballard, the pioneering force behind canned dog food throughout North America, and came to my father, Frank A Griffiths, FCA, builder of Canadian professional sport and media empires, and my husband and I as professionals in the financial markets. Our firmly-held shared values include hard work, commitment, passion and caring for others. To the legacy of these shared values our fourth generation has added communication, teamwork, humour and curiosity, to name but a few.

How do these values impact the way you give to philanthropic causes?
As we utilise the family bank approach, we intentionally ensure that our purposeful philanthropic plans not only involve the deployment of our financial assets but also include the deployment of our human and intellectual assets. For instance, my husband is chairman of the Lions Gate foundation board. It is one of Canada's largest regional hospitals and is recognised as the best governed hospital foundation board in Canada. His tireless work, passion and commitment to our community through the sharing of his business and professional expertise has contributed far more to the exceptional growth, both financial and operational, of this foundation than the financial donation of one individual. Our values have a great impact on the way that we give to philanthropic causes in that we approach any activity of our family bank as a team and with curiosity as our guide. Once we have jointly agreed to a purposeful philanthropic plan, which we revisit annually, we passionately commit to the philanthropic activities we have agreed upon, both individually and as a family.