Why reputation is your greatest but most vulnerable asset

Digital media and the demand for greater transparency are putting the reputation of wealthy families and individuals under increasing scrutiny. Accuro’s Katrina Williams and Paul Douglas examine how to stay one step ahead.

Reputation rarely appears on a spreadsheet, but it is nonetheless an important asset. In business, it builds trust and opens the doors to new opportunities. On a personal level, it is key to social interaction and can be the glue that binds families together around a common set of values.

It is also an asset that is increasingly under threat. In today’s age of instant news and unfiltered online information, the dangers to reputation have never been higher, more multi-faceted or so rapidly moving. At the same time, regulations requiring greater transparency are providing journalists and members of the public with greater access to information about individuals and their business interests.

The dangers are particularly relevant for wealthy individuals and families. Firstly, they have more to lose from reputational damage because of the value of their financial interests. Secondly, it is now more difficult for the wealthy to separate their personal and business worlds. In the past a family name was often disconnected from the ownership of the family assets but, with the inexorable drive towards greater transparency, it is becoming increasing difficult to maintain that financial privacy.

Regulation increases transparency

In the first few months of 2024 alone, two UK regulatory developments have accelerated this trend. The expansion of the Register of Overseas Entities (ROE) requires non-UK companies that hold land in the UK to register with Companies House and provide details of beneficial ownership. In addition, a new consultation process is paving the way for changes to the Trust Registration Service, which could potentially widen the scope of transparency of non-UK trusts holding land and public disclosure disclosure by default.

This greater access to personal and professional information, allied with an online world where anyone can create content, brings with it increased vulnerability to a range of threats including cyber-attacks, blackmail, physical security risks, press intrusion and smear campaigns.

While traditional media typically provides the person named in a news story with a right to reply and a clear route to take legal action against false claims, this is not the case in so-called new media. In an online world where anyone can create content and ‘troll’ with anonymity, such routes are far less clear, or likely to achieve recourse. Even if the perpetrator is found, having the inaccurate information removed can present further challenges.

Taking action to protect your reputation

For those who have so far managed reputation largely by maintaining anonymity, it is important to accept that an online profile is now inevitable, but what really matters is who controls it. So, the first step is to own and carefully manage your online presence, typically with the help of specialist support.

The sheer pace at which news stories break doesn’t provide much time to prepare, so the next step is to put in place plans for a range of reputation-related scenarios. This will require pre-set relationships with key professionals including lawyers, security advisors and digital experts to have expert and objective input instantly available.

It is also worth considering the upside of reputation management. Are there ways to not only protect reputation but actively enhance it? Many families have charitable or philanthropic projects, but they are not always shared publicly. This could present an opportunity to show how a family gives back to society, thereby also generating a protective shield against potential adverse publicity.

How Accuro can help

Firstly, through our networks we help clients access trusted public relations, cyber and legal experts who can advise and act on reputation management. Secondly, we prioritise confidentiality, keeping your personal information safe through our strict data security and cyber protection standards. Finally, we believe that our holistic approach to clients generates reputational benefits. Family dynamics and inter-generational friction can sometimes fuel adverse publicity and often lead to significant cost. A crucial first step in avoiding such situations is often surprisingly simple: starting conversations, between partners or across generations, so that all parties can feel that they have a voice, and any issues can be tabled, addressed and the desired outcomes documented in letters of wishes, family charters or constitutions.

It is worth bearing in mind that older family members are well practiced at staying below the radar, and the younger family members are more likely to be prolific users of social media and thereby in danger of unwittingly exposing their family to unwanted attention. Here again, having an independent, familiar, and trusted advisor can help bridge generational divides and put clear guidelines in place. Such an approach may prevent the need for expensive lawsuits or PR strategies and help you to protect one of your most important assets – reputation.

We work in tandem with leading reputation lawyers, cyber security experts and risk specialists to help bring all rounded solutions to clients that can be monitored and managed on a proactive rather than reactive basis.

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