According to Amil, R. et al. (2008), the single family office model began in ancient Rome and then spread across Europe. The early model took the form of the administrator of a wealthy single family household, the major domus (head of the house), and was known as the major domo (head steward) during the Middle Ages.
As time went by, the ideology, structure, and functionality of the European private bank model continued to evolve and spread. According to Gray (2005), the first trust company was established in 1853 to help entrepreneurs execute financial transactions and manage their wealth. However the only trustees at the time were individuals. The idea of creating a financial institution to handle trust and banking functions was regarded as innovative and prescient. The preservation of wealth was still the mainstream function.
Families such as the Medici family in the 12th century and the Rothschilds in the 1700s and other family dynasties all had their ‘family offices’. These ‘old’ families were said to be the ancestors of today’s multi-family offices, as they offered services to other families besides their own in return for a fee. They also played a key role in the financing of infrastructure and in the Industrial Revolution, which marked the expansion of the role of the bank trust officer. Until then, the duties of a Single Family Office (SFO) had remained rather simple, and served solely one generation of family members, but as stated in Amil, R. et al. (2008), ‘the Industrial Revolution marked the beginning of the truly individualized and separate SFO, as ever increasing wealth levels signalled a need for wealth preservation across multiple generations.’
Major Domus or Mayor of the palace: official of the western European kingdoms of the 6th–8th century, whose status developed under the Merovingian Franks from that of an officer of the household to that of regent or viceroy. The Merovingian kings adopted the system by which great landowners of the Roman Empire had employed a major domus (mayor, or supervisor, of the household) to superintend the administration of numerous, often scattered, estates.
This is closely related to the major domo, who is a person who speaks, makes arrangements, or takes charge for another. Typically, the term refers to the highest (major) person of a household (domus / domicile) staff, a head servant who acts on behalf of the owner of a large or significant residence.