Private bankers muscle in on Asia demand for private offices for wealthy

Business | 5 Nov 2018 2:56 pm

Rich Chinese and other Asians are increasingly seeking more control of their wealth, driving a rapid rise in the number of so-called family offices, or private investment vehicles, being set up in Hong Kong and Singapore, Reuters reports.

The family office offers a one-stop solution to managing the wealth of the

rich, including investments, charitable giving, taxation and wealth transfer. Staffed by bankers, fund managers, lawyers and tax practitioners, some even provide overseas private schooling and travel arrangements as add-on services.

"This year the activity for setting up family offices is definitely more," said Lee Wong, Swiss private bank Lombard Odier Asia's head of family services. "The growth of family

offices in Asia should continue on its current trajectory."

Asia Pacific had 814 billionaires at end-2017, accounting for 38 percent of the global billionaire population, with China minting two new billionaires every week, a report by UBS and PwC said last month.

That momentum was aided by the boom in Hong Kong for initial public offerings which saw a record US$27.7 billion raised in the first nine months of 2017 mostly by Chinese tech firms, turning many founders into millionaires and billionaires.

Six private bankers on average estimated the number of new family offices in Asia had risen by 15 percent in the first three quarters of this year over the year-ago period. This could pick up pace with a worldwide wealth transition of US$3.4 trillion expected over the next two decades, according to the UBS/PwC report.

Asian family offices are evolving from being just investment focused to offering a platform for dispute resolution and succession planning, as the new generation in the family-owned businesses expand into newer areas, bankers said.

Buoyed by the growth prospects, private bank units of global firms including Citigroup, Credit Suisse, HSBC, and UBS are looking to expand family office services,

headhunters and bankers said.

Stephen Campbell, chairman of the global family office group at Citi Private Bank, which serves over 1,500 family offices globally, said the bank had seen "dramatic growth" in the number of its clients, including in Asia. Citi plans to make a new Hong Kong-based hire in its Asia Pacific family offices team, he said.

Credit Suisse's Asia Pacific head of wealth planning Bernard Fung said due to the surging demand from North Asia for family offices the bank would set up a team for this service in Hong Kong by the first quarter of 2019, adding to its Singapore hub.

HSBC Asia private bank will add 700 people by 2022, and some of those new hires will focus on family office clients. UBS declined to comment.

The number of family offices in Singapore quadrupled between 2015 and 2017, the Monetary Authority of Singapore said in response to a Reuters query, adding those funds can avail of "fund tax exemption schemes" if they satisfy the conditions.

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