Oct. 23, 2023: What you need to know to start a family office in Asia
We’ve gone global! This week we take a closer look into the family office industry in Asia. Hot spots like Hong Kong and Singapore have seen an explosion of wealth creation, which is driving ultra-high-net-worth individuals to set up family offices.
And while HBO’s hit “Succession” might be over, the concept of “stealth wealth” is very much alive. We bring to you a story about the trend that has taken the world — or perhaps just Gwyneth Paltrow — by storm. Alyssa Shelasky reports on how the wealthy view their wardrobe and what brands are at the forefront of stealth wealth production.
As always, we appreciate any comments, ideas and insights that would make this newsletter more useful. I look forward to growing this family office community with your help. Please email me at [email protected].
HANDPICKED: What you need to know to start a family office in Asia
By MARCUS BARAM
As the number of family offices around the globe has skyrocketed in recent years, one particular region that has benefited is Asia.
The region has seen the world’s fastest growth in the number of ultra-high-net-worth individuals, according to the Knight Frank Wealth Report. Many are motivated to launch family offices in Asia because of the region’s strong economic growth, tax incentives and a friendly regulatory environment in some countries and cities.
That growth has happened almost overnight, with 40% of family offices having been established since 2010. Almost half of the region’s offices are in Hong Kong, which has 400 and hopes to add 200 more by 2025, and Singapore, where the number has almost tripled sinced 2020 to 1,100.
Among them is the Landmark Family Office, a private multi-family office that announced the establishment of its global headquarters in Hong Kong this year. The office was drawn there due to its confidence in the city’s regulatory environment and “strong government support for the family office sector,” said Landmark CIO Andrew Sharrock, who previously worked at State Street.
Those factors provided "an optimal ecosystem for our family office setup," Sharrock said. "The family office industry in Hong Kong is developing at a rapid pace, with increasing demand for bespoke sophisticated wealth management solutions for ultra-high-net-worth families and individuals."
Those two cities meet the criteria that ultra-wealthy individuals seek to nurture, manage and preserve their fortunes, say several family office advisers based in the region. Among those criteria are a strong regulatory framework, an established financial services industry, stable and business-friendly government policies, a skilled labor force and a location where the family has existing private banking relationships.
The surge is being driven by Asian families who during and after the pandemic sought to strengthen their wealth management and succession plans to better prepare against future uncertainty and non-Asian families seeking to set up satellite offices “to capture and better support their investments in the region,” said Carrie Ng, who heads the Bank of Singapore’s family office advisory business.
In addition, next-gen members are pushing for their families to set up offices, said Prabhat Ojha, a Cambridge Associates managing director and head of its Asia client business. “We are also seeing an increasing number of instances where the next generation, having spent time in the West or worked in the investment industry, comes back to Asia to take the reins of not only the family business but also to look at what to do with the excess capital that the family business creates,” Ojha said.
In recent years, family offices in the region that relied on their instincts and traditions have sought to professionalize their operations, with more of them hiring professional staff and more carefully evaluating service providers and fees.
WHAT IT TAKES TO START A FAMILY OFFICE
To start a family office in the region requires engaging with lawyers, accountants, tax advisers and regulators — and private banks and multi-family offices can help with the process.
In Hong Kong, a single-family office does not need to be licensed if its services do not include regulated activity, such as seeking profit as an objective, while multi-family offices are likely required to obtain various licenses. The city also has a separate agency, FamilyOfficeHK, set up just to help support family offices setting up in Hong Kong. FamilyOfficeHK helps connect them with regulators, private bankers, trustees, lawyers, accountants and wealth management professionals, said Jason Fong, global head of family office at Invest Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s competitor, Singapore, is targeting family offices through its own tax incentives and licensing exemptions as well as a low flat corporate tax rate of 17%. It also recently launched the Global-Asia Family Office Circle to “support the development of a vibrant family office sector.”
In a recent speech, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said family offices can take advantage of the region’s focus on sustainability and climate change and “play a leading role in the green transition and facilitating sustainable, inclusive growth.”
Singapore and Hong Kong dominate the sector, but families should undertake their due diligence and hire a third-party expert with a local presence in each jurisdiction to clearly understand the benefits and challenges of each, said Chris Marquis, managing director and global head of private wealth at Vistra, a global business services provider.
The rise of stealth wealth: Ultra-rich embrace subtle luxury
By ALYSSA SHELASKY
There is a tall, beautiful, sophisticated woman — who tells me she works on Wall Street and has four children at a private school on the Upper East Side — buying an oversized, white button-down shirt at Aerie on Lexington Avenue. She’s wearing light blue Dôen jeans, black Loro Piana loafers and a vintage Hermès Kelly in a vintage caramel leather. And I’m trying to make sense of it all.
I mean, Aerie is a fun, effervescent clothing store. The quality is great, especially because it’s so affordable. But Aerie is not Bergdorf Goodman. So, what gives? Why is this obviously rich woman dressed so casually? Why is she mixing a simple $24 white top with a handbag that easily costs $10,000?
And that’s when it hits me. This — staring me straight in the face — is stealth-wealth style. In the flesh. And as I stand behind this classy lady in line, I see why the low-key-chic trend is so lovely. So Cate Blanchett. So Amal Clooney. So elegant, yet so aspirational.
Peter Som, the famous fashion designer and content creator, describes stealth-wealth style as “the ultimate ‘if you know, you know’ — it’s not about designer logos or anything flashy. These are pieces that don't scream and shout — they whisper and wink. Any outward appearance of wealth is banished in favor of that $5,000 cashmere sweater in a neutral tone that could be from The Row … or is it J Crew? Again, if you know, you know.”
Speaking of cashmere, White + Warren President Catherine Morrissey can verify that the stealth-wealth trend has been excellent for business. “This trend is one that has always been inherent to our DNA, and it’s especially hot right now. Our cashmere travel wrap continues to fly off the racks. It exudes the notion of quiet luxury. Our luxe cashmere cable crewneck is a lofty and elevated take on the classic fisherman sweater, and it’s been extraordinarily popular, similar to our new cashmere button-down shirt. These styles are in constant rotation in my own wardrobe and just as easily worn with a silk skirt as they are with my favorite tailored trousers."
Another category thriving off the understated-chic look? The classic “cool girl” shoe.
According to Megan Papay, co-founder and designer of the luxurious but low-key Freda Salvador shoes (recently worn by Nicole Kidman at the U.S. Open): “Stealth wealth has been a great trend for us! Our design aesthetic is 'modernized classics,' so all of these things add up to women looking to us for effortlessly cool style. We cannot keep our hand-woven ballet flats or classic penny loafers in stock right now. We have sold 60% more penny loafers in the past two months than we did in all of 2022. They sell out as quickly as we launch them and are now on pre-order, and we are trying to order more to meet the demand.”
Another area that’s radiating in stealth-wealth style? Travel.
On a recent trip to The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni in Lake Como — a destination that exudes stealth wealth like, perhaps, nowhere else on Earth — the most elite guests at the hotel wore all neutral tones, the fabrics and patterns luxe but never loud. An under-the-radar heiress was often seen walking around the villa wearing a white linen peasant dress with a classic Hermes belt and one chunky Cartier watch — with no other jewels whatsoever. In all her simplicity, she was absolutely striking.
The same look is drifting around the Caribbean, too. "At The Shore Club Turks & Caicos, we’re seeing preferences in designer beach or pool bags without logos ... nice, quality beach hats to protect you from the sun without huge emblems, and so on,” says Karen Whitt, vice president of sales and marketing for The Hartling Group which oversees The Shore Club, The Palms and The Sands.
It begs the question: Why now? Why is stealth wealth the most robust style trend at this precise moment? What does it say about our culture? About our collective state of mind?
“Fashion trends swing like a pendulum. We are just closing out an era of logo-mania, where it was stylish to wardrobe yourself in items that are overtly branded. We saw that with lots of loud trendy pieces from Fendi, Balenciaga, Gucci and even Supreme.
"Culturally, I think 'Succession' opened the window to a world of extreme wealth. How funny would Shiv look with a Balenciaga logo cardigan or Logan wearing a Supreme logo box tee? It would never happen. The audience observed these characters and noticed that their clothing was quite basic in style but enviable in quality. We all took notice and wanted to give ourselves that level of comfort and luxury combined.”
That leaves one last question: Is stealth-wealth style here to stay?
No, says Delilah. “Classic will become boring after a certain point.”
For now, however, when it comes to stealth-wealth style, wealthy shoppers are fully engaged.
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Help us with a story: We are writing a story about the nuts and bolts of setting up a family office. If you have any comments on the topic, reach out to [email protected].