The family office concept, once almost exclusively available to wealthy families in Europe and the United States, is quickly migrating to new pockets of wealth in places such as Brazil, Australia and, in particular, Singapore.
Only a few years ago, a wealthy family or ultra-high-net-worth individual would have been hard-pressed to find a customized family office wealth management solution in Singapore. Now there are dozens of family offices operating in the nation and the number of single and multifamily offices is expected to increase in the coming years.
As the amount of wealth in Singapore has steadily grown, so too has the need for family offices. Asia is, of course, a region of great wealth, and Singapore is one of the wealth capitals for the region. There are an estimated 17,500 ultra-high-net-worth individuals in Asia and the region accounts for 18.5% of ultra-high-net-worth individuals in the world. In Asia, Singapore serves as one of two primary hubs for Asian family offices-the other being Hong Kong.
Singapore has developed a reputation in the high-net-worth community as a financial capital and a popular destination for wealthy families, so many family offices have established offices in the country to service local families and individuals.
Singapore has been attracting a great number of ultra-high-net-worth individuals, and more and more are coming from mainland China. Accordingly, the number of family offices in Singapore is growing. However, many high-net-worth individuals and wealthy families have relied less on typical single-family offices than on a different model. One study by VP Bank found that wealthy Asian families turn to "'a plurality of players that are independently (e.g. global banks) or collaboratively (e.g. asset managers, lawyers and independent advisors) providing family office services for wealthy Asian clients. ... These structures work as a dynamic network of different players [or] a 'hybrid network family office model.'" Yet, as single and multi-family offices gain traction among the Asian investment community, we expect Singapore to fully embrace the more traditional family office model.
A Thriving Economy
International trade has helped boost Singapore above leading Western countries in terms of GDP per capita (the IMF and World Bank both place Singapore in a range of 3 to 5 in the rankings, and consistently ranked above the United States, Switzerland and other wealthy, developed countries). Singapore has a healthy, free-market economy that has excelled in recent years.
Singapore's economy has grown significantly in the last decade (see Figure 1), with financial services playing a vital role in that growth. Like other international business and financial-focused economies, Singapore's economy was hurt by the global financial meltdown, but it has managed to rebound impressively by earning more than 14% GDP in 2010.
The Singapore city-state is a popular financial destination due to its business- and wealth-friendly tax environment. It is also an island nation that draws a lot of tourists and vacationers as well as wealthy individuals looking for an international hub that is both attractive and enjoyable from which they can conduct their business. In fact, Singapore has the highest concentration of millionaire households, with 15.5% of all households having at least $1 million in AUM. Singapore has the ninth-highest concentration of ultra-high-net-worth households that have over $100 million in AUM, according to the Boston Consulting Group. As you can see in Figure 2, Singapore is perhaps the most vital access point to high-net-worth families due to its high proportion of wealthy households and its proximity to other key locations like Hong Kong, Tokyo and Taiwan.
Singapore is also an attractive location for firms and investment funds looking to establish an Asian hub for their business, as it is a brief flight to Tokyo, Shanghai or Mumbai. This access to emerging markets has led to a growth in foreign investment and made Singapore a highly attractive place to live and do business.
Singapore's status as Southeast Asia's financial and high-tech center has drawn a great deal of wealth and investment to the country, and this has, in turn, led to a wealth management solution: family offices.
Family Offices in Singapore
Wealth accumulation has steadily increased in Singapore from a low point in 2001, along with the number of family offices. The country has a high concentration of billionaires compared to other Asian countries, making it a very attractive destination for family offices. The number of high-net-worth individuals in the country is estimated to be 60,000, although that number has likely grown.
Despite the huge number of high-net-worth individuals and billionaires currently residing in the country, there are relatively few family offices, but that is expected to change in the coming years. As one report on Singapore family offices concluded: "Even if only a few family offices are identifiable in Singapore today, the market will clearly play an important role in the family office business for Asian clients in the future." It is clear that Singapore will continue to play a big part in the future growth of the family office industry. According to Singapore-based hedge fund manager Anson Zeall, a partner at Stoxster Capital LLP, there is a continuous rise in money flowing into the area, which is fueling demand for family offices.
Anecdotally, when I attended past conferences in Asia, I was always surprised by the relative lack of family offices in Singapore compared to other ultra-high-net worth hotbeds around the world. However, in my most recent trip to Singapore, I saw mounting evidence that the country is on the cusp of a surge in the local family office industry. For one, there are already dozens of family offices working in Singapore, which has made the concept more familiar to the region's wealthy, laying the groundwork for future family office growth. Furthermore, I met with several family offices considering or actively establishing an office in Singapore because they, too, see the huge growth potential in the region.
You can see other signs of this coming boom by the number of family office and wealth management conferences in Southeast Asia and Singapore and the number of hedge funds and private equity firms setting up new offices to service clients in the region. I am constantly talking to hedge fund and private equity marketers who are eager to find new investors for their funds and yet few have a clear strategy for targeting family offices and even fewer have a specific plan for raising capital from Singapore investors. The fact that investment funds are undervaluing Singapore is not atypical; for years, investors in Singapore and, more generally, Asia, have been underserved and overlooked in favor of investors more local to American and European funds. However, this trend is reversing as forward-thinking hedge funds and private equity firms realize the potential in Singapore and Southeast Asia.
At the Family Offices Group association, and at my capital-raising firm, Richard Wilson Capital Partners, we are looking to Singapore as one of the top emerging hotbeds for family office activity. For those looking for a foothold in Asia and an access point to underserved wealthy investors, you need look no further than Singapore.
Richard C. Wilson is CEO of Richard Wilson Capital Partners and president of Family Offices Group. He can be reached at email@example.com.