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DBS banks 'more than a third' of Singapore's 1,100 family offices: wealth management head

Jovi Ho
Jovi Ho • 4 min read
DBS banks 'more than a third' of Singapore's 1,100 family offices: wealth management head
These high-net-worth individuals are drawn here not just from North Asia but from “all around the world”, says Shee Tse Koon, group executive and group head of DBS’s consumer banking group and wealth management. Photo: Bloomberg
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DBS banks “more than a third” of Singapore’s family offices, and these high-net-worth individuals are drawn here not just from North Asia but from “all around the world”, says Shee Tse Koon, group executive and group head of DBS’s consumer banking group and wealth management.

Speaking at the Wealth Management Summit Asia on March 14, Shee says 76% of client growth recorded by DBS Private Bank over the past two years came from global clients, including those in South Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

In June 2023, Singapore’s largest bank by assets claimed it banks a third of Singapore’s 700-odd family offices then. It appears DBS has maintained this proportion of clients, even as the number of family offices here has risen to “an official number” of 1,100, as Shee puts it.

According to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the number of single-family offices in Singapore nearly tripled from 400 in 2020 to about 1,100 by the end of 2022.

Singapore has been a leading destination for wealth management because the rise of wealth in Asia “is something that cannot be ignored”, says Shee. “I think many of us in the room would agree with that. Not just the rise of wealth in Asia, but also the shift of wealth to Asia.” 

In response to a question posed by Yuri Bender, editor-in-chief of Professional Wealth Management at Financial Times — the summit organiser, Shee acknowledged that some family offices could just be hoping to obtain Singapore citizenship or permanent residence here.

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“Certainly that is one potential area, but a lot of that is about tapping into the growth of Asia and doing things in a much more professional way — looking at legacy planning, the transition of wealth from one generation to another.”

Singapore is also looking to become a philanthropy hub, adds Shee. “We [have] started to see quite a number of wealthy families, through their family offices or otherwise, getting involved in this space.”

Credit Suisse and money laundering

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The industry has been “bruised” by the collapse of Credit Suisse, which Shee calls a “wake-up call” not just for financial industry professionals, but their customers as well.

“Many times, people in the past talked about return on capital. I think these days, it is not just about return on capital; what’s important is the return of capital,” he adds.

Singapore’s crackdown on a massive money laundering case has seen more than $3 billion in assets seized or frozen so far. A member of the audience, who claims to have his own family office here in Singapore, asked if this has tarnished the nation’s reputation as a financial hub. 

“What has happened in recent months is a positive thing for Singapore to have done,” says Shee. “I do believe that if there are nefarious players, they exist in many, many parts of the world, if not all over the world.”

Shee points to how the authorities cracked down on the suspects. “I think the key is how, as an industry, as an ecosystem, we deal with it in a very robust and a very resolute way. And I think that was what we’ve seen in the way we’ve dealt with it in Singapore; the entire ecosystem coming together, involving, I think, many of us in this room. As we do that, that is ultimately about building a system of trust.”

This will continue to be Singapore's “differentiating factor”, Shee adds. “The whole element of trust, the whole rule of law, the whole stability of the economy, the stability of politics and all that will put Singapore in [a] very, very good light.”

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