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Global wealth firms tap inorganic growth in Singapore for Southeast Asia expansion

Khairani Afifi Noordin
Khairani Afifi Noordin • 5 min read
Global wealth firms tap inorganic growth in Singapore for Southeast Asia expansion
Ng Wing Fai. Photo: Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore
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Global wealth firms are choosing inorganic channels to expand their businesses in Southeast Asia by acquiring smaller players in Singapore. AlTi Tiedemann Global and AGBA Group Holding, listed on the Nasdaq, respectively acquired independent wealth manager AL Wealth Partners (ALWP) and financial adviser Sony Life Financial Advisers earlier this year.

Both AlTi and AGBA already have a strong presence in Hong Kong. The acquisition marks both players’ increasing efforts in tapping into the growth of the region’s high-net-worth (HNW) and ultra-high-net-worth (UNHW) individuals.

“We are excited to be in the region; it has been a long-term objective of ours as a firm to find the right partner in Singapore amid the boom in entrepreneurial output,” AlTi president for international wealth management Robert Weeber tells The Edge Singapore.

“We saw the opportunity presented to us with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the government being at the forefront globally regarding regulation and approach to family offices and the larger wealth management industry. As a hub for Southeast Asia, we look forward to seeing how we can serve the people in the surrounding economies,” he adds.

Weeber says that Singapore has seen an influx of wealth in recent years: Since 2017, the number of family offices in Singapore has grown more than nine times from approximately 80 to over 700, aided by the conducive economic backdrop, pragmatic taxation regime as well as a disciplined and diverse workforce which allows for innovation.

See also: GROW with Singlife and BlackRock launches suite of investment products

From left: AlTi president for international wealth management Robert Weeber with AL Wealth Partners co-founders Anthonia Hui and Leonardo Drago. Photo: Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore

AlTi has over US$65 billion ($87 billion) in assets under management across the three continents it operates in. The company had decided to acquire its existing partner ALWP, established in 2007 by banking veterans Antonia Hui and Leonardo Drago, who will continue to grow AlTi’s wealth management offering in Singapore.

Hui says over the past 16 years since the firm has operated, ALWP realised that its client’s wealth and family have evolved to the point where the firm would only be able to provide consistent service with significant time and resources. She adds that the acquisition by AlTi would allow the firm to stay ahead in meeting its client’s needs.

See also: APAC family offices shifting focus toward wealth and investment management amid portfolio gains expectations: Citi

Meanwhile, the “one-stop” financial supermarket AGBA provides financial services and healthcare products in the Greater Bay Area through a tech-led ecosystem. Boasting over 400,000 individual and corporate clients, the group has four business segments — platform, distribution, healthcare and fintech.

Sony Life Financial Advisers was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sony Life Singapore, owned by Sony Life Insurance — an affiliated company of Sony Group Corp. It provides customers with life insurance products and life planning consultations. The firm offers LiveLife, a walk-in insurance shop that allows customers to compare products across insurers.

Regional foothold

AGBA group president Ng Wing-Fai says the acquisition gives the company an important foothold in the region. The company plans to export AGBA’s products and services from Hong Kong to Singapore and vice versa. “Within Singapore, we like the distribution business. We believe the country’s distribution business is barely scratching the surface; the independent sales and service sector is just starting. We look forward to growing the company here,” adds Ng.

According to the Global Financial Centres Index, Singapore overtook Hong Kong as Asia’s financial centre last year, retaining the position this year. Hong Kong is now in fourth place, followed by Shanghai and Seoul in seventh and tenth places, respectively, in the global ranking.

In response, a Hong Kong government spokesperson says the administrative region has adopted a more rigorous and proactive development approach to press ahead with institutional enhancements and policy innovations, as well as boosting promotion and publicity on Hong Kong’s full return to normalcy to consolidate its strengths and enhance its competitiveness.

Lion City attracting wealth

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Singapore continues to attract wealth from foreign sources. Based on the most recent data from the MAS’s annual Asset Management Survey, the AUM of foreign non-retail individual clients managed by financial institutions in Singapore increased by about $470 billion from 2017 to 2021, making up about 20% of the increase in total AUM by Singapore’s asset management industry over the same period.

It is also reported that many affluent Chinese individuals are choosing Singapore as a destination to safeguard their riches from Beijing’s intensified scrutiny. The city-state has emerged as a favoured hub for HNWIs and UHNWIs from China seeking to protect their wealth.

Despite constant comparison and perceived rivalry between the two jurisdictions, Ng describes Hong Kong and Singapore as “cousins”, with products and services in both locations complementing each other. “For instance, it is very common for family offices in Singapore to have an office in Hong Kong, and vice versa. Despite similarities, many of the products and services provided in both jurisdictions are slightly different, and clients appreciate this for their diversification purposes,” he says.

Agreeing, Weeber adds that certain differences in wealth hubs, such as governance, often lead to many HNW and UHNW individuals wanting to be in both. “It is comparable to other areas we operate in, such as Switzerland and London. Both are very competitive wealth markets; clients have reasons to be in both. But from our perspective, we are not focusing on Singapore versus Hong Kong; we are simply thinking about our regional strategies moving forward.”

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