HONG KONG/SINGAPORE: Growing demand by Asia's rich for independent advisory services and access to a wide variety of investment products is spurring the surge of boutique wealth managers more associated with the established wealth hubs of Switzerland and London.
The boutiques, or so-called external asset managers (EAMs), mainly tap small-and-mid-level business owners and executives, who are typically out of reach for private banks, by leveraging their locally based advisers' contacts and family ties.
As a result, more and more private banks are also leaning on boutique managers to boost their assets in a region which is seeing the fastest billionaire population growth in the world.
While it is a long-established practice in developed wealth centres, with Switzerland and London home to over 2,000 EAMs each, industry officials say Asia has scope to multiply the current pool of less than 200 such boutique wealth managers.
Hong Kong-based Chi Man Kwan —a former private banker with BNP Paribas and Standard Chartered, who set up an independent asset management firm three years ago - is one of the beneficiaries of the growth.
"We are, as an industry, a lot younger than our counterparts in Europe," Kwan said. "But if you benchmark us against the amount of wealth that is being created in Asia, it's the tip of the iceberg."
Having started out by managing his parents' wealth, Kwan's Raffles Family Office now has 35 staff, $2 billion in assets and more than 70 clients. Kwan said his start-up would double the headcount and assets over the next two to three years.
EAMs offer investment advisory, tax and succession planning services to clients, and partner with the large wealth managers such as Credit Suisse and UBS to execute deals.
As they are not tied to any particular private bank, they are free to offer bespoke and independent advisory services.