Family offices from all corners of the globe eye Hong Kong as new incentives start to bear fruit, financial forum hears

Government efforts to attract billionaires to set up family offices in Hong Kong have already caught the attention of wealthy individuals from mainland China, Asia, the Middle East and further afield, a financial forum organised by the Post heard on Wednesday.
“It is not surprising that the initial interest is from the mainland, but there will be momentum for the rest of the world as this goes forward over the next 18 to 24 months,” said Paul Knox, managing director, senior wealth adviser at JPMorgan Private Bank Asia.

“There has been a lot of interest from mainland China because there is ease of access and they understand Hong Kong. However, we have also seen interest from other parts of the world, from Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the UK, as well as the US.”

Knox was speaking on a panel at the Post’s Redefining Hong Kong Series – family office edition.

A revamped investment-migration programme, tax breaks and art storage facilities are among measures that have been introduced with the aim of achieving Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu’s ­target of attracting 200 new family offices to the city by 2025.

A further advantage is the fact Hong Kong does not require family offices to move their overseas assets to the city, said Knox.

“This makes it very easy for clients to relocate to Hong Kong, leaving their asset holding structure as it is at the moment without needing to readjust it,” he said. “As such, the level of interest is very significant.”

Hong Kong is home to the second-largest population of billionaires in the world, behind New York, said Kevin Au, director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship and the Centre for Family Business at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“The strength of Hong Kong is there’s a lot of wealth to be managed here,” Au told the panel. He urged the government to introduce policies to attract talent in technology, entrepreneurship and environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment to support the development of the family office sector.

Hong Kong has an abundance of local money, and is attracting a lot of interest from mainland Chinese investors, said Ronnie Chan, co-founder and chairman of the Centre for Asian Philanthropy and Society (CAPS).

Speaking on the same panel, he said the city is responsive and consistent in its policymaking, which “makes Hong Kong one of the most stable environments for things like philanthropy.”

Joseph Chan Ho-lim, undersecretary for financial services and the Treasury, said Hong Kong has lower assets-under-management requirements for family offices to enjoy tax incentives than its main rival, Singapore.

“In Hong Kong, no advance approval is required before entities can enjoy tax exemption. We always operate in a very transparent and rule-based manner,” he said.

His view was echoed by Ada Ma Man-shan, partner of tax services at EY.

“We have a very friendly tax regime in Hong Kong, as single family offices in Hong Kong do not need to get a licence, while in Singapore they still need to get approval from the authorities,” Ma said during the same panel discussion.

Singapore requires family offices to invest at least 10 per cent of their assets under management in listed entities or start-ups there, whereas Hong Kong does not require them to invest in local markets.

Many overseas family offices have already started coming to Hong Kong, some of them doing so via the family office team set up by InvestHK, a government agency that promotes the city as an international financial centre.

“We have seen actual cases from the Middle East, Australia, Canada, the US and UK who want to set up family offices in Hong Kong. It really reflects Hong Kong as an international financial centre,”said Jason Fong, global head of family offices at InvestHK, during the panel discussion.

Fong said the active capital markets as well as the government’s new tax incentives and investment-migration scheme can help attract family offices.

The challenges is to promote Hong Kong’s family office landscape in the West.

“Back in 1997, there was one well known media [outlet] saying ‘Hong Kong is dead’, but in fact Hong Kong is still alive. We are not just alive but we are back as strong as ever,” Fong said.

The FamilyofficeHK team at InvestHK has conducted close to 500 meetings in Asia and Europe this year to promote the city’s wealth management industry and new family office policies, he said.

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