Over the past few years, the demand and sophistication of wealth management solutions by High-Net-Worth Individuals (HNWI) in Asia have increased, giving rise to the emergence of family offices as key players in the region’s economic scenario. The evolving role of these organizations and the growing responsibilities they take on present new strategic challenges from the point of view of communication and public affairs. Family office executives need to reorient their thinking to focus on larger strategic goals, moving away from an exclusive focus on the family’s financial objectives.
Wealth Management Needs Rise in Asia
According to a Nikkei analysis on Forbes data, Asia has over 950 billionaires and outnumbers all the other regions, including North America (777 billionaires) and Europe (536). Asia is also home to five of the top 10 cities in terms of billionaire populations (Hong Kong, Beijing, Singapore, Shenzen and Mumbai), according to the Wealth-X Billionaire Census.
In this context of wealth growth in the region, Singapore and Hong Kong have been long leaders in the family office industry due to their favorable regulatory environments. Hong Kong has historically been a popular destination for offshore Chinese capital, but its political situation has caused many wealthy families and high net worth individuals to move to Singapore in recent years. The number of family offices in Singapore has grown from fewer than 100 five years ago to over 700 according to the latest data (2021), including both new family offices and satellite entities of family offices established in other regions.
Singapore has become a popular destination for family offices due to its favorable regulatory structure, political stability, business-friendly atmosphere and world-class financial and legal infrastructure. It has also attracted global talent and cultivated a skilled local workforce, making it a hub for the Asia-Pacific region. Several high-profile individuals, including Ray Dalio, James Dyson, Sergey Brin and Mukesh Ambani, have established their family offices in Singapore.
Strategic Communications and Public Affairs Can Benefit Family Offices
As HNWI evolve from consisting of affluent people to becoming the center of businesses and investment organizations, their needs and ambitions also transform. Family offices thus become strategic businesses that aim to leave a legacy—both financially and more widely in terms of reputation—in addition to serving as vehicles for preserving their wealth. This opens a series of strategic communications and public affairs needs and objectives.
First, family offices should navigate a geopolitical environment that is becoming more and more fragmented. Although globalization and technological advancement have allowed previously unimaginable levels of economic and social progress, they have also resulted in the disruption of communities and the breakdown of governance systems. HNWI, like other multinational corporations, also risk being weaponized by national governments and activists in pursuit of geopolitical and niche agendas. On a regular basis, investors are experiencing challenges such as national security constraints, cyber and data requirements, government-mandated requirements and several others.
Secondly, there is a reputational dilemma. On the one hand, family offices often tend to secrecy, or at least discretion, and privacy is the HNWI’s priority. They seek the assistance of external advisors to handle the potential issues and ensure that their name does not get unwarranted attention. On the other hand, there is a growing requirement for the HNWI to have a more public profile—discreet, certainly, but nevertheless public—as reputational legacy becomes a clear ambition.
Thirdly, connected to the ambition of reputational legacy, family offices are increasingly looking for philanthropic possibilities or the restructuring of their financial portfolios to prioritize sustainable goals. Family office leaders are looking toward venture philanthropy, social impact bonds and impact investment as a means of making a difference in the world. In this context, strategic planning and an awareness of how public affairs issues—including politics and global opinion shifts—influence or guide various types of investments (from philanthropy to ESG) are necessary.
In addition, a key factor in the evolution of these entities is generational. According to Wealth-X, nearly U.S. $3 trillion in the Asia-Pacific will be in the hands of the next generation in years to come. Asia’s younger generations are allocating their family wealth into causes that resonate with their personal lifestyle and values – such as climate change, for example, which is an issue that has in Asia a key battleground.
Finally, if younger generations want to not only preserve but also develop and expand their family businesses, they should broaden the scope of their existing networks and relationships, grow the size of their personal circles and get introduced to peers and advisors in key cities across the globe, particularly in Asia, but also elsewhere. Strategic communication and public affairs capabilities may be beneficial in this area as well.
Given this evolving landscape, family office executives face new strategic challenges and must solve issues including geopolitical fragmentation, reputation management and regulatory and compliance. Only by adopting a strategic approach to communications and public affairs, family offices can meet the evolving requirements and needs of their HNWI clients and accomplish their long-term goals.