Simon Rae in Hong Kong: Asian private wealth and philanthropy

Date: 09 May 2008


Simon Rae, considered one of the elite handful of lawyers dealing with Chinese private wealth in Hong Kong, was recently recommended for the Citywealth Asian leaders list. He updates us on his view of the astronomical wealth being created in the region and his view of philanthropy from Asia.

“Philanthropy is a growing area with bequests being made mainly because of the economic development of the region and taxation is quite generous to those at the top, which has created a large wealth gap in Hong Kong. It means an elite number of individuals have accumulated vast amounts of wealth, measured in several billions of US dollars. In Hong Kong, we have some of the wealthiest families in the world: you just have to look at Forbes rich list to see that about a quarter of them are now Asian.” Despite this growth, Simon says there are lots of fund managers locally generating the wealth but not many who plan for its succession for future generations.

“Philanthropy has been part of the Asian philosophy and, in the past five years or so, there has been more publicity attaching to the growing number of charitable donations. This will be continued by future generations of the wealthiest families”. He explains: “There are substantial donations being given to educational institutions: for example Li Ka-shing to the Hong Kong University. Most of the leading entrepreneurs have large charitable institutions. Previously when individuals have been philanthropic in the region, they haven’t been so publicly and this is beginning slowly to change mainly because of the size and nature of the bequests; but there are a number of people who, because of favourable conditions, have garnered fortunes and feel that something should be put back into the community.”

Of the amounts of wealth in the region, he says it isn’t unusual for locals to have amassed fortunes of $20billion.”There is a lot of money in quoted stocks and companies that they control which generate substantial income.”

Because of the lack of private wealth planning lawyers in Hong Kong, Simon jokes that his clients might never allow him to retire. “My clients won’t allow me to go.” Simon thinks his understanding of how Asia works and its history has certainly helped him work with his enviable client list.

Strangely the trend for banks to de-couple from trust companies to achieve client independence that is being seen in Europe is quite the reverse in Asia. “Most trust companies have disappeared into banks. In Asia, I can only immediately think of three privately held trustee companies: two of them are a fairly reasonable size and one is a small boutique operation. They aren’t prolific.” Simon explains. “Singapore is ahead of the game in the trust market and more private trustees are going to Singapore but Hong Kong is trying to get up to date on this topic. There is a committee consulting with the government who want to get into a strong position to capture this market, if not do it better. We don’t have estate duty in Hong Kong now for instance and so there is every opportunity for Hong Kong to bolster its expertise in this area, particularly for the private client, given what is going on in Europe.”

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