For many high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) in the region, managing and growing their wealth has become ever more complex with the heightened uncertainties and volatility of recent times.
This is especially so given the Covid-19-induced global economic shock, US-China trade tensions, rising geo-political risks and prospect of Black Swan events. This is where the value of family offices and private wealth managers come to the fore in helping these HNWIs strengthen the pillars of their wealth.
And this is a business segment that Affin Hwang Asset Management has seen growth in recent years. In fact, the wealth segment will be a key business focus over the next five years for the asset management firm, which has total assets under administration of RM60 billion as of 30 June 2020.
“With more focus and resources, we can continue to grow this segment in line with Affin Hwang AM’s aspirations to be a distinguished wealth manager in Malaysia and the region,” says Shawn Kong, senior director, Institution, Corporate & High-net-worth individuals (HNWI) Business.
It also sees a transfer of wealth across generations with more millennials becoming high-net-worth individuals in the coming years. In reaching out to this group, Kong says Affin Hwang AM will continue adapting to become “a multi-generational wealth manager” by listening to their needs and growing together with its clients. Here are excerpts of our interview with Kong on the company’s fast-growing private wealth business.
Smart Investor: Wealth structuring whether it’s wealth creation, capital preservation or intergenerational planning has become more complex in light of heightened volatility and black swan events like Covid-19. What is your take on this and how do you think the private wealth landscape has evolved in the new normal?
Shawn Kong: Investments and markets today have evolved. Market cycles are a lot shorter and more volatile, as we saw this year with the pandemic. Interest rates are low and overall economic growth is slow. As such, investment and wealth management has become more complex and challenging.
In a world of complexity, the team at Affin Hwang AM is all for simplifying wealth management to our clients. It is crucial to first understand the objective of the wealth structuring for a person or a family before putting in wealth planning tools or products. Upon understanding the investment objective and risk tolerance, we can then craft a suitable diversified portfolio for our clients.
With heightened volatility, it is essential for clients to first understand the risks of their investment to ensure they are comfortable with the risk they are taking. A litmus test question that I always find helpful would be to ask clients if they are able to sleep at night with the level of risk or volatility that they are taking.
SI: What have your conversations been with private wealth clients and their main concerns today?
SK: As we enter a historically low interest rate environment, our recent conversations with clients have centred around the search for yield. There is renewed interest in fixed income and dividend yielders as investors seek to enhance portfolio yields to beat long-term inflation.
On the other end of the risk spectrum, another common conversation would revolve around the sharp equity recovery since the rout in March due to Covid-19. Many would have felt that they might have missed out on the strong rebound in markets.
A divergence between how well global and regional equity markets have performed due to ample liquidity versus poor economic fundamentals on the ground presents a dilemma for equity investors. Is it too late? Is the rally sustainable? Those are the questions that keep cropping up.
Eventually, our client engagements would lead to crafting a well-diversified core portfolio that would provide long-term exposure to a broad range of asset classes, investment strategies and regions. We would overlay that portfolio with some tactical ideas or strategies to capture shorter-term opportunities. It is also crucial to have an on-going portfolio monitoring and review with clients regularly.
SI: Is there strong appetite for risk including alternative asset classes? How are you guiding asset allocation for your private wealth clients?
SK: Alternative asset classes like private equity, private debt/ mezzanine funding or private real estate can be very attractive diversification opportunities aside from public equity and fixed income.
Private equity will provide clients with the opportunity to participate in the growth of a business in the earlier stage before it goes public, thus enhancing the long-term returns.
On the other hand, private debt or mezzanine funding, which behaves more debt-like instruments, will give recurring income via coupons (typically higher than tradable bonds in the market). The trade-off for these asset classes would be liquidity and usually a longer investment horizon, compared to the public markets.
We would guide our clients to invest into these asset class according to their risk profile and investment horizon. A more aggressive client may have a higher allocation to private equity while a more conservative client would be more suitable to private debt.
It is key to know what t he underlying investment is and to understand the risks as well as how the returns are generated. In the case of investing into private funds, it is also important to understand the style of the manager and their track record.
We have recently provided clients with access to private real estate related deals, from asset-backed securities (ABS) to private REITs; whereby the listing of the asset 3-5 years down the road would give investors a decent total return. All these alternative options provide ways for investors to gain further diversification especially from traditionally listed equities or fixed income that are publicly traded.
SI: We are seeing a massive transfer of wealth across generations with a larger number of millennials becoming high-net-worth individuals. How is Affin Hwang AM adapting to this demographic shift and catering to the needs of a new generation of wealthy investors?
SK: The millennial generation has access to infinite amount of information via technology. How Affin Hwang AM can add value is to make sense of all that information or data to help clients translate them into investment decisions. Digitalisation is also important to enhance their investing experience whether it is portfolio monitoring or smoother execution of transactions.
We have also been running various “future leaders” programmes which include seminars, workshops, study visits and networking sessions to create value for the younger generation of our investor base. Seminar topics range from investment and market updates, wealth preservation concerns as well as leadership and business innovation.
We are mindful of the large transfer of wealth that is going to take place across Asia (Malaysia included) over the next 20 years. Thus, it is imperative that Affin Hwang AM continues to adapt to be a multi-generational wealth manager over time by listening to their needs and growing together with our clients.
SI: What further plans does Affin Hwang AM have to grow its private wealth segment?
SK: This wealth segment is one of our key business focus over the next five years. We have made some encouraging initial progress and growth over the past five years. With more focus and resources, we can continue to grow this segment in line with Affin Hwang AM’s aspirations to be a distinguished wealth manager in Malaysia and the region.
Among our plans is to continually expand our investment offerings and solutions (e.g. asset classes, strategies, regions and currencies) to help our clients achieve optimal diversification in their portfolios.
Within the wider wealth management ecosystem, we can then also build other pillars of our client’s wealth including wealth preservation and distribution. We are also continuously upskilling our people and talents as we grow the team.
Our key proposition as a wealth manager is that we are investment-led, given our roots in asset management as well as client-focus, where we strive to live up to our mantra to always put our client’s interests first.
Our long-term growth and success has been anchored by this singular trust that we have built with our clients over the years.
This article was originally published in the September-October 2020 issue of Smart Investor.