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Multi-family office sees growing opportunities in Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT – A strong demand is seen to service as traditional family owned businesses grow larger, seek to internationalize their operations and some members move out, a sector specialist who set up a multi-family office said.

“I decided to set up the multi-family office in Sri Lanka because I felt that the big centres of Singapore and Hong Kong were saturated,” Rob Ioannau, founder of Heritage Partners, who had worked with JP Morgan, HSBC and Development Bank of Singapore said.

A family office will usually help a typical wealthy business family manage family affairs, wealth, succession planning, estate planning and the general administration of the wealth that is being created.

Wide Range

A multi-family office will provide advisory for multiple families on managing their wealth. There are several elements to services offered by Heritage Partners.

“The first element is wealth management investment advisory services for both domestic and international assets,” Ioannau, said.

“This includes manager selection and strategic asset allocation. The second component is what I call family advisory and estate planning services.

“That has everything to do with how assets are structured and held. Imagine you are wealthy, have a business and liquid wealth and hold it in your personal name, a trust, company or some combination of them. Then visualize if you have it not just locally but internationally, how are they held?” Ioannau said.

Families in Asia are also getting involved in philanthropy, which has to be managed.

In Sri Lanka the culture of a family office culture is not much established though both wealth management and private banking is already in place.

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“The reason we have set up is because families are increasingly looking for holistic advice rather than practical advice,” Ioannau said.

Independence

Heritage Partners is backed by Capital Alliance (CAL), a Colombo-based investment banking group through a joint-venture however is considered a separate entity.

“The ultimate expression of independence is that you can be a client of Heritage Partners without having to be associated with CAL in any way if you do not want to be,” Ioannau said.

“We are legally and practically separate from the CAL Group with a different office, a different entity, and we do not share information.

“CAL wants to develop this business because CAL has a significant client base of business families that work with it in different perspectives,” he said.

There is no requirement for a minimum wealth for Heritage Partners multifamily office to be interested in them.

He said they do not deem their clients by their size, however they look at possible clientele who might need their service.

“As we do not manage money directly, so we are not measuring in terms of a family giving us ‘x’ amount of money,” he said.

“We will charge a fee for the advice, but that would be totally unrelated to investments. The fee could be about advice on setting up a family office or based on some succession planning. We work off a minimum fee schedule, not a minimum asset size

As long as the clients are comfortable with paying the said fees, he said they will cater to them.

“Our typical client will probably be a family which has an operating business of a certain size. It has to have a certain prominence, and perhaps planning a transition between generations,” Ioannau said.

Heritage Partners has currently identified over 150 families in Colombo that have asset including a business in excess of 50 million US dollars.

“This is not a mass market service, so the best way we would get new clients is through word-of-mouth.”

“At the end of the day, our business comes down to trust and honesty. We are not looking for 300 clients. If someone is happy with the service they got and they are willing to recommend us, we have done a good job,” Ioannau said.

Internationalize

Many businesses in Asia are now internationalizing with foreign investors coming in and the firms seeking business outside their home countries.

Singapore is a country that had also drawn foreign firms to set up international headquarters.

Ioannau, through his experience in Singapore, said that Sri Lanka could benefit from improvements to the business framework to get international businesses.

“One thing is modern company legislation,” he said. “One of the things that Singapore has done brilliantly is it has encouraged companies to set up their regional headquarters in Singapore, for their regional or even global businesses.”

He said Singapore had a modern company legislature and framework coupled with a simple tax system whereas Sri Lankan tax system is comparatively complicated. Complex tax system may also lead to tax avoidance.

“They (Singapore) make it easy for companies to set up in terms of incorporation and foreign shareholders,” Ioannau said.

“I think the challenge for a number of Sri Lankan businesses today is if they internationalise, do they need to remain headquartered in Sri Lanka or do they need to move overseas?”

He also said that internationalization links not just to business wealth but also to private wealth.

Central banks that have liberalized exchange controls also helps as it Ioannau says it allows capital to flow in and out of the country. (Colombo/Aug10/2020)

Reported by Tania Madies