James Russell, our newly appointed Managing Director in Hong Kong talks to HK Means Business about how the city acts as a hub for delivering global services to a pan-Asian market.
An award-winning trust professional named on ePrivate Client’s 2015 Top 35 Under 35, Mr Russell has almost 20 years’ experience in the wealth management industry serving clients across the Isle of Man, Cyprus, Hong Kong and Singapore. His highlights include successful IPOs of Asian businesses listed on AIM (the Alternative Investment Market), commercial property structuring in Europe for worldwide investors, and working with international law firms to build innovative trust and foundation structures for Asian families.
Please tell us a bit about Equiom Group
Equiom is a global professional services provider offering an unrivalled breadth of bespoke end-to-end wealth protection and business support services to private clients, corporate clients and funds. After entering the Asian market in 2015 via an acquisition in Hong Kong, two new businesses were added in 2016 (in Hong Kong and Singapore), followed by Japan in 2017.
Our presence in Hong Kong gave us a platform in personal and corporate tax advisory and structuring services. With the additional expertise in Japan, we achieved a greater capability to serve inbound foreign capital coming into the region, using Hong Kong as a base, with a broad range of business outsourcing services.
Equiom Hong Kong provides accounting, payroll, company secretarial, trustee and tax services to international companies and individuals. As part of the international group we have access to expertise in jurisdictions including the British Virgin Islands, Canada, the USA, Jersey, the Isle of Man, Guernsey, Scotland, Monaco, Malta, Luxembourg, Abu Dhabi, DIFC, Dubai, Qatar, Singapore, Japan and New Zealand.
What attracted you to join Equiom Group?
Most of my career has been spent working in the trust and corporate services field, and I spent many years in the Isle of Man, where Equiom is headquartered. I was aware of the positive brand reputation that the company holds in Europe as an industry leader in the fiduciary services field, and, when the opportunity arose to join their team in Asia and help replicate the success here, I jumped at it.
The unique positioning of Equiom within Hong Kong provides unique opportunities in a number of market areas – the business is large enough to have a broad scope of expertise amongst its 80 staff, but also small enough that we all know each other and can find the perfect person to fit the style of each individual client.
Having a serviced office offering gives us a unique opportunity to work with clients from the day they first consider moving to Hong Kong, for the first few years until the day that they are large enough to move into their own office.
What are your growth plans for the business?
Market forces are leading to changes in the expectations of clients in Asia, and will continue to do so in future years. Clients will always wish to avail themselves of the generous and beneficial tax rates in Hong Kong and the strong network of double tax treaties that the jurisdiction has – it will remain an exciting pivot point for pan-Asia business.
In many cases clients nowadays need more depth in the services provided in Hong Kong, whether that’s in the form of directors who are actively involved in managing the business, or a support network to help them find their way through the daunting challenges of running a business, while they can get on with the entrepreneurial work that inspired them in the first place.
Great opportunities for Equiom lie with clients who are looking for a company to proactively help them run their business rather than relying on clients to contact them first.
Equiom’s worldwide links enable us to provide a seamless service, with one contact point, for clients in Hong Kong looking to set up worldwide business structures, and also for clients worldwide looking at Hong Kong as their starting point to expand their businesses into Asia.
From Hong Kong, will you be serving clients in other countries in the region as well?
This is Equiom’s real competitiveness. We have individuals travelling around the APAC region, bringing clients and business to Hong Kong.
It’s often tempting to use Hong Kong purely as a base to attract clients from mainland China, and we put considerable effort into doing so, with an extensive Mandarin speaking team.
However, we’re finding Hong Kong’s stability and robust legal system is a considerable attraction to clients from other parts of the region – particularly Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines; but also from Japan, Korea and other parts of East Asia.
Wealth management is a vast space in Asia. Where do you see the best prospects?
The increasing number of high net worth individuals in China alone tells us the market is increasing at a rate faster than anyone can put a value on it. The overall number of millionaires with liquid, investable assets in China increased almost nine-fold in the decade from 2006.
Even better news for Hong Kong is that the percentage of Chinese millionaires investing abroad increased from less than 20 per cent to nearly 60 per cent in the six years to 2017.
Hong Kong will, for the foreseeable future, remain as the logical first port of call for this international investment.
There’s some suggestion that these increases are slowing in the region outside Hong Kong, but this likely to be a result of greater regulation within the financial services sector – a move which I’d welcome as being in the best interests of quality players in the market.
Is Hong Kong well placed to capitalise on those opportunities?
Hong Kong remains very much open for business. It’s a dynamic business environment with a positive outlook and a great reputation worldwide. The beauty of Hong Kong as a jurisdiction is its ability to find a workable solution to any international problems thrown at it.
I expect to see increasing regulation within the corporate services sector in Hong Kong, a move which, to a point, is to be welcomed, as it ensures Hong Kong continues to thrive as a wealth management hub and continues to be highly regarded as a safe jurisdiction for clients’ wealth, with protection for the individual and a high level of quality amongst advisors.
I look forward to guiding Equiom as we help to lead the provision of quality wealth management services to clients both locally and internationally, and, equally, I look forward to continuing to enjoy everything this great city has to offer from both a business and personal perspective.