As Location Head for Equiom Hong Kong, Joe Cheung is responsible for the overall performance of the Hong Kong business. Continuing our spotlight series, we caught up with Joe to hear about his professional experience, motivations and what’s top of his agenda.
Tell us a bit about your professional background and experience to date
My entire career has been about great customer / client service. Being able to personally help clients achieve their goals whether that is solving tricky situations, managing complex transactions or simply putting in place structures to safeguard their wealth for the long term has given me much pride and satisfaction. What motivates me is delivering services to their expectations or even better, beyond their expectations. I have guided small business owners dealing with red tape when they establish their first overseas company, worked with multinationals and their professional advisors establishing their group structures, assisted fund managers with establishing their fund structures and underlying holding companies, as well as guided wealthy families setting up trust structures for succession planning and wealth preservation. I started out at a boutique trust and corporate services provider serving an international clientele, before moving to a global trust and corporate services provider leading a team of 300 staff with Fortune 500 clients and ultra-high net worth families from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). I am now at Equiom where I am enjoying focusing on building up our team in North Asia.
What do you most enjoy about your role?
Equiom is a very successful trust and corporate services provider in Europe. I enjoy the challenge of growing our Hong Kong business to be just as successful as our businesses in the Crown Dependencies. This role allows me to dedicate more time to both clients and intermediaries, while keeping a finger on the pulse of what clients are looking for and what is happening in the market.
What is currently top of your agenda?
There are various geo-political, macro-economic and China-specific developments currently influencing the business decisions of our clients in Hong Kong, as well as the wealth management decisions of wealthy families. As a business we are nimble and able to assist our clients as their needs change. But what is clear is that China will continue to rise. The Chinese economy will continue to grow, creating opportunities for homegrown and foreign businesses, creating millionaires and billionaires along the way, as was the case in the US and Europe. My job is to make sure we have a very capable team with the right language and cultural skills to provide the best customer service to clients looking to work with PRC business partners and with PRC businesses and their wealthy founders.
More specifically, how do you support company founders when preparing for IPO?
Founders looking to list on a stock exchange are typically confronted by an array of financial advisors, corporate finance professionals and legal advisors. It is their job to make sure that the business’ financials are in order, risks made transparent and that appropriate corporate structures and governance are in place to make it attractive to outside investors. In situations where the founder has not put much thought into the structure of their own affairs before preparing for an IPO, they are now encouraged to also structure their own ownership stake in order to protect it from risk and preserve it for the long term. Equiom work with the legal advisors to put in place trust structures to achieve these goals. The founder may wish to provide benefits to their best staff and secure them for the long term when listing their business. In such situations we can assist with acting as trustees for Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs).
What are the emerging trends in relation to pre-IPO trusts?
China is embarking on an exercise to better regulate the financial markets, technology businesses and educational systems, with a view to creating a fairer society. What this translates to for founders is turbulence and uncertainty. Furthermore, there will likely be more emphasis on tax collection and enforcement through collected Common Reporting Standards (CRS) data of the past years. Where previously a smaller percentage of clients would go on to establish trusts before an IPO, we believe these developments in China will only encourage more founders to consider the use of trusts in future.