Disillusioned At Home, Super-Rich Mainland Chinese Set Their Sights On Singapore

Published: Jan 31, 2023 by 
PropertyGiant Singapore
Singapore’s number of family offices surged to about 700 in 2021 from 400 in 2020. Credit: ST File
Singapore’s number of family offices surged to about 700 in 2021 from 400 in 2020. Credit: ST File

Like many rich Chinese, graduate student Zayn Zhang thinks Singapore could be the ideal place to park his family’s wealth.

He is hoping that studying at a university in the Asian financial hub will lead to permanent residency, and while the 26-year-old hits the books, his wife is out looking for a $5 million to $7 million penthouse.

“Singapore is great. It is stable and offers a lot of investment opportunities,” Mr Zhang told Reuters at a business and philanthropy forum here late last year. His family might establish a Singapore family office to manage its wealth in the future, he added.

Hosting discussions on topics like family wealth and sustainable investing, the forum at Singapore’s Shangri-La hotel was attended by hundreds of wealthy people, many bedecked in designer gear from Hermes belt buckles to monogrammed Gucci shawls and the latest Dior bags. Several Chinese attendees said they had recently relocated to Singapore or were thinking of doing so.

With its tax-friendly regime and seen as politically stable, Singapore has long been a haven for ultra-rich foreigners.

But it has seen a fresh influx of wealth since 2021 after it became one of the first Asian cities to significantly ease pandemic restrictions and as many Chinese became disillusioned with their country’s draconian Covid-19 policies.

This disenchantment propelled Mr Zhang, who gained Hong Kong residency in 2021, to look at Singapore.

“We just lost patience over time,” he said, describing the lengthy quarantines he had to endure when travelling between Hong Kong and mainland China. Political turmoil in Hong Kong had also been disheartening, he added.

Family Office Boom

Singapore’s number of family offices – which handle investments, taxation, wealth transfer and other financial matters for the super rich – surged to about 700 in 2021 from 400 the year before.

Well-known Singapore family offices include those set up by British billionaire inventor James Dyson, hedge fund manager Ray Dalio and Mr Zhang Yong, founder of China’s Haidilao hotpot restaurant chain.

Although fresher statistics are not available, those involved in the industry said interest in family offices picked up in 2022 and was expected to continue unabated this year. China’s abandonment of its zero-Covid policies was not expected to change the trend, given concern among the country’s rich about President Xi Jinping’s common prosperity drive that aimed to reduce inequality, they added.

Mr Chung Ting Fai, a lawyer who helps set up family offices, said that in late 2022, he had one inquiry a week from people who wanted to move at least US$20 million (S$26.3 million) into Singapore. That was up from about an inquiry a month in 2021, while in January this year, he received two inquiries a week.

Many were parents looking to obtain permanent residency for their children, he said, noting that inquiries also came from Japanese and Malaysian potential clients in addition to Chinese.

Part of Singapore’s attraction for the rich is its government-administered global investor programme, under which people who invest at least $2.5 million in a business, a fund or a family office can apply for permanent residency.

Ms Grace Tang, executive director at Phillip Private Equity, which operates one of two global investor programme funds in Singapore, said her new year had been filled with meetings with potential investors, most of them Chinese.

While some were setting up family offices, others were setting up business headquarters in Singapore or investing in funds domiciled in Singapore, she said.

Wealth Management Hub

Singapore’s assets under management grew 16 per cent to $5.4 trillion in 2021 – the latest year for which data is available. More than three-quarters of that originated outside Singapore, with just under a third coming from other Asia-Pacific countries.

The influx of wealth is part of a wider trend of people returning to Singapore after an exodus of expatriates during the pandemic. Last year, the city had 30,000 more permanent residents and 97,000 more foreigners on a work or other long-term visa, boosting its population to 5.64 million.

Singapore’s new additions sent rents surging 21 per cent in the first nine months of last year. Home prices have also jumped over the past two years, with mainland Chinese buyers continuing to be the top foreign buyers of expensive private properties.

Another telling sign of how private wealth is flowing in is skyrocketing golf club memberships. The cost of membership to Singapore’s prestigious Sentosa Golf Club has hit $880,000 for foreigners, more than double 2019 levels, according to club membership brokerage Singolf Services.

Mr Desmond Teo, Asia-Pacific family enterprise leader at consulting firm EY, said the inflows of money supported Singapore’s financial services sector and start-ups, creating a “rich ecosystem” that made the country more attractive to new stakeholders.

“When you hit a certain critical mass, the critical mass itself is an attraction,” he said. BLOOMBERG

Credit: Straits Times

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