French lender BNP Paribas says some of its European, Asian clients plan family offices in Hong Kong

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  • BNP Paribas says some of its clients have been drawn to Hong Kong after the city rolled out several incentives for family offices earlier this year
  • Hong Kong’s vibrant art culture, zero tax on imported wines are important to wealthy families, Asia CEO Tellier says

Hong Kong is burnishing its appeal as a regional hub for family offices as the new investment incentives unveiled by Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu this week added to an existing array of pull factors, a senior private banker at BNP Paribas said.

Lee proposed a revamped investment migration program for wealthy individuals and their families during his annual policy address on Wednesday, offering fast-track residency for at least HK$30 million (US$3.8 million) of investment in local stocks or other assets.

That will augment measures approved by lawmakers in May that included tax breaks for family offices. There are also plans to provide art collection facilities and easier rules for setting up charities. The city’s government has set a target of attracting 200 new family offices to the city by 2025.

“This could potentially attract more capital to Hong Kong, and bring in talents to the wealth management industry, further strengthening Hong Kong’s status as a key hub in Asia,” said Arnaud Tellier, Asia CEO of BNP’s wealth management unit. Hong Kong has done well by “bringing together the ecosystems of philanthropy, art collection, and sustainable investments,” he added.

Paris-based BNP Paribas is the biggest lender in the EU in terms of assets. Its wealth management business oversaw 408 billion euros (US$430.95 billion/HK$ 3.37 trillion) of client assets at the end of September, according to its latest quarterly report. About 20 percent of the sum managed is in Asia.

Hong Kong does not impose any tax on imported wines, while rival financial hub Singapore charges S$88 (US $11.25) per liter of alcohol. A vibrant art culture, plus other and other business-friendly policies, are already proving popular with some of BNP Paribas’s clients.

“One of our large European clients, who has invested in the healthcare business in this region, is exploring setting up a family office in Hong Kong,” Tellier said in an interview. “Some of our Southeast Asia clients have also been exploring the opportunities here. They told us they found the policies to be attractive.”

Family offices are private vehicles established by wealthy individuals to pursue investment, philanthropy, and succession planning. Investment migration schemes in the region typically offer family members and their professional staff preferential residency and tax benefits to attract and retain talent.

The opening of the M+ Museum and Palace Museum, and the French May Festival, confirms Hong Kong as a centre of art and culture, Tellier said. Investment in arts and wine collection, with their attendance culture, “is very important to wealthy families,” he said.

BNP Paribas, which traces its roots to 1840 in Paris, has built its presence in Hong Kong for more than 150 years. It uses the city as its Asian hub, while its wealth management unit offers private banking services for customers with at least US$3 million of assets.

Tellier relocated to Hong Kong after he was promoted to lead the business across Asia during the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring his family to complete a 21-day mandatory quarantine. He previously oversaw the Southeast Asian region from Singapore.

“I went the other way [while other expatriates preferred Singapore for fewer movement curbs], which shows our commitment to Hong Kong,” he added. “It was my choice because Hong Kong is our biggest hub.” Besides, “it allowed me and my family to discover Hong Kong, [that the city] is much more than just about Central and the IFC.”

Since Hong Kong reopened its border in January and removed all travel and movement curbs, Tellier said BNP Paribas has seen a double-digit growth in revenue. He hopes to achieve 7 to 10 percent in annual growth in the coming years and to exceed the industry average.

The Hong Kong government last month sent business and trade missions to Europe, led by Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, with stopovers in France, UK, and Germany. The 130-member delegation was the largest to head out since the pandemic.

“The Hong Kong government’s new initiatives around family offices are quite impressive,” Tellier said. “BNP Paribas is committed to supporting the initiative of the Hong Kong government and its promotional efforts in Europe.”

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