Cayman Islands to open Singapore office to lure Asia’s wealthy
Additional reporting by William Langley in Hong Kong
The Manila Times
THE Cayman Islands will open an office in Singapore by the end of the year, as the Caribbean offshore financial services centre seeks to capture more business from Asia’s hedge funds and wealthy families. An office in Singapore would allow the Caribbean territory to “better capitalise on the many new business opportunities . . . that the Asian region has to offer”, said André Ebanks, Cayman Islands financial services minister, on Friday. The city-state’s connectivity and “relatively neutral position in the region” made it the right choice for the country’s first Asian base, Ebanks added. The Cayman Islands had also considered Hong Kong, which he said remained an “important locale”. The opening of the office also represented a pushback against Singapore and Hong Kong, which have stepped up efforts in recent years to compete with traditional tax havens to serve Asia’s growing population of wealthy investors. The Asia-Pacific region accounts for about 42 per cent of global wealth, or $218tn, according to a McKinsey report last year, up fourfold since 2000. In 2021, the wealth of households with investable assets of $100,000-$1mn in Asia totalled $2.7tn, according to the consultancy, a sum projected to climb to $4.7tn by 2026 as incomes continue to rise across the region. With the move to Singapore, “the Caymans aren’t just rolling out the red carpet for Asia’s wealthy; they’re laying down a runway for private jets”, said Kher Sheng Lee, co-head of the Alternative Investment Asset Management Association for Asia. Singapore and Hong Kong have launched fund structures in recent years to lure business from low-tax havens such as the Cayman Islands, Mauritius and the British Virgin Islands. The schemes allow investors to hold money in lightly taxed vehicles with generous government subsidies. Singapore, which has long prospered as a stable and predictable environment for business, has had more success than Hong Kong in attracting managers and wealthy family offices to establish funds. Singapore’s new “variable capital companies” have exploded in popularity since their introduction in 2020, with 937 set up as of August. The uptake of Hong Kong’s “open-ended fund companies” has been slower, with 112 registered with the city’s Securities and Futures Commission as of the end of last year, according to law firm Deacons. Hong Kong’s OFC regime was launched in 2018. The vehicles are popular with family offices, hedge funds and other private equity firms managing money. “There has been very rapid growth in family offices in Singapore in the past few years and this is the Cayman Islands keeping themselves on their radar,” said Joel Seow, a private investment funds lawyer at Linklaters. “This is recognition that there is a growing and maturing market in Asia in terms of size, depth and sophistication . . . they want options.” The number of family offices in Singapore has soared from just a handful in 2018 to well over 1,000. “Investors have compelling reasons to consider the Cayman Islands, given their tried-andtrue fund structures. While Singapore’s VCCs and Hong Kong’s OFCs offer new avenues, the Caymans bring a legacy of reliability,” said Lee. He said the new Caymans office would target a broad spectrum of opportunities in Asia, extending beyond finance to maritime and other strategic sectors. The Cayman Islands’ push may also benefit from a crackdown in Singapore, where a series of arrests last month in a money laundering investigation has unnerved some Chinese nationals, according to two people familiar with the situation, including an adviser for a wealth management firm catering to Chinese family offices. “I have spoken to a number of PRC [People’s Republic of China] nationals staying here who are looking at shifting their money somewhere else because they are worried about asset seizures,” the adviser said.