Under the new stewardship of Swiss Asia's Steve Knabl, the Association of Independent Asset Managers (AIAM) in Singapore has a refreshed vision - become more inclusive and relevant in a bid to further raise awareness and credibility of this ever-more influential industry segment.
Steve Knabl, managing partner of Swiss Asia, has a new personal and professional goal: spearhead an evolution and streamlining of the AIAM in Singapore by building on its five-year-old foundations. “We need to go a step further,” he says.
In particular, he is focused on promoting the Association with the end-goal of increasing – potentially doubling – the number of members, but without compromising the quality of firms.
“By growing the member base, we can ensure we gain more credibility as an Association,” he adds.
For example, out of a potential universe of around 100 IAMs in Singapore, only about 30 are currently members of the AIAM. “We need to be more representative,” says Knabl.
Poised for growth
There is little doubt that the timing is right for independent firms to play a more meaningful and prominent role – both for Asian HNW and UHNW clients as advisers, and for private bankers as a career stepping stone.
With the private banking model increasingly challenged, yet wealthy individuals and families in need of advice and an experienced professional to help guide them, IAMs seem a logical option.
This is fuelled by the demographic changes underway among private bankers and their clients alike. “This shift is key for the growth of the IAM business in general in Asia,” says Knabl.
He explains in terms of the dramatic move from the first-generation, who earned the money, to the next generation, who are more exposed and open to new approaches the world now has to offer.
Private bankers are maturing too. A larger proportion are in the age group of 40 to 50 years old, and know they need to develop their relationships with current and potential clients.
Internally, however, they might feel constrained. “Some private bankers do not want to move upwards in their own organisation,’ says Knabl, “as they might need to relinquish their client contacts, which makes them more expendable.”
This plays to the advantage of an IAM model – at least for those private bankers who want to ensure they are able to really care for a client and take care of all their needs. “They are looking beyond the confines and silos of their financial institution,” he adds.
For example, he explains, a banker might want to help a client’s son or daughter – regardless of their level of AUM. According to Knabl, it isn’t a surprise to see a private bank discriminate the extent of the service depending on the size of the client’s asset base with the bank. “At an IAM, however, a USD2 million client gets the same level of service as a USD200 million client,” he adds.
Further, the entrepreneurial mind-set of an IAM is much more aligned with the required out-of-the-box thinking needed to devise different solutions and solve a real problem for a client. The pitfall (for the majority of them) of approaching many financial institutions is often a lack of appetite to do anything more than give a standardised offering.
At the same time, clients increasingly seem to embrace the concept of not being hitched to a single platform. Instead, they welcome the opportunity to be able to access a variety of platforms with the objective of getting their needs met.
Step by step
An important way for Knabl to therefore fulfil his AIAM ambition will be a PR push. This is essential in order to communicate its initiatives with the independent community as well as the wider wealth management industry. This will also involve a greater use of social networks.
Focused events throughout the year is another element of the new vision. “We want to open up to other types of organisations, rather than closed-door gatherings,” adds Knabl.
This includes the intention of seeing what partners can bring to the table to support the IAM industry.
For instance, the schedule for the next 12 months maps out a series of discussions relating to a variety of industry trends and challenges pertinent to the needs of members. These include: understanding Indonesia’s tax amnesty programme; making use of portfolio risk management tools; finding a CRS solution; assessing the role of digital advice platforms; and facilitating portfolio construction.
“We plan to further engage firms and potential partners much more actively with these and other initiatives,” says Knabl.
The AIAM is also working on a new website to reflect a first impression of a fresh, dynamic, modern image of this segment of the community.
Knabl sees the rational for an IAM to want to join the Association in a similar way as he explains why any private banking client would want to look around for an independent adviser. “It is about the added value that can be brought to the table.”
Fundamentally, members benefit from the cost saving of the collective ‘buying power’ in terms of compliance counsel and other documentation – including the many processes which have already been created for members to date.
“Regulatory change is constant, and the work we do in terms of reviewing and digesting a lot of this is an added value for member firms,” says Knabl.
More broadly, given that IAMs co-exist with the private banks, it is important for the industry to pull in the same direction during a time of the gradual disintermediation of banks.
Plus, with growing transparency and sharing of client data across borders, Knabl says Singapore must ensure it is one of the pioneers in this period of far-reaching change.
“It has the opportunity to become a global financial centre to bring to the forefront the quality of its banking system,” he explains. “This is especially the case as clients increasingly ask questions about the safety of their money in Singapore.”
Taking the reigns
Driving Knabl’s interest in taking on this new role is his desire to bring a new way of doing things and a first-hand approach to promoting the AIAM, as well as the wider industry.
He has big shoes to fill. Anthonia Hui of AL Wealth Partners has driven the Association for its five years since inception. And she has put in a tremendous amount of dedicated energy through her devotion to the cause of the independent community.
“She always went the extra mile to promote the IAM industry,” says Knabl.
She was also able to achieve this during a phase of significant regulatory change across wealth management. “Without her, it would have been difficult to achieve as much as the Association has to date,” adds Knabl.
Now, though, he wants to use the experience gained in building up recognition for Swiss-Asia’s own EAM business to the benefit of the segment.
“We have managed to do it at Swiss Asia, and I believe I can help do it to benefit the Association, which will also help the industry as a whole,” he explains.
New AIAM committee roles and responsibilities