Cone Marshall expands Asian presence, as the region’s wealthy families go global

Cone Marshall (CM) began life through a merger as a law firm in 1998 in New Zealand and since then has also become a leading global and independent fiduciary group focused on serving the interests of high-net-worth (HNW) global families in relation to structuring, governance, asset protection and business succession.

Areas of specialisation include assets and family mapping, family and business succession, as well as corporate and family governance. The firm offers expertise in family trusts and foundations, corporate structures, charitable trusts and foundations, as well as outsourcing and managed trust company services.

Comprising lawyers, wealth planners and accountants, all dedicated to protecting and helping transition their clients’ wealth, the firm today handles more than 1300 international HNW family client relationships and oversees more than USD20 billion in assets under trust.

Expanding in Asia and globally

Peter Golovsky joined CM in May this year as Global Head of Fiduciary Services and Head of Asia. In this role, Golovsky will oversee and be responsible for CM’s growth across all of its offices and teams, spanning North and South America, Europe, and Australasia, including the establishment of the CM office in Hong Kong.

He will lead and manage a number of key strategic, sales and operational initiatives across the group, with a focus on deepening client relationships with key families, global private banks, single and multi -family offices, legal and accounting firms and independent asset managers. Golovsky reports to Geoffrey Cone, Founder and CEO of the Group.

“Opening up the Hong Kong office as a hub for Asia is an integral part of the growth strategy for the firm as we focus on deepening our support and capabilities for Asian families,” Golovsky explains. “These very wealthy families increasingly have significant assets, investments, business operations and family members in overseas locations and require independent advice to ensure the right structures are put in place for holding these assets and investments, as well as for helping with any succession planning and intergenerational wealth transfer”. China is on the cusp of a significant transition of wealth between first and second generations and presents significant opportunities for firms like CM in the region, explains Cone.

Golovsky was attracted to CM’s status as a fully independent business, able to provide the levels of objectivity required for such specialised services. “Advising families across multiple generations on structures, on succession and wealth transfer is both fascinating and challenging,” he observes. “To be most effective, privacy, objectivity and complete independence are needed to work with Asia’s founder patriarchs and matriarchs and then their future generations.”

Hong Kong as a strategic springboard

Golovsky notes that CM has for many years served its Asian clients, but never with a presence on the ground, hence Hong Kong is now becoming the beachhead from which to further penetrate this region. “There is great demand amongst Asian clients with aspirations to internationalise their wealth,” Cone explains. “Our typical client is the ultra-high-net-worth family with perhaps USD100 million or more of wealth. Our core business as an independent trustee is to help these families understand the best structures for holding this wealth across multiple jurisdictions, with trusts, foundation and other structures as the key vehicles.”

In addition to the wealth structuring and wealth planning offerings that CM offers, the firm works with its clients from an advisory perspective, offering succession and family governance services as well.

“The first requirement is to understand what the client needs for the future,” Cone observes. “The second requirement is the organisation of their wealth. The third is to ensure that succession and transfer of their wealth within and between generations is enabled appropriately.”

Golovsky cites the hypothetical example of a Chinese family with a patriarch and matriarch who created the family wealth that has since spread, along with family members, across China and across several countries. “Working with them to structure their assets into offshore structures for succession and for future planning of the family wealth and lifestyles are precisely core to our proposition.”

Regulatory evolution accelerating wealth management needs

Cone believes the evolution of the global regulatory landscape represents a significant opportunity for CM. “The new era of transparency in terms of structuring presents a more level playing field for our type of expertise and services,” he explains. “Not only does it present new opportunities to create new and appropriate structures for clients venturing into this field, but it presents opportunities to review and amend existing structures that clients might have in place to ensure both regulatory compliance and transparency, as well as structural sturdiness.”

Golovsky reports that CM plans to build out from Hong Kong to Singapore to boost its regional coverage. “Some people maintain that Singapore is the private client centre for the region, and Hong Kong is perhaps more of a corporate centre,” he comments. “But I do not see it like that. I think in today’s world of regulatory rectitude and intensive oversight, being close to your clients is what matters most, and we can achieve that across Asia, by being present in both Hong Kong and Singapore.”

Cone characterises the firm as being both highly competent in its fields and remarkably discrete. “The management of wealth for international ultra-HNW families naturally requires discretion and a rigorous adherence to privacy. We have the ability and sensitivity to understand different families’ needs and to define the particular economic and legal environment they are in. They will have assets and family members spread all around the world and our role is to help them manage their wealth and their cross-border transactions and family governance.”

Different origins, divergent needs

He notes that families have different needs depending on their origins and locations. “Some, for example those in Latin America, might require greater personal security and greater wealth protection, while other families, those who perhaps live in more secure countries such as those around Asia, tend to focus more on family succession, management and ownership of family businesses, as well as moving assets on to the next generation.”

Cone further explains that the business is all about understanding the clients first. “We listen carefully to them and endeavour to consider and then meet their actual needs, rather than imposing requirements or our ideas on them. This independence of thought and action mirrors our corporate independence, as clients such as those we handle like to be free from financial institutions, particularly those that might have agendas to promote this or that view or particular products.”

He also highlights the global reach of the firm. “An example might be an Asian family with members living in the US who need both assets and income,” he elucidates. “Perhaps they want to invest in property or businesses. We help them structure efficiently so that the assets can be transferred to the US in the most efficient and appropriate manner and structures.”

Succession planning is a key business area for CM. The firm might, for example, be hired to tackle the transfer of a core family business to the next generations, some of whom want to be involved, some of whom do not. “In this case,” Cone explains, “we might establish a holding structure, such as a trust or a foundation, which will hold the business and allow for some family members to take a managerial role, while protecting the investments of those family members who are off doing something else.”

Tailor-made solutions built upon understanding

“The solutions and structures are never that straightforward or easy to identify or to organise,” says Cone. “We help families mapping their assets, define the circle of those they wish to pass them to, we help identify the aims, the risks and the constraints, before organising a safe transmission of their wealth to their chosen family members. Each family and each situation is different, so their needs are always treated in a flexible and tailor-made manner.”

The international capabilities of CM are nowhere better illustrated than by reference to Catherine Motamedi, Managing Director of Generations Cornerstone SA, CM’s Swiss, Geneva-based operation.

“We might be a medium-sized firm,” she says, “but we have global capability, which allows us to be extremely rapid and responsive. For instance, if I see a client at six o’clock in the evening here in Geneva who urgently needs to see what a will or a deed of trust would look like, I can debrief the team in New Zealand, go to bed and I will have a full set of documents ready for the client ready by 9 am Geneva time the next morning.”

Motamedi and her team work closely with the international teams to build CM clients around the globe. “Asian families represent generally a more recent wealth creation and do not usually have the history and experience of Europe in terms of multi-generational wealth, built, sustained and then transitioned to future generations. This means that the clients are naturally very open to the expertise we offer from here in Europe and from our US teams.”

Motamedi also highlights what she sees as somewhat unique. “Our value proposition that makes us a little bit different is that we are both a law firm and a trustee firm specialist,” she explains. “This means we can help the client decide whether they actually need a structure and then we can expertly organise the structure decided upon.”

She believes that the trust structure remains a great vehicle for keeping wealth together and ensuring that it is safely and swiftly transferred to the next generations.

“One great advantage of the world becoming more tightly regulated and therefore transparent is that the trust has become a bona fide vehicle again, rather than a means of secrecy or evasion of tax or other obligations.”

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