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UHNW Boutique Wealth House's Asian Ambitions

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor , 26 October 2020

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Launched more than a year ago and based in Monaco, with offices in London, the boutique called Azura recently opened offices in Singapore, taking aim at the Asia market. This news service has spoken to its founder about its ambitions.

A relatively young player in the ultra-high net worth end of the boutique wealth management space recently broadcast its Asia ambitions with a new office, in Singapore. Azura, as previously reported, wants to grow its $2.7 billion in assets under management and advisory to $5 billion in the next three years, with Asia accounting for half of the business.

The business is designed to appeal to ultra-high net worth individuals seeking solutions, such as forms of collateralised credit, a service not always on offer from their existing banks particularly when lenders squeeze balance sheets to protect capital.

WealthBriefingAsia asked Ali Jamal, Azura’s founder, about the rationale of the new office and how business is panning out amidst the global pandemic.

“We are targeting UHNWIs in the Asian region and those who also concede as global citizens. Our vision is to develop a community for the UHNW individuals, families and entrepreneurs globally, by servicing their financial needs, providing them wealth management solutions and advisory requirements whilst transacting on strategic opportunities together,” Jamal said. 

Jamal has claimed in the past that even UHNW clients have struggled to get as much access to a range of banks’ balance sheets as they wanted, even when they had collateral against the credit. Asked whether there were issues particular to Asia or whether recent market volatility had added to that challenge, Jamal replied: “Not at all with regards to issues pertaining to Asia but more on general credit appetites of banks given the pandemic situation. The Asian banks are solid and reliable, and our partner banks are committed to the Asian market, so we don’t see any specific issues or concerns.” 

Azura charges a flat retainer fee as far as its revenue model is concerned. For example, a single family office or an entrepreneur can hire the Azura team, which then acts on the clients’ behalf.

A year ago Jamal told this news service how the firm is preparing to split the wealth management sector. On one side, a large part of the banking system, including that element which handles high net worth clients, is becoming commoditised. Banks are migrating to using the same systems to save costs. (See a story about Nordic banks doing this.) Clients in the area - from mass affluent  up to $10 million - are also getting more commoditised and technology-driven solutions aimed at them. And Jamal reckons that many private banks will go after those in the $10 million to $25 million bracket. But at the top end, such as from $250 million to $1.0 billion-plus, clients are seeking one trusted advisor to offer them multi-asset solutions, across multiple investment locations, as well as access to balance sheet capabilities.

Ironically, however, a number of the large banks have compressed balance sheets, and have pushed out some of the bankers who were used to dealing with such clients’ demands, he said. 

Even so, this publication has been told by players such as Deutsche Bank and UBS, among others, that they have exactly the kind of solid balance sheets that UHNW clients seek. (After its strong Q3 results last week, UBS would argue that point even more strongly.) What perhaps remains a challenge for all kinds of wealth manager, whether large or small, bank or non-bank, is the trend of some UHNW clients deciding to invest directly rather than go via an institution or fund. For example, in early July last year, Joe Stadler, head of UHNW clients at UBS, reportedly said that family offices were increasingly completing deals with each other on direct investments. Stadler referred to the idea that some banks face a “Kodak moment” – a term referring to how the renowned US photography business was crushed by its failure to embrace digital technology. 

Family-run businesses are very much on Azura’s radar in Asia. 

“Many wealthy Asian families have most of their net worth locked in their family businesses. Our goal is to help them unlock or monetise family assets at an opportune time,” he continued. “We want these families to focus on their existing business operations while we assist them with their wealth needs and strategic assets and opportunities,” he said.

Asked about the rise in Asia of independent wealth managers, multi-family offices and other entities, this news service asked Jamal how Azura intends to stand out. 

“We are building a global institution based on a partnership model to attract Tier 1 talent, allowing them to operate productively and to their maximum capabilities within a culture that encourages entrepreneurial growth. At Azura, everyone will always have the opportunity to become a partner,” he said. 

Jamal added that his decision to set up the business in Singapore was not affected by the pandemic. In fact, launching this business proves that it is committed to the region.

It is likely that one hasn’t heard the last of Azura.

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