The term ‘small is beautiful’ is particularly apt for Rawlinson & Hunter, the boutique international grouping of professional firms specialising in trust, accounting and tax advisory.
Although in existence for over 80 years in the UK, in their newest office in Singapore the company is currently going through a ‘Back to the Future’ reform in Asia says Managing Director Peter Milnes
This mirrors what it looks to deliver to the wealthy families the firm advises on wealth transfer and succession planning.
“In our Singapore office, we are now at the point we were at as an organisation in Europe some 30 to 40 years ago, helping families make sure that they had the correct succession planning,” explains Milnes.
“In Asia, a kind of informal family office is common, often with multiple family members involved. More and more we are seeing families look to professionalise their family office, and we are helping those families to ensure the governance and structure of their wealth is correctly managed to ensure it is transitioned to second and third generations” he adds. “We can leverage the experience we have gained in other jurisdictions that have gone through similar transitions”.
Well-versed in family wealth
The Rawlinson & Hunter philosophy and model supports this way of working. There is a definitive focus on private clients.
“We don't focus on corporate structuring or unit trusts, the bedrock of our business is private client,” says Milnes, “though in other jurisdictions, such as Cayman and Jersey, we have a best in class fund administration offering”.
The dedication to servicing the needs of private clients dates back to 1933 when the firm was founded.
Many of its partners have grown up in the private client world, including Milnes himself. “We have a long history of working with family offices and understand the complexities,” he explains. “We understand the challenges because it's not always purely a financial decision when it comes to structuring, asset purchases. There are emotional considerations to account for.
Advisers very much need to take into account family dynamics, as well as what the family actually wants to achieve in terms of leaving a legacy.
“This changes from family to family,” adds Milnes.
Bringing global expertise to Asia
“When clients come to Rawlinson & Hunter, we are building a personal relationship that will last for years to come,” he says, “so we find that we are working on a structure, and understanding the dynamics and requirements of a family for many years. We are an independent firm, which means that clients are dealing with the Partners of the firm… the decision makers. We believe that all clients should have a relationship at all times with a Partner.”
As a result, the firm, and its Partner’s, have seen trusts go through the transition from generation to generation. “I do not think there are many organisations out there that have that history,” claims Milnes.
The decades of success also help to explains why he doubts whether the firm’s business model will change in the near future.
And the firm doesn’t want to be a large organisation. “We now have 17 people in Singapore, and I don't think we'll ever grow here beyond around 23 to 24 staff,” says Milnes.
This is based on his viewpoint that, the larger a firm gets, the harder it is to make sure it is providing the kind of personalised service to clients that is at the core of its value proposition.
“Over the next 12 months, I think we will grow our headcount by a couple of people, but we will make sure we continue to provide the seamless service,” he adds.
Asia is also a key geography for the firm, to bridge the gap between its Australia and New Zealand offices and its European and Caribbean offices.
“We service a lot of Asia-based clients from our international offices and therefore it makes sense to have an office in Singapore,” he says. “From a time-zone point of view, we can better service those existing clients [in Singapore], but equally, we can bring in new clients that may want to use some of our international offices.”
He sees significant value for clients in using Singapore as a jurisdiction for trust and accounting services. “The government is doing a lot to promote Singapore as a financial hub” explains Milnes. “The banking industry and legal framework are here to be able to support those clients who want to use Singapore as a fiduciary hub.”