Bordier & Cie. (Singapore) Targets Greater Specialisation and Regionalisation with Private Banking Expert Carolyn Leng
On August 15th, Carolyn Leng was appointed as Managing Director of Bordier & Cie. in Singapore, a move that saw her leave the position she had held at the helm of Maybank’s private banking operations since 2019. Leng has over the past twenty-plus years established a significant track record in private banking in ASEAN and will now be responsible for expanding Bordier’s presence and market penetration in the region, including developing the bank’s strategic partnerships and relationships. Her arrival comes as the Swiss boutique private bank, which remains in the control of a small number of partners, including Bordier family members, ramps up its efforts in the HNW and UHNW client segments in ASEAN and also eyes expansion further afield in Asia. Although she is still in a service apartment in Singapore and has hardly had time to organise her new office, Leng agreed to speak with Hubbis recently to explain some of her ideas and plans.
Geneva-headquartered Bordier & Cie. has offices in six countries worldwide, with Singapore as its hub for ASEAN and further afield in Asia. The bank was founded in 1844 and today the bank has approaching CHF20 billion in assets under management and operates as a partnership with 3 managing partners with unlimited liability including Bordier family members, and 5 limited partners. The bank has opted for some strategic partnerships in the region, for example a JV in Vietnam, to help propel expansion, which is logical for what is a fairly small institution.
“It is very early days for me at Bordier, but my strategy thus far involves three pillars,” Leng reports, opening the conversation. “Number one, new to bank clients, secondly new ventures and partnerships, and third, to develop the Bordier & Cie. asset management arm, for example opening the platform to more products flowing to ASEAN, which currently in my view lacks sufficient European, UK and global products.”
On partnerships, Leng explains that she is also aiming to find financial institutions that want to have exposure in Singapore, but do not have the scale or means to establish that themselves.
“This is one way in which partnerships can work,” she explains. “For example, there are some mid-tier banks in Southeast Asia (for e.g., Malaysia and the Philippines) that want a presence here in Singapore but lacks scale and therefore, would prefer to do so by partnering with an institution such as ours that is well established already and to which they can refer their clients for wealth management, based on a share of revenues.”
Leng says one of the key appeals of moving to her new role was the agility of the bank and the shorter decision-making lines and processes.
“Unimpeded by the bureaucracy of a major corporate entity, it is much easier to provide services that are more tailored, more bespoke, and that comprise more best-of-breed products and solutions,” she reports.
“We are open architecture in that we are not tied to anyone; we have full access to the entire marketplace.”
Agility and value-added
Leng explains, for example, that there are wealthy Malaysian private clients that have availed themselves of the ‘13’ suite of fund and family office structures and incentives in Singapore, that might have family office operations in place, or plan to do so, but are continually looking for partners or operators that can add further value to them. “This value-added they seek might be from both an investment perspective, and also from a technology standpoint, an area in which Singapore is very advanced,” she explains.
Leng reports that she is also already pitching the bank’s presence in Singapore effectively as a family office itself.
Alignment with the clientele
“We are a boutique, family-controlled bank and partnership that is truly aligned to our clients, as we are essentially co-investors alongside them,” she explains. “That is a huge difference from the larger banking organisation, where they are very much structured in the corporate mindset and thinking really very short-term about revenues and remuneration. We are entrepreneurs, we are investors and co-investors, and we have a total alignment of commitment and objective in our co-investments alongside our clients. This means we are a natural relationship for the entrepreneurial, wealthy individual or family that have created their own wealth and want it to endure for generations to come.”
She also notes that the typical Bordier & Cie. clients in the region are also increasingly interested in broader investment migration options and often seek advisory support for those initiatives, as there are many implications for their assets, custody, taxation and regulatory matters.
Every choice has implications
“These choices they can make, and the resultant issues are of rising importance to clients in the core ASEAN countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines that I am now focusing on,” she reports. “For such clients, I am much more able to react rapidly, without the constraints of a hefty corporate managerial structure. Of course, we have our processes and robust controls in place, but we are leaner, more focused and more agile.”
Two key components
Leng expands on the missions and capabilities, noting that wealth structuring and the tax planning implications go hand in hand.
“These are two key components that are crucial for our clients, and it has major ramifications for where they reside, where they have businesses and assets, and other commitments and exposures,” she explains. “Many are looking at divesting part of their business, especially the entrepreneurs, and especially after the pandemic and their priorities changed. Many have decided to pare back, perhaps to sell or perhaps to distribute the assets to the next generations and let them decide what they want to do.”
She adds that these moves are also helping the younger generations in the region become more flexible in terms of their decisions on whether they want to continue in the family business, or whether they want to sell or open the business to external management or capital, where they might want to eventually reside, and so forth.
“There is a much more agility and a more global outlook and also greater capability around these younger generations nowadays,” she says. “Some will stay where they are, others will change tack and mover perhaps to Australia or the UK. But whatever the decisions, there are major implications for planning around the assets, regulation and taxation, so structuring and tax planning are essential keys to expediting any such strategies and decisions.”
And it is exactly in these areas that Bordier & Cie. operates so effectively, and with such long-held understanding and empathy, she says.
Understanding and empathy
“As a bank and as an organisation that has been in existence for more than 175 years already, we are intimately connected to all these issues, and experts in articulating these concepts to clients and helping them in their quest for the right structures and solutions,” she comments.
Leng elaborates on these concepts, noting that she and colleagues are now steering the bank more towards the notion of being a bank-supported, bank-enabled family office. “All the family offices here are individually established, but do not have banking licences,” she says. “Actually, I have the idea of expanding more towards more of a multifamily office type strategy for the coming years, which will stand us in very good stead for growth and also the expression of our core culture and missions.”
Leng says her first mission is to find key partners with which to expand the bank’s footprint in ASEAN. Secondly, the bank is looking to hire new talent.
“We need a particular type of individual and skillset,” she says. “We need established bankers who have clients that want a far more holistic offering than just investments and products. We want to build a client base that leverages our broad-based skills and expertise in a host of key areas that I have talked about today. We want to build our culture, our offerings, our bankers and our clients through this platform with a wide remit and a holistic approach to the clients’ wealth, estate, legacy and succession needs. This will ideally suit mature bankers who can speak the same language as us and as their clients.”
Her third mission is to help re-brand Bordier & Cie. in ASEAN and further afield in Asia, so that clients associate the bank with certain key characteristics and strength.
Each journey starts with one step…
It is indeed early days for Leng in terms of her tenure at Bordier & Cie. in the region. However, she evidently already has a clear and rapidly evolving vision of her mission and how she can help position the Swiss private bank for expansion in the region. We will watch with interest…
Getting Personal with Carolyn Leng
Carolyn Leng is Managing Director of Bordier & Cie. in Singapore and responsible for its development in the region. She was previously Head of Maybank Private Malaysia, Wealth Management, and has built a reputation as a pioneer of Malaysia's private banking scene with over 20 years of experience and has significant regional experience working with HNW and UHNW clients.
Prior to joining Maybank Private, Leng was Head of Private Banking for CIMB in Malaysia, and during that tenure, she had built and led teams to drive client relations, and expanded the private banking business into four new states - Penang, Sarawak, Sabah and Johor. Earlier roles included senior positions with CIMB Principal Asset Management in Malaysia, and in Canada at Templeton Management Limited, one of Canada's largest mutual funds, where she managed sales for the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.
She reports that she comes from Hakka and Cantonese parentage, and grew up in Georgetown, Penang, later graduating with a Bachelor of Arts Degree (Hons) in Economics from the University of Toronto.
Before returning to Malaysia after university in Toronto, Leng worked in total for 16 years there, living in Toronto and Vancouver. “With Templeton,” she recalls, “I was focusing mostly on the overseas Chinese markets, especially as there were many Chinese people and families emigrating from Asia, from Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and so forth.”
Leng is married with a 19-year old daughter and a 12 year old son. “Lauren is majoring in Economics, with a minor in Translation and a minor in Psychology at the University of Toronto, and our son is at school. My husband is Canadian by birth and works as a chiropractor.”
In her spare time, she is often to be found on the golf course. “I loved playing at my home course in KL, Saujana, which is famous for being both picturesque but also a rather difficult championship course that has hosted many important events,” she says. “Right now I am in the process of transitioning to Singapore from the family bases in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, and at weekends I am trying out different clubs now playing more at the Singapore Island Country Club and enjoying it very much. But I could also say I am always open to any clients inviting me to play at Laguna; I love spending time with clients at golf, as it is such a great opportunity to really connect to them, and Laguna is supposed to be wonderful.”
She has moved to Singapore and is currently based in a service apartment in the River Valley Road area. “Singapore is great, and that area is now very trendy and nice,” she says. “And of course, Singapore is endlessly full of wonderful restaurants and eateries.
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