CEO Eryk Lee on Expanding and Enhancing the AAM Advisory Proposition
Hubbis met again recently with AAM Advisory’s CEO, Eryk Lee, who on our website fairly recently called on dynamic young people to enter the world of private banking and wealth management to bolster the ranks for what he believes will be exciting and high growth years ahead. We last interviewed him late in 2019, before the pandemic hit and some six months after he had taken the reins as CEO after nearly three years as CFO. He has continued to build the firm by expanding brand recognition and layering on more and better partnerships with firms operating in the Singapore wealth management industry, such as lawyers, accountants, and external asset managers. Some of his stated missions when we last met, namely to expand from the traditional expatriate community clients and into the HNW space, as well as into the surrounding region, have been hindered by the travel and other restrictions, but he reports that the firm is making plenty of progress across certain key business areas. Moreover, the firm has now gained the support from the parent company, Quilter International to apply for its CMS license to expand coverage, including into the critical field of discretionary portfolio management. Another plus is that the lockdowns and restrictions have given him more time with his wife and three children and allowed him to get even fitter, even though he had already raised the bar rather high in that regard before the pandemic.
According to the firm’s literature, AAM Advisory was set up in 2009 with the vision of helping people plan for a better financial future whilst protecting themselves and any loved ones. The website details how the firm has grown significantly in the past decade, helping more than 4,500 clients across 80 nationalities. AAM operates independently, but is owned by Quilter International, a leading provider of wealth management solutions since 2016. As at 31 March 2021, Quilter International has over GBP21.9 billion of assets under management on behalf of over 90,000 policy holders.
Expanding the client base
Historically, the core of the AAM business was the affluent expatriate market working in Singapore, but that has evolved over the years to take in a wider cross-section of Singapore residents, including Singaporeans and PRs.
AAM Advisory advises on over SGD1 billion of their collective wealth and protection needs through a team of over 20 experienced authorised wealth managers in Singapore who Lee reports have outstanding technical knowledge and experience and truly understand the evolving needs of their clients.
A robust investment offering
AAM has built its success on a solid investment proposition, the cornerstone of which is a dedicated investment research team in place to drive investment decisions and ensure clients are invested in robust and diversified portfolios appropriate for their circumstances and financial goals and tolerance for risk.
The AAM Investment Service makes recommendations for client investment portfolios, then monitors those holdings, providing feedback and making suggestions for how to adapt the portfolio in the future.
The service works especially well for clients who are interested in boosting their investments or even those who work in the investment industry yet want the support of a professional, regulated financial company to provide ongoing advice.
Boosting the proposition
“The pandemic has really helped us focus on digitisation to boost flexibility and ease of access and delivery for clients and for our wealth managers,” Lee reports. “We have also expanded our investment proposition, including with the arrival of a new Chief Investment Officer, Shreemati Varadarajan. She has opened the door to many new portfolio ideas for our wealth managers and our clients, including thematic assets portfolios. Moreover, we will be applying for a CMS license that will help us expand our investment proposition.”
Along with these initiatives of digitalisation, simplification, new licences, new investment propositions, the firm is actively recruiting. “I am pleased to say we have coped very well with the pandemic thus far,” he says. “That has encouraged us to really expand aggressively and to elevate our talent further.”
On the investment front, Lee is keen to explain that the firm still thinks and acts independently, even though it is part of Quilter International.
“We continue to act and think independently,” he says. “On the investments side, we have a wide range of products and funds; we pick the best from the investment universe and help clients curate core and satellite portfolios that suit their needs and expectations.”
Driving towards discretionary mandates and advice
He returns to the topic of the forthcoming CMS license, which in his view, will help the firm attract and retain key bankers.
“Being able to offer DPM is definitely a key attraction for bankers out there,” he reports, “hence we are upgrading our capabilities and our license in order to elevate ourselves from IFA status to include an IAM or EAM type operation. This is especially important for the aggressive growth plans we have ahead. While continuing to focus on our core advisory business; we also want to spread our skills and resources across a broader offering.”
Expanding the products and skill base
He adds that the firm has also been focusing on elevating its custody relationships. He believes this will help new bankers to service their clients through those private banks, at the same time as leveraging AAM Advisory’s more established skills of tax planning, wealth structuring, as well as high-end insurance solutions such as PPLI and VUL, which he reports are both very popular currently.
“Bankers joining us can add these other skills and services into their offering and better service their clients holistically,” he says. “Moreover, we also have an established and full-fledged estate planning and legacy planning expertise.”
Evolving and adapting
Lee says the firm has now evolved well beyond its historical focus on the Singapore expat market.
“We have taken all the global advisory and tax planning expertise and applied that to wealthier Singapore clients or wealthy regional clients, and have therefore been able to offer them a far wider range of expertise than they might normally obtain in working with traditional wealth managers here,” he reports. “Many or most affluent Singaporeans today have assets, and possibly family dotted around the world. While we still have a core expat advisory business today, we are well underway for our next stage of growth.”
Going the extra mile
But he reiterates that AAM Advisory will continue to focus on its areas of expertise and added-value.
“We cannot be the same as the other competitors out there,” he says, “so incrementally, we are aiming to offer just that little bit of difference for our clients. So, for example, we do not want to get into the business of helping establish family offices, we want instead to analyse how we can complement that whole family office ecosystem, working with partners to offer them what they don't have, but that we can offer.”
Lee also reports that the firm adopts a holistic approach to financial planning. “We are experts at developing tailored strategies and implementing a personal plan for each client’s financial future,” he reports. Our Global Wealth Structuring team helps clients organise their financial planning, to pre-empt key milestones in their lives, including moving to a new country, education, home purchases and property investment, and planning for retirement. We help our clients by offering that invaluable multi-jurisdictional advisory and tax planning to navigate the complex and ever changing requirements of global regulations and taxation.”
He also remarks that the prospect of a Singapore wealth and inheritance tax regime is a concern for many, and it provides a point of reference to begin planning discussions. “Nobody knows the plans right now,” he says, “but Singaporean clients have not had to worry about inheritance tax or capital gains tax and wealth taxes, but the potential for some of these in the future does provide a focal point for opening conversations.”
Lee reports that his first mission is to embark on the CMS license application process, because that is core to the future and to new recruitment and retaining talent. “We will be able to serve more clients with a broader offering once we have that, and that will be the springboard to hire up to 15 new wealth managers by late 2022, which is our current plan. If things go even better, we will hire more than that. First, I want to bring in seasoned senior bankers initially and build the platform to recruit other bankers.”
The other key missions include further digitalisation to make things better and simpler for clients and wealth managers. “Again, this is part of the talent quest, as if we make it easier for our wealth managers to transact and interact with their clients, then their lives are easier, and we are more productive and efficient as a unit and individually.
He closes the conversation by remarking that AAM Advisory will continue to diversify its products and services to capture a broader cross-section of clients at home in Singapore and further afield in the region. “There are clearly headwinds for other independent firms and for us at this time, but with the right strategies and the right approach, we are confident we will overcome those challenges.”
Getting Personal with Eryk Lee
Singaporean Eryk Lee, CEO of AAM Advisory, joined the firm in 2017 and chairs the Investment Committee and Risk Committee. He is responsible for implementing strategies to grow the business while at the same time ensuring that the firm achieves the best customer outcomes. Prior to AAM, Lee spent more than 15 years in various financial institutions in the UK and Singapore, including Royal Bank of Scotland Singapore and HSBC in London.
He graduated from the University of London with an honours degree in Management and holds accreditation from the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants and is a Fellow member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.
Married with three children of 15, 13 and four, Lee says he tries to lead an active lifestyle and is a big believer that exercising helps prevent health problems in future.
“As I said last time we met, I play basketball, I run, I go to gym and do high intensity interval training, as well as yoga, the last of these being for recovery,” he reports. “And since lockdown, I have taken up golf again and I've got my whole family involved, except for our youngest. They take lessons and we enjoy the whole thing as a family, it is a lot of fun.”
He is content in Singapore, which he says is relatively safe during the pandemic but yearns for travel. “We are looking forward to getting to the slopes again, so the mountains of Japan beckon. But that might be a while yet…
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