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Tricor Rides Asia’s Big Wave of Economic and Corporate Expansion as Asia’s Leading Business Expansion Specialist

Lennard Yong

Tricor

Lennard Yong, Group Chief Executive Officer of Tricor Group, headquartered in Hong Kong, met with Hubbis to explain how UK private equity group Permira’s acquisition of Tricor in 2017 has helped refine the firm’s focus in the region as Asia’s Leading Business Expansion Specialist. He reports that Permira and Tricor are working energetically and effectively to boost the range and volume of activity as Asia’s corporations continue their rapid regional and global expansion paths.

The firm is the #1 provider of business solutions to a massive client base spanning a range of industries and sizes, from Fortune Global 500 companies to start-ups. The company reports that it has been instrumental in the growth of over 40% of the Fortune Global 500 companies, that it has provided investor and IPO services to over 1,200 companies listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, as well as to another 500 plus companies listed in Singapore and Malaysia.

Tricor, Yong explains, emanated out of the Sarbanes-Oxley act changes that took place some 20 years ago and that required many of the major accounting services firms divest some of their diverse, non-core businesses, commonly known as corporate services, which offered business services, tax compliance, incorporations.

From small beginnings…

“The genesis of Tricor in 2000 was when Bank of East Asia acquired some corporate services businesses from Deloitte’s, later adding other businesses from EY and then PWC,” Yong explains. “And from that significant footprint in Hong Kong, they grew the business into Malaysia, Singapore, and so forth. Today, we have a business that generates revenue in excess of USD200 million that spans primarily Asia, but in total in 21 countries / territories and around 40 cities with roughly 2400 people. The core operations are in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, and Korea, those countries representing around 95% of our revenue.”

Yong explains that the firm’s core business is corporate services, which incorporation is the major part of it. Corporate services help clients with corporate governance, such as helping manage the human resources and the AGMs for listed companies. Tricor also provides business services to help clients with accounting and financial reporting. When a business is looking for expansion, becoming a listed company is often the next step. Tricor’s investor services has thus become an important element in their journey. Yong explains that about 20% of the business derives from managing the share registrars, as the firm is responsible as an agent for about 1200 listed corporations in Hong Kong, predominantly Chinese corporations, and about another 300 corporations in Malaysia.

Permira bought Tricor from Hong Kong-based Bank of East Asia in 2017, having announced the deal in October 2016. The deal size was HKD6.5 billion. Permira is a London based globally-focused private equity fund, run by a group of partners.

Permira, Yong reports, saw an opportunity to buy into what was a sizeable and reputable corporate services business with a broad footprint and solid anchors in the four main capitals of Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Tokyo.

“They have since supported us with technology investments, efficiency goals and so forth,” he reports. “The original thesis was that this is a great Asian company that with a bit more investment and with a more diversified management team could become Asia’s number one partner for business and corporate solutions.  And that is our goal.”

Invested in the future

Yong and several key business leaders at Tricor own what he calls a ‘meaningful minority interest’ in the company, helping them think and act like business owners and thereby valuing Permira’s support in helping the firm on its latest expansion phase.

Currently, he adds, the firm has market-leading positions in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, Japan, and Thailand. “Our mission,” he says, “is to further expand on that and to double down on our investments in those respective countries.”

Aiming to be Number One

“What is unique about Tricor,” Yong observes, “is the opportunity to build Asia’s number one corporate solutions partner. We are closely involved in the global expansion of the Asian corporation, helping them grow around the globe. China is pivotal, as it is expanding into global services far more aggressively than they were before when they were manufacturing economy, where most of their expansion was within South China. Accordingly, today as they move into technology, biotech, financial services, and other areas we are ideally positioned to help China offshore, first into Hong Kong and then across the world.”

To reduce expansion risks and secure on-the-ground knowledge, relationships, and experience through a trusted partner is essential, Yong explains, “Opting to expand your business in Asia may seem low cost, but rarely is due to the complexity of the region with local regulations and regulatory frameworks that can change with alarming frequency, as well as the obvious language and cultural barriers.” A service provider such as Tricor can address these problems for companies, enabling them to focus on their core business growth.

Service where it is most needed

Yong explains that his conversations today are with the boards and the key shareholders as they expand globally. “Last year,” he reports, “we were involved in 121 IPOs, mostly mid-size corporates from China, which greatly require our global expansion consultancy expertise. Mid-size corporates don’t have the infrastructure outside of China, and that is where we come in.”

This all means that Tricor is evolving from a relatively simple corporate and accounting services enterprise, where the services are increasingly commoditised, and moving up the value chain towards advisory and consulting as Asia’s Leading Business Expansion Specialist.  

Yong explains that the firm has very recently signed up with a major Japanese corporate services company that has a similar vision to service their corporations.

“They have also seen increased demand for Japanese companies going outbound as well,” he notes. “In Hong Kong alone last year there were some 1.4 million incorporations, led by the US, Japan, and China, so we are an ideal conduit for those and others who are outbound globally. Typically, the first port of call for lot of international capital is via Hong Kong, where we have our core operation with around 700 people, and Singapore, where we have our second largest operation with around 310 people.”

Foreign Direct Investment thrives in Asia

He expands his insights on the role of Hong Kong by adding that whether it is driven by the Belt and Road initiative, or financial services, or other areas, Chinese foreign direct investment is going outwards.

“A lesson learned from this activity thus far,” he observes, “is that without the right advice it can too often end up being a costly mistake. We have seen examples of corporations or private shareholders soon having to divest assets they have acquired, so we believe Tricor is uniquely positioned to help them by providing the advice and expertise required as they venture out of their comfort zone and their home markets.”

He adds that while Singapore is growing rapidly for Tricor, Hong Kong still outpaces that expansion. “For example, high-net-worth-individuals (HNWIs) still consider that Hong Kong continues to have its unique advantages, the legal system, the ease and availability of very highly skilled individuals, freedom of information, freedom of movement, these are fundamentals that underpin the competitive advantage of Hong Kong.”

In fact, as the largest employer of corporate service professionals in Hong Kong, with more than 120 chartered secretaries, 15 graduate members and 117 students according to the Hong Kong Institute of Chartered Secretaries, Tricor Hong Kong is proud to act as company secretary to 240 companies in 2018 alone.

Tricor differentiates itself, Yong explains, because it is an Asian headquartered operation based in Hong Kong, and across its geographical footprint it has the optimal blend of in-depth industry expertise, up-to-date understanding of local laws and regulations, and the network of relationships that will simplify operations, while ensuring efficiency and compliance. A service provider such as Tricor can eliminate the hurdles that come with managing a global workforce, ease administrative burdens, mitigate risks, and even connect companies with the right local partners in APAC markets.

Tricor certainly appears to be in the right place at the right time, riding the huge wave of Asia’s economic expansion and increasing global presence.

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