Asia's rich investors embrace social-impact investments, not wealth managers

Pedestrians walk past a Rolls Royce parked in front of a Beijing hotel.
Wang Zhao | AFP | Getty Images
Pedestrians walk past a Rolls Royce parked in front of a Beijing hotel.

Asia's millionaires are the most socially conscious investors among their global peers, according to a new report, with Indonesians, Malaysians and Chinese the most keen on putting their cash to work for society's benefit.

But Asian high net worth individuals (HNWIs) are less likely than other regions' HNWIs to entrust their assets to a wealth manager, the Asia-Pacific Wealth Report, released on Thursday by management consultancy firm Capgemini, found.

HNWIs are defined as individuals with investable assets of at least $1 million. Capgemini described "social-impact investments" as ones that generated benefits for broader society as well as financial gains, and largely looked at data for 2015.

HNWIs in Asia excluding Japan (AXJ) were more active in the social-impact investing sphere than similarly wealthy individuals in other parts of the world, allocating 37.3 percent of their portfolios to social-impact investments, in comparison to the 31.6 percent allocated by HNWIs in the rest of the world.

The highest portfolio allocations for social-impact investment were made by wealthy individuals in Indonesia (45.8 percent), Malaysia (43.6 percent) and China (40.8 percent), the report said.

Despite being a relatively new concept for Asia's wealthy, the report found that HNWIs in the region were enthusiastic about the socially responsible asset class, and 58.2 percent of HNWIs in AXJ indicated that they intended to increase their social-impact investment allocations in the future, in contrast to 50.4 percent of HNWIs in the rest of the world.

The vehicles of choice for social-impact investments among Asia's HNWIs were socially responsible bonds and funds, the report said.

Among other findings, Capgemini reported that despite results reflecting higher levels of trust in wealth managers in 2016 compared to a year ago, HNWIs in AXJ parked only 30.6 percent of their assets with a wealth manager. In Japan, the rich chose to allocate just 23.7 percent of their assets to wealth managers.

In contrast, HNWIs from outside Asia allocated an average of 34.5 percent of their assets to wealth management firms.

Instead, Asia's rich preferred to keep their assets where they could see them, with 15.4 percent preferring to keep their assets in hard cash, the report said. Retail bank accounts were the preferred choice for 17.2 percent of Asian HNWIs.

The low penetration of wealth management services is related to the way wealth is generated in the Asia, according to David Wilson, head of strategic analysis at Capgemini.

"[A] lot of entrepreneurial wealth is locked up in business that can't yet be brought into the wealth management sector," he told CNBC.

Meanwhile, wealth managers weren't giving HNWIs a compelling proposition to choose them a retail bank, Wilson said. While wealth management firms might understand the needs of HNWIs in the region, they weren't investing enough in that "innovative new services and digital experiences" that clients might be looking for, he added.

The Asia-Pacific region created the largest volume of HNWI wealth in the world, with the total pool of wealth totaling $17.4 trillion in 2015, reflecting a 10.1 percent increase from the previous year.

China and Japan contributed most heavily to growth in the total wealth pool; rich individuals from the world's second and third-largest economies drove more than 90 percent of the growth in HNWI wealth in the region, the report stated.

The region was also home to the largest population of HNWIs in the world, with 5.1 million individuals in Asia in 2015, a 9.4 percent jump on-year. Japan had the highest number of HNWIs, at 2.72 million. China had the second-largest figure, at 1.03 million, while Australia was a distant third at 234,000.

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