Inside Singapore’s post-Covid investment boom
21 September 2023 | Applicable law: Singapore | 4 minute read
“The first family that I helped to move to Singapore already had a family office in Switzerland but decided that Asia was where the next cycle of investment was going to come from,” says Daniel Yong, a corporate and funds partner for Withers KhattarWong. “For them, it was purely an investment decision.”
In the years since it gained independence from Malaysia in 1965, the city-state has seen its economy go from strength to strength. Its GDP per capita now surpasses those of other rich countries such as the US, the UK, France and Australia.
On the move
It is not uncommon for Withers’ immigration team to help entire families to move – while others are merely keeping their options open. “Many of our clients are still running successful businesses in the PRC or Hong Kong but are interested in having an immigration option in Singapore, while keeping their eyes on interesting investment opportunities in this region,” says Yong Sheng Hon, a private client and tax colleague of Daniel’s. “While they aren’t looking to relocate right now, it’s become common for the next generation to move to Singapore, set up their family office and manage some of the family’s wealth here. This is done not just to leverage on the investment opportunities available in Singapore and the region, but is also seen as a safety net in case something happens in their home jurisdiction.
The instinct to prepare for every eventuality is perhaps not surprising in the wake of Covid-19, often described as a global near-death experience. Withers’ offices around the world report that the pandemic has prompted people to consider wills and lifetime power of attorney sooner rather than later. As an example, Jocelyn Tsao, who leads the firm’s family team in Hong Kong, points to a rise in enquiries about deeds of guardianship since the pandemic. “People are much more alive to the possibility that death or sickness can happen at any time,” she says. “Signing a deed of guardianship gives them peace of mind that if they are locked down for a period, there will be someone to take care of their children.”
Thinking of the future
Equally, building a presence in Singapore is a smart move for those who wish to take care of their offspring in the event of their death. Trusts are a long-established wealth-holding tool in the state, and there is currently no inheritance tax. This makes it particularly appealing for global families that are looking for the best way to transfer wealth to the next generation.
“A lot of jurisdictions around the world have quite high taxation on inheritance, so Singapore is often seen as a planning opportunity that could potentially help a family to reduce their tax bill if a loved one should pass on,” Yong Sheng says.
Perhaps Singapore’s biggest selling point is its predictability. The current leader has been in place for almost 20 years, and is expected to hand power to a chosen successor, remaining in the background to offer guidance. “When the Prime Minister retires, he is expected to stay on as a senior minister to watch over his successor, just as his predecessors did. So you always have political and policy continuity,” says Daniel Yong.
As well as being stable, the state is largely neutral, maintaining friendly relations with both China and the US. Global families affected by the war in Ukraine, surging inflation or political upheaval elsewhere feel reassured that their assets and their families will find a safe haven in Singapore.
There is another side to political stability, of course, which is that change can often happen slowly. For same-sex couples and non-traditional families in Singapore, while sex between males was decriminalised in 2022, same-sex marriage is not recognised.
Nonetheless, Withers’ familiarity with the legal system in Singapore means that whether a client is seeking to move assets, establish a family office, gain residency or relocate, the team rarely struggle to help them achieve their goals.
“Singapore is a fantastic place to work in and to meet the needs of clients because of the strong government support and robust legal system. We get to meet fascinating people from all over the world and it really is an exciting place to be,” says Yong Sheng.