Staff up or outsource given tightening regulatory compliance in wealth management industry

Regulations fostering greater consumer protections, tax transparency and better conflict and risk management are being implemented across the globe. Experience in markets where changes have already taken place suggests that wealth managers must adapt their business models, often at reduced profit margins, to survive. With these changes on the horizon in Asia, the region’s wealth management industry will need to find ways to adapt.

Regulatory compliance will be the Asian wealth management industry’s biggest focus for strategic spending over the next few years. The region expects to spend 42% of strategic budgets on regulatory compliance, whereas the US expects to spend 10% and Europe 13%, largely because many countries have already transitioned into new regulatory regimes.

The relative youth of Asia’s asset management industry and increasing age of its populations point to more regulations designed to protect consumers in line with what has happened in the US and the European Union (EU). Asian wealth managers can learn important lessons from how wealth managers have responded to similar changes in other countries. Fundamentally, Asian wealth management firms should prepare for increased scrutiny and decide whether to outsource compliance or bulk up their staff to avoid problems and/or penalties.

Why Wealth Management Firms Need Transparency to Stay in Compliance

Transparency in fees and investment advice is the most important aspect of potential regulation from a client’s and regulator’s perspectives. A global CFA survey in 2015 showed transparency in fees/commissions was the most important driver of client trust in investment firms. We can expect regulations similar to the new US Department of Labor Fiduciary Rule of 2016 that requires advisors to work in their clients’ best interests and disclose revenue arrangements clearly. Such a regulation could encourage advisors to offer simpler advisory arrangements, especially where retirement assets are concerned. Additionally, this kind of regulation will promote competition, which could result in lower wealth management fees and put pressure on revenues.

Technology is helping to democratize the investment industry by giving smaller investors access to more investment options. This development is happening globally, including across Asia. These changes make client acquisition easier and cheaper; however, they also make regulators anxious, leading them to further emphasize consumer protections and ensure certain suitability standards are met. We expect to see more regulations around fiduciary responsibilities in selecting products and new disclosure requirements for product providers. For example, the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission has several pending consultations and research papers aimed at improving consumer protections and promoting competition.

“Transparency in fees/commissions is the most important driver of client trust in investment firms.”
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Adeline Tan
by Adeline Tan

Head of Investment Advisory

Head of Advisory, Hong Kong