Email this article Government Homepage
Speech by SFST at the Hong Kong Trustees' Association Conference (English only)

    Following is a speech by the Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, Mr Frederick Ma, at the Hong Kong Trustees' Association Conference today (November 14) (English only):

Hong Kong as a Regional Trust Centre for Asset Management

Ms Lau, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good morning.  I am delighted to be invited to speak at today's inaugural conference organised by the Hong Kong Trustees' Association.  I am particularly attracted to the theme of the conference i.e. Challenges for Today's Corporate Trustees.  "Challenges" and "Opportunities" are just like the two sides of a coin, always going hand in hand.  Distinguished scholars, trustees, and other professionals will share with you their valuable insights into the challenges for corporate trustees in Hong Kong, such as the role of the trustee in alternative investment funds.  And I am going to complement this by focusing on the other side of the coin i.e. Opportunities brought by Hong Kong as an asset management centre to corporate trustees.  

Hong Kong as a leading Asset Management Centre

     Hong Kong is a leading asset management centre in Asia, with a very significant growth in its fund management industry in recent years.  Our combined fund management business, comprising asset management, advisory business, private banking business and real estate investment trust (REIT) business amounted to US$580 billion in 2005, representing an increase of 25% over 2004 and a two-year growth of 54% from the amount for 2003 according to the annual fund management activities survey conducted by the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC).  Over 60% of the assets involved were sourced from overseas.  Added to this, many large international fund houses from the US, the UK and other parts of the world have set up operations in Hong Kong.  

     Then, why have the investors chosen Hong Kong but not others?  One of the major reasons is their recognition of the quality and comprehensive services provided by the trustees in Hong Kong.  These trustee services are also underpinned by Hong Kong's fundamental strengths -

* rule of law supported by an independent judiciary;

* a free economy;

* a stable currency with no foreign exchange control;

* a well-established financial infrastructure and highly efficient financial industry;

* a robust and effective regulatory regime e.g. our accounting standards have now fully converged with the International Accounting Standards;

* a low and simple tax regime; and

* a rich pool of professionals with international experience.

     Trust is a common law concept whereby the legal ownership, beneficial ownership and management can be separated from each other.  This "triangular" arrangement can provide both the flexibility and confidentiality required for the management, control, protection and distribution of the assets in trust.  

     With the rapid developments in our financial market, the use of trust is now no longer restricted to wills and charities.  It now has a much wider and more versatile application and is a useful tool to manage assets.  In Hong Kong, for example, corporate trustees are entrusted with the responsibility of administering Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) schemes, REITs and even some alternative investments such as hedge funds, in addition to other trusts targeting at billionaires and institutional investors.  These trustees owe a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the investors, and ensure the safekeeping and protection of the assets in the funds.  Specifically, they retain full control over the accounts of the funds to achieve the separation of assets from fund management, monitor investment policies and activities, and ensure that the assets in trust are properly invested.  In essence, they are the guardians of the trusts.

Highlights of Corporate Trustee Services

     As I mentioned earlier, corporate trustees are engaged in providing various types of trustee services.  I will elaborate on some of these services which can be made available to the general public and are thus of greater concern to the regulators.

(a) Mandatory Provident Fund

     Our MPF system is an essential component of our financial market.  As at the end of September 2006, it has a total net asset value of over HK$182.6 billion and a monthly contribution amount of over HK$2.3 billion.  This large and steadily expanding pool of assets is one of the major boosters for Hong Kong's asset management business in recent years.  The success of the MPF system is attributed, in no small part, to the conscientious and hard work of the MPF trustees.  

     Trustees play an indispensable role in the smooth operation of the MPF system.  They are responsible for the administration, management and maintenance of the registered MPF schemes strictly in accordance with the requirements of the MPF legislation.  With the relevant skills, experience and resources, they have continuously been able to demonstrate to the public in recent years that the interests of the scheme members are well-protected in all circumstances.  We will continue to join hands with the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority to refine the operational and administrative aspects of the MPF system.  

(b) REIT

     Hong Kong's REIT market has a relatively short history.  Our first REIT, the LINK, was listed in Hong Kong in November 2005 and is so far the largest IPO of REITs in the world.  REITs listed in Hong Kong are authorized by the SFC and required to comply with the SFC's Code on REITs, including the establishment of a trust to own the underlying real estate.  REITs are thus subject to the oversight of a trustee who is obliged to act in the best interests of unit holders and to fulfil the relevant requirements stipulated in the Code on REITs.  

     Since its debut, Hong Kong's REIT market has been expanding quickly.  At present, there are a total of four REITs with an aggregate market capitalization of about HK$50 billion and a daily average turnover of about HK$373 million in the first half of 2006.  The properties involved range from retail and commercial properties in Hong Kong to properties in the Mainland.  Given the size of the Mainland real estate market and the appetite of investors for attractive yields and access to Mainland property market, our REIT market has substantial potential for growth in the coming years.  I would encourage the relevant stakeholders, including the trustees, to continue to make the best use of these opportunities.  In this regard, I am glad to learn that the SFC has received indications of interest in launching REITs with diversified international portfolios.  

(c) Alternative Investments -- Hedge Funds

     Let me now turn to the hedge fund market which has been experiencing rapid growth in recent years worldwide.  According to the Chairman of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (Note 1), there are currently about 8,800 hedge funds worldwide, with about US$1.2 trillion of assets.  There were also about 400 Asian-focused hedge funds in 2005 with total Assets Under Management (AMU) of about US$95 billion, up by 337% from 2000 according to market source.

     There were also about 296 hedge funds managed by the licensed hedge fund managers from Hong Kong with total AUM amounted to US$33.5 billion as at end-March 2006, which nearly tripled the amount in 2004 (Note 2).

     In Hong Kong, like the REIT product, the history of retail hedge funds is also relatively short.  However, Hong Kong is one of the first jurisdictions in the world to allow for the sale of hedge funds to the retail public.  Retail hedge funds are subject to authorisation by the SFC and compliance with the Hedge Funds Guidelines in the Code on Unit Trusts and Mutual Funds.  A retail hedge fund, if exists in the form of a unit trust, is required to appoint a trustee independent of the fund manager to safeguard the investors' assets in the hedge funds.  There are currently 14 retail hedge funds authorised by the SFC.  The net asset size of the authorised hedge funds amounted to US$1.54 billion as at end-September 2006.  

      While retail hedge funds are by nature, more risky than traditional funds, they still have a positive role to play in the financial market.  They enhance the market liquidity and efficiency and provide alternative investment choices for investors.  The issue is more about providing adequate safeguards in the retail investors' interest.  In this connection, apart from the SFC's regulatory and educational efforts, industry players have a major role to play.  For example, trustees should ensure that the assets of those funds in the form of unit trusts are in safe custody.

The Opportunities

      Looking ahead, I can see that there are ample opportunities for trustees in Hong Kong, arising from the increasing demand for asset management services in Hong Kong, Mainland China and other parts of Asia -

(a)  Hong Kong:  According to a report by an investment bank, the number of High Net Worth Individuals (Note 3) (HNWI) in Hong Kong reached 77,000 in 2005, an increase of 14.4% compared with 2004.  With the increase in personal wealth as well as public awareness of the importance of early retirement planning, the demand for asset management services will continue to rise.

(b)  Mainland China:  The rapid growth of the Mainland economy, with a GDP of US$ 2.22 trillion in 2005, continues to be a major source of growth in our asset management business.  This growth is also spurred by the demand for investment products for the HNWIs.  In 2005, there were about 320,000 HNWIs (Note 4) in the Mainland China, a 7% increase compared with 2004.  In addition, earlier this year, the Mainland authorities have also relaxed the restrictions on investment by Mainland companies and individuals in overseas securities.  These new measures, commonly referred to as QDII, present another great opportunity for Hong Kong's asset management business.

(c)  Asia-Pacific Region:  We should not lose sight of the other markets in Asia-Pacific.  Given the high domestic saving rates, promising economic outlook and the vast pension scheme assets in this region, there is also good potential for Hong Kong to expand its asset management business.  In 2005, nearly 30% of the HNWIs (Note 5) in the world came from this region, with South Korea, India and Indonesia ranked the three fastest growing HNWI populations in the world.

Initiatives to Capitalize on the Opportunities

     To capitalize on these opportunities, we have launched various initiatives to strengthen Hong Kong's position as a leading asset management centre and, for this purpose, a regional trust centre.  These include tax initiatives and promotional efforts -  

(a)  Abolition of estate duty:  In February 2006, we abolished the estate duty to encourage more people, including both local and overseas investors, to hold assets in Hong Kong through a Hong Kong corporate vehicle or trust.  This in turn creates more business opportunities for our financial institutions and ancillary services, including trustees.

(b)  Exemption of off-shore funds from profit tax: Offshore funds are exempted from tax for profits derived from specified transactions, such as dealings in securities and futures in Hong Kong.  The exemption applies with retrospective effect from the year of assessment 1996/97.  "Offshore funds" include non-resident entities, which can be individuals, partnerships and trustees of trust estates.  This measure will help attract oversea investors to invest in our financial markets and make use of our financial services.

(c)  Promotional efforts:  We have embarked on many promotional activities both overseas and locally to promote Hong Kong as an asset management centre.  In September, I led a delegation comprising over 100 prominent industry leaders to Hunan to promote our financial services.  Early this year, I briefed the Malaysian investment community on Hong Kong's investment opportunities in Kuala Lumpur.  I also visited the Middle East, and intend to visit there again early next year to tap the financial services cooperation opportunities there.  Hong Kong's quality and comprehensive trustee services would be one of my selling points in my future promotional visits.

Way Forward

     All in all, we see a bright future for Hong Kong as a leading asset management centre.  The government will continue to work hand in hand with all the relevant stakeholders to strengthen Hong Kong's competitiveness.  In particular, the Hong Kong Trustees' Association and its members play a pivotal role in the further development of the trustee services in Hong Kong.  Your success is essential to Hong Kong in maintaining its position as a leading asset management centre.  I am pleased to note that the Association is now drawing up some proposals to improve the competitiveness of our trustee services, including proposals to amend the Trustee Ordinance.  I look forward to receiving your proposals and ideas and will study them very carefully. Thank you.

Note 1:  According to footnote 1 of the Report of the Survey on Hedge Funds Managed by SFC Licensed Managers issued in October 2006 (Source: Testimony of the US Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman before the US Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs concerning the regulation of hedge funds on July 25, 2006.).

Note 2:  Report of the Survey on Hedge Funds Managed by SFC Licensed Managers issued in October 2006.

Note 3:  Namely, people with net financial assets of at least US$1 million (excluding their primary residence and consumables).

Note 4:  Asia-Pacific Wealth Report 2006 by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini.

Note 5:  Asia-Pacific Wealth Report 2006 by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini.

Ends/Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Issued at HKT 10:16