Matthew Feargrieve: Investors Look To Switzerland

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Wealth management in Switzerland is evolving with investment fund solutions for private clients. Matthew Feargrieve explains why.

In addition to its primary characteristic as the jurisdiction of the choice for private banking, Switzerland is growing in significance as a centre of fund management. The country boasts around 15% of global assets under management, making it the third the largest global centre of asset management after North America and the United Kingdom. In this light, it is perhaps not surprising that there is a growing fusion between the traditionally separate spheres of bank-led wealth management and professional fund management.

Matthew Feargrieve The growing development of private investment funds (aka ‘private label funds’) by banks and family offices in Switzerland as alternative tools of wealth management are increasingly complementary to the more conventional techniques of wealth management which revolves around trust structures. Trusts and their manifold structural variations are the established tools of wealth planning, preservation, and consolidation. The trust provides the means of retaining control over the asset management ensures confidentiality of ownership, permits family advisers a degree of oversight and management of the assets, ring-fences assets from other asset classes and - perhaps most importantly - enables a bespoke, self-managed investment product delivering better value than arm’s-length products offered by professional managers.

There is a downside, however. The trust is effectively an Anglo-Saxon product, not widely or truly understood in nonEnglish speaking, civil law jurisdictions. A trust can be a highly complex creature that is not widely intelligible to clients or their professional advisers. The notion of surrendering control of assets to a third party is anathema to some clients. A trust entails the maintenance of salaried trustees, many of whom lack the legal and professional ability to carry out or oversee active management (as distinct from passive holding) of assets. And trust is quintessentially a very private creature, not capable of wider funding or investment.

Enter the private investment fund. The realization has dawned on banks, family offices and professional managers in Switzerland that the primary benefits conferred by the trust can be replicated, often at a lower cost and without compromising autonomy, confidentiality or tax integrity, by using a vanilla investment fund. The fund will be structured as a private company limited by redeemable, participating shares that will be held by the client or nominated family members. A special purpose management company, owned by the family office and staffed with trusted advisers, will frequently retain corporate control of the fund through a holding of voting, non-participating shares.

Assets are monetised or otherwise housed in the fund, thereby becoming ‘portfolio assets’ which are then actively managed. As the value of the portfolio assets fluctuates, so does the value of the participating shares, which will have a net asset value (assuming the portfolio assets are capable of a market-to-market valuation) or other book value. The management company, whether run by the family’s advisers or independent managers, may be paid a fee based on asset values and/or increments thereof. The product is typically indistinguishable, to the outside eye, from a professionally managed investment fund. The use by private clients of a private investment fund solution is influenced by the following additional drivers:

• Facilitates the client’s overall control of investment strategy
• Reserves to the client the power to remove and replace nonperforming investment managers and control their fees
• Avoids liquidity management and insolvency risks associated with arms-length investment products
• Enables pooling of discrete classes of family assets, and their division amongst family members
• Provides the means of opening the fund to outside investment, in order to grow assets and charge third-party investors commercial fees.

Banks and professional managers in Switzerland are increasingly being asked to implement this type of product for private clients, either in addition or as an alternative to the conventional suite of trust solutions. From the bank’s perspective, the structure is effectively a white-labeled product, being effectively owned and controlled by the family investors, bearing the name of their choice and serviced on an arms-length basis by the bank custody and administration units.

The ‘private label fund’ thereby opens up for banks revenue streams not typically available to them under traditional trust structures. Investment funds of this type are established predominantly in the Cayman Islands, as well as the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda, thanks largely to the tax neutrality and the breadth of seasoned professionals afforded by those jurisdictions. EU domiciles such as Luxembourg are increasing in popularity with European clients, but are generally less flexible and more costly than the traditional ‘offshore’ jurisdictions.

Check back for more.

Matthew Feargrieve is a qualified financial service lawyer in the UK, and as a commercial lawyer in the Cayman Islands and the Eastern Caribbean. Contact Matthew Feargrieve today with your questions about investments here. You can also access Matthew Feargrieve latest news story here.  More investing tips and how to avoid mistakes on Matthew Feargrieve's Facebook page here.

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