UK-based investment advisory firm Crossbridge Capital is seeking to replicate its London growth model in Asia by establishing what it hopes will be a regional hub based in Singapore.
Crossbridge, which offers independent advice to high-net-worth clients and families in emerging markets, has received authorisation to set up an office by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
Group CEO Tarek Khlat says its Singapore office launches this week with a three-strong team recently hired from Swiss private bank Julius Baer, namely Julian Maag, Yai Sukonthabhund and an assistant. They will be tasked with consolidating existing relationships initially, before branching out.
“Our first step is to consolidate the business,” confirms Khlat. “Once we have a robust infrastructure, we plan to start to hire people locally with a view to attracting entrepreneurs in Singapore and neighbouring jurisdictions, whether in India, China, Malaysia or Indonesia.”
Crossbridge relies on relationships with investment banks in terms of products, idea flow and research, while dealing with private banks on the custodian side.
The firm was first set up in London in the inauspicious month of September 2008, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers sparked a severe financial crisis. It was founded by six Credit Suisse bankers who had all been on the Middle East desk catering to entrepreneurs and families, but left to set up Crossbridge instead.
“We felt that after being in the business for almost 15 years, in order for us to expand our reach outside the Middle East and to reap larger rewards, we needed to be an independent entity,” says Khlat, who is Lebanese.
“Clients, especially after what happened in 2008, welcomed independent advice, the perception being that big banks were conflicted in terms of client interests versus their own interests.
“Additionally we felt we had created a sizeable business in the Middle East and that we could replicate that model with other entrepreneurs and families and in other emerging markets. So what we have done over the last two years is hire relationship managers to cover entrepreneurs and families in Russia, Turkey, India and North Africa.”
Khlat says that Crossbridge now has a little over $2 billion in assets under management (AUM) and a total of 27 people based in London, with a core strength in the Middle East, Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States and Turkey. Now it is adding Asia to that eclectic mix.
Asked about targets, Khlat says he would be happy with building AUM of $1 billion in Asia within three years.
He admits that the firm considered setting up in Hong Kong, but notes that its hires from Julius Baer were all based in Singapore. Maag was with Julius Baer for 18 years, latterly as head of private banking advisory, while Yai was there for four, most recently as head of foreign exchange sales.
“As a next step it would make sense to look at a platform in Hong Kong,” adds Khlat. “It is not something we are thinking about today, but it could potentially make sense for us once we have learned our way around the region.”
A spokesperson from Julius Baer in Singapore was unavailable for comment at press time.