Law firm Withers has entered a consultancy agreement with private equity firm BeA-Asia as it seeks to expand its wealth planning offering among China’s growing band of high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs).

The tie-up will see Withers look to build its network of Chinese HNWIs, touting its expertise in areas such as structuring for businesses and family offices as well as international tax planning in an environment of increased cross-border regulatory disclosure.

Wealth planning, family offices and structured wealth transfer are relatively new concepts to Asians compared to their Western peers, but they are growing trends in the region.

Withers' long-term goal is to establish an office in Shanghai as it strives to increase its penetration of wealthy clients within Greater China. Withers opened its first office in Asia in Hong Kong in January 2008.

China had the world’s fourth highest number of HNWIs at 477,000 by the end of last year at an annual growth rate of 31%, according to the Merrill Lynch/Capgemini World Wealth Report 2010. However, many industry figures suspect this figure is far too low, with other estimates ranging around the 2 million to 3 million mark.

The Boston Consulting Group has forecast that China’s wealth market will expand at an average annual rate of 17.2% to 2013 to reach $7.6 trillion overall.

“Such high-speed wealth creation will undoubtedly lead to complex wealth planning needs for entrepreneurs, their families and their businesses, so this is obviously a market Withers is very interested in,” said Margaret Robertson, Withers’ global managing director.

“We are delighted to be teaming up with BeA-Asia to further grow our business in this area. Long term, we plan to open an office in Shanghai, subject to receiving the necessary approvals from the regulators in China.”

BeA-Asia, whose spokesperson was unavailable for comment, is essentially an investment and business advisory firm focused on China’s high-net-worth community. With offices in Shanghai and Rome, it is the brainchild of Luca Birindelli, an Italian lawyer who started practicing in China two decades ago.

Now it is stepping up its efforts to analyse emerging Chinese needs and turn them into opportunities for commercial and professional services propositions.

Withers has 105 partners and more than 270 lawyers globally. It specialises in tax law, trusts, estate planning and family law.