The study found that over 70% of respondents “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that East Asia is not the low-cost centre many in Europe believe it to be, with a similar proportion expressing the view that the financial services sector is constrained by a paucity of fiduciary and legal expertise.
The poll asked participants to agree or disagree with 19 predictions across four categories: regulation and macro impacts; clients; business management; and products and services.
Over 80% of respondents agreed that regulatory initiatives to improve tax compliance in East Asia would increase, the survey found, making their lives more difficult. Client awareness of the need for tax compliance was growing, a similar proportion of participants said.
Clients in the region also remain “very sensitive” to fees and seek strong control over their assets – a combination of factors which is driving the popularity of private trust companies.
Other findings included that although respondents expect Hong Kong and Singapore to remain offshore-focused, they are less clear on whether the two centres will continue to take divergent paths in wealth planning. There was also a lack of consensus on the impact of China as a force for change.
“The picture that emerges from this research is of an industry confidently taking its own path of development into a future that is both similar to, and quite different from, the route followed by more established international financial centres,” said David Harvey, chief executive officer of STEP Worldwide.
The study was based on telephone interviews with 11 “thought leaders”. Their responses were used to create a survey, which was conducted among STEP East Asia members.