Expecting the unexpected seems to be the way to go when working for a family office, according to veteran banker Kerry Goh.
Sitting in his modish office – complete with black high gloss walls, wooden panelling and the quintessential glass palisade – the former Julius Baer executive reminisces about his private banking days, when investment decisions were his top concern. ‘The biggest challenge then was getting access to private market investments, platforms and strategies,’ he says.
Today, Goh works for Kamet Capital Partners, with an office located in Singapore’s central business district that boasts a stunning view of the iconic Marina Bay Sands. The 16-member-strong multi-family office not only manages the bulk of the public and private market investments of its two billionaire clients, but also deals with any situation that the families can’t solve by themselves.
One of the clients made his fortune by creating a fashion accessories brand in China, while the other is a co- founder of a technology firm, who exited the business by selling to a Chinese internet giant.
It’s no wonder then that as the chief executive officer and chief investment officer rolled into one, Goh has to address an exciting range of requests from these super-rich families.
One of Goh’s biggest problems today, for instance, is that he can’t find a governor for one of his client’s children. ‘We were very active last year, but have turned passive now because even the headhunter gave up,’ he says.
Both clients currently live in Singapore with their wives and young children, and the needs of the next generation are top priority. ‘Successful parents are busy… and busy parents have to outsource or delegate some of the childcare activities to external help,’ Goh explains. ‘We need a governor who is well trained in child psychology, one that communicates well with kids and is a good role model. In the UK it’s a major business, but in Asia… well, we tried,’ he says.
With the search for the governor having yielded no results, Kamet Capital has made alternative arrangements, roping in piano and swimming instructors as well as Mandarin tutors for the children.
Another unusual task is managing what Goh describes as an ‘army of domestic helpers and drivers’. The family office has even helped a client create a management process, including time sheets for the domestic helpers and punch cards for the drivers.
‘Our clients want a one-stop shop to help them manage their private affairs. They want someone to provide governance in how they deal with their private life and they want an operator,’ Goh says. To that end, Kamet Capital has a designated family assistant for each client. The assistant deals with all the bank-related paperwork, account statements, birthday parties, school applications and even travel visa arrangements for the families.
Goh has also dealt with unexpected situations when investing on behalf of clients: ‘Sometimes, certain curveballs are thrown, such as “Meet my friend – fellow billionaire founder – he has a deal to invest in his company”. ‘It’s difficult to do due diligence because the clients have the inside track and a better understanding of who the other person is, the sector he is in and knowing the markets so well,’ Goh says.
In instances where the team can’t provide additional insights, they communicate that to the client, offering to help in other ways, such as with legal documents or financial models.
At present, Kamet Capital manages most of its clients’ financial assets, with deal sizes that can go as high as $30 million. Additionally, the company is looking more deeply into the succession planning and philanthropic ventures of its clients. This year, for example, the firm organised an event on World Down Syndrome Day. It plans to organise other such activities to bring the families together and pass on crucial values to the next generation.
Is running a family office simple? It’s not, but you have to stay relaxed and manage expectations, Goh says.
Keep it simple
What makes things easier is that the families are typically simple, with no other major branches. ‘Just the wife and kids – no uncles, aunties, godfathers and stepmothers,’ Goh says. Usually, in large families, the youngest generation likes to run the family office, and there can be politics and conflicts over the risk and reward of any ventures that are undertaken, regardless of the person in charge.
‘You don’t have an operator coming from a neutral point of view that allows discussion and validation,’ Goh says. ‘This is quite important in running a family office, which can be quite complex.’
In fact, work takes up most of Goh’s time, leaving little room for wining and dining clients. His team is predominantly made up of investment experts, and meetings tend to take place within the same glass- and wood-panelled walls where he is sitting today.
‘We know the clients really well and are managing or advising a bulk of their assets. We have to do a lot more internally to make sure that happens, rather than get more wealth and information from them.
‘We are a whole lot of boring, buy-side seasoned investors actively navigating the increasingly uncertain world,’ he smiles.
Written for Citywire Asia by Ishika Mookerjee