Global wealth firm eyes Swiss and Singapore expansion

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US-headquartered wealth manager Focus Financial Partners (Focus) masts its roots firmly in the states, but it is continuing to flex its muscles in the global advice market.

The firm recently bought Trident Financial Planning for an undisclosed sum, making this its second UK acquisition in 2021 via its “global consortium” partner firm Connectus Wealth Advisers.

The firm told International Adviser that there is demand for more M&A deals in the UK.

Rajini Kodialam, co-founder and chief operating officer of Focus, said: “There is interest. The Trident folks are very iconic of the kind of interest we’re getting. I’m not going to say that only small or large firms are calling, that has never been a differentiator in this industry in any country.

“But there is a similarity between the firms that are calling. At Trident, the team has worked together for a long time, it is an established firm. They are looking for monetisation, they are certainly looking for a lot of back-office support and they want to free themselves up to be able to do more for their clients – to be able to grow to be able to expand their value proposition.”

Duncan Forbes, Director at Trident Financial Planning told IA: “We will undoubtedly benefit from the additional resources and support that this new partnership brings in many areas. But at the same time, we still want to look like, feel like and be Trident in terms of our client relationships and wealth management advice – this is what clients know and trust.

“Our partnership with Connectus delivers this. It is the best of both worlds, and we are excited for what lies ahead.”

Switzerland and Singapore

For several years, Focus has been established in the US, Canada, Australia and the UK. But it is now looking to expand on the launch of its recent family office joint venture (JV) and explore deals in Europe and Asia.

In March 2021, Focus teamed up with global conglomerate Hinduja Group to launch multi-family office Beryllus Capital with operations in London, Geneva and Singapore.

Focus is now looking to capitalise on the JV by expanding its presence in Switzerland and Singapore via M&A deals.

Kodialam added: “Especially given Brexit, the UK was always going to be a big for us, but we’d like to have a European foothold and Switzerland seems like a good one. That doesn’t mean we can’t have a foothold elsewhere, but Switzerland is where we are starting.

“When you think about Asia, Singapore seemed like the most logical places to start. Beryllus Capital gave us a foothold in Asia with Singapore and in Europe with Switzerland. But now, we are actively seeking to expand on it.

“There’s always going to be that Switzerland and London nexus. Interestingly, there is a Switzerland and Singapore nexus. When you look at Singapore, there is a nexus down to Australia, a very strong Australasian connection.

“You can see the connections going back to Canada through Vancouver and you can see that connection going down to LA in the US. All of the connectivity between these geographies creates a connectivity for us within Connectus and within Focus.

“We’re extremely established in the US, Australia, the UK, and Canada, and we’re now exploring these other two markets. We have three arrows in our quiver, and we can use direct deals, mergers and Connectus to make acquisitions. The strategy for firms in all of these markets really depends on what they are trying to achieve.”

European expansion and cross-border

Most recently, Focus has turned its eye to deals with cross-border financial planning firms. In September 2021, the firm agreed to buy US and Canada-based Cardinal Point for an undisclosed sum.

But Focus is not stopping at just North America. It is looking at cross-border businesses across the world.

Kodialam added: “There is an openness to look at firms that have cross-border operations in other countries. We are looking at Switzerland as a step towards Europe. There do tend to be more firms in Switzerland that serve clients across Europe, and even Asia, than in any other country.

“The ability to serve people who straddle multiple countries, that in itself is something that we’re looking for, because more and more wealthy clients are doing that. Does cross-border bring complexities? Of course, it brings complexities.

“But you could also say doing taxation for the wealthy, estate planning, offering valuation services, risk services, and offering treasury credit and lending services all bring complexities.

“If cross-border is your business, then that appeals to us.”

Expat advice gap

Kodialam also discussed how Focus could help fill a gap in the market to serve expats.

“Cardinal Point is a great example of what we’re looking for when we look at other countries, especially in Switzerland and definitely in Singapore, firms that serve the expat market,” she added. “I’m not going to tell you that I’m specifically looking for firms that serve expats, but it is another unique value proposition that does appeal to us.

“But from what I know, and especially in Singapore, Switzerland, or even the UAE, there is a demand/supply gap, specifically in the expat market.

“Expats do not have very complex needs, but the number of firms that serve them especially from a wealth management perspective is rather small. I find that amazing. But if you are a firm that knows how to do it well, you have a unique value proposition and you have a real opportunity there.

“We would love to align ourselves with firms like these because we believe we can add tremendous value for them and help them create exponential growth.”

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