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Charles Cheng

founding partner and CIO
Clarity Investment Partners
Hong Kong

Q. When was your firm founded?

Our team has been running the business since 2014 under another company. Our current entity was given the Type 9 licence at the end of 2017.

Q. What services do you provide?

Our core service is asset management and we specialise in the public securities portfolio. We have partners in immigration services and tax planning, but that’s only on a reverse enquiry basis. In the future, we might look at real estate partnerships but that need hasn’t come up yet. We are 100% discretionary.

Q. Which securities do you cover?

We invest globally in direct securities, exchange traded funds and hedge funds. Our local exposure is pretty small.

Q. What about mutual funds?

We don’t invest in mutual funds at the moment. A lot of mutual funds are a mixture – if they are tied to an index then they have a passive element to them. The hedge funds we invest in are quantitative strategies we know about but don’t want to build a team or system to implement ourselves.

Q. There’s a belief in the community that an independent asset manager (IAM) should provide more than just asset management services. Are you looking to introduce any new services?

I think it’s a need for people in terms of competing for client assets and their demand for more comprehensive services. But for now, we want to focus on our core competency, which is the investment side. I wouldn’t rule it out eventually in the future, but right now our value is mostly on the investment side. If they want the other services, there are also very good specialists out there that we can point them to.

Q. How big is the team right now?

We are three partners of whom two focus on investments and relationship management. The third partner is the responsible officer. We also have another relationship manager (RM).

Q. What’s your client base?

Our clients are from Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Q. How many custodian banks do you work with?

We work with two private banks and one broker.

A couple of years ago, I actually had to explain our business model to the banks and take them through the fee structure, limited power of attorney etc. The awareness is definitely growing around here

Charles Cheng

Clarity Investment Partners

Q. How are you advising clients who are asking about cryptocurrencies?

We are a discretionary manager and we don’t include it in our asset mix at the moment. I think it’s still in an early stage, it’s not a mature asset class. You also don’t know what will happen with regulations and the standards in the future, so any investment would be extremely speculative.

Q. What’s your growth strategy?

I am looking for independent-minded RMs. Their investment philosophy and their thinking on how to charge clients should be aligned with ours because we don’t accept any retrocessions.

Q. What steps are you taking to ensure security of client data?

As a firm, I think the biggest risks are organisational and personnel-related. The best way to combat that is to limit the flow of information. For sensitive information, limit it only to people who need to have access to it. If that means a little more work for each person then it’s worth it.

Q. Is the environment in Hong Kong conducive to the growth of IAMs?

It’s getting better though they have to catch up with other regions. When I first explored setting up an IAM a couple of years ago, just from the licensing and regulatory perspective, there wasn’t any awareness of this model.

It’s got a lot better since then. The private banks in the region are building up their IAM desks. A couple of years ago, I actually had to explain our business model to the banks and take them through the fee structure, limited power of attorney etc. The awareness is definitely growing around here.

Q. What are some new challenges facing the industry?

We are still pretty small as an industry so it’s still the old challenge of creating awareness of international best practices and how we are different from private banks among clients – not only the clients regionally but also with the new wealth getting created in today’s new investment environment. So investor education is still probably the biggest challenge.

Q. Do you see big tech as a potential competitor?

I think they are already competing. They’ve already launched wealth management platforms and on some level they are competing, but it’s more of a threat to banks rather than players like us.

In fact, I think they can also be a platform for us. The big tech players in China such as Alibaba and Tencent have a very big effect on investors in the region and how they consider financial services. Everything is done through the phone. Even high-net-worth individuals are being conditioned to making their financial decisions in that way. So I think if we are accessing that market in the future, we need to meet those expectations with that technology, even if it means building it ourselves or partnering with someone.

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