CEO and managing partner
Lumen Capital Investors
Q. When was Lumen Capital founded and how has the growth been since?
Lumen Capital Investors is a Singapore-based independent asset manager (IAM) founded in 2010 by Wilfried Kofmehl. Since then, we have grown organically from a team of four to 16. Typically, relationship managers (RMs) who join us are people that we’ve known for quite a while.
Besides hiring, we’ve also grown through referrals by existing clients and external parties such as lawyers and notary publics who are close to us.
We are currently looking into some selective M&A but nothing concrete yet.
Q. How big is your team?
We have seven RMs and a portfolio management (PM) team of three. Most of our RMs are senior – our oldest RM is in his 60s and the youngest is in her 30s.
We also have an economic adviser and a financial planner supporting us. The rest of the team is comprised of compliance, business management and support staff.
Q. You have quite senior RMs – are there any succession plans in place in preparation of their retirement?
One reason we are so focused on having a good PM team is that they can continue to run the portfolios when senior RMs retire. The clients would be passed on to a younger RM, but the senior RM would remain involved to handhold the relationship. We currently employ an assistant who has aspirations to be an RM one day.
Q. What’s your business model?
The main part of our business is managing client assets on a discretionary or advisory basis – our books are evenly split at this point. We also offer some family office services. For instance, our financial planner can help clients assess whether the current structure of their wealth is set up appropriately or provide them with recommendations on which bank is best fit for them. In that sense, we want to be the one stop shop at the initial stage, but we do partner with other firms when it comes to setting up the structure, tax planning and legal advice.
We have also run various model portfolios for the past three years. We thought that it would be good to have our own track record on a total return basis. Furthermore, we run a value-driven Asian equity fund and a US dollar emerging market bond fund.
Q. Where are your clients from?
Most of our clients are Asia-based, but they are a mix of Asians and Europeans. We also have some clients based in the Middle East and Europe.
Q. How are you charging clients?
We charge a management fee and a performance fee in most cases, and this forms the bulk of our revenue. The rest of our income comes from retrocessions.
Clients appreciate the performance fees because most of them are entrepreneurs. They see the incentive and don’t mind sharing profits with us.
In Asia, we also seldom hear of a client being poached by another IAM. If the industry is not there yet, it is not saturated
Q. Are you investing in cryptocurrencies and blockchain on behalf of clients?
For clients interested in this space, we would advise them to keep themselves informed rather than rely on us. At this point, it’s the Wild West, with huge volatility.
When it comes to customizing these assets, it had previously been difficult to find access points in private banks, but there are more options now. In Switzerland, Falcon Private Bank and Swissquote would do it now. Leonteq has also come up with tracker certificates that will enable clients to invest in crypto without having to buy and store the digital tokens.
Q. How do you think the industry has changed over the past five years?
In terms of regulations, our industry segment used to be placed in the same risk basket as global asset managers when it came to anti-money laundering (AML) or counter terrorism financing (CFT), because we have the same capital markets services license for fund management.
However, earlier this year, our segment was reclassified by MAS into a higher risk basket – we are now in the same risk category as private banks. Along with this change, there is a much stronger focus on our business from an AML-CFT point of view, which requires us to have a more dedicated compliance function. This drives costs up.
On a more positive note, I think that clients and prospects understand and accept the model much better now than five years ago. This is certainly supportive.
Q. Have the business models of IAMs changed over the last five years?
I see more locally-driven IAMs setting up shop. When Lumen was founded, there were only a few prominent IAMs, most of which had Swiss motherships.
There’s also the emergence of some set-ups that say, ‘I offer the shell, I have the license, I have an office space. You come as an RM and get a big payout, but I don’t offer you anything – no compliance support, no portfolio managers, no assistants – but you get a high payout’.
Then you have other firms which offer the whole support system. They have invested a lot of money and time into building a holistic platform, but payout for an RM would be lesser.
We are positioned in between. I think we have a very fair payout for RMs, along with a sound and decent platform.
Q. Do you have RMs who don’t want to use your structure for a bigger payout?
No, we have standardized our payout for all RMs, because that is exactly where politics will come in. If we increase the payout, we will do it for everybody. It is either all or none.
Q. Do you think that the IAM industry is too saturated?
Not really – the penetration rate of independent wealth here is about 5%. Julius Baer is one of the more prominent players in Switzerland and IAMs contribute close to 30% of their books. If I use that as a benchmark, there’s still a lot of room to grow for us.
In Asia, we also seldom hear of a client being poached by another IAM. If the industry is not there yet, it is not saturated.
Q. What prompted you to join the independent space?
There are a few factors:
- Fun. I was 40, and my job wasn’t exciting anymore. It was a question of, ‘do I want to do that for the rest of my career or do I want to try something else?’
- Another underlying factor was that, in the bank, I was restricted by what I could provide my clients with. On the investments side, banks have strict policies on what you can recommend. If you have been in the business for a longer time, you have your own thoughts and you may not agree with everything the bank’s research says.