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Planning for growth and transition - Hawksford CEO

07/08/2017 Tristan Blythe, Group Editor

Hawksford is looking to continue to grow, both organically and inorganically, through the development of its existing services and the addition of new services, its group chief executive told eprivateclient.

One region that will be a driver for growth is Asia, especially after the firm was granted a Singapore licence earlier this year.

Michel van Leeuwen said that the Asian market is particularly attractive to the firm’s corporate services and private client arm, with the former helping fuel the latter.

“Asia is a hotbed for corporate services work at the moment,” he explained. “Wealth is generated through the corporate structures which ends up leading to wealthy individuals that need private client services to help plan around their wealth.”

It is because of this dual need that these two divisions are present in Asia. The third element of Hawksford’s offering, fund services, is not yet in high demand there, but Mr van Leeuwen foresees the time when the firm needs to build a funds services team there.

But it is not just there to serve local clients. Whilst Mr van Leeuwen believes the days of trust companies expanding into new locations “just to plant a flag in the ground” are over, he does believe in the need for a presence in a range of jurisdictions.

“Clients from around the world want the ability to have trusts and corporate services delivered across more than one location", he said.

“You need to be in jurisdictions that are relevant to your clients for the required services. It is not just about a long list of locations but having substance in these jurisdictions.”

He also expects to grow the teams already in place in Asia. Hawksford is targeting further growth in the EMEA region, which also acts as feeder to the Asian market as corporates seek to gain access there.

This growth will come from a mixture of sources, Mr van Leeuwen added. “We are definitely an acquirer,” he said. “We are in a number of very relevant discussions about enlarging the company.” In addition, he is focused on organic growth, including by increasing the range of services that Hawksford offers clients.

“To our clients we are in the business of ‘make it go away’ – dealing with the issue they do not have the time or inclination to deal with,” he said. “These can be important issues, but they want to live their lives rather than constantly worry about how best to structure their wealth. As long as clients are receiving a quality service and are charged fairly, they will be perpetual clients and won’t change provider. By adding additional service lines covering areas that all clients have in common within this ‘make it go away’ area, we can deepen our relationships and differentiate from our competitors.”

Mr van Leeuwen became group chief executive of Hawksford in November 2016 and was new to the trust industry. He was previously group chief executive of Cordium, a compliance consulting and software provider to the asset management sector. He was also managing director of Global Capital Markets at Microsoft. He believes his background in technology will benefit the firm.

Firstly, he believes that the trust sector has been slow to adopt the efficiencies and advantages of digitalisation. He is keen to ensure that Hawksford makes the most of this and embraces the use of new digital technologies. In addition, clients are also looking for cyber and digital services for their business. “We have ensured our own capabilities in this field and would like to market these services as an additional service to clients,” he said.

Regulation is another area that he believes both the firm and clients are facing in equal measure. Clients in different sectors face different regulatory issues, but Mr van Leeuwen believes that Hawksford can potentially offer solutions in this area as another growth opportunity.

Of course, Hawksford has been on a growth path for some time and has made a number of acquisitions since it was formed from the former Rathbones trust business in 2008.

Dunedin, Hawksford’s current private equity backer, has been invested in the company for nine years – meaning the deal pre-dates the recent rash of private equity investments into the sector. There are many within the sector, and the wider private client sector, who are following how these trust companies can transition to new ownership when their backing reach the end of their investment.

Mr van Leeuwen said he is aware that Dunedin, the private equity backer of Hawksford, is coming to the end of its hold. Dunedin is happy with their investment, and says it would invest in the company today if it were a new opportunity. However, private equity firms rarely reinvest in the same company from a new fund when they realise an investment from an older fund, he said.

Mr van Leeuwen has been approached by various private equity firms interested in investing in Hawksford. He said there are a great number looking at the sector and interested in making a deal.

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