Trust company 'ready to move on' from controversy

Mr David Chong.
Mr David Chong.

The founder of a Singapore-based trust company that came under fire in 2013 for data breaches and allegations of aiding tax evasion said it is "time to move on".

Mr David Chong said his Portcullis TrustNet, which has since been renamed Portcullis Group, is busy planning for the future after its brush with controversy.

The bad press centred around leaked data on Portcullis clients and claims by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that wealthy individuals were using offshore loopholes to evade tax. It also suggested that Portcullis TrustNet was involved in helping clients in this avoidance.

GOOD PROSPECTS

There isn't a shadow of doubt in my mind that in the long term China would do well. If I weren't bullish, I won't set up all these things. Just retire quietly.

MR DAVID CHONG, Portcullis Group president and founder, on China

But Mr Chong said all that is water under the bridge, adding that he believes the firm, said to be Asia's biggest independent group of trust companies, has done no wrong.

"It is time to move on. There are plenty of things for me to do, besides chasing a crook," he told The Straits Times, referring to an "independent contractor" who leaked data to the ICIJ.

Mr Chong, who is also the firm's president, is charting growth plans, which included setting up Fusang Family Office in July. Fusang refers to the mythological tree of life in Chinese literature.

Fusang is an independent entity that will take over Portcullis' family office business. It will provide a range of services to family offices, including creating family constitutions offering concierge services like finding boarding schools.

The plan is to also set up Fusang in Hong Kong once the business has established itself in Singapore, Mr Chong said. "I think the opportunities are huge and there's really been no Asian family office. And that is what we are hoping to develop, an Asian family office with critical mass," he added.

The Asia-Pacific continues to be the driving force in the growth in the number of people with investable assets of US$1 million (S$1.4 million) or more.

Their ranks grew 8.5 per cent to 4.7 million last year, overtaking North America as the region with the largest population of rich people. This group has total assets of US$15.8 trillion.

Fusang wants to tap opportunities in key markets such as Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, said Mr Chong, adding that the "sweet spot" is family offices with assets of between $50 million and $500 million.

Despite slowing economic growth in China, he is "not in the least" concerned about the country's prospects.

"We take a 10-year view and I don't see any concerns there at all. There isn't a shadow of doubt in my mind that in the long term China would do well. If I weren't bullish, I won't set up all these things. Just retire quietly," said the 62-year-old between sips of his bubble tea.

Being based in Singapore will also be an advantage as "it is well-known for being a legally abiding place and that's what rich families are looking for".

Mr Chong, who is also a lawyer, said the changing regulatory environment and international clampdown on tax dodgers have actually helped, not hindered, his operations.

"Our business has actually grown as a result of the increased regulatory pressures. Compliance now is a big thing and obviously compliance is right up our alley - we are a bunch of lawyers and compliance is what we do best."

Portcullis has invested heavily in cyber security since the data theft in 2013 and also set up Oyster Security last year. Oyster's primary role is to safeguard the Portcullis group of companies against technology risks and threats.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2015, with the headline 'Trust company 'ready to move on' from controversy'. Print Edition | Subscribe