Connecting socially conscious investors with philanthropic initiatives

Fong Cheng Hong is a veteran of the financial industry with 28 years of banking experience, 15 of which were spent in research and 13 in private banking. It has been nearly four years since she joined Bank Julius Baer to oversee the wealth portfolios of clients in Asia, particularly in Singapore.

Why did you switch jobs to become a relationship manager, after having established a stable career in research?
It was indeed a leap of faith when I switched careers at the age of 46. My husband is an educator and a social activist in vegetarianism, animal welfare, and the environment. Through him, I came to know of many social welfare projects that could greatly benefit society yet lacked financial resources. This inspired me to become a private banker so that I could try to connect socially conscious investors with organisations that require financing for their philanthropic initiatives.

For the same reasons, over the past six years, I have volunteered at the Community Foundation of Singapore with the same objective of linking donors to all types of philanthropic projects. It has been a wonderful, meaningful, and fruitful private banking journey.

What is your role in terms of guiding clients in impact investing?
We increasingly see more affluent clients choosing Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) or impact investing over charity donations. More and more family offices, corporations, and individuals are deploying financial and non-financial resources into the social investment ecosystem, to invest responsibly and align their investments with their values.

My top priority is to continually manage and minimise the risks my clients might face.

When one embarks on venture philanthropy, there are a number of regulatory, legal, and tax considerations. As a relationship manager, my role is to help my clients determine the future financial performance of these organisations in terms of returns and risk, and make well-informed investment decisions. 

What are your business priorities?
Definitely risk management. It has been the tail end of a global growth cycle since the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. Political and economic differences are dividing the world into different factions. With increasing market volatility and uncertainties, my top priority is to continually manage and minimise the risks my clients might face. It is crucial to understand our clients’ profiles to strike a balance between risks and returns. We need to keep the asset allocations aligned with our clients’ strategies and cultivate trust in our relationships.

What are your success tips?
Treat your clients’ investments like your own. Our clients accrued their wealth for a good reason. They are very good at engaging the right person for the right job to grow their businesses. In order to manage and grow their wealth, they look for someone whom they can trust.

To make things happen, we need to cultivate the three Qs – Motto Quotient (MQ), Intelligence Quotient (IQ), and Emotional Quotient (EQ). 

  • MQ – Always do the right thing. Be honest. Build trust.
  • IQ – Knowledge is power, especially in wealth management. My 15 years heading research was the IQ part which helped me get my foot in the door of managing client portfolios. The ability to work and draw on specialists’ help is also key to building, growing, and maintaining businesses. 
  • EQ – Attitude: be humble, tenacious, persevering, caring, and positive. To become a trusted advisor to our clients, we need to be honest, modest, considerate, and exude positive energy despite all challenges.

With the shift of wealth to future generations, what do you think we can do to help clients in such transitions?
Future wealth owners are increasingly interested in shifting away from traditional forms of philanthropy to address issues they are passionate about in an impactful way. I therefore adjust my proposals for my clients when circumstances change.

Developing a wealth transfer plan involves entire families

I explore ways to help clients achieve their succession and legacy planning that normally involve the whole family. The key is to be a good listener and sounding board to all parties, and to draw on specialists’ help whenever necessary. The goal is to bridge our clients’ views with those of the rest of their family and vice versa, and ultimately reach a happy consensus. To bridge gaps between clients and their children, we need to stay open-minded, patient, think out-of-the-box, and, as already mentioned, be a good listener. Once a plan is set, I will follow through, working closely with my clients and their family members.

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