Bedell Cristin’s Nancy Chien on Understanding the Needs of UHNW Clients & Families
Nancy Chien, the Jersey-based Partner at law firm Bedell Cristin in charge of international private clients and employee incentives, met with Hubbis via video link recently to outline her perspectives on the world of structures, offshore and mid-shore jurisdictions and helping UHNW Asian clients more optimally organise and manage their wealth and commercial vehicles and infrastructure. Chien has extensive experience in a wide range of offshore matters in both the private client area as well as the corporate sphere. She even gained qualifications in four jurisdictions - Jersey, the UK, BVI and New Zealand – thereby enabling her to provide advice which is both global and holistic, as she believes that a wide-angle vision and broad expertise are exactly what wealthy global families, especially her many Asian clients, are looking for in an advisor.
Chien advises ultra-high net worth families, family offices and intermediaries on all aspects of private client structuring, including the use of trusts and foundations, as well as related corporate law issues (including where such vehicles are used for philanthropic purposes).
She has considerable experience with high value and complex structures which enable the clients to retain a degree of control over their family assets and achieve effective succession planning. Her international experience stands her apart from other advisors in her field, and her clients benefit tremendously from her depth and breadth of experience.
Chien works closely with clients to understand their business and family objectives in order that she can provide advice which suits the specific needs of her clients as well as assisting them to identify issues on the horizon which might be relevant for them.
In the corporate area, she says she is one of the few Jersey lawyers with specific experience in pensions and employee incentive arrangements, having previously worked for leading law firm Ashurst in London.
She is also the chairperson of the Jersey Pensions Association and is working closely with the Jersey government to enhance Jersey's offering of international savings vehicles and end of service gratuity plans. She has been instrumental in the introduction of Jersey's International Savings Plan which came into effect on 1 January 2019.
She also has considerable experience in regulatory matters affecting offshore vehicles and service providers, including FATCA, the common reporting standard (CRS), economic substance and data protection. She is fluent in English, Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese.
The right time and the right place
She joined Bedell Cristin at an interesting time in October 2012, attracted by the mission the firm offered her to build the trust business, to expand the private client base, and to take a leading role in the firm’s opening of its Singapore office, which was planned for 2013. Since then, she has been tirelessly pursuing all of these missions, with regular travel in normalised times to Asia, a region that she loves and that is deeply rooted in her blood.
Bedell Cristin is an international, offshore and full-service law firm based in six jurisdictions, with Jersey as the HQ and with offices in Guernsey, London, the Cayman Islands, BVI and Singapore. As a firm, the advice is offered on four jurisdictions, namely Jersey, Guernsey, BVI and Cayman law. “We cover all aspects of law,” Chien explains, “ranging from corporate, banking, finance, funds, private clients, litigation and property, and in that regard, we are somewhat unique as most other offshore law firms do not offer such a full range of services.”
She reports that the Singapore office opened in 2013 and has developed very positively. “We have a deep and ongoing commitment to Asia,” she explains, “and I am out there often, meeting clients, speaking at conferences and seminars and learning yet more about the markets and clientele there. We also do quite extensive work with the Asian community in the UK, and it certainly helps that I speak Mandarin, it is a good advantage to have.”
“We believe we have something quite unique to offer clients,” she adds.
“We are able to look at the structure in a holistic manner and identify the risks that they should consider in establishing and maintaining these structures. We also focus considerable attention on client structures where there is a corporate element; quite often what we are finding is clients might want to use their structures for investment purposes, or actually put their businesses into these structures for particular reasons, such as asset protection, or creditor protection.”
Reaching out to the next-gens
Chien explains that she also concentrates great attention on next-generation issues and relationships.
“We see many of the wealthy Asian families at a junction now whereby the patriarchs and matriarchs are of an age where they need to start thinking about the next generations, and how they can pass down the immense wealth that they have managed to accumulate or inherit,” she explains.
“It is a really important element of our work to therefore ensure that this engaging of the next generations is well effected. Additionally, governance is prominent in our advice, and our structuring, to help these families incorporate that effectively in their structures, and how they interact with their businesses.”
Chien believes her corporate experience adds some extra value to the work she and colleagues conduct for clients. “I actually spent five years at law firm Ashurst in London focussing on corporate trusts, employee benefit schemes and pension schemes,” she reports. “Through that invaluable experience, I can help our clients see a bigger picture than simply focussing on their private client structures.”
Connecting the dots
She explains that experience helps her engage with clients on broadening their perspectives well beyond simply structuring their personal wealth. “In fact,” she comments, “if they do not, they are missing a big opportunity, as preservation is only part of the mission, they want wealth generation and expansion as well, so the advice and structures we help them with should also be targeted at facilitating their investment activities, their business expansion, and so forth. Accordingly, our combination of wealth and commercial expertise is invaluable in that regard.”
Challenges ahead for the UHNW community
Chien surveys some of the key challenges facing the type of uber-wealthy clients she represents.
“So many are aware that they need to construct or revise offshore structures, which remain very viable and valuable today,” she comments, “but they do not know what steps to take. Sometimes they raise questions with us based on what they have read or seen done before, and we need to guide them through the issues as their understanding or previous experience might not be accurate.”
“Becoming their trusted advisor is a key mission, and in that regard, we believe our experience and expertise provide the vital elements to help them navigate through these many complicated international issues. Moreover, we can act as a hub for connecting them to specific advisors and solution providers that we wholly trust to help them with specific issues that arise and that are outside our remit.”
She offered the example of work she and her team have been doing for a family looking to set up some new trusts. The family likes Jersey law, and they also understand the importance of having all the assets structured offshore, so they warm to the concept of a Jersey trustee.
“However,” she reports, “due to various reasons, they are wary of the tight regulatory environment in Jersey compared to some other jurisdictions that Asian clients might have had exposure to in the past. So, it took some time and difficulty to get the client to release the necessary information to us, to gradually ease the details out of them in order to curate the structures and outcomes they sought.”
Another example she cites is of a family seeking to establish a structure for succession purposes. “They had structures in place, but some aspects were not appropriate for their actual objectives as they had discussed with us. The result was a difficult set of conversations whereby we had to explain that they really needed to start again, that what they had in place was not really valid. They came around in the end, but it was difficult.”
Bringing it all together via Jersey
Although Chien today sits in Jersey, her qualifications also span English law, BVI law and New Zealand law. “I am not wedded to simply advising on Jersey law,” she says, “although I do think the Jersey jurisdiction has a lot to offer both in terms of the legal benefits as well as the practical benefits. The legal advantages include immense flexibility as Jersey law is what we can term very ‘modern’, as it is reviewed constantly to ensure it is fit for purpose and reflects the times we live in, whereas a lot of other jurisdictions are more based in English Trust Law, which actually is a bit slower paced and in parts old fashioned and in many ways not necessarily that suitable for the modern client of today.”
She explains that, for example, Jersey accommodates perpetual trusts, while many or most other jurisdictions do not. “Yes, some of the other jurisdictions have developed their trust laws, but relative to the more mid-shore jurisdictions like Singapore and Hong Kong, Jersey still has significant advantages for private clients.”
As to the practical benefits, she observes that Jersey is in an ideal time zone, being very central in terms of dealing with Asia, Europe and the US, and Jersey is one of the biggest offshore jurisdictions in terms of finance, with around 15,000 people working in the industry out of an island of just 100,000 people.
“We can access real expertise across many areas of finance and other services here,” she reports. “There is an excellent ecosystem and a very large pool of talent and expertise. Whereas in some jurisdictions, for example BVI, a lot of the service providers and advisors are based outside, there is a real global trend now towards having your whole structure being established, administered and advised on within the jurisdiction itself, partly driven by the OECD and other bodies. In short, Jersey is well ahead of these trends and set to benefit from them.”
Registers – the next hurdle
While FATCA, CRS and other relations that have worldwide implications are now well absorbed and accepted the next major hurdle, Chien notes, is the drive to public registers in terms of corporate vehicles and potentially trust vehicles.
“I think that is going to be a real challenge for trustees,” she says, “because many of them do not set up structures for tax benefits anymore, it is purely for succession and confidentiality reasons. Accordingly, the OECD’s initiative for these transparency drivers seems somewhat out of date, being predicated rather on the older way of working. The reality is for many or most clients these days, finding lower tax regimes is not the motivator, for example many Asian and Middle East regimes are very or ultra-low tax themselves. The drive towards registers and full transparency is therefore seen as a real impediment for families who are seeking privacy and security more than tax mitigation.”
A fascinating journey
Chien closes the discussion by reiterating just how interesting and also challenging and fulfilling her journey with Bedell Cristin has been to date. “If I could devise the near-perfect role for me,” she says, “it would be this role. Now we just have to hope that the world returns to some sort of normality, but if it does not for some time, then we will adapt and carry on the journey with our clients in any way we can.”
Chien’s Key Priorities
The pandemic has significantly changed the priorities for Chien and for the firm, as well as for many clients. “One of my priorities was actually just to keep travelling out around Asia, meeting colleagues, partners, clients and so forth,” she reports. “But my priority now is to find different means of connecting with those people. That is number one on my list.”
Secondly, Chien wants to enhance the communication to actual and potential clients regarding the range of services her firm provides. “We know, and clients realise, that we have a lot to offer Asian clients, and we can also help businesses in Jersey, and more broadly the UK develop their Asian business. I believe we have a unique offering, so reaching out and communicating this is another key mission for the firm.”
Another priority is more internal, building out the connectivity between colleagues and Asian clients. “We are a team,” she comments, “and I cannot handle every client at every step, so we need to collectively hone our services and our approach to ensure the best service and the most empathetic culture here. And as we know, Asian clients are fee sensitive, so we need to ensure we approach those discussions properly and deliver accordingly.”
Getting Personal with Nancy Chien
Chien has a fascinating background, having grown up in New Zealand as part of a family originally from Taiwan. Educated in Auckland through to completing her honours degree in Commerce at university, majoring in Accounting and Law, she then moved to Europe in her mid-20s.
She had started her career with accounting and consulting firm Deloitte, working in the tax practice. After moving between law firms and then a five-year stint at law firm Ashurst in London, she then decided to join Bedell Cristin.
“It was at that time I wanted to find something a bit different,” she explains. “I wanted to use my legal skills and other experiences, but not just do law itself, so when I talked to Bedell Cristin and they talked about their trust business, and about opening the Singapore office, it was a great opportunity to play to my strengths and my interests.”
The mission was to help them with building the Asian practice and build the trust company business too, she reports. “It offered me great business development potential, as well as great client connectivity, and of course, regular travel to Asia, with which I have a great affinity. I have never looked back since making this move.”
Married with two children of six and four, Chien and her New Zealand husband (who comes from a Swiss family originally) both have a busy time at both home and in their careers. Spare time might be spent indulging her passion as a pastry chef, as Chien has a patisserie qualification from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. “I took a career break after Ashurst and went to live in Paris for six months, so my children often get me to make fancy cakes, when I have time,” she explains.
Before joining Bedell Cristin, she even dabbled in the idea of making a career out of patisserie, starting a small business in Jersey named the Hungry Lawyer Patisserie, making cakes and patisserie for weddings and birthdays. “Actually,” she recalls, “I found it all quite stressful, and shut it down, as delivering on time for weddings, and other occasions was quite difficult really. Law here at Bedell Cristin is pressured, but a lot of fun and really interesting. It fits me perfectly.”
The family also travels regularly in more normal times, and she cites her move from New Zealand originally as predicated in part on the desire to discover Europe and further afield from a more central base.
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