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UBS seeks broader dialogue with women wealth clients

It says women will be a big part of wealth management as they make up over half of self-made billionaires in Asia

With more than half of self-made billionaires in Asia being female, UBS is aiming to crack that potential of wealth by focusing on what women want in this part of the world.


WITH more than half of self-made billionaires in Asia being female, UBS is aiming to crack that potential of wealth by focusing on what women want in this part of the world.

For what they want includes sustainable investments that can make them just as much money as investments that avoid such purposeful considerations, said Tracey Woon, vice-chairman for UBS wealth management in Asia.

"Women are going to be a big part of wealth management," said Ms Woon in an interview with The Business Times. "So how can we change wealth management for women?"

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The global wealth of women is expected by UBS to grow from US$13 trillion to US$18 trillion by 2021. Ms Woon pointed out that the proportion of self-made female billionaires in Asia, with most from China and Hong Kong, far exceeds the numbers in the West. In the US, the number is below 20 per cent; in Europe, that drops to less than 10 per cent, showed UBS's 2015 Billionaires Report.

To be sure, the smaller proportion of self-made female billionaires in the West may also reflect that wealthy women in those older economies have instead inherited their wealth, Ms Woon observed. But all in, the female billionaire population in Asia has also grown faster than their male billionaire peers at 6.6 times, compared to a factor of 5.2 times for men.

At the same time, Asia's first large-scale transfer of billionaire wealth is soon on its way amid the big surge in wealth in this region, and against this, a significant number of female billionaires are already driving their families' businesses. Just about 60 per cent of female billionaires in the West are deemed "active wealth creators", compared to an overwhelming 96 per cent in Asia.

Ms Woon, who has worked in a male-dominated industry for most of her career as an investment banker at Citi before joining UBS, is eager to not just mentor women in her office, but also engage the female clients who are keen on investing based on a bigger, broader worldview.

Her own interactions with female clients suggest that women are indeed thinking about holistic life goals by doing good in the world, and at the same time, helping other women and improving the workplace for other women.

UBS is hosting a client event this week to discuss aspects of philanthropy and female empowerment.

At an earlier philanthropic forum organised by UBS, Ms Woon herself was surprised by the strong interest in impact investing - an investment concept that blends investment with considerations of social impact. The ground sentiment fits data from UBS that suggests female investors could be investing US$2.3 trillion in improving social good by 2021.

"I was blown away by the speakers and just with about how much the world is thinking abut impact investing," said Ms Woon, who joined UBS's wealth management division late last year. "The target is to broaden our dialogue when we talk to women."

Global "impact assets" were roughly estimated at US$77.4 billion as at 2015, according to data from the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), a global non-profit organisation. To be clear, there remain arguments about the true definition of impact investing, as social investments can be loosely based on environmental, social or governance factors.

But GIIN said most investors surveyed by it in 2016 pursued competitive, market-rate returns. A poll of investors also showed portfolio performance had overwhelmingly met or exceeded investor expectations for both social and environmental impact, as well as financial return.

Ms Woon suggested the same, pointing out that investors can expect similar returns from impact investing as they do from typical investments. "Doing good doesn't mean you can't make money," she added.

Financial institutions are looking to meet demand from impact investing, with asset management firms such as BlackRock launching divisions focused on impact funds.

UBS itself in 2016 closed an oncology impact fund that raised a record US$471 million. The investments have been channelled to early-stage oncology to accelerate the development of new cures. The fund was designed such that part of the performance fees and a certain royalty will be used to improve access to cancer care for children and their families in developing markets.