Joanne Zhong, Senior Vice President of
‘ Zhong Wealth Management Group in San Francisco, was a stranger to Western customs when she moved from Shanghai to the United States at the age of 10. Today, with her multicultural background and more than 15 years in wealth management, she is well equipped to help ultra-high net worth international clients bridge the cultural gap on everything from family values to complex tax matters. She and her four-person team manage $2.4 billion for just 17 Asian clients living in the United States or overseas. Clients have assets, and in some cases family members, based in the United States
Barron’s: Can you describe your practice and your clients?
Joanne Zhong: Our priority was to work with Chinese executives who were listing their companies in the United States. But fewer Chinese companies are listed in the United States. They choose to list on the Hong Kong stock exchange or in China. So my practice has changed in recent years. I focus on fewer clients as a bespoke family office. Our customers are all from mainland China, Taiwan or Hong Kong. Most are rich for the first time. We have several in the healthcare, pharmaceutical, and semiconductor industries.
Our assets under management have changed a lot lately. At the end of last year it was $4.2 billion, and today it is closer to $2.4 billion. This is due to a huge focus we have with a small number of founder and executive clients of publicly traded companies.
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What are the unique complexities of your clients’ finances?
Often one generation of a family still lives in another country and the second or third generation lives in the United States. So we have to manage the transfer of assets between two or sometimes three jurisdictions. There are tax issues from top to bottom and there is no single model for all client situations.
A client recently purchased an art masterpiece and she owns many homes between the United States and China. She wanted to know the optimal place from a fiscal point of view to hang her masterpiece. One prospect is a successful venture capitalist in China whose children are US citizens. She wanted to know the easiest way to structure her estate. I said, “You’re about to be extremely rich, and the easy may not be what you want.”
What cultural dynamics come into play?
One of the complexities is that of family values. We help our clients ask themselves the question: how do we pass the values on to the next generation when the youngest members of the family live in the United States?
This is a universal challenge that immigrant families face. Having moved to the United States at a young age, I can often relate to where older and younger generations are coming from. The desire for young people to better understand and honor their heritage is often already there – generations just need a facilitator. It’s a long-term effort that can include formal family gatherings, spending time with family in person, and creating opportunities like travel, philanthropy, and workshops for the next generation to engage with their family. culture and their peers.
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How do you use your team and resources to meet the complex needs of your customers?
My team is so great, with different ages, backgrounds and experiences. Diversity helps broaden our perspectives, and it’s also important because our customers see a part of themselves in us. They feel our shared experiences.
Our clients’ complexities exemplify all that UBS offers. We have resources here and beyond, in Hong Kong and Switzerland, for example. If a client has cross-border planning needs, I bring in two tax experts from UBS, one for US taxes and one for non-US taxes.
What is your approach to investing? What kinds of changes have you made to wallets recently?
Although we do not change our general investment plan, during our quarterly meetings with clients, we reflect on the investment themes to act on, knowing that we can be wrong. But we make sure that if we’re wrong, it’s only part of a portfolio, and if we’re right, we’ve got a nice hedge.
The theme we started talking about at the beginning of last year was inflation. To
the price of meat was rising. The price of wood was rising. We’ve told our customers that inflation is a genie in the bottle – once out it’s hard to put it back on.
What changes have you made to the theme of inflation?
We added exposure to private real estate. The idea is that in an inflationary environment, you are able to adjust rents, and rents were likely to go up. Our private real estate investment trusts performed very well from both an income and total return perspective. This alternative bucket served the function of being a truly uncorrelated asset class at all that went wrong. This is the best performing part of our portfolios this year.
What is your team dynamic?
We laugh a lot. There are four of us and I have a funny way of describing our roles. For example, Danyi Gu, who was born in Shanghai, studied in Germany and immigrated to the United States, is our main problem solver. Veronica Wang, who helps clients with everything from access to private aviation to art collections, is our Director of Experience.
Do you also have an alternate title?
I like to think of myself as a family doctor, calling on the best specialists when needed.
Are there any changes you adopted during Covid that have stuck?
During Covid, I instituted a policy that if I didn’t hear from a client during the week, I would call on Friday. I continue to do so. I want every customer to feel like they are my only customer.
Where do you see your practice in five years?
Last year was our best year. So the question is how to maintain this level of excellence and grow? I don’t have the right answer yet. I recently graduated as a family office consultant at UBS, and I’m working with the UBS family office group to explore this question. Part of the answer is to be efficient and focus on the things we do really well.
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