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Interview: Quintessentially Follows The Money

Tara Loader Wilkinson, Asia Editor, 3 July 2011

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Quintessentially has followed the example of banks and asset managers by relocating its global chief executive to Asia.

Ask any global firm catering to the wealthy where their prospects for growth lies, and almost certainly they will say Asia Pacific.

With wealth in Asia ex-Japan expected to hit nearly 12 per cent annually over the next five years - double the global average, according to the Boston Consulting Group – it is no surprise that many Western private banks and asset managers are relocating their head honchos to Asia.

Late last year HSBC Private Bank moved its chief executive Chris Meares from London to Hong Kong. Swiss bank UBS relocated 13-year veteran Alex Wilmot-Sitwell from London to Hong Kong, from his role as co-head of global investment banking to co-head of Asia Pacific.

Last month asset manager RBC Dexia Investor Services relocated Alessandro Silvestro as director of business development for Asia from the Luxembourg branch of the company, where he oversaw the Italian and Swiss markets. 

And now Quintessentially, the concierge company where memberships range up to £150,000 annually, has become one of the first luxury firms to follow in the footsteps of the corporates and relocate its chief executive to Asia.

This year Emma Sherrard Matthews, the Hong Kong based Asia-Pacific head, was promoted to chief executive of Quintessentially. The firm’s fastest growing membership base is Asian and Sherrard Matthews believes this trend will only continue. She said that although the relocation has not been without challenges, there have been many positive experiences. 

“The support from the Hong Kong community is incredible. As a small city, people are very willing to come together and pool resources to make things happen. For example, the Quintessentially Foundation recently held a fundraiser for the victims of the earthquake in Japan and the involvement from the local community was overwhelming – we raised almost HKD 800,000 in one night.”

Here she talks to WealthBriefingAsia exclusively about the firm’s plans to expand in rapidly-growing wealth market.

WBA: Why did Quintessentially decide to relocate you to Hong Kong? 

ESM: It’s a strategic decision as we’re seeing our fastest growth in Asia and the Middle East. With the founders in Europe and the CEO based in Hong Kong, we’ve created a truly global management team who can showcase the service, make introductions and form new partnerships around the world.

WBA: How is the wealthy mindset and attitudes to conspicuous consumption in HK changing?

ESM: In Hong Kong, there’s a real mix of old and new money. In recent years, we’ve witnessed an influx of new money largely coming in from the Mainland. Mainland Chinese are often more ostentatious in terms of luxury expenditure with local Hong Kongers generally inconspicuous and more sophisticated with their spending habits.

WBA: How is the concierge model viewed out there?

ESM: Concierge is well received in Hong Kong as people are used to outsourcing parts of their life – from nannies and chauffeurs to personal chefs and home tutors. In China, we have ridden a wave of growing awareness as people warm up to the idea of spending their disposable income on lifestyle services as well expensive designer goods.

WBA: How are wealthy Asian customers different to other nationalities? What sort of things do they ask for that others don't?

ESM: Within China, we’re noticing members buying items in sets of four: four houses, four cars and four watches, for example. It goes without saying that a member of China’s uppermost class must have a Rolex or an Omega, but to wear just one all the time suggests he had to save to buy it, resulting in loss of face. As a result, he must also have a Breitling and a Tag Heuer for good measure. A similar line of thought applies to houses and cars. The importance of saving face can’t be underestimated in China.

WBA: What has been the biggest challenge setting up in HK?

ESM: In Hong Kong, as well as China, saving face is everything – a Member cannot be seen to fail. If a Member was to lose face over a late or lost restaurant booking there is no second chance. Generally, expected levels of service are ultra-high in Asia (which is one of the reasons we cap our membership at 2,000 in Asian cities compared to 5,000 in Europe) and it is up to us to deliver 24/7, 365.

WBA: How concerned are you about the increasingly restrictive regulatory and fiscal environment in China? 

ESM: We’re well aware of the difficulties that may arise out of China’s regulatory climate however we’re also confident that medium-sized enterprises like Quintessentially are crucial to competition and growth. With a strong connection between our Hong Kong office and a team of well-connected and highly trained employees on the ground we’re looking forward with positivity and even have plans to expand further on the Mainland.

WBA: How is Quintessentially placed to benefit from the uncertainty in the Chinese stock/property markets? 

ESM: We’ll be focusing on our core business – saving time, saving money and supporting those who could potentially bear the brunt of the uncertainty.

WBA: Who are your competitors out there? 

ESM: We’re often compared to top-tier credit cards which also offer a concierge service, but in our opinion, we’re much better! Our passion and core business is concierge and I believe this level of expertise is not bested in the market.

WBA: Could you discuss your plans for the region, including hires and new regions you will move into.

ESM: We’re expanding in China and planning to open offices in Shenzhen and Guangzhou. We’re aware that this will take time and patience but we believe that this is a market with great returns. In addition, our New Zealand office will be opening in the second quarter of 2011. We’ll also be working on growing our portfolio of sister businesses, with a particular focus on Quintessentially Travel and Quintessentially Gifts in Hong Kong. We cap our membership numbers at 2,000 in small cities like Singapore and Hong Kong but have a 5,000 person cap in larger cities like Beijing and 
Shanghai and Tokyo.

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