Cover Amy Lo wears a St. John dress and David Yurman jewellery (Photo: Stephanie Teng/Tatler Hong Kong)

The co-head of UBS Global Wealth Management Asia Pacific and head and chief executive of UBS Hong Kong reflects on how philanthropy and succession planning can bring families closer together

During the pandemic, Amy Lo has found that conversations with clients quickly take a philosophical turn.

“We have been seeing increasing interest in philanthropy and family succession planning because clients have time to really think about the purpose of life,” she says.

Lo recalls receiving urgent queries from families who wanted to give back to local organisations supporting the needy during Hong Kong’s fifth wave. She has also observed some striking generational differences: elder clients tend to prioritise improving wellbeing and poverty alleviation in their hometown communities, while young family members tend to take a more global outlook and focus on trends like sustainability, impact investing and social finance.

“We can play the role of convenor to gather the family to map out the strategy,” says Lo. “Families should listen to all members and try to accommodate the aspirations of different generations and develop a governance framework so that all members can contribute.”

It’s a role that UBS is uniquely well positioned to play. With wealth management being UBS’s core business for 160 years, it has more than 100 full-time, dedicated experts in philanthropy and family succession around the globe. UBS also offers UBS Optimus Foundation, a platform where clients can use their wealth to drive positive social and environmental change. It is the only foundation linked to a global wealth manager staffed with dedicated philanthropy experts.

Walking the talk is critically important, and it’s very powerful that I can share with clients the real experience we have through our foundation
Amy Lo

“Walking the talk is critically important, and it’s very powerful that I can share with clients the real experience we have through our foundation,” says Lo. In 2021 alone, UBS Optimus Foundation made US$17.6 million in grants in Greater China and US$27.7 million in APAC, primarily to benefit children’s health and education.

In addition, together with UBS 100 per cent matching, UBS Optimus Foundation has raised US$34 million through the Covid-19 Response Fund to support 48 partners across 35 countries. The foundation has also supported the global vaccine response through a joint fundraising initiative with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that supplies Covid-19 vaccines to people in low- and lower-middle-income countries. UBS Optimus Foundation provides a 20 per cent match to any donation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provides a further 100 per cent match.

Lo admires Melinda French Gates as a philanthropist for her work to support women in male-dominated fields and for her commitment to changing the world by doing more than writing cheques. “That is the difference between charity and philanthropy: charity often stops at writing cheques for a good cause whereas philanthropy is a journey which includes measuring the success of your impact.”

See also: Upfront With Amy Lo of UBS on Leadership and Empowering Women 

Making an impact is part of the “three Ls” that Lo discusses with clients: liquidity (how much money they need annually for their lifestyle); longevity (when can they retire and what money they will need then); and legacy (what they want to leave for their relatives and the world).

To spark inspiration and even partnerships, UBS connects high-net-worth families, philanthropists and industry experts at forums around the world where they can exchange ideas and best practices.

Lo’s team has also organised multigenerational meetings and family visits to sites in China and India where clients can see firsthand how their donations make a difference. “Usually this is a father-son or mother-daughter trip, and it’s so heart-warming to see them together and how they can pass on values through this powerful experience,” says Lo.

Philanthropy is an integral part of succession planning for Asian families, according to Lo, because succession is about more than passing on wealth. “It’s about bringing up the next generation with a good understanding of the family heritage and values, and how you motivate them to build on the previous success.”

This philosophy informs how UBS works with clients. When it organises workshops, the first session is about setting values collaboratively. Each member is asked to select cards with words that resonate with them and the results are consolidated. “It’s not a top-down approach where the father says, ‘These are the family values’; we want everyone to work it out together,” says Lo. “That helps a lot in terms of harmony.”

She encourages the older generation to involve younger family members as early as possible in running the business, and to designate roles and responsibilities for the next gen to participate in the family enterprise and the preservation of the family legacy, be it through philanthropy, innovative entrepreneurship, or art collections.

In Asia, where most families are in the second or third generation of wealth, she finds elders are becoming more open to this approach; they want to avoid the fate of a common saying that wealth cannot carry on beyond three generations. “It’s challenging to build wealth, but it could be even more challenging to preserve it and keep the family business going.

“We want to help clients fulfil their vision; and what I have seen is that it ultimately helps bring the family together and improve relationships when you do it properly,” says Lo. “It’s such a privilege to be in this role whereby I know where the wealth is and where the help is needed, so we can marry the two.”


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