Cover Here are your best tips for protecting personal assets (Images: Roc Canals/Getty Images)

Our in-depth guide on how to opt for the best asset protection services

With wealth and status can come jealousy and attention, but how far should the ultra-rich go to guard against a worrying array of threats? These security providers reveal Hong Kong’s elite will try just about anything, from impossible-to-crack safety deposit boxes to snarling attack dogs. 

See also: Hong Kong’s Richest 2021: 10 Billionaires Who Topped The Forbes List

Release the Hounds

Hong Kong Guard Dogs provides working dog rentals and training to a variety of clients, including private households and property management companies. Founder Daniel Tang unlatches the kennel on his trade:

What services do you provide?

We provide attack dogs, patrol dogs and explosives sniffer dogs. Patrol dogs are German shepherds trained in barking and basic obedience. Our attack dogs are only used when the client requests them, as there’s a risk they can’t be controlled and can get aggressive. Sometimes we are hired by the cruise ship industry to search cargo for explosives when they dock. The patrol dogs serve some of the wealthiest in Hong Kong, living in places like the Peak. Dogs either stay at the home or are transported there for shifts. During the political demonstrations in 2019, we saw an increase in clients.

How many dogs do you have?

More than 100. We have a licence to breed German shepherds so we know the bloodline of all our dogs. We also have East European shepherds, which are more muscular and have unbelievable endurance. We used to have Belgian malinoises as well, but some clients thought they looked too scary—which was kind of the purpose—and they can also be hyperactive. Our headquarters is in Kwai Chung but our training centre is in Kam. Tin All dogs have their own room, sized up to 100 sq ft—bigger than some of my friends’ homes. 

What’s the journey of a dog?

When puppies are between 60 to 90 days old, we start socialisation to make sure they’re comfortable around people and loud noises as they need to be stable enough for work. We train them to bite a ball before they move on to the biting sleeve. When they retire, they come back to live in the kennel as we have the facilities to keep them healthy, such as a swimming pool and space to run. We only put them up for adoption in special cases. Mostly they stay with us, as the kennel is a good place for them to live.

How does hiring a guard dog work?

We inspect the area to see if it’s suitable for dogs to work there. We also plan the patrol route and where the dog will go to the toilet and rest. We see if the client has handlers qualified for the work; otherwise they can hire ours. There is a lot of communication beforehand, but we try to keep it short because if they feel there’s a risk of burglary or intruders, we want to bring them safety as soon as possible.

What’s the maximum number of dogs working at one site?

In private residences, up to three, each for a different part of the mansion. While the express railway site in West Kowloon was under construction, it attracted unauthorised photography and trespassing. The MTR hired four dogs to patrol the perimeter. It worked. There were no photo leaks afterwards, thanks to Nepalese gurkha guards and powerful-looking German shepherds. 

See also: Tatler Hot List: 12 Posh Hong Kong Dogs And Their Proud Owners

Lock It Up

Malca-Amit protects tangible investments around the world, including through its state-of- the-art UltraVault facility near Hong Kong International Airport. Managing directors Elie Cohen and Ariel Kohelet crack the safe on the fascinating inner workings of the world of vaults and valuables:

What does your company do?

AK: We protect and preserve people’s wealth. Malca-Amit transports the biggest brands, from Cartier to Tiffany, and jewellery to some of the biggest stars—think NFL rings. In 2008, we become part of the Freeport [secure storage] project in Singapore, which was trying to attract wealth from west to east. We provide customised solutions, so a client can come to me with four tonnes of gold and I’ll provide a dedicated room for storage. We are a one-stop solution: multiple locations, attractive pricing and an insurance brokerage. We have more than 70 offices in 14 countries. Our most popular vaults are in Geneva, Zurich, Hong Kong and Singapore, which are tax-free and in free-trade zones.

What are some of the most common items stored in Hong Kong?

EC: Precious metals, title deeds, family heirlooms and cryptocurrencies. Bitcoins are stored as a physical asset [on hard drive-like devices protected against hacking], meaning one of these boxes can be worth a lot of money: if anybody finds out the serial number, the entire amount can be withdrawn.

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How often do you face threats to security?

EC: Challenges, like our vehicles being intercepted, don’t exist. I can’t specify the way the company operates, but some of the methods we use are so completely out-of-the-box that nobody would even think to target us. One of our clients, a family living in Los Angeles, got burgled but nothing big was stolen because all their valuables were secured. When they went to a wedding, we met them beforehand with a box and the lady took out jewellery to wear. In Hong Kong, a watch collector might choose a piece to wear and order delivery from us in time for a particular event.

Are there challenges in Hong Kong that you don’t see elsewhere?

EC: We have a very secure facility. If there was any type of risk of a major catastrophe about to happen, we would ship commodities to other Freeports around the world with the consent of our clients. In Hong Kong, we can’t think of anything that would realistically be bad enough. Nonetheless, we have had a lot of calls over the last few years regarding the protests.

AK: Whenever there is uncertainty, that’s when our business starts to pick up. We’re talking about individuals who have spent their lifetimes collecting and saving different tangible assets, like jewellery, gold and fine art. So these people come to us and we provide peace of mind.

Have you ever had to say no to anything?

EC: All the time. We are a compliant company. We don’t accept drugs, for example, or things that aren’t declared, or a client that has not passed our “know your customer” protocol, which is how we begin every relationship.

AK: In this industry, our reputation is all we have and we have attained this through our security procedures and the way we onboard our clients. We have never had an inside job in all these years of existence. We don’t just provide the box; we provide liability. With the vaults and safes and procedures, if you don’t have good insurance to cover it, it’s worthless. We have the best.

On Guard

In the business of bodyguards, Signal 8 Security’s reassuring yet discreet presence allows high-profile individuals to go about their daily lives without fear. General manager Mark Wood reveals what he can about the complex business of close protection agents:

What services does Signal 8 offer?

We help people secure their worlds through a mix of close protection, training, risk assessments and threat management. We try to stay below the radar, but every once in a while we pop up. Client confidentiality is fundamental to our organisation. We work a lot with A-listers and also assist foreign dignitaries by providing another ring of security around their existing team. Close protection is about mitigating threats and planning around the movements of your VIP.

What are clients’ concerns?

Hong Kong is a safe city with one of the best police forces in Asia. However, some clients may have a very high profile in the media, meaning they’re followed by paparazzi wherever they go. It could be that a client has concerns about their family members. In the past, there have been attempted kidnappings of children outside schools. It could happen that there is a family or business dispute that results in family members being targeted rather than the principal. We don’t believe in confrontation; we believe in de-escalation. If somebody is being disruptive, we would engage that person to see if we can get some form of compliance.

What qualities and training do agents need?

To be patient, resourceful and able to communicate clearly, with the ability to de-escalate a situation. Many officers have come from a police or military background. They are specialised in skills like surveillance, counter-surveillance, defensive driving, defence and restraint tactics, or martial arts. They need to be physically fit, but not every agent is seven-foot tall with big muscles. It’s about being discreet and getting in and out as quickly as possible.

Are there women on the team?

Yes. They’re an asset because when you’re dealing with female members of a client’s family, or even children, sometimes having a woman there can make it easier. In other cases, it enables us to operate in all areas. Wherever male agents can’t go, the female agents can.

How has the industry changed over the years?

There’s a lot more disposable wealth in Asia, with people willing to flaunt it. They’ll go to the high-end shops, like Gucci and Cartier, but then they walk around with all these expensive items and won’t really think about security. Hong Kong is safe, but there are crimes of opportunity.

When you watch films featuring bodyguards, what makes you roll your eyes?

Everything. The skills required in order to be a close protection agent involve a lot more than just being a body next to a principal. It’s not glamorous or action-packed. If we’ve done our job properly, there is zero physical combat.

So no romance, then?

Absolutely not.

See also: 8 Richest Women In Hong Kong, 2021

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