Attitudes to wealth: Social involvement

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Elim Chew is the Founder of the successful retailer 77th Street, and is involved in a number of youth organisations in Singapore. Recently, she was also recognised as one of the 48 Forbes' Heroes of Philanthropy.

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Ms. Chew cautions against holding hard and fast views on an "Asian" approach to wealth, given the variations in race and culture across the region. But, for Chinese people, she thinks wealth is indeed a status symbol and a source of respect.

She stresses the relative youth of many wealthy Asians - which, she argues, makes them more likely to be active investors than their elder peers. There remains, she argues, a desire for investments that are both tangible and controllable (e.g. investment in property or small companies). She thinks that these two attributes will continue to put some Asian investors off more amorphous forms of investment; for example, in funds of funds.

The desire of younger wealthy individuals to get involved in how their money is used has multiple implications. One of the most obvious is in the management of family trusts, social venture funds and so on. This is an area that should be of interest to the financial services industry because, in her words, "this is where the money sits."

This is an exciting area where a number of governance issues still exist - based around reconciling concepts such as sustainability and profitability. She believes that moving forward these will be resolved over time by innovative collaborations as discussed by Matthew Bishop in his book "Philanthrocapitalism - How Giving Can Save the World." This will be an increasingly important part of wealth management in future.

This view is reinforced by Dilek Sabanci, a member of one of Turkey's wealthiest families. The Sabanci Foundation gives grants for youth, women's and many other projects.

Ms. Sabanci points out that the very wealthiest families in Turkey have been big givers for some time. However, the culture of philanthropy is not broad-based, and there is a tendency to assume that charitable work will be undertaken only by the exceptionally wealthy, or the government - with nothing in between. "It's only in the last ten years that the public is more aware that they have to have non-profit organisations and foundations." says Ms. Sabanci. "It's not to be done only by government. It cannot be done only by private sector. It has to be done together."

As well as making philanthropy an established concept amongst Turkey's very wealthy families, Ms. Sabanci is also keen to advocate greater international cooperation between the world's leading philanthropists.

Ms. Sabanci, like Ms.Chew, is keen to learn from the experiences of foundations and other charitable organisations in other countries. "You can always learn more, you can always do better."

New Philanthropy Capital is an example of an organisation intended to help charities and donors have a bigger impact. Lena Schreiber, Senior Consultant at New Philanthropy Capital notes two trends in donation by the wealthy. "One is a bit more of a strategic approach to giving…asking a lot more questions around which charity to support and also what happens to the donations once they've been made… we've seen that more generally but it can be particularly associated with self-made wealth versus inherited wealth".

Another trend is that donors want to give away more while they are still living, rather than passing large amounts of wealth from generation to generation.

Gerard Aquilina, Vice Chairman at Barclays points out: "Wealth managers can also have an important role here, advising on how to establish foundations, cash management facilities and other operational issues as well as facilitating a network of contacts."