​‘Fragmented’ segment to benefit from international firepower

by Ben Abbott19 Jan 2015
International private client firm Withers expects to benefit from a ‘fragmented’ local private client market as well as cross-border investment and immigration.
 
Late last year, the firm announced its move into the region with an alliance – Withers SBL - that includes immigration, tax and corporate expertise.
 
Melbourne-based representative Justin Shmith, a long-term Ashurst and Blake Dawson corporate specialist with significant Asia experience, told NZ Lawyer the firm’s expertise met the needs of local and Asia-based private clients.
 
“When I was living and working in China six or seven years ago, the cross-border investment into Australia was nearly all made up of state-owned enterprises.
 
“What we have seen in recent times is a significant increase in private client investment and immigration of families to Australia,” he said.
 
High net worth private investors - whether they are families or acting on behalf of them – essentially have to answer many of the same questions as corporate clients, Shmith said, on things like due diligence when making acquisitions.
 
However, he said such clients were looking for a more personal service that takes into account personal circumstances, including tax position and residency status, as well as the corporate and investment issues he specialises in.
 
The firm’s launch alliance includes Rita Chowdhury, a senior Australia-based immigration specialist, as well as Sydney-based tax firm Balazs Lazanas & Welch, in addition to Shmith’s cross-border corporate and Asia credentials.
 
“The end goal is to provide a service to high net worth investors not currently available, and if we can capture enough of that market, we’d be satisfied.
 
“The market has become more sophisticated over the last five or so years; there are families moving, and members of families marrying offshore, or moving offshore. The complexity of their family affairs has grown and that’s why the international focus was so important for me and for Withers in Australia.”
 
Shmith said he expects his practice will be fairly evenly balanced between Asia-based clients and local clients, though most will have a cross-border element.
 
He revealed he was interested in championing Withers’ service offering in the region as he saw the market as somewhat of a blue ocean compared with the ‘highly competitive’ world of corporate law that he was used to.
 
“The private client legal market in Australia is more fragmented and cottage-based, without much access to international expertise – most of the major private client firms were outside of Australia,” Shmith said.
 
Withers’ regional presence includes offices in Hong Kong and Singapore.

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