Missing Chinese investment banker Bao Fan was preparing to move some of his fortune from China and Hong Kong to Singapore in the months leading up to his disappearance, according to four people with knowledge of his plans.
The billionaire founder and chair of investment bank China Renaissance, who brokered some of China’s biggest tech deals, was establishing a family office in the city-state to manage his personal wealth in the final months of 2022, the people said.
A growing number of Chinese executives have set up family offices, a privately held company that manages investments, in Singapore after Beijing launched a regulatory assault on the tech sector and an anti-corruption crackdown. They increasingly view the city-state, dubbed the “Switzerland of Asia”, as a haven to park their money.
“Like many wealthy Chinese since the tech crackdown in China and during the pandemic lockdown, he was trying to diversify his wealth in Singapore,” said one of the people.
Bao, a veteran of Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse who co-founded China Renaissance in 2005, disappeared this month and has been unreachable, his company said last week. The bank said it had not been able to contact Bao, who is its chair, chief executive and controlling shareholder.
Officials in China have not addressed Bao’s disappearance. China Renaissance executive Cong Lin was detained in September last year not long after the Shanghai branch of China’s securities regulator called in Cong for a “supervisory discussion” about alleged violations in the group’s securities unit.
Bao’s disappearance has sent a chill through international financial and business circles in China at a time when Beijing is trying to project a more business-friendly image since relaxing harsh pandemic curbs.
Bao had made China Renaissance one of China’s top financial institutions, often winning tech deals from larger Wall Street rivals.
However, China’s president Xi Jinping has introduced policies that have hit the tech sector and wealthy tycoons including billionaire Jack Ma, whose listing of Ant Group was suspended by Beijing in 2020.
The number of family offices launched in Singapore by Chinese nationals eager to secure their family wealth has jumped and many from the mainland have relocated to the city over the same period.
An individual does not need to be physically present to set up a family office in Singapore, which offers a path to residency. The rise in demand to set up the family office funds and apply for tax incentives has led to long wait times.
While getting capital out of mainland China is difficult, many wealthy individuals have assets in places such as Hong Kong, where it is easier to shift money.
It is unclear if Bao was successful in setting up a fund or if the process is still ongoing. A government portal search showed no family office with Bao listed as director.
“It is difficult to know who is setting these single family offices up,” said one lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivities involved.
“A lot of them use their children’s or spouse’s names as directors while the [Monetary Authority of Singapore] does not license or regulate them as they aren’t managing third party money.”
China Renaissance did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Singapore’s government has taken steps to boost the city’s appeal as a wealth management centre. In 2019, the MAS and the Economic Development Board established a Family Office Development Team to attract more family funds.
The number of family offices has grown from a handful in 2018 to an estimated 1,500 by the end of last year, according to Singaporean data analysis firm Handshakes.
Additional reporting by Joe Leahy in Beijing