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How CSC Global Financial Markets harnesses a 120-year-old legacy to solve 21st century business problems

CSC’s Agnes Chen

With bespoke solutions and a customer orientation that’s above the industry norm, CSC is able to ensure that all parts of the client structure are well serviced and supported, says Agnes Chen, CSC’s managing director for the Asia Pacific region. (Please click here for a 简体字 version of this article)

CSC’s tagline ‘We are the business behind business’ would ordinarily come across as corporate hyperbole, but it has 120 years of experience to back the claim. The privately held company provides corporate services across an array of verticals. It has been a relevant and trusted partner by anticipating the needs of businesses around the world, serving 90 per cent of Fortune 500 companies. Its partner network includes 10,000 law firms and 3,000 financial institutions.

CSC provides legal, administrative, and governance support to corporations and capital market clients, as well as companies in the alternative investments space. CSC has 40 years of experience in incorporation, tax, accounting, and trade support services in the Asia-Pacific region.

One specialty area is helping clients with global expansion, according to Agnes Chen, CSC’s managing director for the Asia Pacific region. “When we talk about international expansion plans and our expertise, it’s typically European and US clients coming into Asia, which is an unknown market for them,” she said. However, CSC’s offerings have grown significantly, driven by the demands of its clients.

A one-stop-shop solution

CSC is now a single source of corporate services. “We’ve expanded into servicing investment and asset managers, fund administration, corporate services, and supporting private debt structures and day-to-day administration, as well as funds. There are more requests from companies to leave all their administrative operations to a one-stop-shop,” Chen said. This makes it easier for companies to double down on their key focus areas without having to deal with the minutiae of running a business.

“They don’t need to worry about having to pay an employee or doing their own accounting,” said Chen. “For fund administration, we help with investor relations — answering investors’ questions and adding value by efficiently addressing any issues with the guidance of the investment manager.”

The pandemic effect

The demand for these services has grown, especially in the wake of the pandemic. COVID-19 has resulted in multiple disruptions of business models and the normalising of hybrid work practices. CSC is playing a significant role in getting companies up to speed to take advantage of the positive economic momentum, which is expected to build through 2021 and beyond.

“After waiting and watching in the initial months of 2020, we’ve seen interest and requests picking up. Our corporate services have become more important,” said Chen. “We help our clients ensure that during this time, they’re still compliant from a regulatory perspective, and that their day-to-day operations continue uninterrupted.”

There’s been a huge increase in fund administration requests, especially from investment managers and single-family offices in Singapore. “In addition to the Singapore Variable Capital Company (VCC), the GIP (Global Investor Programme) has become very popular,” Chen added, referring to a scheme under which a family office can be established in Singapore by investing S$2.5 million, with assets under management of at least S$200 million. CSC has seen requests come in for single-family office administration as well, to take charge of the support and operational aspects of the business.

CSC’s expertise in the corporate services space has given it an edge. “Most administrators concentrate on traditional fund administration, focused purely on data entry and accounting and maybe outsource the rest,” Chen said. “At CSC, we’re able to go through all the steps, ensuring that all parts of the client structures are well serviced and supported. We pride ourselves on value addition. We’re very good with large managers, but also flexible when it comes to bespoke solutions with emerging managers.”

Furthering the expansion agenda

When it comes to expanding into new geographies, CSC helps its clients by delving deeply into the actual reasons driving these plans, and determining if they align with the company’s long-term objectives. “They may actually be going in because of a trend. For instance, a certain geography or jurisdiction may be coming across as a market where one needs to be present. But we try to understand as much as possible about what they intend to do in the future, to help them to see the bigger picture,” she said.

CSC gives an accurate overview of what a new jurisdiction really represents. Chen gave the example of a firm looking to expand to China. “It’s a very unique market with regulatory requirements that are different from the rest of the world. You don’t really know China until you live or work there.”

The client was entering China with some investment advice that required CSC to dig deeper. The team at CSC was concerned about the structure and its efficacy. “A company may start a branch there, in which activities are restricted under a branch operation, which could result in an outcome completely different from what they wanted,” she said.

CSC was asked to examine the structure and found that it didn’t deliver as expected. “We went in with our tax and legal partners to explain why it wasn’t a good opportunity. The client realised it was a very good finding,” Chen said. “Before, he would have wasted a lot of money and time, setting up a structure which would have to be dissolved and replaced before they could get what they needed. The client ultimately went in with a WFOE (Wholly Foreign Owned Entity), which allows them to achieve the scope of services needed.”

Another critical focus area for CSC is keeping track of regulatory changes that could effectively stymie an expansion. This is especially true of emerging or developing regulations in markets. CSC’s massive geographic footprint and expertise in key markets yields dividends, enabling the firm to answer questions quickly. Chen believes that this bespoke approach sets CSC apart, helping its clients as a long-term partner, but leaving the ultimate decision to them.

Strengthening the CSC network in the region

CSC recently acquired Singapore-based FIRSTCORP, which specialises in company formation and domiciliation services. It helps with the establishment and ongoing administration of companies in Singapore and business entities in key financial centres like Hong Kong, as well as fund formation entities and corporate structures in offshore jurisdictions such as the British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands.

“The acquisition has really extended our capabilities in Asia Pacific. It complements our market regulatory and jurisdictional expertise to help clients achieve business objectives,” Chen said. “We will be able to provide a wide range of support, right from the setup to onboarding and day-to-day administration of funds and investment structures, as well as corporate services. This is in line with our mandate, and we can help clients navigate increasingly complex international regulatory environments.”

The CSC advantage

Even as CSC works with specialist firms in the legal and tax advisory space, it engages in dialogue with its clients. “It’s about working with the clients and asking ‘Have you considered this? Have you looked at speaking to a law or tax firm?’ We often see clients going ahead without a holistic structure on expansion, and without knowing what to expect. For us, it’s really about helping clients with this bird’s-eye view,” Chen said.

CSC has been assisting clients who have decided on a structure like the Singapore VCC, which launched earlier this year. The Monetary Authority of Singapore described it as “a new corporate structure that can be used for a wide range of investment funds and which provides fund managers greater operational flexibility and cost savings.”

“We’re very strong in this area, and for us it’s about designing investment structures for clients together with legal and tax advisors. But since the structure is new, there’s a lot of interest in understanding the requirements and what can or can’t be done,” Chen said.

CSC examined the existing fund structure of a client who wished to be part of VCC and discovered some holes in the design of the initial investment structure. “They went back to ask a few questions with their legal and tax advisers and realised that some fine-tuning was needed before going into the structure,” Chen said. “That saves the client a lot of time, as well as having to contend with issues that could have arisen from an audit perspective, going forward.”

Rather than be content to receive a roadmap or an instruction set from its clients, CSC goes the extra mile to ensure that a client is compliant and taking the right path, since the teams from the company have overseen multiple structures in the past.

CSC has observed VC and PE funds reviving their search for investable opportunities as well as the growing popularity of debt funds for acquiring assets. “We also perform debt and loan administration for some of our clients. And we see that part of the business moving quite quickly,” Chen said.

CSC has some obvious advantages, given its longevity. What sets the firm apart, Chen believes, is its private ownership and bespoke solutions. She said, “We have remained privately owned for more than 120 years, with a very stable shareholding. We can focus on building value and a long-term relationship with clients. A lot of it is our dedication to client service. Being able to reach out to our teams, as and when needed, sets us apart from other providers where it’s a more cookie cutter, less customer-driven organisation.”

This article was written in partnership with CSC. For a deeper insight into the services CSC offers, please visit the website