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[Herald Interview] Tailored foreign investing advice gets new twist

Mark Tetto, co-representative director of Topor & Co. Korea, speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald at his Seoul office. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Mark Tetto, co-representative director of Topor & Co. Korea, speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald at his Seoul office. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Collector of Korean art, TV celebrity, motivational speaker and investment adviser -- those are just a few of the titles Mark Tetto, 40, has under his belt.

After about 10 years of living in Seoul, the Italian American multihyphenate is taking on a new challenge in leading Topor & Co. Korea, one of the first investment advisers in South Korea that handles private wealth management for wealthy families.

In the past five years as a partner at TCK, his primary focus was to manage a globally diversified, liquid and conservative portfolio excluding Korea on behalf of his wealthy Korean clients, which Tetto called “basic building blocks of ideal standard global portfolios.”

After being promoted in January to TCK’s co-representative director this year, Tetto’s responsibility goes above and beyond growing the foundation.

“If some clients look for additional exposure in global venture capitals or global hedge funds, those may be added on top of these foundational building blocks of the liquid, diversified global portfolio,” Tetto told The Korea Herald in a recent interview at TCK’s Seoul office.

Serving those with entrusted assets at roughly between $20 million and $500 million, TCK has been one of the first companies in Korea to spearhead the concept of a “family office,” or a wealth management firm for high net worth individuals or corporations engaged in a family business.

TCK focuses on non-Korean liquid asset classes such as the US dollar, Treasuries, equities and fixed incomes in the US, Europe and Japan, among others. Its expertise has helped its Korean clients combat inflation and at the same time avert crises due to illiquid assets like real estates, closed-end funds or funds prone to a freeze.

“What we saw was lacking (in Korea) is highly liquid and conservative (strategy),” he said.

And selectively, TCK’s Korean clients may be able to see their assets having exposure to private equities, venture capitals or distressed investing strategies, as TCK has been building bridges between its wealthy clients and fund managers with decent global track records.

Tetto said its new line of business has already started.

“There are lot of outstanding US VC funds, but there is a line waiting to invest in them, even in the US. So when they raise funds, they do not usually come to Korea,” said Tetto, formerly a Morgan Stanley investment banker.

“But through our global network, we may be able to bring some of these select opportunities to our clients in Korea.”

Mark Tetto, co-representative director of Topor & Co. Korea, speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald at his Seoul office. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Mark Tetto, co-representative director of Topor & Co. Korea, speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald at his Seoul office. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Co-founded in 2012 by Israeli entrepreneur and investor Ohad Topor and co-chairman of Oaktree Capital Management Howard Marks, TCK -- a Korean arm of London-based family office Topor & Co. -- has strived to provide its individual and corporate clients with the investing styles such as endowment style investing to create a multi-asset class portfolio. Its employees comprise investment professionals originating from New York to London, Israel and Korea.

TCK operates offices in Seoul, home to its client base, and in London, which allows the company to survive the battle for information by joining a family office community in London to form a “very informed market view,” according to Tetto.

“What we do is take this global information, digest it and create the best portfolio which we continue to monitor and adjust,” Tetto said.

The concept of an independent family office came into being in the nation where banks and securities brokerages have long held sway over financial product sales and distribution networks.

Their practices of packaging and pushing certain branded products to customers sometimes came without understanding the inherent risks, or failing to make sufficient explanations to their customers.

In hindsight, the deeply-ingrained structure for financial customers in Korea sometimes led to misselling scandals, including recent rows involving hedge funds and sales of risky structured products like derivatives-linked securities.

By contrast, TCK as an independent adviser has no incentives to take risks that do not match what the clients are looking for, and instead shares a long-term investing philosophy to prevent its clients from falling for trend-based trading.

“We are sitting on the same side of the table with clients,” Tetto said.

He added that TCK has been tenaciously pursuing its path as an independent family office to offer a high-end, custom-tailored service for multiple clients, where each client has a separate portfolio and their assets are managed separately.

From the management’s perspective, pooling investment from multiple investors into a single managed portfolio sounds like an easier option, but it’s not an option for TCK.

“It’s a very high touch, customized service,” Tetto said.

By Son Ji-hyoung (consnow@heraldcorp.com)
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