Estate & Succession Practitioner

Evolution Of The Estate Planning Industry – An Insider’s Perspective

Allow me to give a brief account on how the estate planning industry has evolved in this region. We started as a pioneer in bringing estate planning to the masses in 1995. Hitherto, estate planning was the domain of family offices, trust companies and private bankers catering to the elite and privileged, and their modus operandi have not changed much over time. The middle class and mass affluent were largely unaware or had little means of sourcing inexpensive estate planning services from the providers.

What struck me then was that the financial industry that houses hundreds of thousands of employees and handles trillions in asset value for people while they are alive was doing very little about the transition to the other side. The planning and management of wealth transfer from the departed to the living heirs was pretty much left to an eclectic mix of people, some professional, some not so – an estate planning industry that was highly fragmented and not well organised. This revelation conjures up immense possibilities for the industry when properly organised.

The model that we created was a network of franchisees who market to the populace and take instructions based on standard operating procedures (the distributor) along with a centralised office of legally trained personnel for vetting for quality and uniform presentation (the manufacturer). Getting this to fruition required a significant amount of capital and holding power as well as a lot of public education.

This was somewhat of a unique model in the world. Outside Malaysia and Singapore (and on a limited scale, in India and China), all other modes of providing estate planning services to the retail market on a large scale were either online self- service or through a loose alliance of like-minded estate planners. While these modes could be efficient, they were at best offering products in a limited way to the mass market, without fulfilling needs of clientele holistically (for objectives that are met by a trust set-up for example).

The launch of this model caused consternation among quite a few lawyers, not all but some were openly hostile. Many took the position that we were upstarts trying to encroach into the traditional domain of the legal profession. However, it can be seen that practitioners, left to their own device, would not have the inclination to invest in a non-core service for the long term in development of people, systems and infrastructure that could reach the masses in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

It was also very hard during the formation years to broach the subject of death. We believed that this fledgling industry would develop along a trajectory similar to that of life insurance, which is slow growth with consumer reluctance to planning for death, followed by growth from gradual acceptance and then, increasing growth due to life insurance being regarded as essential by most.

So, despite the brickbats thrown at us and consumer resistance, we persevered, with a lot of capital funding for losses, until past breakeven. Many do not realise this but the gestation period to reach breakeven can take several years. This is because investment in various systems such as custody tracking, resource training and building a distribution network can be very expensive without economies of scale. Until critical mass is reached, operations will be loss-making.

For the first decade, it was mostly red ink and a lot of shareholder support was called for. In the next decade, more players started to come into the industry, principally bank-owned trust companies. The attraction for them was to tap into their extensive customer base either through their branch network and/ or through their insurance/ mutual fund agency network. While backed by deep pockets, by and large, these attempts have failed to gain traction, beyond some limited success with online Will purchases, because of various factors. For one, when template Wills are given free to premium customers, it is not generally seen as of value. Secondly, provision of personalised estate planning services requires face-to-face interaction to answer questions and clear doubts on issues that bother clients. Thirdly, use of networks that are accustomed to selling off-the-shelf products, for sale of customised products, is problematic. It detracts from focus on sale of prime banking products. And finally, perhaps the biggest impediment to success, is the lack of understanding in managing a network of agents, who are essentially self- driven entrepreneurs, which requires a very different mindset from the control and compliance-centric mindset of bankers.

Coming into the third decade, we have seen a sharp increase in the entry of non-bank players. Especially after the pandemic set in, financial planners, agents and even entrepreneurs were hungry to look for new sources of income and the market after two decades of development looked sufficiently attractive for growth, with a seemingly low entry barrier. Writing a Will for others requires very little capital beyond computers and a website set-up. However, many do not understand what it takes to get this business up to scale which as mentioned earlier, requires heavy investment and economies of scale. For mass market penetration, merely being a manufacturer is not going to cut it without building a distribution network.

And so, many of the new entry players resorted to price undercutting to gain market share. This is a futile exercise because any price cut that wipes out profit margin (which is not particularly rich in this industry and non-existent for many newbies) means the more sales are made, the higher the loss. This loss is exacerbated by the continued entrance of me-too players who adopt the price cutting strategy. Thus, like flying ants flocking to the light and dropping off, many of the new players get attracted to the industry, have limited capital and recede after two/ three years. What has been achieved in all this is the filtering of customers who demand cheap pricing irrespective of all else and those who choose value of service; and this is good for established players.

So where is the industry heading? My belief is that those who are in the business for the long term will thrive if they differentiate from the rest by investing in the raising of quality of service and efficiency in delivery. This market segment is the one that sustains a reasonable profit margin, is still largely untapped and will continue to grow strongly well into the future.

Johari Low

Group Chairman

Rockwills International Bhd

Estate & Succession Practitioner


As part of our inaugural issue of Precepts Legacy’s “The Custodian”, we interviewed Mr. Tay Teng Pong (TP), our most senior and experienced Estate and Succession Practitioner (ESP) about his journey with us over the years.
(Precepts Legacy (PL) is the Estate Planning division of PreceptsGroup International)

PL: Why do you choose “It’s Family” as the theme for this interview?

TP: PreceptsGroup, known as Rockwills till recently, has provided me the platform to build my own family business. It’s a franchise that I can pass on to my family. This platform also allows me to build our family of team members, often referred to as our downlines, who can likewise build their own businesses. May God help me set a good example for them.

PreceptsGroup’s management and staff is akin to our extended family which provides us the necessary and essential support for our growth and success. It’s family within families!

PL: Can you share with us your journey in Estate Planning?

TP: I have been in the Will writing business since 2002 and incorporated Will And Legacy Pte Ltd in 2007. There was a season when I was handling the marketing, sales and
drafting of Wills all by myself. I was very honored when Rockwills invited Will And Legacy to be its first franchisee. Franchisees were subsequently known as Rockwills Estate Planners (REPs). With the arrangement, I was able to spend more time meeting and advising clients on their estate planning needs after I handed the drafting of Wills in the good hands of Rockwills. I have no doubt this partnership would continue even as Rockwills in Singapore changes its name to PreceptsGroup. The former term REP will be changed to Estate and Succession Practitioner (ESP).

PL: Tell us more about your current business?

TP: Will And Legacy is a family business with my wife Jenny, who has joined me since her retirement, and my younger son, Johann, who has been in the business with me for 8
years. This business taps into our individual strengths and has been very fulfilling both financially and for our purpose in life.

With Will Writing and Trust setup as our primary focus and key competency, we have topped Rockwills’ production
rankings for the last 11 years. Johann has established himself very well and I can see that
he is enjoying his work. Will And Legacy is a legacy I leave for my family.

As at end 2019, Will And Legacy has written over 2,700 Wills.

PL: Can you share how you work with financial planners? How do you help them with their business?
TP: Whenever opportunities arise, I would remind financial planners that wealth distribution is as important an element as the other three elements of wealth planning, namely, wealth protection, wealth accumulation and wealth management. For a long time, wealth distribution or estate planning has been neglected by financial planners and the public alike.

Will And Legacy’s business model has two prongs, namely:
I. Financial planners and our clients would constantly
support us with referrals.
II. Those who are keen to do exactly what we are doing
would join our Will And Legacy team as ESPs.

Over the years, we are grateful and thankful to have many established and new financial planners referring their clients to us for estate planning.

Using the platform that PreceptsGroup provides, we educate both financial planners as well as end clients on the essentials of estate planning.

Financial planners find that by conscientiously talking about estate planning, they develop a deeper relationship with their clients. This results in them gaining more referrals and thereby increased their financial planning business.

Team Building
Majority of our ESPs are financial planners who wish to provide estate planning directly to their own clientele. We have seen some financial planners, who were jaded with their business
after years and decades, but becoming rejuvenated after they develop estate planning as one of their core expertise to serve their clients.

PL: What is your team’s growth like?

TP: Currently, our Will And Legacy family has 99 members and
still growing. PreceptsGroup provides the foundational training, while Will And Legacy kicks it up a few notches,
grooming and equipping our team members to provide comprehensive, concise estate planning consulting for our
myriad of clients.

Within Will And Legacy, we have also created clear and effective channels of communication and peer learning. To
quote Joseph Tan, one of our own team members: “We all learn from each other! It’s an awesome family here”.
Another precious young member, Klaudia Yeo, would often tease and call me “grandfather” – as she comes under her
own mentor, who is our mentee, hence the senior – generational moniker. In fact, I have been informed that I
already have “great grandchildren” within my family of downlines!

PL: How you feel about our new branding, PreceptsGroup(Precepts Legacy)?

TP: With Mr. Lee Chiwi, whom I have worked together over the
last 12 years, at the helm and as long as all Will And Legacy’s family of team members, our extended family of more than 40 Precepts staff and the rest of the 600 ESPs remain positive, intact and continue to do their part, everything would be fine.

PL: Do you have any advice for our readers here?

TP: I won’t call it advice but some frequent observations that I would like to voice.

I need only a simple Will Directly or through their financial planners, many clients are quick to add that they need only a simple Will. Rest assured we would not write your Will more complex than it should be. Most clients who make such remark probably do not know the full potential of a Will and what it can do for them. After going through the usual 1.5 hr free consult with us, several clients would say they did not realise there is so much to consider when writing a Will. Some would joke and add that dying is not so easy after all.

My advice is never to choose or decide on a Will provider merely by comparing Will fees. It would likely be a grave
mistake. A few pennies you save today may cause your family several pounds and lots of trouble in future if your Will is not properly or carefully written.

It’s now or never
In other words, don’t wait! Don’t procrastinate!

In my 18 years of estate planning, I have come across too many people who need a Will desperately but have lost
their mental capacity to do so. A few met up with me but felt too sick to discuss their Will. They died soon after before they could feel better to talk. A few others managed to convey their intentions to me but when I dropped by their home or hospital to attest (sign) their Will, they had lost consciousness or mental capacity. It’s very unfortunate!

PL: What do you think Precepts business would mean for the next generation?

TP: I am past my retirement age. In 2 years, I would have
written Wills for 2 decades. Things have certainly changed over time and I am heartened to see that Precepts would
mean a new era for Johann and the next generation of ESPs.

It’s gratifying to see more ESPs considering pursuing this career full-time. I am glad one of our successful team
members, Joy Koh, an Accountant turned full time mum, can strike a good balance between this meaningful career
and nurturing her 3 young daughters.

Moving ahead, I see a brighter future and greater opportunities for this bigger family of ESPs.

PL: It has been quite a journey! Any final words?

TP: This interview is not complete if I do not give God all the credit and the Glory! God has joined the dots of my life and
I thank Him for allowing me to pursue my passion in estate planning this far, and for as long as He is willing.

I am grateful to be blessed with a sacrificial partner and helpmate in Jenny during our pilgrimage through this world. Our sons, Joel and Johann, are the pride of our lives and our
lovely grandchildren are our joy. We have 5 grandchildren now as we are recently blessed with a pair of twin girls from Johann.

In Psalm 23:6, the Bible says, “Surely your goodness and love will follow [chase after] me all the days of my life …”.

I believe Precepts is one of the many good things that are chasing after me. It would bless many who are associated
with it. That’s because we are family!


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