More and more people are accumulating new wealth through gaining stock options as part of their remuneration package. Whether you are fortunate to work for one of the 40% of start-ups that become profitable or work for a large established corporation, the potential financial gain can be life changing. Today, I want to talk to you about stock options and why you should understand what they mean to you.
HOW TO INVEST – What are Stock Options?
WHAT ARE STOCK OPTIONS?
For any organisation you work for, you are likely to get a salary (unless you are volunteering) and, if you are lucky, stock options. Stock options make up a designated number of shares in a company and are designed to give you some measure of ownership in the organisation. They are the right, not obligation, to buy or sell a share at an agreed upon date and price (also known as the strike price). The idea being, if you own some of the company you are working for, then you are more committed to see the company grow, be profitable and stay with the company for a long time.
WHERE DO THEY COME FROM?
Stock options come from what is known as a stock option pool. These tend to be up to 20% of an organisation’s shares and these options are granted to employees and non-employees (typically investors). The initial owners start out with a certain number of shares in the company and effectively create new shares in the company by setting up a stock option pool.
HOW DOES THIS WORK?
This can be confusing, so for illustration purposes, I am going to use an example of a start-up called LIO that is today valued at 2,000,000€, has an initial share total of 5,000,000 and wants to create a stock option pool of 5% for its employees.
With the creation of a stock option pool, LIO now has 5,250,000 shares. Given that the value of the company is 2,000,000€, that means that each share is worth 0.3809€. Now, let’s say that LIO wishes to give an employee, Avery, 1% of the company’s shares as part of their remuneration package. This means that today, Avery’s 52,500 shares would be worth approximately 20,000€.
A few years into the future, LIO is bought and is valued at 20,000,000€. At this point, Avery decides to exercise his right to buy the shares. He would not have to pay the 3.809€ per share that they are now worth, but at the strike price of 0.3809€. Avery’s gain would be the difference between the two numbers multiplied by their shareholding, meaning that they would have made approximately 180,000€ thanks to the buyout.
I have oversimplified things for the sake of illustration. However, this is what happens in essence, even in large, publicly traded companies.
WHAT DO I DO IF I HAVE BOUGHT SHARES?
The technical term is vested. So, if you have done this and hold shares, then you may be liable to tax on those shares and we will see if we can work towards a solution for you. If you live in Belgium or Luxembourg, we can definitely help.
This article is intended for general guidance only and is based on our understanding of Belgian tax law. It does not constitute advice or a recommendation from The Spectrum IFA Group.
Bitcoin in your investment portfolio – what is Bitcoin, how to use it and what it will do
Love it or hate it seems to be the approach to Bitcoin. It will be the best investment ever or it is just a bubble controlled by the few people who can pull the strings, rumoured to be the Chinese.
Let’s start with “What is Bitcoin?”. Bitcoin is a piece of computer software with the ability to share pieces of the software with other people. Of course, the other people have to pay for their share of the software and the price varies according to supply and demand. In principle, there is nothing wrong with this. It worked for Bill Gates.
To get a better of understanding of Bitcoin it is worthwhile making that comparison with Microsoft. With Microsoft we know who owns the product, the products have set prices and perform a function that makes something happen, e.g. run our computer, allow us to write letters, make presentations and do our numbers on spreadsheets. Bitcoin has none of these attributes.
The way Bitcoin pricing works is much more like a commodity. If you go to Starbucks today and buy a coffee, let’s say you pay 4€. Next week you want a coffee. The same coffee now costs 5€. The coffee has not changed, only the price. The difference may be due to shortages, logistical difficulties during a pandemic, many more people wanting a Starbucks coffee, exchange rate movements etc. Bitcoin works in the same way. The price of Bitcoin is primarily set by demand as the supply is fixed. There are only so many Bitcoins in the World. At least you can do something nice with a coffee bean. Bitcoin’s primary purpose is just as something you can sell to someone else. It has no other purpose at the moment.
You would now have a valid point if you were to pull me up on this analysis. “You can use it to buy goods and services” is a fair comment to make, however, there is a ‘but’ that should follow that statement. Whilst the number of places you can use Bitcoin to make a purchase is increasing it is not widespread.
Bitcoin is super volatile, which is great on the way up and terrible when it falls after you have just bought it. Here are some important figures which tell you about Bitcoin’s volatility.
2009 – 2017 little price movement
Autumn 2017 the price rises
October 2017 $5,000
November 2017 $10,000
17th December 2017 $19,783
April 2018 $7,000
November 2018 $3,500
14th March 2020 $5,165
It has bounced again in recent weeks and is now at $40,714 as I write this article (9th Jan 2021). Institutional investors (fund managers, hedge funds etc) are now buying Bitcoin. Increased demand of a fixed supply commodity pushes up the price. Will this last? I do not know. Is it a bubble? Again, I do not know. However, what I do know is that institutional investors invest to a plan. They systematically take profits i.e. sell some of their holdings. They are disciplined. They manage risk by keeping a balance of different investments. Should these institutional investors take profits, other fund managers will follow and sell so as not to get caught out by a large price fall. Their careers depend on getting it right. The ability to feed their family depends on it. They analyse, have large teams doing research, watch and wait before buying and sound out other professional colleagues to ensure they sell in a timely manner. The field of behavioural finance has shown that as individual investors we use the part of our brain driven by emotion when making investment decisions, especially when there is a big price movement in an asset. This emotion based decision making often leads to poor decision making.
There is a body of opinion from Bitcoin exchanges and advocates that is putting forward the theory that Bitcoin is going to become a national currency in some countries and therefore the price is going to go ballistic (their phrase). It is unlikely that a non regulated, very volatile commodity will be used as a national currency.
Here is an example from me of the practical problems. A solicitor practice in Barcelona started to accept Bitcoin for settlement of their fees. It looked like a superb idea to show they were a forward-looking firm.
The problem comes with the volatility. Between issuing the invoice and payment by the client there is a delay. Having charged 1.03874 Bitcoins, for example, they had no idea how much they would get in the currency that would pay all the bills of the firm, such as their staff (Can we pay you in Bitcoins Mrs staff member? Ah, no!), electricity company etc. So having chosen 1.03874 Bitcoins as the fee because that would generate 4,000 in Euros, at the date of payment it could have been just €2,000 value. For this reason it is very unlikely that Bitcoin will become a national currency!
If you wish to invest in Bitcoins, it is worthwhile separating them from your primary investments. Bitcoins will then not influence your investment decisions on your main portfolio in the way that they might be if they are on the same investment platform. How much should you invest in Bitcoin? Set aside a percentage of your savings and only invest that much. Whether it is 1% or 10% will depend on your overall circumstances. However, with Bitcoin it is very worthwhile applying the rule that only invest what you can afford to lose. That way, if you lose it all it has not damaged your financial wellbeing. If it goes up 400% next week, you will be able to take some profit and perhaps spend your winnings on something frivolous.
Bitcoin profits will be taxed. Remember to put money aside from your winnings to pay tax. The amount of tax will depend on your country of residence. The annual declaration can be very difficult so keep track of all your transactions. A figure of 23% of the profit is a good guideline as the amount to put aside if you live in Spain.
Practical Tip. A more mainstream alternative to investing in Bitcoin is the technology that Bitcoin is based on called blockchain. Blockchain has lots of uses and is good news. Uses include electronic voting in national elections, supply change management, payment systems, and anti-counterfeiting software. It can also allow companies to work together and share only what they need to for a specific project.
As an example of what is possible, there are also many Blockchain propositions for supply chain management for Covid 19 vaccines and contact tracing. For more information on blockchain, you could read “Blockchain Revolution” by Don and Alex Tapscott. You can already find many investments to include in your main portfolio such as ETFs and funds. For more information on these funds email email@example.com
A final point on Bitcoin. When someone sells a Bitcoin what does the buyer pay with? It is one of the major currencies. Sellers still want good old fashioned US dollars, Euros or Sterling when they part with their coin. That tells us something!
Are you and your investments adapting to change?
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change
I didn’t write that and neither did Charles Darwin, even though many websites state that it is from Darwin´s Origin of Species. In a way, it doesn’t matter who wrote it. What is important is that it is not necessarily the strongest, or the most intelligent, who have survived this coronavirus. Many people have adapted their lives, with guidance, to avoid contracting the virus and/or passing it on in case they have it without knowing.
When lockdown took affect here on Friday 13th March 2020 panic was rife, which manifested itself through stockmarkets crashing across the world. If there is one thing that we have learnt about the human being, it is that he or she is likely to overreact in times of trouble. Toilet rolls, bleach, and selling off stocks and shares were the focus for many in March and April. Months later, it appears that we are not going to the loo so often, houses don´t need cleaning so regularly, and that the business world is in better shape than a lot of people realise.
I return to the “Darwin’s” theory, focusing on adaptation. Some companies were already struggling pre-Covid 19 (21st century companies with 20th century ideas), so the pandemic has accelerated their demise, whereas other companies have taken advantage of the online and digital world, made more prominent because of Covid-19, and have adapted to the demand created by Covid-19.
2020 was a pretty pathetic year for the British FTSE100 (Down 12%) compared to the US S&P500 (Up 18%). The FTSE100 is made up of companies from poor performing sectors, such as banks and oil, whereas the S&P500 includes technology, high quality consumer goods, and some healthcare stocks. Even then, there were some horror stories and it is the job of the wealth manager to navigate the investment storms.
Those who have used the services of The Spectrum IFA Group will have seen a significant increase in the value of their investments since March 2020. This has been down to expert wealth management on the part of the investment companies that we recommend. They have picked through the good and the bad to achieve positive results despite the political wrangling on both sides of the Atlantic and the effects of Covid-19.
Brexit has gone (at last!). Boris Johnson has achieved what he wanted. We shall see where that leaves Britain and the consequences for those of us living in an EU country. We knew that there would be changes; deal or no deal. There will be more paperwork, more checks, more headaches, and less freedom. However, those with the desire to adapt, will. This adaptation should bring security, confidence, and an overall feeling of well-being.
So whether it was Darwin, Mrs Miggins from the cake shop, or the bloke down the tavern, who spoke of adaptation all those years ago, the important thing is to look forward, act responsibly, and ignore all the horrible and, at times, unnecessary press reports and local gossip. Not only will all the negatives affect your mental health but they could also impact your wealth. We are not doctors but we can perhaps help your wealth make you healthier.
Welcome to 2021
Contact me today to find out how we can help you make more from your money, protecting your income streams against inflation and low interest rates, or for any other financial and tax planning information, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call or WhatsApp (+34) 618 204 731.
The recovery of stock markets cannot be ignored
Apart from the uncertainty of whether or not you will still be able to use your UK bank account after 31st December 2020, there are plenty of other things going on to mess around with our lives such as Brexit, the US elections, coronavirus with its lockdown, and other global disasters. With all of these things happening, it is hardly surprising that people think that investing money in stocks and shares (equities) at a time like this is crazy.
However, we have what appears to be an illogical movement upwards in equities, especially noticeable in the USA. How can this be? They have Donald Trump! In the rest of the world, there have also been sharp upward movements since the coronavirus led crash in March 2020 (other than the UK and I will return to this later). The fact is that billions have been pumped into the global financial system to fend off another financial crisis. Some companies have fallen anyway but others have developed, or sprung up, which has led to a much prettier picture than the press would lead us, or even want us, to believe. Coronavirus and Trump seem to be the only stories pushed our way.
When there is financial stimulus, there are opportunities; not only to survive but to develop. Robert Walker of Rathbone Investment Management has this investment outlook.
“We can expect more monetary stimulus and support from central banks that have an enormous amount of unused capacity available for alleviating any renewed stress in financial conditions which is positive for equity markets. This should keep corporate borrowing costs low.
We do not believe therefore that this is a good time to reduce our long-term equity exposure, but economic and political uncertainty warrants cautious positioning and a bias towards high quality companies where we believe that earnings growth is still possible. We believe it is sensible to remain broadly invested but with a continued preference for growth and only high-quality cyclical companies that can benefit from a shift to a digital and more sustainable economy.
We believe high valuations of growth businesses are underpinned by the increasing scarcity of growth opportunities while interest rates and the returns on low risk assets are expected to stay low into the foreseeable future.”
It is important to note Robert´s last few words regarding interest rates. They are not likely to increase in the short term, or possibly long term, if companies, at all levels, are trying to succeed to keep the economy in good shape. At the same time, inflation could increase which means any money “safely” on deposit in the bank is losing its spending power each year.
Let´s go back to my comments about the UK. Rather than me put my words to this, I will use Robert Walker´s more eloquent script.
“The difference in returns in the third quarter are stark, with US equities seeing a strong performance especially in the big technology companies while the UK’s FTSE 100 was -5% lower on a combination of Brexit and Covid-19 fears.”
“The poor performance of the UK since the referendum is well known, as is the high likelihood that leaving the EU with or without Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s deal will make the UK relatively worse off. Most independent economic researchers forecast that UK GDP, relative to current arrangements, will be between 3% and 6% worse off in seven to 10 years if the UK and EU sign a free trade agreement, the faltering prospect of which has seen the pound fall by 15-20% since 2015. As we write the likelihood of a ‘no deal’ Brexit is still too close to call.”
The knock on effect of this lack of confidence in the UK is reduced investment in that area and, therefore, from what we have seen, investing in the UK has not been top of investment managers’ agendas. My point here is that, when you look at the performance of the global economy, do not necessarily base it on the movement of the FTSE100. This could be, and ultimately has been, the undoing of many people who have been waiting for Brexit to go through before investing. Some now are even waiting for Covid-19 to go away, but I believe that they could be waiting a long time.
Here are a couple of graphs to illustrate my point. One is from 23rd June 2016, the date of the Brexit referendum, and the other is from the start of 2020. They include two of the funds that we use and compare them to the FTSE100 and an inflation index. Remember interest rates would be little more than a flat line on these charts.
Being in the market before the vaccine is introduced
Timing the market (knowing exactly when to buy in and when to sell out) is nigh on impossible. Even experts do not get it right 100% of the time. However, one of the uncertain certainties is that there will be a vaccine for this coronavirus. The uncertain part is when. The important thing is that you are invested before it happens, because it is likely that financial markets will rise sharply when it is available.
Of course, we know that there are other problems around the corner, as there always have been in the past. We make decisions based on our own experiences, calculating whether something is safe to do or it carries a higher risk. History has shown us on
many occasions, including through world wars, that in times of low confidence, or even panic, stockmarkets have gone against the negative thought trend.
Staying invested through the last 6 months has been really important. For those who have money in the bank, earning little or nothing, now is the time to consider making your money work for you and your family. With careful investment planning, through trusted and experienced investment managers, we can help make your future wealth more secure. We can evidence how people have “survived” this latest scary time with the opportunity to benefit in the future by the willingness to stay invested.
Invest when you have the money and disinvest when you need it
My final comment on this is actually one from another investment manager I spoke to recently. It is to do with why we have money and try to accumulate it. His extremely simple tip is to invest when you have the money and disinvest when you need it.
Contact me today to find out how I can help you make more from your money, protecting your income streams against inflation and low interest rates, or for any other financial and tax planning information, at email@example.com or call or WhatsApp (+34) 618 204 731.
Who wants to be a millionaire?
Some people are prepared to cheat in order to become a millionaire. Charles Ingram famously cheated on the UK television game show ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ and was subsequently found guilty along with his wife and friend who coughed during the programme to indicate the correct answers.
Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm sung ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ in the film High Society. Frank Sinatra was certainly a multi-millionaire even though he sang that he didn’t want to be!
Incidentally, the word millionaire was apparently first used in French in 1719 to describe speculators in the Mississippi Bubble who earned millions of livres in weeks before the bubble burst.
You may already be a millionaire or you may be planning to become one in the future through hard work, inheritance or good luck. Whatever your current financial situation, it is interesting to consider the millionaire ‘secrets’ of how you can become one.
Of course, millionaires aren’t privy to knowledge and information that no one else has access to. The ‘secrets’ are simply sensible financial habits which we can all use.
Click the headings below to find out more:
Decide what you want in the future, set a target and stick to itHave you calculated when and how much money you need to retire? Perhaps you want your children/grandchildren to have a university education – have you calculated how much this will cost?
Shift your focus from spending to investingMost millionaires take advice from investment professionals – tax advisers, lawyers, financial planners and asset managers. Don’t be afraid of them; use them.
The 24-hour ruleIf you can’t resist spending, apply this rule that many millionaires use. Even if you can afford an expensive purchase, give it a day’s time before actually making the decision. Impulsive shopping occurs from an emotional trigger and is often unnecessary. Do you want it or do you need it?
Set a budget (yes, even the rich have a budget!)Look at your monthly bank statement and categorise everything into the following groups:
Essentials, Personal and Savings. Generally speaking, the split should be 50%, 30% and 20%.
Living essentials – allocate 50% for monthly expenses such as mortgage/rent, transport, utilities, food etc.
Personal spending – allocate 30% of your income for holidays, entertainment, shopping, hobbies – anything that makes you happy.
Savings – 20% of your earned income should go straight into an investment or savings account.
If your own allocations are different, analyse why and consider how changes could be made.
Cash over creditWe are living in a near cashless society and credit cards are easy to come by, but this environment is not advisable for people who struggle to keep within their budget. Many millionaires prefer cash over a card for this reason.
ControlPeople who are good at saving and investing are generally also good at controlling their urge to spend. Many people have completed a Dry January or a Meat Free Monday, how about trying a regular ‘no spending’ day – call it Frugal Friday!
Bills first, the rest laterMost banks offer the facility to choose the date you want your regular standing orders to be paid. Choose the day after your income/pension is paid in, so you know exactly how much is left for everything else.
Invest in something that makes you happyThis could be a classic car, a piece of art, perhaps you have a hobby that you enjoy investing in. Happiness can also be found in the investment arena, as more and more investors are choosing ethical or socially responsible funds. These are funds that have positive social impacts or are involved in climate change solutions. You can now express your values in the financial world.
Invest in services that save you timeMany millionaires don’t hesitate in paying for services that save their time – food deliveries and laundry services for example. The same can be said for investment research – a financial advisory firm will do that for you.
Swiss taxes and various deductions
This document is intended for information purposes only and does not constitute tax advice. The intention is to highlight that there are a number of financial planning opportunities available and that professional assistance in completing your tax-return is a very good idea. The Spectrum IFA Group can assist you with Pillar 3a tax-deductable savings, arrange a mortgage that is tax-optimised and help you with other forms of financial planning that are tax-efficient. We have certified accounting partners who speak English and will take care of your full tax return from 500 francs, including questions throughout the year.
The calculation of tax throughout Switzerland is based on the net income of the taxpayer. As in most countries, there are several deductions that can be made on your tax declaration. These will, in turn, reduce your taxable income, and therefore the amount of tax you pay.
Although deductions for the direct federal tax are the same throughout Switzerland, deductions at the cantonal and communal levels are regulated differently. Together with all local tax rates, there are frequently large differences between communes, and this should be borne in mind when deciding on where you wish to live, even in the same canton. Switzerland has been at the forefront of internet-based dissemination of information, and generally the relevant information on deductible amounts for your canton and commune can be found on the individual canton’s website, and frequently in English.
Clearly, to claim any of the available reductions in tax-liability, the necessary and supporting paperwork must be submitted with the tax return.
The following are the most important and frequently used, fully compliant and legal deductions.
Work related expenses: Employed persons can deduct work related expenses such as the cost for commuting to work. As a rule, bus and train passes (up to a certain limit) and a flat amount for bicycles, mopeds and scooters are all included under commuting expenses. Under certain conditions, the kilometres driven to the workplace can be deducted when one is using a private vehicle, but there are usually limits both in minimum and maximum distances.
Other work-related expenses include the cost for meals during the working day. Provided one cannot go home for lunch (i.e. there is a minimum distance from the place of work and the tax-payers domicile) these expenses can be deducted from income up to a certain maximum amount, which in turn varies from canton to canton. Additional deductions are also possible for shift or night work. For further work-related expenses such as the cost for work-specific clothing (such as suits), tools or other professional requirements there is a flat rate deduction. If the actual costs can be proven to be higher than the flat rate deduction (which would therefor require receipts to be attached with the tax declaration as supporting evidence) the tax-payer may often deduct the actual costs.
Payments into a pillar 3a: Payments into pillar 3a accounts are tax deductible up to the maximum allowed amount for those residents in Switzerland who have a taxable income. For employees with an employer-provided pension plan, the maximum allowed amount for 2020/21 is 6,826 francs. Self- employed people, and those without an employer-provided pension plan, are allowed to contribute up to 20% of their net income, up to a maximum of 34,128 francs in 2020/21. These maximum allowable deductions are reviewed every 2 years in line with inflation. The tax savings resulting from paying into a pillar 3a are that the taxpayer’s gross income has been reduced by these amounts and are ergo “tax fee”.
Bank vs. Insurance: It should be noted that there are two principal types of 3a. Those provided by banks, where there is no obligation to make a payment during any tax year, and those offered by insurance companies, where the contractual agreement is for a regular annual premium to be paid (this can be made monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or annually). The advantage of the bank 3a is that you are free to pay in or not, depending on your financial circumstances. One down-side is that there is no guarantee on the value of your policy at a later date, as it is always subject to the performance of the bank’s 3a funds. One of the great advantages of an insurance-driven product is that it comes with added life insurance, and also a guaranteed minimum performance and future minimum cash-in values. These insurance policies are also accepted for the amortisation of mortgage debt. On the downside, as there are certain charges taken out of the first annual premium at the very beginning, they should not be entered into without discussion with a qualified expert, and never to be taken for an anticipated term shorter than 5-7 years. Both types of product have federally-governed restrictions on accessing these funds before retirement age, although transfers to other retirement pots are permitted.
Interest Payments: Interest – for example for mortgages or on loans – may be deducted from income. This would apply only to interest and not for repayment of principal used to reduce a loan (amortisation of a mortgage for example). Leasing costs on cars may only be deducted when the individual is classified as self-employed.
Expenses due to illness and accidents: Certain expenses for medical services, which were not covered by your health insurance, can be approved as being tax deductible.
Insurance premiums: Premiums for health, accident, life and pension insurance can often be deducted – up to a certain amount.
Reclaiming withholding tax: When bank or savings account interest is credited, under some circumstances only 65% is credited. In this case the bank transfers 35% of the interest to the tax authorities. On providing the account numbers on the tax declaration, the withholding tax is reimbursed. Withholding tax is applied only to accounts for which the amount of interest exceeds 200 francs. In addition to interest from accounts, interest from other sources such as bonds (including medium-term notes), lottery winnings (starting at 50 francs) and dividend payments are subject to withholding tax, but can often be adjusted to the individual’s marginal tax rate.
Contributions to political parties: Members of a political party may deduct contributions, up to a ceiling.
Contributions to non-profit organisations: Donations to non-profit organisations can usually be deducted. Ask in advance.
Disability costs: People with physical or mental disabilities can make certain deductions for additional expenses. Various organisations throughout Switzerland offer free consultation on this matter as to what might be covered, and at local communal level they are also able to give contact details.
Alimony payments: Alimony payments for children and ex-partners can be deducted in full from gross income.
Charitable donations: Provided the charity is Swiss-registered, the minimum donation is 200 francs, but you may make donations up to 20% of your income.
Deduction for children: Generally a deduction can be made for every child who is under the age of 18, or at further education or still in their initial professional training up to age of 25.
Finally, and this is a typically « Swiss » feature
If you pre-pay your taxes you receive some interest: You can benefit from paying your taxes in advance. This is because the tax authorities pay interest on pre-paid tax payments. This interest is generally higher than the current low interest rates of banks. Clearly not everyone has sufficient liquidity to be able to cover a full year, but even agreeing to pay a partial sum in advance is a good way to make a little extra money.
Understanding How Risk Affects Your Portfolio
A crucial step to achieving long term financial security is recognising the importance of (and the relationship between) investment risk and return. In practice, this means implementing an investment strategy which matches your personal objectives and risk profile.
When I am speaking to clients about investing for the first time, they generally fall into two categories:
- The Risk Averse
- The Not So Risk Averse
Normally, within the first two to three years, one category changes their mind and changes to the other. Can you guess which one?
If you replied the risk averse becoming the not so risk averse, you would be right. This usually stems from clients becoming more comfortable with the idea of investing and the fact that taking risk can, when understood and applied properly, have a staggeringly positive effect on your portfolio.
There are many different reasons as to why people invest and no two people will have exactly the same objectives. Risk is a necessary and constant feature of investing – share prices fall, economic and political conditions fluctuate and companies can become insolvent. Therefore, understanding your risk profile is an important consideration before you actually invest.
Your risk profile is the relationship between your investment objective, risk tolerance and capacity for loss. As a result, you should be aware of your ability and willingness to accept risk and what level of risk might be required to meet your investment goals.
Investment profiles broadly fall into one of the following three categories:
Low Risk Profile
People with a low risk profile wish to preserve their capital and understand that there is very little scope for significant capital growth. These portfolios are heavily weighted to investing in cash and bonds.
Medium Risk Profile
People with a medium risk profile understand that to achieve long term capital growth, some degree of investment risk is necessary. Portfolios for this category of investor are usually balanced between cash, bonds and shares (equities)/equity funds, with perhaps some exposure to property as well.
High Risk Profile
People with a high risk profile are those who are prepared to accept the possibilty of a significant drop in their portfolio values in order to maximise long term investment returns. Higher risk portfolios have a far greater weighting towards equities/equity funds and less exposure to bonds and cash.
Different kinds of investment carry different levels of risk:
Cash or savings accounts are often regarded as ‘low risk’, yet, as the credit crisis of 2007 – 2008 showed, they are not ‘risk free’. Inflation will also reduce the value of cash savings if it is higher than the rate of interest being earned. At the time of writing, inflation in Belgium is just above 2% and the interest rate is 0%, which means that you are effectively paying your bank to hold your cash savings.
Bonds or fixed interest securities are popular with many investors. If you invest in these instruments, you are essentially lending money to the issuer of the bond; usually a company or a government. In return, the issuer pays interest at regular intervals until the maturity date. The obvious benefit to the investor is regular income. However, there is a risk that the issuer may not be able to maintain interest payments and the capital value of the bond can fluctuate.
Although past performance is not a guide to future returns, historically the best long term investment performance is produced by equities or equity funds. The increased level of risk associated with equities is directly linked to the higher returns typically available from this type of asset.
The price of a company’s shares trading on a stock market is a reflection of the company’s value as influenced by the demand (or lack thereof) from investors. Essentially, when you invest in a company you are buying part of that company and hence able to share in its profits. The converse is also true, so you could be exposed to operating losses and a fall in the company’s share price. The risks, therefore, can be high, especially if you own shares in only one or a handful of companies. Equity funds, run by professional managers and which usually invest in a range of companies, are a means of avoiding such concentrated risk.
TYPES OF INVESTMENT RISKS
There are several types of investment risk that the you can be exposed to if and when you decide to invest, and you should be aware of the possible effect on your portfolio before you start:
Also known as systematic risk, it means that the overall performance of financial markets directly affects the returns from specific shares/equites. Therefore, the value of your shares may go up or down in response to changes in market conditions. The underlying reason for a change in market direction might include a political event, such as Brexit, government policy (consider current US-China trade tensions) or a natural disaster.
This refers to the uncertainty in a company or industry investment, and unlike market risk, unsystematic risk applies to only a small number of assets. For example, a change in management, an organisation making a product recall, a change in regulation that could negatively affect a organisation’s sales, or even a newcomer to market with the ability to take away market share from the organisation you are investing in.
This is the possibility that an event at company level has the potential to cause severe instability or collapse to an entire industry of economy. It was a major contributor to the financial crisis of 2007 – 2008. Think back and you will remember the phrase that Company X ‘was too big to fail’. If it collapsed, then other companies in the industry, or the economy itself, could fail too.
Investment options include shares/equities in a range of currencies. Changes in exchange rates can result in unpredictable gains and losses when foreign investments are converted from the foreign currency back into your base currency, from US dollars into Euros for example.
Portfolio Construction Risk
This is the possibility that, in constructing a portfolio, you have an inappropriate income/growth split, or that you fail to monitor and manage the portfolio in line with your investment objectives. There is also a risk that you select assets that are inconsistent with your risk profile.
Interest Rate Risk
Interest rate risk is the possibility that an investment held will decline in value as a direct result of changes in interest rates. For example, bond prices are usually negatively affected by interest rate rises.
This is the possibility that you over-invest in a particular asset, sector, industry or region, which removes valuable diversifaction from your portfolio.
This is the risk of being ‘under-exposed’ to other types of investments that could potentially deliver better returns.
Whether you are investing on a regular basis or have invested a lump sum, it is imperative to understand how risk, or your attitude to risk, can fundamentally affect the potential growth of your investment.
Investing – Where do I start?
Receiving a lump sum payment can be exciting, as it is not often that we have the opportunity to spend or invest a large amount of money at one time. However, if you are investing for the first time, it can be an intimidating step to take. After all, not everyone knows the difference between a share, a bond or a fund and the financial markets can seem like running a gauntlet if you do not know what you are doing.
Investing sensibly in stock-markets, rather than saving at the bank (particularly nowadays when you would be lucky to find interest rates above 1%), is an important means of achieving financial security, and, particularly over the long-term, returns are typically far higher than is achievable from holding cash.
That’s not to say that it comes without risks. Indeed, every fund or investment comes with a disclaimer that past performance is no guarantee of future returns, and this statement is indeed true. However, past results can be useful when reviewing how the fund or investment performed during a financial crisis or when the markets were buoyant.
MY CURRENT FINANCIAL SITUATION
Before you invest, it is imperative to first assess your overall financial stability. It is not usually appropriate to invest if you are in debt, for instance. It is recommended that you undertake a review of your current financial situation with a financial professional. This should include looking at your household’s current net income, expenditure and any debt (it is advisable to pay off debts such a credit card balances before investing as the interest rates for borrowing are likely to be higher than the returns you could achieve by investing). As investing should be a medium to long-term strategy, it is also advisable that you have an emergency or ‘rainy day’ fund that you can use should you need it. As a general rule of thumb, you should have at least six months’ expenditure set aside for immediate access.
HOW AND WHERE SHOULD I INVEST?
Once we have reviewed your financial situation, the next step is to consider how and where to invest.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to how to invest. Either take the plunge and invest the entire sum at once or drip the lump sum in on a phased basis until it is all invested. Investing the money all at once will give you the best chance of benefitting from compound returns. However, if the markets drop significantly soon after you have invested, you may regret it, at least for a while. Drip feeding a lump sum by splitting it into smaller amounts is called unit cost averaging, so-called because you are trickling in the money over time and averaging the ‘price’ at which you buy your chosen investment(s). Depending on who you speak to, you will be advised to proceed one way or the other, or perhaps a combination of both. It also depends on how much you are investing. It is unlikely that any amount under €100,000 would be invested on a phased basis.
ADVANTAGES OF INVESTING THE ENTIRE LUMP SUM
Despite the risk that accompanies investing the whole lump sum in one go, research has demonstrated that the majority of the time, ‘going all in’ will outperform unit cost averaging. This is because it exposes you to the markets sooner, giving you more time to take advantage of compound returns. Research by a global leader in fund management, Vanguard, showed using historical returns, and a hypothetical portfolio that consisted of 60% stocks and 40% bonds, that in the UK, US and Australia, going all in usually outperformed the unit cost averaging strategy. There were only a few short-term periods during the deepest 12 month downturns where this was not the case.
Historically, markets have increased in value over time (which is great for growing wealth and making money) and Vanguard’s research showed that the lump sum strategy generated returns on average 2.39% higher than with drip feeding an investment in over twelve months. That does not sound like much, but when you take compounding into account, after just ten years the difference is quite staggering.
The table below illustrates how global markets have performed historically. As you can see, the positive periods far outweigh the negative both in performance and duration.
SOURCE: GFD, BLOOMBERG, GOLDMAN SACHS GLOBAL INVESTMENT RESEARCH
Markets typically trend upwards, so in most cases, if you were to wait and contribute using a unit cost averaging strategy, the markets will rise before you can invest everything. This means that you will be buying at a higher cost and attaining lower returns.
DRIP FEEDING MAY BE APPROPRIATE FOR SOME INVESTORS
Behavioural psychologists have long known that, for most people, the pain of losing money hurts more than the pleasure of making money when it comes to investing. This is clearly seen when markets are down and people tend to panic into selling, instead of waiting out the downturn.
Let’s say that you invested €100,000 and the next day, or week, your valuation dropped by 10%. What would your reaction be? Would you remain invested or take it all out as soon as possible? Someone who is risk averse or anxious about investing might prefer to invest via the drip in strategy to reduce any emotional discomfort that may arise from market volatility.
In Belgium, you have the opportunity to invest via what are known as Branch 21 and Branch 23 products. With Branch 21, you benefit from capital protection but usually a low return. With Branch 23, your capital can fluctuate in value but the prospects for growth are far greater than with Branch 21. Branch 23 is particularly tax efficient as you will not pay withholding tax on your returns, whereas there is withholding tax payable on interest from bank deposits, Branch 21 returns and on most directly-held mutual funds.
For more information on Branch 23 and its benefits, please click here
Tips in investing in tough times
When the economy slows down, it is inevitable share prices will take a hit. Such times are never comfortable, but there should be no need for investors to panic. Instead, they can offer an opportunity to review your portfolio and ensure it is positioned to weather any storms that might lie ahead.
This does not mean you need to make sweeping changes – after all, weatherproofing your house against the winter doesn’t mean you tear it down and rebuild it from scratch. Instead, you make sensible, incremental changes that provide some additional strength. With that in mind, here are 10 practical tips to help you fight off the worst effects of difficult times.
It is the basic number-one rule of investing but it can need reaffirming. Different asset classes perform well or poorly at different times. If your portfolio is exposed to a single asset class – for example, equities – its performance will follow the fortunes of the equity market and returns are likely to be volatile. However, if your portfolio contains a selection of different asset classes and is spread across different countries and regions of the world, the various elements can perform differently at different times – so if one is doing badly, another may well be performing better and so could help to compensate.
LOOK BEYOND YOUR HOME MARKET
With diversification in mind, perhaps you could start looking overseas for opportunities. A UK-focused portfolio might seem a sensible and conservative option for a UK-based investor. However, this strategy leaves you and your portfolio at the mercy of domestic sentiment. Other areas of the world may offer a more positive outlook or could simply be better placed to help you through any domestic downturn. You need to be aware of the different risks involved with different international markets but even a small step into, say, other developed western economies could help to diversify some of your risk.
BE PREPARED TO ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES
Your attitude during negative periods is as important as your portfolio’s structure. Economies simply cannot keep growing indefinitely and recessions are likely to happen every few years. Successful investors tend to be pragmatic and realistic – they invest for the long term and expect that, while there will be good times, there will also be some bad ones. A short-term downturn such as the 4th quarter 2018 should not be seen as a reason to panic.
LOOK BEYOND THE ECONOMIC DATA
Remember that economic data releases are backward-looking. At the start of a slowdown, figures will continue to appear positive, perhaps contradicting our everyday experiences, as old numbers remain in the calculation. Similarly, once economic growth begins to recover, it will take a while to be fully reflected in the new data. Headlines that scream “worst figures for 30 years” may confirm what we have just been through but do not necessarily reflect the prospects for tomorrow. What they often do, however, is fan the flames of investor uncertainty – not to mention sell newspapers.
CASH IS NOT NECESSARILY KING
During a recession, it may be very tempting to get out of the stockmarket and opt instead for the perceived safety of cash. However, this strategy can be risky. Stockmarkets are volatile, which means that, just as they can fall quickly, they can also recover quickly – perhaps with little or no warning. If you have decided that equities are the right asset class for you, then moving out of them when you have already suffered a loss could mean missing out when they finally begin to recover. Moreover, inflation can erode the purchasing power of cash over time so, while you can be assured you will not lose the face value of money when invested in cash, it is not actually a “risk-free” option.
GO FOR QUALITY
During recessions and stockmarket downturns, established, high-quality and financially strong companies tend to bear up better than their newer or more debt-laden peers. A tough environment helps to separate the wheat from the chaff and struggling companies may be forced to cut their dividends or release negative trading statements. Holding quality stocks, therefore, could help you ride out some of the storm. It is also worth noting that, if the equity market is falling across the board, this provides a great opportunity to pick up quality stocks at relatively cheap prices.
ASSESS YOUR EXPOSURE TO SMALLER COMPANIES
Historically, as an asset class, smaller companies have been worse affected during a recession. You therefore need to be sure of your attitude to risk before you decide to take any significant positions in them. When things are going well, smaller companies can offer the possibility of greater gains than their larger peers – but when things are going badly, the losses can also be much greater. If volatility makes you nervous or if your portfolio is relatively small, you could consider reducing your exposure to smaller companies and perhaps reinvest into some less adventurous choices.
CHECK IF YOU ARE OVEREXPOSED
Different industry sectors tend to perform well at different stages of the investment cycle. During an economic slowdown, some companies are less sensitive to the effects of that slowdown because demand remains largely unaffected – for example, companies in sectors such as food retailing, pharmaceuticals and utilities. Consequently, these tend to hold up better than, say, leisure companies and housebuilders, which depend on households having money to spare. It is usually worth holding onto high-quality companies, regardless of short-term hitches, but this might be a good time to ensure you are not overexposed to any one sector or region.
THINK LONG TERM
A recession is commonly defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth (as measured by gross domestic product or GDP). Six months in the average life of a portfolio, however, is hardly a great deal of time. Even if we allow for the negative behaviour of markets before and after the publication of these sets of data, six months is not long compared with, say, the 20-plus years over which we plan for our retirements. Interestingly, the figures tell us that with a couple both aged 65, there’s a 0% chance that one will live until 92! If your portfolio continues to meet your personal criteria and is well diversified, a recession should not cause you to change plans. Sometimes doing nothing can be the best course of action.
THIS IS A FIRE DRILL – NOT A FIRE
Remember the saying ‘If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…’ by Rudyard Kipling? Market downturns are a great practical example of this maxim. A fire drill is a good thing – the fire might never actually occur but, if the worst happens, at least you can be confident you have taken all the appropriate precautions. The real trick is to make sure you plan your portfolio properly at the outset, with the help of an expert. Then, when a downturn strikes, you can stay calm and review your situation sensibly and with confidence, rather than be panicked into any radical and potentially non-profitable reactions.
We hope you found the information in this guide useful and informative. If any of the points are of interest or you would like to discuss your own situation in more detail, please get in touch.
GUIDE TO GROWING YOUR INCOME
A NEW ERA FOR INCOME STRATEGIES
Income investing has moved into a new dimension. In the past, income-generating strategies were largely restricted to cash and fixed income so that, to a large extent, investors had to accept the need to sacrifice the opportunity for capital growth in order to obtain a higher yield.
Times have changed and now, an income strategy does not necessarily mean you have to accept a hit to your portfolio’s value – especially if you are in a position to take on a bit more risk with your capital.
There are plenty of choices of all persuasions available to income-seeking investors and this guide sets out a number of the available options.
FLEXIBILITY AND VERSATILITY
For many investors, an income-generating strategy forms the core of their approach. Some want a portfolio that will provide a regular income stream for them to spend. For others, an income-based approach is a consequence of their attitude to risk, rather than an instigator of their strategy, and these investors might choose to reinvest their income to boost their portfolio’s total return over the long term.
Still others might have a core investment strategy that focuses on capital growth, complemented and diversified by an income-generating segment.
Every investor will have their own unique needs – for instance, they might choose to draw the income or to reinvest it for the long term. However, an income strategy can easily be adapted to meet each investor’s changing circumstances as time moves on.
A WORLD OF CHOICE
Whatever your investment risk profile, there are a wide range of asset classes from which to formulate a diversified income strategy – from government and corporate bonds, through UK and global equities to property.
Please click on the headings below to read more:
FIXED INCOME (BONDS)
Fixed income investments provide a stable and predictable level of income many investors find reassuring. They pay a set rate of interest that does not change, regardless of the prevailing economic environment, and also have a fixed repayment date. Bond prices are influenced by fluctuations in interest rates and the rate of inflation. In addition, corporate bond prices are also affected by individual company or industry newsflow.
Changes to UK base rates, which are set by the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, will affect the level of interest paid on cash in a UK bank deposit account, but base rates will not affect the level of income paid on a bond. In an environment of rising interest rates, bonds become less attractive, because investors can more easily achieve a competitive rate of interest from their cash deposits.
Similarly, low interest rates increase the appeal of bonds, as it becomes harder for savers to generate an attractive level of income from their cash deposits. Funds investing in such bonds are freely available, of course, care should be taken in choosing the best-suited one that fits-the-bill. See, “Collective Bond Funds, below.
CASH: NOT NECESSARILY KING
A cash deposit account might be the first port of call for many investors who want to generate an income. In an environment of low interest rates, however, it is difficult for savers to generate a meaningful return from their cash deposits. How times have changed! Furthermore, the impact of inflation will erode the purchasing power of their capital over the longer term.
As the name suggests, government bonds are issued and underwritten by a government. UK government bonds – also known as ‘gilts’ – may be regarded as lower risk investments as, to date, the UK has never defaulted on its debts.
However, because they are a low-risk investment, the level of return available on gilts tends to be relatively low and they offer little protection against inflation. Index-linked bonds are the only exception – they pay a rate of income that is partly influenced by the rate of inflation. If the rate of inflation rises, the level of income they offer is adjusted upwards while, in an environment of falling inflation, the level of income paid will fall.
Corporate bonds are issued by individual companies as a way of raising capital for their businesses. As with gilts, a corporate bond is redeemed at a predetermined date for a fixed sum and, during the life of the bond, the investor receives a fixed amount of interest.
Corporate bonds carry a higher level of risk than UK government bonds but that level will vary from one company to the next. High-quality companies are regarded as relatively low-risk, whereas lower-quality companies are believed to have a higher risk of defaulting on their obligations to bondholders.
The level of income paid to bondholders tends to reflect the level of risk involved. Investors who take on a riskier investment are compensated for that risk with a higher level of income. If a company should go bust, bondholders rank higher than shareholders as the company has to meet all its obligation to its creditors – including bondholders – before it considers its shareholders.
It is important to understand the risks of investing in corporate bonds. There can be a substantial difference in quality between one corporate bond and the next. Many of the large fund management houses undertake research to evaluate the potential risk of each bond, but they also often rely on research produced by credit-rating agencies such as Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch. These companies assign a rating to companies that offer bonds. A high credit rating indicates the company is believed to have a low risk of default while a lower credit rating suggests the company presents a higher risk of default.
Bonds may be divided into two classes – ‘investment-grade’ for the highest credit ratings and ‘sub-investment-grade’ (also known as ‘high yield’ or sometimes ‘junk’) for the lower grades. A lower credit rating means a higher level of income paid, in order to compensate for the extra risk involved. Generally, investment-grade bonds are seen as a relatively lower-risk asset class, while higher-yielding sub-investment-grade bonds are regarded as higher risk.
COLLECTIVE BOND FUNDS
Collective funds that focus on government and/or corporate bonds will invest in a managed portfolio that can help you to reduce your risk by diversifying across a range of investments, rather than owning just one or two. Some funds will focus on a specific area of the market while ‘strategic’ bond funds are ‘go-anywhere’ portfolios, whose managers take a view on the bond market and focus on the areas they believe offer most value. If you are interested in adding an element of additional risk to your overall portfolio, therefore, strategic bond funds can offer an introduction to the sub-investment-grade arena or to overseas opportunities.
Over the long term, equities offer the potential for superior returns compared with many other major asset classes. An equity income strategy focuses on shares in companies that pay consistently high and rising dividends and typically aims to generate a consistent, above-average income stream, accompanied by the potential for capital growth over the long term.
Dividends are paid – usually in cash – by companies to investors and are taxable. By law, dividend payments must be paid out of the company’s profits or from profits generated in previous years. Companies are not obliged to pay a dividend, but a high dividend payout can provide an incentive for investors to take a stake in the company.
A company does not have to pay a dividend, and many, particularly small- and medium -sized ones, prefer to reinvest surplus cash into the business. The profits of a relatively young company, for example, can be unpredictable as it seeks to establish itself – and any profit it does make will probably be used either to repay start-up costs or as a reinvestment to help growth. Even as a company grows older, its management might decide to retain profits to finance debt, expansion or product development.
Longer-established companies tend to pay higher dividends – hence an equity income strategy tends to focus on large, high-quality companies, rather than smaller, younger firms. Nevertheless, a small but rising proportion of dividend payouts are coming from medium-sized and smaller companies.
Even large, well-established companies can fall on hard times, however, and the management might decide to shore up their firm’s finances by reducing its dividend payout or cancelling it completely. Furthermore, a diminished or cancelled dividend will undermine confidence in the company and its share price is likely to be negatively affected, cutting the value of your capital investment.
While there is a longstanding culture of dividend payments among UK companies, a growing number of companies in overseas markets are returning value to their shareholders in the form of dividend payouts. The US has, for example, traditionally been home to a core of large companies that pay high dividends. More recently, Asian companies have sought to attract and meet the needs of international investors by focusing on dividend payouts, with countries such as Hong Kong and Taiwan establishing solid dividend regimes in this exiting region of the world.
A global equity income approach has become increasingly achievable, and many investment houses have launched funds to tap into this trend. Equity income investors now have much greater scope to diversify across a broadening range of countries by investing in collective funds.
EQUITY INCOME FUNDS
An equity income fund invests in the shares of companies that pay consistent and attractive dividends and then combines the dividend payouts in order to pay a regular income to investors. Diversification across a broad range of companies reduces the danger a single company’s decision to cut or cancel its dividend might drag down the overall yield of the portfolio.
As an asset class, property can polarise opinion. It is often viewed as a relatively illiquid asset in that it can be time-consuming and expensive to trade. Some experts also believe investors are already overexposed to the property sector if they own their own home or a buy-to-let property, or if they are invested in commercial property through their business. However, property can play a part in an income portfolio for those investors who are not overexposed or who are attracted to its potential benefits.
‘Buy-to-let’ is a popular means by which investors gain exposure to residential property. Traditionally, buy-to-let has enabled investors to generate income through rents negotiated on short-term tenancy agreements. More recently, many buy-to-let investors have chosen to use their rental income to finance their own mortgage payments and to wait for the bigger profit in the form of a capital gain when the property is sold. Of course, as some investors have found to their cost, there is no guarantee a property’s market value will rise over the long term as we’ve seen along the Costas.
In contrast, commercial property investment focuses principally on the generation of a high and consistent income that is generated through rents. Whereas residential leases typically operate on a series of short-term agreements, however, commercial leases tend to be much longer – perhaps 10 or 20 years.
Income from commercial property can derive from a variety of different sectors – ranging from City real estate, through shopping centres, to industrial parks and warehouses. Each sector commands a different level of rental yield and will react differently to the prevailing economic climate.
COLLECTIVE PROPERTY FUNDS
Direct investment in commercial property is very expensive but smaller private investors can access the asset class through diversified collective funds. Diversification helps to reduce the extent to which the loss of a tenant from one particular property might negatively affect the overall performance of the fund.
REAL ESTATE INVESTMENT TRUSTS
A real estate investment trust or ‘REIT’ is a company that manages a property portfolio on behalf of its shareholders. A REIT can contain residential and commercial property. Its profits are exempt from corporation tax, but it must pay out at least 90% of its taxable income to shareholders.
KEY FACTORS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU INVEST
Before deciding on the right blend of assets to generate an income stream, you should consider the following factors, which might affect the decisions you make:
The rate of inflation measures how the price of a basket of goods has changed over time. So, for example, if the cost of running your home increases by 5% in a year, you will need to earn 5% a year more to pay for the same level of comfort.
If you are aiming to maximise the income from your investments in order to pay for everyday expenses, you should consider the impact of inflation and – particularly over the longer term – whether you require a specific form of protection against inflation.
However, if you decide to invest in a fixed-rate investment – for example, a gilt or a corporate bond – be aware inflation will definitely have an impact. As an example, a fixed rate of 4% is attractive when the rate of inflation is 2%. However, if inflation rises to 5%, that return of 4% becomes less appealing.
Investment risk is a very personal thing as it can mean different things to different people. Some investors are not prepared to tolerate financial loss in any form while, at the other end of the spectrum, some investors most fear missing out on an opportunity. For still other investors, risk means not being able to meet future financial commitments.
Before formulating an investment strategy, every investor needs to be clear about their investment goals and their tolerance for risk. No investment is risk-free – the lowest-risk investments might guarantee the preservation of capital and/or regular income payments, but they cannot necessarily protect your money against the erosive effects of inflation.
Ultimately, in order to enjoy an absence or reduction of risk, a cautious investor has to accept the prospect of lower returns. Equally, an investor who is willing to pursue higher returns will also have to accept the possibility of increased potential for risk to their capital.
Since every source of income carries some form of risk, it pays to diversify your portfolio across a range of different asset classes. Diversification helps to reduce the possibility that especially weak (or even strong) returns from a particular investment or asset class might have a disproportionate effect on the overall performance of the portfolio.
There is a world of choice out there for income investors. Whether you are a more cautious person or someone willing to take on higher levels of risk in the hope of achieving, ultimately, higher returns, please do get in touch so we can help you find a solution that meets your individual needs.