What are the main financial risks as an expat in France?
Age and wealth are often linked. One increases inexorably in a linear fashion, and the other tends also to increase over time, but always in a non-linear way. Following this traditional route, we tend to become more affluent as we get older, barring financial mishaps and accidents of course. This may have something to do with the notion that as we get older we become wiser. That may well also be true up to a point, but then it can occasionally go horribly wrong. Leaving that unfortunate possibility to one side, how can we expats best contribute to our own financial well-being?
All a bit deep that, but here is what I’m getting at. If I were to attempt to present a snapshot of my average client to you, it would be of a couple in their late 50’s to early 60’s who have retired early after successful careers and family building, based either on employment or their own business. Avid Francophiles, they are now ‘living the dream’ funded by the fruits of their former labours. All is well in their world; or at least that is how it appears on the surface. Underneath though, there are concerns, and these concerns are common to all of us. Age and money.
I think very few of us actually like getting older; I certainly don’t. It is becoming more and more difficult to ignore those ‘milestone’ anniversaries. I think of them more as millstones these days. As I suspect is the case with many of us, I tend these days to look my accumulated ‘wealth’ (cough), and wonder if it will last me out. I think it will, and I certainly hope it will, but I’m pragmatic enough to realise that it isn’t a ‘gimme’ (in Solheim cup parlance).
So then I start to look at the variables. What can possibly go wrong? What can I do to defend myself against the risks? What are the risks? I am after all a financial adviser; all this should come naturally to me. To an extent it does, but knowing what is out there doesn’t mean that you necessarily know how to beat it. It does help though. Here is my top three on my list of risks to worry about:
Institutional Risk – Basically this means that you put all of your money under the floorboards in the attic, but next year your house burns down, floorboards and all.
Market Risk – How could putting all your money into VW shares possibly go wrong?
Exchange Rate Risk – This is where Murphy’s Law comes into play. Whatever the rate is; whatever you do will be wrong. Otherwise known as Sod’s Law.
Obviously, it is a good idea to work on avoiding these risks wherever possible. I thought long and hard before listing them in this order, but I do think that Institutional Risk stands out. After all, it can wipe you out completely. It can also be avoided completely. The other two cannot be eradicated, although some would argue about F/X risk.
Indeed there was a time when I would have argued that F/X risk can be avoided. In a former life (I’ve told you this before I know), I used to be a foreign exchange dealer in the world of international banking, before it became unfashionable. One of my jobs was to explain to corporate and private clients that F/X risk was the enemy, to be identified and eliminated at all costs; unless of course your job was to make money trading (gambling) in it.
Ten years ago I brought this dogma into my new career as an IFA in France. How long do you intend to stay in France? (forever). Where are your savings? (in the UK, in sterling)… Over the years, the subtleties started to emerge. The collapse of sterling against the Euro; the resulting exodus of thousands of UK ‘snow birds’ from Spain because their UK pensions wouldn’t support them anymore, and the growing realisation that our old enemy ‘age’ was always going to play its trump card; they all contributed to the much changed conversations that have with my clients these days. Strangely though, it is another banking term that now dominates my thinking, namely hedging. ‘Hedge your bets’. To be honest, I tend to question anyone these days who says that they will never return to the UK. Statistics show otherwise. We tend to base our current view on our current circumstances, preferring not to think about what will happen if we end up on our own. How many UK expats are there, I wonder, in French care homes?
Since the Euro came into existence the £/€ exchange rate has been as high as 1.7510 and as low as 1.0219. In anyone’s language that is an enormous range. Coincidentally we currently sit at almost exactly the half way point between those two extremes, but I don’t see that as any reason for complacency. We need to take this risk very seriously, especially if we accept the possibility that we will one day have no more use for Euros. I have a firm view on the best way to manage this risk, but I’ve run out of space in this edition. If you want to discuss it, you know where to find me.
What holds you back from investing?
Investing for some can be a very difficult task and yet for others it is both easy and immensely satisfying. Those in the former group would just love to be in the latter. So what is the problem? Why are they so different?
The underlying problem is fear but there are ways to reduce these anxieties.
The most fearful are the beginners and yet it is surprising how many “mature” investors go through a similar experience. There is no doubt that that without that leap of faith, you will not achieve the return you so much seek. If your overriding desire is to obtain real growth on your capital, however big or small, you must rethink your approach. For “from small acorns, grow great trees”.
Probably the best antidote is to look back through history – look at what our forebears were faced with when they were poised to put their capital at risk. I should add at this point that without risking your capital to some degree or other you will never experience real wealth creation. “There is no gain without pain”. Here at The Spectrum IFA Group, we look to do this in a controlled and disciplined fashion to insulate the client as much as possible from the stress and concerns of investing.
But we should go back to the basic instincts which create these fears and are the barriers to wealth creation. Someone once said that “The brain is a massive sabotage machine” which interferes in a negative fashion with every important decision we make. I could go into all the reasons for not making an investment decision but I would like to zero in on just one of the many. If you look for reasons for not making the decision to invest then you need to remain in your “comfort zone”. The older we get, the more we want to be in that place because the alternative is too stressful.
Probably the greatest excuse we come up with is the current situation: the Greek debacle, the threat to the Euro, Putin’s bellicose posturing, the state of the EU and its future, whether the UK will stay in, the collapse of the Chinese stockmarket, increasing terrorism, our old favourite secure backstop the Bond Market in total disarray, bank interest rates at all time lows, global warming, global overcrowding, shortage of food and water – need I go on? In fact these are all the excuses for not investing. The fact of the matter is that the only way to beat inflation and actually create wealth is to invest in capital markets, whatever they are, whenever. There is no good or bad time to invest. In fact, if you are a contrarian like the all time most successful fund manager, Anthony Bolton, you invest when everyone else is selling. And to put it another way, fund managers wait with anticipated glee for markets to fall, so that they can get back in at a lower level. Using people like us is the least stressful way to invest as we have already done the research on your behalf as to who are the best managers and for which investment houses they work!
Let us now look back in history and see all the reasons why we shouldn’t have invested at that time. And yet, those who ignored these doomsday factors went on to achieve amazing growth on their capital – not through some rocket science wizard scheme but by just investing in the top stocks in their respective stock markets. An internationally renowned global investment house has produced figures over decades to show that if you had ignored the gloom merchants and just invested * when you had the capability, you would be a wealthy person now. For example, if you had invested just £1,000 in 1934, it would today be worth today over £4,000,000; just £4,000 invested in 1960, would have grown to £1,000,000. If you had invested £10,000 in 1989, it would have grown to over £90,000 today. How could this have happened with all the appalling crisis’s which have occurred in the meantime? Simple, global capital does not just disappear in times of crisis, it has to have a home, it cannot evaporate and like seasons and the rise and setting of the sun every day, capital markets just continue on, regardless of war and pestilence.
(*invested in a portfolio of investment funds or top stocks actively managed by a competent regulated investment house with good past performance.)
Ah, but that was then, there is too much going on the world to de-stabilise the markets. Oh yes? What has changed in the last 80 years? NOTHING!
Let me show you:
1935 Spanish Civil War
1936 Economies still Struggling
1938 War Clouds Gather
1939 War in Europe
1940 France Falls & Britain is blitzed
1941 Pearl Harbour & Global War
1942 British Defeat in North Africa
1943 Heavy defeats continue in the Far East
1944 Consumer Goods Shortages in the U.S.
1945 Post-War Recession Predicted
1946 Dow Tops 20 and London market too high
1947 Cold War begins
1948 Berlin Blockade
1949 Russia Explodes A-Bomb
1950 Korean War begins
1951 U.S.Excess Profits Tax
1952 U.S. Seizes Steel Mills
1953 Russia Explodes H-Bomb
1954 Dow tops 300 – Market Too High
1955 Eisenhower illness
1956 Suez Crisis
1957 Russia Launches Sputnik
1959 Castro seizes power in Cuba
1960 Russia downs U-2 Spy Plane
1961 Berlin Wall Erected
1962 Cuban Missile Crisis
1963 Kennedy Assassinated
1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident
1965 Civil Rights marches
1966 Vietnam War Escalates
1967 Newark Race Riots
1968 USS Pueblo seized by North Korea – fear of renewed war.
1969 Money Tightens – Markets Fall
1970 Cambodia invaded – Vietnam War Spreads
1971 Clouded Economic Prospects
1972 Economic Recovery Slows
1973 Energy crisis & Market Slumps
1974 lnterest Rates Rise & steepest markets falls in 4 decades
1975 Oil Prices Skyrocket
1976 lnterest Rates at All-Time High
1977 Steep Recession Begins.
1978 Worst recession in 40 Years
1979 Oil prices sky rocket
1980 Record Federal Deficits & Interest rates at all time highs
1981 Economic Growth Slows
1982 Worst recession in 40 years
1983 Largest U.S. Trade Deficit Ever
1984 Energy Crisis
1985 Economic growth slows
1986 Dow Nears 2000
1987 Record-Setting Market Decline. Black Monday and UK Hurricane
1988 U.S. Election Year
1989 October “Mini Crash”
1990 Persian Gulf Crisis &1st Gulf War
1991 Communism Tumbles with the Berlin Wall
1992 Global Recession
1993 U.S.Health Care Reform
1994 Fed Raises lnterest Rates Six Times
1995 Dow Tops 5,000
1996 Dow Tops 6,400
1997 Hong Kong Reverts to China
1998 Asian Flu sweeps the Globe
1999 Y2K Millennium Bug Scare
2000 Tech Bubble Burst
2001 9/11 Terrorist Attacks
2003 War in lraq
2004 Rising lnterest Rates
2005 Hurricane Katrina & destruction of New Orleans. London bombings.
2006 U.S. Real Estate Peaks
2007 Liquidity Crisis & Subprime Lending crisis spreads to Europe
2008 Credit crisis /Financial Institution failures globally
2009 U.S. Double Digit Unemployment Numbers
2010 European Sovereign Debt Crisis
2011 U.S. Credit Downgrade
2012 Fiscal Cliff Issues-/European Recession
2013 U.S. Government Shutdown/Sequester
2014 Oil Prices plunge 50% & Malaysian Airliner shot down in Ukraine
2015 Greece, Terrorist attacks, ISIS rampaging all over Middle East, etc.,etc.
So against this seemingly grim litany of disasters and cyclical market falls, the global financial wealth continued to increase at a remarkable pace over the last 80 years and before that. It will continue to do so into the future. The only thing to stop it would the total annihilation of the Human Race where wealth & money would be useless anyway!
I hope I have illustrated that fear of exposing capital to a perceived risk has no foundation! For those who are still not convinced, they should leave their money in the bank where it will continue to earn nothing, its real value will erode with inflation and possibly disappear with the collapse of the bank they have so carefully chosen to safeguard it!
Reflecting on Gains
The funny thing is that what we read in the papers, online and listen to from so called experts can literally be taken with a piece of salt. It really doesn’t have a lot of value for the man in the street and it all just goes to prove that no one really knows what is going on. That includes Janet Yellen of the FED and Mario Draghi of the ECB. They seem to be playing a game of ‘trial and error’ to achieve the best short term outcome in the race to make consumers consume again and for economic growth to start apace once again. The indiscriminate use of quantitative easing has only served to push up the cost of asset prices (property, shares, Bonds). In fact it has taken all these 3 asset prices to new highs in recent months and so now might be time to look at reviewing your investments once again.
We, at The Spectrum IFA Group, have been, for some time, looking at the investment fund space, given that stock markets have been moving upwards for the last couple of years. This often signifies that volatile times are ahead.
We are now starting to look at the markets with a more negative stance and believe that it might be the right time to start taking profits from your funds that have made good capital gains during this time and secure those in a less volatile investment.
(For our clients who are using Rathbones Investment Managers and Tilney Best Invest Discretionary fund management services, profit taking and reinvestment will be being taken care of at a micro managed level on a day to day basis).
We, The Spectrum Group, have identified a range of Absolute return funds which are designed to protect capital in volatile markets. And in addition, we believe that cash and Gold will have great value in the next market meltdown.
Absolute return funds, whilst not perfect, aim to protect against market falls and can allow for reinvestment back into undervalued assets at the right time, such as equities, which may be valued considerably less in a crisis. We have to accept that despite Greece and other world worries, the markets could keep on advancing for some time to come (at least while quantitative easing continues from the ECB) and therefore to remain largely un-invested due to fear, could be to lose out on further capital protection opportunities. Absolute return funds offer the option to stay invested with reduced risk.
(A word of warning. Not all are made equal, and absolute return funds need to be carefully assessed to their exposure to underlying assets which may not serve to protect capital so well in volatile markets)
If you would like to know more about these funds, protected capital investments or other low volatility investments then you can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or on my cell 0039 3336492356.
And so onto the musings of a London based Fund Manager. This makes for interesting reading.
- There is approximately $3.6 TRILLION of government debt, in other words nearly a fifth of all global government debt that is now trading with a negative yield (basically you pay the Bond holder for the right to hold the Bond as an investment, rather than them paying you an interest payment to hold it) and yet money is still being invested in Bonds to the tune of roughly $16 BILLION – the highest investment in Bond funds on record going back to at least 2008.
- €1.5trn of euro area government bonds over one-year maturity have negative yields, and yet Mario Draghi thinks if he can just get interest rates down a bit further, he can turn the European economy around.
- The fact that the American stock market closed on highs recently would tell you the US economy is firing on all cylinders, and yet the Federal Reserve seems frightened to raise interest rates seven years in to the recovery.
- In 2007, global debt of $142 TRILLION was enough to nearly blow the financial system to smithereens but, seven years later, global debt stands at $199 TRILLION, and nobody seems to believe this is such an issue.
- This year British Telecom issued shares to buy EE for £12.5bn, a firm it previously owned before it spun it off in 2002 (a year in which it also issued shares).
- You can now see another coffee shop from the window of nearly every coffee shop in London, and yet Costa Coffee owner Whitbread is valued at 25x earnings.
- In 2009, General Motors emerged from government backed Chapter 11 with a final cost of the GM bailout to the US taxpayers of $12bn. A group of hedge funds have recently taken a stake in the company and have come up with the brilliant idea of GM gearing itself up again.
- If there is any value left in the UK stock market it is certainly in the large-company part of the index and yet many fund managers have little exposure to this area.
- As two thirds of the world might be close to deflation, oil demand has naturally dropped causing a fall in the price. However, most investment bank economists seem to think this fall in the oil price will lead to an increase in demand.
- While bond yields, commodity prices, the Baltic Dry Index, and inflation expectations are all collapsing and suggest deflation could be an issue, equities continue to rise, suggesting it is not. Inflation on the way?
- As the yield on corporate bonds of companies such as Nestlé and Royal Dutch Shell goes negative, money continues to flow in to corporate bond funds.
It is always good to have a contrarian opinion about markets. I hate reading the usual financial press which leads you to believe that which is probably in the interests of some large corporation/person and not our own (the conspiracy theorist in me).
Whilst we are on this topic, my own personal experience (and which could be of no merit whatsoever) is that when I first started out in this business I attended many seminars which were frequently attended by big fund managers, one of which was the then respected HSBC Bank. I have to admit that there were 3 occasions when they were marketing very specific investment funds in specific sectors which, very shortly afterwards, seemed to be the assets which were in crisis. Whether it was HSBC pushing something they wanted to dump at the top of a market or whether it was purely them following the crowd we will never know. What this has taught me is to never never follow the crowd!
All this is why at The Spectrum IFA group we have a fund selection committee who are constantly in touch with fund managers from the big investment houses that we work with (including HSBC). If you would like to read more about our selection criteria for our clients then you can do so Here.
Self Managed Investment Solutions
CIFA Forum – Monaco April 2015
Peter Brooke, one of our Investment Team Strategists and senior Financial Advisers attended the 13th International CIFA Forum in Monaco at the end of April 2015. The forum allows for presentations, discussion and debate about many aspects of financial regulation, advice and management all with far reaching opinion and outcomes for the future of financial advice across Europe and the world.
Peter was invited to sit on an expert panel in order to provide some of his own insight as an adviser to European based clients on how they choose between self-managed investment solutions as opposed to going through an IFA and secondly, how we, as an advisory industry, can best fulfil this role and what is the fairest way for clients to pay for it.
The main points were:
Should the payment for investment management services be separated from the costs for financial advice?
YES… Financial advisers, as opposed to ‘investment advisers’, should have a more fiduciary role and should look after all matters of client finances; how the investment part (which is really just one of the “tools in the box”) is then paid for is a separate discussion.
What is a reasonable cost for investment management services?
This answer wasn’t reached… some believed a flat fee should be appropriate as the same process is used if you are managing €1000 or €100 000; but this would then dissuade people without significant assets from accessing investment advice.
If we have a percentage basis approach then one could argue that the people with more assets under management would be paying significantly more for the same service… the debate ended with the idea that IFA firms need to decide what their core capabilities are and therefore who their core clients are and should focus on pricing their service to attract only those clients.
The amount of client involvement also needs to be considered when pricing the advised solution. This discussion will continue to run and run as different regulation affects how different jurisdictions provide investment management services.
What are other things that clients need to consider when buying investment services?
Peter very much banged the drum on client engagement and education. In his opinion trust between the client and the adviser is built through spending one-on-one time together and also being completely transparent with costs, legal structures and the processes being employed to select and advise upon investment solutions.
For example Peter pointed out that some retail clients in Europe are still being sold Sophisticated Investor Funds which are completely inappropriate; with better awareness of these sorts of issues problems like this will be avoided in the future.
A lot of this change can be lead by IFA firms helping clients self-educate to question, review, challenge and scrutinise the advice they are given and the firms who are giving it. Clients should be encouraged to do their own due diligence and self-educate wherever possible.
The more transparent this industry is with the people who are asking for our guidance and advice, the better the relationship between the finance industry and the general public will be; this in turn will help close savings gaps around the world, reduce poverty in later life and reduce reliance on states for retirement benefits. It all starts with our daily behaviour towards our clients and we can truly make a difference as an important industry.
A brief interview with Peter following his panel session can be found below:
Living in France with assets in Sterling
Last month I ended my article with the following paragraph: Clients who have Sterling assets do not need to convert them to Euro to make use of the products available to them outside the UK. Those clients who have transferred their assets in Sterling are most probably quite pleased that they did not convert, but what about now? What if we hit 1.40, or 1.45? For my money the only way is down from there, back to my preferred levels. If we do get to 1.40, I will certainly be looking long and hard at my Sterling funds, with my finger hovering over the deal button.
Well, it did indeed happen, and as I write this sterling is worth over 1.40 Euro. Did my finger hover over the ‘deal’ button? Yes it did. Did I press that button? No I didn’t. I need to make two things perfectly clear here. Firstly, what I’m about to type must not be regarded as advice. I’m just telling you what thought process I went through. Secondly, we’re not talking mega bucks (or pounds) here, certainly not for the meagre amount that is lurking in our one and only UK bank account anyway.
It’s quite difficult to express the reason for not changing that sterling into Euro, but I’ll give it a go, at the risk of sounding somewhat deranged. Every one of my pounds somehow feels to me to be worth more than €1.40. That is of course irrational. Anyone who thinks the true rate should be in the region of 1.25 should bite the hand off anyone who offers him 1.40 or better. Yet I didn’t want to do it; I just couldn’t bring myself to sell my shiny £1 coins in exchange for what looks like a bunch of supermarket trolley tokens. Immediate apologies to ‘le Tresorie’ at this point. I suspect that part of me is being a bit greedy looking for a Euro collapse, but would that necessarily persuade me? Potentially not. The weaker a currency becomes, the less inclined I might be to buy it. In essence, I think I’m more likely to buy Euros at 1.40 when the rate is on its way down than when it’s on the way up. I did tell you that I used to be a foreign exchange dealer; funny bunch they are.
The other hot topic at the moment is of course pensions. I know that there is a risk that you might be getting fed up of hearing this, but I am largely opposed to the ‘pension freedom’ that is just around the corner for the UK pension market. I am opposed to virtually all kinds of tax grabs, and I see this as just another example, albeit dressed up as a fabulous opportunity for the over 55’s Or maybe that opportunity is for anyone who can take advantage of the over 55’s, including conmen; salesmen, and taxmen.
For me, the writing is on the wall regarding UK based pensions. They are ‘in play’. Shedding all access restrictions is designed to provide a huge tax income boost for the UK coffers. If it doesn’t work, they will look for another way to get their hands on our savings. Even if it does work, there will come a time when more cash is needed to bale out the UK economy. Pensions will then come under more fire, and more ways will be found to raid the coffers.
I will not be a part of either process. My pension funds are safely housed away from the UK jurisdiction. They will be used as pension funds should be used; to provide an income when I retire, whenever that might be. Hopefully that won’t be any time too soon as I’m enjoying myself too much to stop, but when the time comes I won’t be relying on a UK state pension alone. That would not be an attractive proposition.
QROPS is an extremely welcome result of the European freedom of movement of capital. We should all grasp the concept and use it to ring-fence our future incomes.
Financial Independence: What’s your number?
What does financial independence mean to you? Are you on track for a future free from financial stress? Do you know what your number is?
Knowing the answers to these questions could help determine how soon and how well you could retire, yet many of us don’t…
If you are financially independent you have amassed enough wealth to generate a passive income sufficient for meeting all financial obligations, without the need to work. Your potential for financial independence is dependent on your current net worth, your target net worth and the years remaining before retirement, as well as how much you spend. The more money you spend now and going forward, the more you will need to accumulate to support your lifestyle.
So how do you calculate exactly when you could comfortably retire?
The first step towards financial independence is to calculate how much you’d need to save. A simple formula can tell you not only how much you will need, but also how close you are now to getting where you want to be:
- Study your statements and determine how much you require annually in order to meet all your financial obligations. Could this number be reduced? Are there any unnecessary expenses? Could home and car insurance premiums be reduced? Is downsizing your home an option?
- Determine what return you could get on your investments. As intimidating as the stock market may seem at first glance, it’s possible to assemble a portfolio that pays you 3-5% in dividends annually. This dividend income is cash paid to you monthly, quarterly, or annually and doesn’t erode your investment.
- Calculate what nest-egg you need to build to generate the annual income you require. Annual income required divided by the percentage return you expect to get. Calculations should include cash only, not property or assets.
- This calculation does not account for inflation or taxes.
- This calculation only covers essential expenses. Determine how much spending money you need monthly, then calculate the annual amount and add it into your figure.
- Your life could change in the next few years, which means you’d have to recalculate. If you decide to upgrade your home or have a family, you’ll need a bigger number.
What’s Your Number?
The Spectrum IFA Group Economic Forum
We have just had our annual conference, The Spectrum Economic Forum. We had presentations from leading investment managers including BlackRock (the world’s largest investment house), J P Morgan Asset Management, Rathbones, Kames Capital, Jupiter Asset Management and Henderson Global Investors.
The conference is a great opportunity for us to hear directly from some of the investment management companies, which we recommend for the investment of our clients’ financial assets. Their collective forward-looking views on markets and key issues for 2015 provided us with a valuable insight, so that we are better able to advise our clients.
We also had presentations from several product providers, including Prudential International, Old Mutual International (formerly Skandia International), SEB Life International and Tilney Best Invest (who also provide discretionary asset management services). All companies gave interesting presentations on developments in their products, which are focused upon the needs of expatriates.
The conference is always a good opportunity to get together with colleagues from the six countries in which we operate. It’s a chance for us to exchange views and discuss issues that are common to all our clients, wherever they live.
There was agreement amongst us that one of the biggest potential ‘issues’ that the financial services industry is facing this year is the subject of pensions, as a result of the forthcoming UK pensions reform. Many Spectrum advisers expressed concern about predatory companies that are already operating, which could result in people unwisely cashing in their UK pension pots. The importance of obtaining professional advice from qualified advisers, who are regulated by the authorities in the country where the pension scheme member is living, was highlighted.
We were fortunate to have Momentum Pensions present to us, which is the first company to be able to offer a truly multi-jurisdictional pension solution for clients. Like us, Momentum has their clients’ best interests at heart and they understand that expatriates can move from one country to another. Therefore, Momentum has now added a UK Self Invested Pension Plan to their range of international pension solutions, which means that even if the client moves back to the UK, they can have a smooth transfer of the pension benefits from the overseas pension scheme back to the UK.
As can be seen from the above, we are constantly working closely with investment managers and product providers to find the best solutions for our clients, whether this is for the investment of financial capital, using tax-efficient solutions, pensions or inheritance planning. This forms an important part of our Client Charter
Planning for Le Tour de Finance 2015 is also now underway. As many people reading this know, this event is a perfect opportunity to come along and meet industry experts on financial matters that are of interest to expatriates.
We are now taking bookings for May 2015 events, please contact us here:
- Perpignan – 19th May
- Bize-Minervois – 20th May
- Montagnac – 21st May
Le Tour de Finance is an increasingly popular event and early booking is recommended. So if you would like to attend one of these events, please contact me to reserve your places.
Investments: The Unconsidered Risks
Many yacht crew have made the excellent decision to invest some of their hard earned money into an investment scheme for their future financial security. There is often much discussion about investment risk, be it bonds, equities, property, commodities or alternative investments.
What is not considered and discussed enough are the structural risks of buying into an investment scheme. It’s important to understand all of the risks to your capital, not just to what can happen to the value through poor investment performance.
Most yacht crew investment schemes are set up via insurance policies; these often have significant tax advantages and offer levels of policyholder protection not provided by banks or investment/brokerage accounts. Unlike a bank the insurance company model means that a life company is required to hold all the assets underlying its clients’ policies at all times plus an additional amount of its own capital for a “solvency margin.” If the insurance company is put into liquidation, then the client assets are ring-fenced, and the company can pay for all of the costs of transferring the “book of business” to another insurance company or return the money to its policy holders.
The better the jurisdiction (eg EU) in which the life company is based, the stronger the regulation tends to be (eg UK FCA or Central Bank of Ireland) and the more capital it must have; therefore the less likely it will be become insolvent. Big is beautiful!
When it comes to most financial institutions, it’s important to understand the solvency of the financial institution, i.e. how likely it is to make its financial obligations. This is often measured via a credit rating from one of the rating agencies (eg Standard & Poors).
Most life companies and investment “platforms” add another tier of protection by using a third party custodian, which avoids conflicts of interest and helps segregate your assets from those of the company. This custodian should be well rated too.
Investment Fund Structure:
Very careful consideration should also be given to the actual structure of the investment you choose. There are thousands of collective investment funds in the world, and where they are registered and how they are regulated can vary enormously.
Consider liquidity – (daily priced is vital), domicile (EU, inc Lux and UK are normally better regulated) and regulatory structure (look for SICAV, UCITS, OEIC – for most stringent reporting standards).
Rating – check the funds have been rated by one or two independent companies (Morningstar, TrustNet, etc.) and check the fact sheets of the funds carefully for SIF, EIF or QIF; these are Specialized, Experienced or Qualified investor funds that should not be bought by anyone who is not a professional or very experienced investor. If you want to buy one you should sign a disclaimer to that extent.
If in doubt take at least two opinions from properly regulated advisers (oh.. and check their regulatory structure too!!)
Smoothing: Reduce Volatility and Increase Growth
Investment Smoothing is a process used in pension fund accounting by which unusually high returns in a given year are spread over a multi-year period. By taking an average of all the different values, smoothing can deliver a constant figure for shorter time periods.
Instead of simply sharing out what the fund makes or loses each year, a smoothed growth fund aims to even out some of the variations in performance. This process is what we call ‘smoothing’.
How Smoothing Mitigates Volatility
The logic behind smoothing is that it lowers the volatility of profit and loss credit from pension fund returns. During positive markets, some profits are retained by the underlying fund manager as reserves to be paid out during market downturns. This process dampens the volatility typically seen when investing in other types of long term mutual funds.
Smoothing from the Pru
The PruFund funds are designed to deliver smoothed growth by investing in many different investment areas. By investing in a range of assets the fund is less exposed to significant changes in the values of individual assets.
Prudential’s investment specialists will constantly look for the best opportunities for growth within a wide range of investment areas. Prudential apply a unique smoothing process to these funds to provide a more stable return, than if you were directly exposed to daily changes in the fund’s performance.
Prudential Smoothing: Reduce investment volatility, but keep the potential for growth.
Inheritance Tax in Italy
You may not be aware but from an Inheritance tax point of view, Italy is actually considered a bit of a fiscal paradise (after you have picked yourself up off the floor because I just called Italy a ‘fiscal paradise’, you might want to read on). If your estate or part of it is likely to be subject to Italian Inheritance Tax on your death then the latest developments could interest you.
Italian Inheritance tax law dates back to the Napoleonic period which requires parents, on death, to leave a major proportion of their wealth to their children instead of just their spouse.
At the moment Italy’s Inheritance tax works as follows:
* If the estate is passed to your spouse or relatives in a direct line (i.e children) then they are required to pay 4% on the value of the inheritance that exceeds € 1million.
* Brothers and sisters must pay 6% with an allowance of €100,000
* Other relatives must pay 8% but without any allowance.
Despite Italy having approximately 1.5 million people who are subject to Inheritance tax each year with a combined value of approximately €56 billion, the tax collection is relatively small due to the high allowances and also the fact that that ‘successione’ for a property is based on the catastale value, not the market value.
WHAT ARE THE PROPOSED CHANGES?
Italy, like most other countries, is in desperate need of cash and they naturally see inheritance tax as a way of increasing tax revenues. In addition, the EU is encouraging Italy to review the present system to bring it into line with other, ‘less financially rewarding’, European countries.
The ideas, which are just ideas at this stage, are as follows:
* For spouse and direct line relatives, to increase the taxable rate to 5%. But, reduce the non-taxable allowance from €1 million to €200,000.
* Whilst the taxable rate will rise from 6 to 8% for brothers and sisters, and the allowance will reduce to between €50,000 and €100,000.
* The rates for other relatives will likely increase to 8% without any allowance.
This means that a lot of people will now be caught in the Italian Inheritance tax trap whereas previously they might not have been. Although, it should be said, the rates are still quite low.
However, as part of any inheritance tax /succession planning that you may undertake you may want to look at ways in which you can hold any asset, in a more tax efficient way. The polizza assicurativa (or Life Assurance Bond) meets exactly that criteria.
Any money that you hold in one of these tax efficient accounts is completely free from Italian Inheritance tax and is kept outside of the estate when the value is calculated. The not so good news is that if the majority of your estate is in your property, unfortunately, this cannot be placed inside the tax protective structure. However any other invested/investable assets can be, generally, from €50,000 upwards.
One of the great advantages is that there is no upper limit to contributions. You can protect a large part of your estate from Italian Inheritance tax easily and with maximum flexibility to access the capital and any income from it during your lifetime. The other big advantage is that the monies (whilst held inside the account) are not subject to Italian income and capital gains tax.