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.
Risk – Simply a Box of Chocolates?
What is financial risk, and is it all down to chance?
Whether you are investing for your retirement or for more immediate financial needs, there are three factors that could keep you from achieving your goals: inflation, taxes, and risk. It is easy to plan for inflation and to reduce taxes, but risk is another matter as it is so unpredictable.
Types of financial risk to watch out for include:
Investment Specific Risk:
Risk that affects a very small number of assets.
Risk of one country’s foreign policy unduly influencing or upsetting domestic political and social stability in another country or region.
Risk that a borrower will default on any type of debt by failing to make required payments.
Interest Rate Risk:
Risk that arises for bond owners from fluctuating interest rates. How much interest rate risk a bond has depends on how sensitive its price is to interest rate changes in the market.
The possibility that the value of assets or income will decrease as inflation shrinks the purchasing power of a currency.
Risk that stems from the changes in the valuation of currency exchanges. Fluctuations result from unpredictable gains and losses incurred when profits from foreign investments are converted from foreign currencies.
Risk of a change of price of a portfolio as a result of changes in the volatility of a risk factor. Usually applies to portfolios of derivatives instruments, where volatility is a major influencer of prices.
Risk that a given security or asset cannot be traded quickly enough in the market to prevent a loss (or make the required profit).
Allocation of proportional risk to all parties to a contract, usually through a risk premium.
The use of various financial instruments or borrowed capital, such as margin, to increase the potential return of an investment.
The risk to each party of a contract that the counterparty will not live up to its contractual obligations.
Overcoming Risk: Prudential & Smoothing
Prudential Multi-Asset funds work by spreading your money across a number of different types of assets. Funds are designed to deliver smoothed growth through a number of investment options, such as company shares, fixed interest bonds, cash and property, balancing the risk being taken. So if one asset is falling in value, another may be increasing.
Risk: Simply a Box of Chocolates?
Understanding the importance of risk is a central pillar of financial planning. Risk can be measured and assessed; it can be managed. Learning how to do this is an invaluable aspect of becoming a successful investor.
Risk may be uncertain but it’s no box of chocolates. If you prepare for the uncertainty – do your research and seek relevant and informed advice – you can be fairly confident of what you’re going to get. It’s not all down to chance.
Looking forward to 2015
The end of the year is always a good time for reflection and this year we have had much to think about for our clients. However, as well as managing current financial risks for our clients, we are also forward looking. So I thought it would be a good time to do a quick review of some of the things that are on the horizon for 2015.
The UK Pensions Reform is big and we now have a reasonable amount of certainty of the changes taking place in April and it is unlikely that there will be any more changes of substance between now and then. The reform brings more flexibility, which is good, but the reality is that for many, the taxation outcome will be a deterrent against fully cashing in pension pots. This is likely to be even more so in France, where it is not just the personal tax and possible social contributions that are an issue, but also whatever you have left of the pot will then be taken into account in valuing your assets for wealth tax, as well as being potentially liable for French inheritance taxes.
The EU Succession Rules will come into effect in August. While the EU thinking behind this is good, i.e. to come up with a common EU-wide system to deal with cross-border succession, the practical effects will still have issues. The biggest issue for French residents is, of course, French inheritance taxes. Therefore, it may not necessarily be the case that the already tried and tested French ways of protecting the survivor and keeping the potential inheritance taxes low for your beneficiaries should be given up in favour of selecting the inheritance rules of your country of nationality. More information on the ‘French way’ can be found in my article at www.spectrum-ifa.com/inheritance-planning-in-france/ and on the EU Succession Regulations at www.spectrum-ifa.com/eu-succession-regulations-the-perfect-solution/
There is the UK General Election in May and who knows whether or not that will actually be followed at some point by a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. Nor do we know what the outcome of such a referendum would be and so there is really no point in speculating, at this stage.
For UK non-residents, we are expecting the introduction of UK capital gains tax on gains arising from UK property sales from April, subject to there not being any changes in the next budget. We had also expected that non-residents would lose their UK personal allowance entitlement for income arising in the UK, but we now know that this will not happen next year. The Autumn Statement confirmed that it is a complicated issue and if there are to be any changes in the future, these will not take place before 2017. Of course, there could be a change in government and so it might be back on the agenda sooner!
We will also have the usual round of French tax changes, although this year the expected changes are much less extensive than in previous years. The French budget is still winding its way through the parliamentary process and I will provide an update on this next month.
Turning to investment markets, my personal opinion is that the main factor that will have an impact in 2015 is central bank monetary policy. Whether this results in tighter or looser policy from one country to another, remains to be seen. What is clear is that the prospect of deflation in the Eurozone remains a real threat and not only needs to be stopped, but also needs to be turned around with the aim of eventually reaching the target of being at or just below 2%. Other central banks around the world have a similar target and in areas where recovery is clearly underway, the rate of price inflation and wage inflation also needs to increase before we are likely to see the start or interest rate movements in the right direction.
Last but not least, with effect from 1st January 2015, under the terms of the EU Directive on administrative cooperation in the field of direct taxation, there will be automatic exchange of information between the tax authorities of Member States for five categories of income and capital. These include income from employment, director’s fees, life insurance products, pensions and ownership of and income from immoveable property. The Directive also provides for a possible extension of this list to dividends, capital gains and royalties.
The above outline is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute advice or a recommendation from The Spectrum IFA Group to take any particular action on the subject of investment of financial assets or on the mitigation of taxes.
If you are affected by any of the above and would like to have a confidential discussion about your situation or any other aspect of financial planning, please contact me using the details or form below.
Spanish Inheritance Tax update
The EEC ruled in September 2014 that these discriminate non-residents.
The worldwide estate of British expatriates who are UK domiciles are liable to UK inheritance tax on death, as well as being liable to Spanish succession tax on chargeable Spanish assets, e.g. house, bank account etc.
Spanish Succession tax rates vary from 7.65% to 34%. The tax liability is subject to multipliers based on the pre-existing wealth of the recipient, which can take the highest effective rate of tax to just below 82%. Then, Inheritance Tax in the UK is payable on assets above £325,000 at a rate of 40%.
There is no Double Taxation Agreement on inheritance Tax between Spain and the UK although if tax is paid in one jurisdiction it is not usual that it has to be paid yet again. However, the news is that EEC rules state that Spain should not discriminate between resident and non-resident. This is hoped to come into force by 2016 which is favourable for residents of the Balearics.
There has not been any formal approval by Spain but proposals are to treat those non-Spanish tax residents living in the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA) as if they lived in one of the autonomous regions of Spain where tax rates tend to be heavily discounted such as here in the Balearics. There is currently 99% reduction so the effective rate is just 1%. The region will be determined by where you have spent most time in the last five years or by where the majority of your Spanish assets are situated if you live outside Spain.
Gifts outside the EU or EEA to a Spanish resident could be subject to the rules of the autonomous region where the recipient has his/her residency.
Although the changes have not yet been formally approved, it seems some lawyers are now submitting tax returns on the basis that the qualifying non-resident will receive the tax advantages of the relevant autonomous region.
This will mean that, for example, children living outside Spain, inheriting from parents in Spain, could no longer have the much higher (generally) “National” Spanish taxes to pay. Parents may be able to gift property to their children without necessarily needing to make expensive tax avoidable arrangements.
This would be a tremendous advantage to many UK expatriates living here in Menorca. Before you die you need to consider all aspects of your tax situation. In addition to ensuring your assets can pass down easily to your beneficiaries when the time comes, your income and capital gains tax need to be checked for efficiency whilst you are alive. Little point in worrying about what happens when you die if you are left with little to pass to your beneficiaries in the end!
The details are based on The Spectrum Group’s understanding of current legislation and may be subject to change. No liability can be accepted for any change of interpretation or practice relating to any tax or legislative measure or the introduction of any new measures that may affect this information.
The Spectrum IFA Group suggest you take personal advice on how the new rules will affect you.
Who can you trust with your money?
During a recent meeting with a client we were discussing two topics; one being the continual closing down of offshore bank accounts and the other being the effect that the financial crisis has had on people and who they can trust with their finances. As they are inter-related I thought I would share my views.
Over the last few weeks one large Bank has been writing to most of their savers informing them that they need to hold a balance of at least £100,000 in their bank accounts or the account will be closed. This is part of a growing trend as banks undergo “strategic review”, resulting in many expats being forced to close their offshore accounts.
Bearing in mind that banks are paying minimal rates of interest, it seems unfair to expect someone to deposit £100,000 just for the privilege of holding a bank account when they receive next to no interest in return. On top of this, the interest is then taxable which must be declared on your “declaracion de la renta” (Spanish tax return) further reducing the true rate you receive.
There are now several insurance companies that offer Spanish Approved investment policies in which you can choose what level of risk you wish to take (low, medium or high) but where the income receives favourable tax treatment. Many people invest in banks because they feel they do not incur risk. This view is rapidly changing as a major risk to the money nowadays is inflation.
And so my client then went onto say that deciding on where to move their money is a major challenge. People don’t know who to trust these days.
A report by the Financial Times says: “Much damage has been caused by the breakdown in trust that took place in the wake of the financial crisis. Although financial advisers played little part in causing the crisis, it is clear that their relationships with customers have not escaped the fall-out”. This is a concern I respect which in turn means we as advisers must be aware. The report recently suggests the following:
i) An Adviser now needs to gain a truly granular understanding of the client’s needs and expectations. To really regain trust, advisers will need to gain much more granular insight such as client’s goals, aspirations, investment behaviour and expectation of service.
ii) Guiding and coaching will be important new skills for many advisers and asset managers to learn. Advisers should seek a more holistic perspective on the investor.
iii) Communication is vital but it needs to be tailored and relevant. Clients do not want to be bombarded with generic information. They want insight that they feel is relevant to their situation and demonstrates to them that their personal needs are being met.
The world of a Financial Adviser never stays the same, it is a constantly changing world which is what makes my work both interesting and very satisfying.
With care YOU prosper
I’m getting an increasing number of calls from expats based here in France who are very worried and sometimes completely dismayed by the financial advice they have received elsewhere. Worried by the fact that their investments have decreased in value, and dismayed when they realise that they cannot even withdraw their money or cancel their polices, as parts of the investment are now in funds that have been suspended (that is no-one can either buy them or sell them).
Now I’m not looking to get into any legal wrangle with the company concerned, and it is only one company, but I think this is a suitable time to flag up what is happening in the hope that some of you will avoid falling into this situation in future. I will also add that I am prepared to ‘adopt’ clients in this situation, in order to ensure as fruitful an outcome for the client as possible.
What is happening is not illegal, but it could certainly be regarded as unethical. The clients concerned have either unwittingly or deliberately chosen to put their faith in an adviser who is not regulated in France. This is not illegal, because we are all part of the wonderful organisation that is Europe, and that frees Europeans to ply their trade in other countries within the Euro block. That freedom of trade is not, however, backed up by a freedom of regulation. If you live in France and have cause to complain about advice you have received, the French regulator will show no interest in your case if the adviser is not in his jurisdiction. You will be guided to seek help from the regulator in the country where the adviser is based, and hopefully regulated. Good luck.
There are two main problems that I am seeing at present. The first relates to the quality of funds in which the clients are invested. At The Spectrum IFA Group we have an investment team that spend many hours evaluating hundreds, if not thousands, of funds and produce a recommended list for clients to invest in. There are of course hundreds of thousands of funds available, and we can’t look at them all, so we do allow our clients to choose their own investments if they wish, thereby ignoring our recommendations. All we ask, in this instance, is that you sign a form to accept that the investment was your choice. There are many good funds out there, but there are also some bad ones. All of the (now) clients who have suffered in this way have been put into a single asset class which has had a disastrous time in the past eighteen months. Needless to say, none of the funds involved are on our recommended list.
The second issue centres on a specific type of investment called a structured note. These are often complex derivative products, and the type of note that I am now seeing regularly, certainly falls into that category. So much so, that the product notes that accompany the investment clearly state that this is only for seasoned professional investors, who are willing to accept the potential for serious loss of capital. None of the people I’m taking to fall into that category. The structured note is an interesting concept, and not all of them are overly complicated. You may have seen me write about such a note in the past, and you may have seen such a product at our seminars, offering an excellent 12 month fixed deposit rate alongside a five year deposit where the reward is linked to the performance of the stock exchange index. Not exactly ‘Janet and John’ stuff, but I like to think that I can explain it completely to my clients. And I don’t use it unless I’m completely sure that the client also understands it. I don’t understand the notes I’m seeing recently, and I’m sure the client doesn’t either.
So why sell them? Simply because the companies that make up these products factor in an element of commission to the brokerage that sells the note to the end user, the client. Now I don’t know how closely you look at small print when you read articles from me or Daphne, but if you look at the bottom of this article you will see reference to our client charter at www.spectrum-ifa.com/spectrum-ifa-client-charter
If you have read the charter, or are just about to do so, you will see or have seen this:
Some investment funds or products within an Insurance policy may generate an additional initial commission. If this is the case, we undertake to rebate this commission to you (in full) by way of increased allocation.
Strangely (not), none of the new clients I’m speaking to seem to have benefitted from this principle. It seems clear to me that funds are being pedalled for the advisers benefit, not the clients. This is a very dangerous practice.
I must stress that no laws have been broken here, and no fraud has taken place. I sell a simple structured note, but I pass on the commission. I even have clients who are invested in the struggling asset class that we have been talking about, but only by their own choice, and for many months now that has been contra to our advice.
Be safe – use locally produced goods, and that includes financial advice.
If you have any questions on this, or any other subject, please don’t hesitate to contact me.