Should I stay or should I go?
Quite frankly I’ve been struggling to think of what to write about this week, but then it suddenly struck me that there has been a recurring theme in a number of my client meetings recently. That theme put simply is, ‘Where will I end my days; in France, or in England?’ This isn’t a popular topic of conversation amongst vibrant, exuberant, middle aged expatriates, but we’re not the only people here. We are in the company of many seasoned expats who’ve been here longer than we have; seen it all; done it before we did, and are feeling a bit tired. Many of them are ‘going home’.
We should pay a lot of attention to this group, because we are going to inherit their shoes. We need to learn from their experiences, and take the opportunity to plan for the time when we will experience what they are going through.
Five years ago, when writing on a similar theme, I think I proffered the theory of the three ‘D’s as the principal reason to return to the UK: death, divorce and debt. I still think that they are valid causes, but I now think that there are many subtle variations to be taken into account, and the biggest addition to the equation is age. Age changes your perceptions; often for the better, but age often also brings insecurity and loneliness. Add to that illness, and maybe bereavement, and you have a powerful reason to examine your reasons to continue to live hundreds of miles away from a family that (hopefully) continually worries about you. In short, no matter how much we pooh-pooh the idea now, the chances are that we may eventually end up being cared for in our final years in the UK rather than in France.
OK, that’s enough tugging at the heartstrings. Why is a financial adviser (yours truly) concerned about where you live, and where you may live in future? The answer is currency, specifically Sterling and Euro. In a previous existence, I was responsible for giving advice to corporate and personal clients of a major High St bank regarding exposure to foreign exchange risk. The basic advice was simple – identify and eliminate F/X risk wherever you can. F/X risk is for foreign exchange dealers; it is gambling. Don’t do it unless you know what you’re doing, and even if you do, prepare to lose money.
On a basic level, eliminating exchange rate risk is easy. Faced with a couple in their 50’s relocating to France with a healthy investment pot behind them and good pensions to support them in the future, I will always ask ‘Where do you intend to spend the rest of your days?’ The answer is usually an enthusiastic ‘France, of course. We have no intention of going back to the UK. In fact wild horses wouldn’t drag us back.’ I know this for a fact – I’ve said it myself.
The foreign exchange solution is simple. Eliminate your risk. Convert your investment funds to Euro (invest in a Euro assurance vie). Convert your pension funds to Euro (QROPS your pension and invest in Euro). Job done! Client happy, for now! But what happens 25 years later, when god knows what economic and political shenanigans have transpired, and the exchange rate is now three Euro to the pound and the surviving spouse wants to ‘go home’?
As it happens, I will no longer be his or her financial adviser. The chances are that I will have popped my clogs years ago, but If not, I will most likely be supping half a pint of mild in a warm corner of a pub somewhere in the cheapest part of the UK to live in. (In fact that is poetic licence, as I know full well that I’d probably be being spoiled rotten in my granddad flat in one of my sons’ houses). To draw this melancholy tale to a close, I’d just like to round up by saying that things are rarely as simple and straightforward as they seem. My job is not always to take what you tell me at face value. I know people who’ve been here longer than you. My advice may well be ‘hedge your bets, spread your risk’. I will give you the best possible investment tools for your money and pensions, but I might just surprise you with my recommendation as to what currency those funds should be invested in.