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‘Am I diversified enough?’

What’s positive for one investment can be negative for anothergraph

Different types of investments are affected in different ways by factors such as economics, interest rates, politics, conflicts, even weather events. What’s positive for one investment can be negative for another, and when one rises another may fall. This interlinked movement between assets is known as ‘correlation’.

Different assets

Portfolios can incorporate a wide range of different assets, all of which have their own characteristics, like cash, bonds, equities (shares in companies) and property. Asset allocation is the process of dividing your investment between different assets. The idea behind allocating your money between different assets is to spread risk through diversification and to understand these characteristics, and their implications on how a portfolio will perform in different conditions – the idea of not putting all your eggs in one basket.

Potential returns

Investments can go down as well as up and these ups and downs can depend on the assets you’re invested in and how the markets are performing. It’s a natural part of investing. If we could see into the future there would be no need to diversify our investments. We could merely choose a date when we needed our money back, then select the investment that would provide the highest return to that date.

Moreover, the potential returns available from different kinds of investment, and the risks involved, change over time as a result of economic, political and regulatory developments as well as a host of other factors. Diversification helps to address this uncertainty by combining a number of different investments.

Asset classes

When putting together a portfolio there are a number of asset classes, or types of investments, that can be combined in different ways. The starting point is cash – and the aim of employing the other asset classes is to achieve a better return than could be achieved by leaving all of the investment on deposit.

Cash - The most common types of cash investments are bank and building society savings accounts and money market funds (investment vehicles which invest in securities such as short-term bonds to enable institutions and larger personal investors to invest cash for the short term).

Money held in the bank is arguably more secure than any of the other asset classes, but it is also likely to provide the poorest return over the long term. Indeed, with inflation currently above the level of interest provided by many accounts, the real value of cash held on deposit is falling.

Your money could be eroded by the effects of inflation and tax. For example, if your account pays 5% but inflation is running at 2%, you are only making 3% in real terms. If your savings are taxed, that return will be reduced even further.

Bonds – Bonds are effectively IOUs issued by governments or companies. In return for your initial investment, the issuer pays a pre-agreed regular return (the ‘coupon’) for a fixed term, at the end of which it agrees to return your initial investment. Depending on the financial strength of the issuer, bonds can be very low or relatively high risk, and the level of interest paid varies accordingly, with higher-risk issuers needing to offer more attractive coupons to attract investment.

As long as the issuer is still solvent at the time the bond matures, investors get back the initial value of the bond. However, during the life of the bond its price will fluctuate to take account of a number of factors, including:

Interest rates – as cash is an alternative lower risk investment, the value of government bonds is particularly affected by changes in interest rates. Rising base rates will tend to lead to lower government bond prices, and vice versa.

Inflation expectations – the coupons paid by the majority of bonds do not change over time. Therefore, high inflation reduces the real value of future coupon payments, making bonds less attractive and driving their prices lower.

Credit quality – the ability of the issuer to pay regular coupons and redeem the bonds at maturity is a key consideration for bond investors. Higher risk bonds such as corporate bonds are susceptible to changes in the perceived credit worthiness of the issuer.

Equities – Equities, or shares in companies, are regarded as riskier investments than bonds, but they also tend to produce superior returns over the long term. They are riskier because, in the event of a company getting into financial difficulty, bond holders rank ahead of equity holders when the remaining cash is distributed. However, their superior long-term returns come from the fact that, unlike a bond, which matures at the same price at which it was issued, share prices can rise dramatically as a company grows.

Returns from equities are made up of changes in the share price and, in some cases, dividends paid by the company to its investors. Share prices fluctuate constantly as a result of factors such as:

Company profits – by buying shares, you are effectively investing in the future profitability of a company, so the operating outlook for the business is of paramount importance. Higher profits are likely to lead to a higher share price and/or increased dividends, whereas sustained losses could place the dividend or even the long-term viability of the business in jeopardy.

Economic background – companies perform best in an environment of healthy economic growth, modest inflation and low interest rates. A poor outlook for growth could suggest waning demand for the company’s products or services. High inflation could impact companies in the form of increased input prices, although in some cases companies may be able to pass this on to consumers. Rising interest rates could put strain on companies that have borrowed heavily to grow the business.

Investor sentiment – as higher risk assets, equities are susceptible to changes in investor sentiment. Deterioration in risk appetite normally sees share prices fall, while a turn to positive sentiment can see equity markets rise sharply.

Property – In investment terms, property normally means commercial real estate – offices, warehouses, retail units and the like. Unlike the assets we have mentioned so far, properties are unique – only one fund can own a particular office building or shop.

The performance of these assets can sometimes be dominated by changes in capital values. These unusually dramatic moves in capital value illustrate another of property’s key characteristics, namely its relative illiquidity compared to equities or bonds. Buying equities or bonds is normally a relatively quick and inexpensive process, but property investing involves considerable valuation and legal involvement.

As such, the process is longer and dealing costs are higher. When there is a wholesale trend towards selling property, as was the case in 2007, prices can fall significantly. Conversely, when there are more buyers than sellers, as happened in 2009, price rises can be swift.

The more normal state of affairs is for rental income to be the main driver of commercial property returns. Owners of property can enhance the income potential and capital value of their assets by undertaking refurbishment work or other improvements. Indeed, without such work, property can quickly become uncompetitive and run down.

When managed properly, the relatively stable nature of property’s income return is key to its appeal for investors.

Mix of assets

In order to maximise the performance potential of a diversified portfolio, managers actively change the mix of assets they hold to reflect the prevailing market conditions. These changes can be made at a number of levels including the overall asset mix, the target markets within each asset class and the risk profile of underlying funds within markets.

As a rule, an environment of positive or recovering economic growth and healthy risk appetite would be likely to prompt an increased weighting in equities and a lower exposure to bonds. Within these baskets of assets, the manager might also move into more aggressive portfolios when markets are doing well and more cautious ones when conditions are more difficult. Geographical factors such as local economic growth, interest rates and the political background will also affect the weighting between markets within equities and bonds.

In the underlying portfolios, managers will normally adopt a more defensive positioning when risk appetite is low. For example, in equities they might have higher weightings in large companies operating in parts of the market that are less reliant on robust economic growth. Conversely, when risk appetite is abundant, underlying portfolios will tend to raise their exposure to more economically sensitive parts of the market and to smaller companies.

How do I build my own diversified portfolio?

Some investors choose to build their own portfolios, either by buying shares, bonds and other assets directly or by combining funds investing in each area. However, this is a very time-consuming approach and it can be difficult to keep abreast of developments in the markets whilst also researching all the funds on offer. For this reason, most investors prefer to place their portfolio into the hands of professional managers and to entrust the selection of those managers to a professional adviser

INFORMATION IS BASED ON OUR CURRENT UNDERSTANDING OF TAXATION LEGISLATION AND REGULATIONS. ANY LEVELS AND BASES OF, AND RELIEFS FROM, TAXATION ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE.

THE VALUE OF INVESTMENTS AND INCOME FROM THEM MAY GO DOWN. YOU MAY NOT GET BACK THE ORIGINAL AMOUNT INVESTED.

PAST PERFORMANCE IS NOT A RELIABLE INDICATOR OF FUTURE PERFORMANCE.

Pension Freedom

£ locked in IceThe most radical reforms this century

In Budget 2014, Chancellor George Osborne promised greater pension freedom from April next year. People will be able to access as much or as little of their defined contribution pension as they want and pass on their hard-earned pensions to their families tax-free.

For some people, an annuity may still be the right option, whereas others might want to take their whole tax-free lump sum and convert the rest to drawdown.

Extended choices

‘We’ve extended the choices even further by offering people the option of taking a number of smaller lump sums, instead of one single big lump sum,’ Mr Osborne said.

From 6 April 2015, people will be allowed full freedom to access their pension savings at retirement. Pension Freedom Day, as it has been named, is the day that savers can access their pension savings when they want. Each time they do, 25% of what they take out will be tax-free.

Free to choose

Mr Osborne said, ‘People who have worked hard and saved all their lives should be free to choose what they do with their money, and that freedom is central to our long-term economic plan.’

From 6 April 2015, people aged 55 and over can access all or some of their pension without any of the tax restrictions that currently apply. The pension company can choose to offer this freedom to access money, but it does not have to do so.

Accessing money

It will be important to obtain professional advice to ensure that you access your money safely, without unnecessary costs and a potential tax bill.

Generally, most companies will allow you to take the full amount out in one go. You can access the first 25% of your pension fund tax-free. The remainder is added to your income for the year, to be taxed at your marginal income tax rate.

This means a non–tax payer could pay 20% or even 40% tax on some of their withdrawal, and basic rate taxpayers might easily slip into a higher rate tax band. For those earning closer to £100,000, they could lose their personal allowance and be subject to a 60% marginal tax charge.

Potential tax bill

If appropriate, it may be more tax-efficient to withdraw the money over a number of years to minimise a potential tax bill. If your pension provider is uncooperative because the contract does not permit this facility, you may want to consider moving pension providers.

You need to prepare and start early to assess your own financial situation. Some providers may take months to process pension transfers, so you’ll need time to do your research.

Questions to ask

It’s important to ask yourself some pertinent questions. Are there any penalties for taking the money early? Are these worth paying for or can they be avoided by waiting? Are there any special benefits such as a higher tax-free cash entitlement or guaranteed annuity rates that would be worth keeping?

If you decide, after receiving professional advice, that moving providers is the right thing to do, then we can help you search the market for a provider who will allow flexible access.

Importantly, it’s not all about the process. You also need to think about the end results.

Withdrawing money

What do you want to do with the money once you’ve withdrawn it? You may have earmarked some to spend on a treat, but most people want to keep the money saved for their retirement. Paying off debt is usually a good idea.

If you plan just to put the money in the bank, you must remember you will be taxed on the interest. With returns on cash at paltry levels, you might be better keeping it in a pension until you need to spend it. Furthermore, this may also save on inheritance tax.

Finally, expect queues in April 2015. There’s likely to be a backlog of people who’ve put off doing anything with their pension monies since last year. Those who get through the process quickly and efficiently will be the ones who’ve done the groundwork.

For retirement advice call Jeremy on 01554 770022 or 07989 599423 or use the Contact form:

INFORMATION IS BASED ON OUR CURRENT UNDERSTANDING OF TAXATION LEGISLATION AND REGULATIONS. ANY LEVELS AND BASES OF, AND RELIEFS FROM, TAXATION ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE.
PAST PERFORMANCE IS NOT A RELIABLE INDICATOR OF FUTURE PERFORMANCE.
A PENSION IS A LONG-TERM INVESTMENT. THE FUND VALUE MAY FLUCTUATE AND CAN GO DOWN. YOUR EVENTUAL INCOME MAY DEPEND UPON THE SIZE OF THE FUND AT RETIREMENT, FUTURE INTEREST RATES AND TAX LEGISLATION.
THE VALUE OF INVESTMENTS AND INCOME FROM THEM MAY GO DOWN. YOU MAY NOT GET BACK THE ORIGINAL AMOUNT INVESTED.

New intestacy rules aim to make things simpler and clearer

CouplejpgWhy the consequences could be far-reaching for you and your loved ones

Significant changes to existing intestacy rules came into force on 1 October 2014 in England and Wales, with the aim of making things simpler and clearer. The consequences could be far-reaching for you and your loved ones, and while there are increasing entitlements for surviving spouses and registered civil partners, the changes highlight the importance of making a Will to ensure your wishes are carried out.

Radical rule changes

From 1 October 2014, the Inheritance and Trustees Powers Act 2014 radically alters the way in which the assets of people who die intestate are shared among their relatives. The biggest change will affect married couples or registered civil partnerships where there are no children. In the past, the spouse received the first £450,000 from the estate, with the rest getting split between the deceased’s blood relatives. Under the new law, the surviving spouse will receive everything, with wider family members not receiving anything.

Life interest concept abolished

Couples who have children will also be affected by the changes. Previously, the spouse of the deceased received the first £250,000 and a ‘life interest’ in half of the remainder, with the children sharing the other half. Under the new rules, the life interest concept has been abolished, with the surviving married partner receiving the first £250,000 and also half of any remainder. The children will receive half of anything above £250,000 and will have to wait until they are 18 to access any funds.

No protection for couples

These changes go some way to improving the position for married couples and registered civil partners. However, they still leave couples who are not married or in a registered civil partnership with no protection. Where an individual in an unmarried couple dies without a Will, their partner is not entitled to receive any money from their estate.

Distributing assets tax-efficiently
The changes therefore highlight again how important it is to make a Will to ensure that your wishes are followed and that assets are distributed tax-efficiently. Wills are also often used to express a preference for who should act as guardians for minor children in the event that parents die.

If a person dies without leaving a Will, the chances are that the estate will be distributed in a way that the deceased would not have wanted. This can have very real and distressing consequences, as well as unanticipated inheritance tax costs.

INFORMATION IS BASED ON OUR CURRENT UNDERSTANDING OF TAXATION LEGISLATION AND REGULATIONS. ANY LEVELS AND BASES OF, AND RELIEFS FROM, TAXATION ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE.

THE FINANCIAL CONDUCT AUTHORITY DOES NOT REGULATE WILL WRITING OR TAXATION ADVICE, INCLUDING INHERITANCE TAX PLANNING.

Senior couple smiling portrait outdoors

Act now to get the pension income you deserve

At retirement, many people will use all or some of their accumulated pension fund to purchase an annuity.

This provides them with a guaranteed pension for life. The amount they receive depends on several factors, including how long they are likely to live.

On 21 December 2012, the EU Gender Directive comes into force for individual pensions. From this date, annuity providers will no longer be able to offer different pension rates for men and women. Traditionally, men have received a higher annual annuity income than women, due to their lower life expectancy. This will not be the case in future. The new Directive is likely to reduce the pension income of men retiring after 20 December this year.

What this could mean for men due to retire:

It is estimated by leading annuity provider Partnership Assurance that male annuities will be reduced on average by 2% to 4% . This could directly affect men (and their spouse or partner, if it is planned to take out a joint life annuity).

How seeking Independent Financial Advice can help

At a time of historically low annuity rates, it is essential that retirees receive the maximum pension available – but annuities can vary widely, and your current pension company may not offer the best deal.

As your local Chartered Financial Planner, Jeremy Phelps is able to search the entire market, review all the options and recommend the most suitable annuity for you.

Jeremy and his firm, Financial Solutions Wales offer up to one hour’s complimentary consultation and the purpose of this is to identify needs and objectives, establish what benefits would result from using their services, outline any associated costs and give you the opportunity to appoint a financial adviser.

If you have any questions about this article, and how it may affect you, call Jeremy Phelps at Financial Solutions Wales on 01554 770022.

Our short guide to ISAs

‘ISA’ stands for Individual Savings Account, a tax-efficient wrapper offered under Government legislation as a way of encouraging you to save. An ISA sits over your choice of a number of different investments to shelter them from further tax on any income or gains earned.

There are now just two types of ISA – the Cash ISA and the Stocks and Shares ISA – and the combined allowance for both in 2012/13 is £11,280.

Within this, the limit for Cash ISAs – or for the cash element within a Stocks and Shares ISA – is £5,640.

However, there is flexibility over how these limits can be used – you can, for example, put the maximum £5,640 in a cash account and £5,640 in a stocks and shares account. Alternatively, though, if you place just £2,000 in cash, you can use the entire remaining balance – £9,280 in this case – to invest in stocks and shares. If you wish, you may put the full £11,280 into a Stocks and Shares ISA.

In addition, you can transfer existing Cash ISA holdings to a Stocks and Shares ISA without impacting on your current tax year allowance. So, if you have £10,000 already sitting in existing cash ISA plans then this amount can be moved to a Stocks and Shares ISA, yet leave your entire current tax year allowance.

Finally, if you already have an ISA, you are permitted to transfer it to a new plan manager, without using any of your annual allowance.

Please feel free to download the ‘Guide to ISAs‘ brochure*. It contains plenty of information on what you should consider when considering investing in an ISA.

Alternatively, if you require independent financial advice on ISAs, feel free to call on 01554 770022 and we can arrange a no obligation appointment.

*Guide provided courtesy of http://www.adviser-hub.co.uk

Cute boy blowing candles on birthday cake.

Investing for children

No parent will need reminding children cost money.

Many parents or grandparents are in the fortunate position to be able to save for their family and so often need advice on what may be the most suitable route.

With so many options available, where do you start?  A bank account, Junior ISA, Child Trust Fund or shares, to name a few?  Protection from inflation also needs to be considered.

Your timeline is very important.  A savings account for a toddler has a longer time horizon, and maybe you could afford to take more risk.  On the other hand, putting money aside for a teenager will probably need more security, and may be better suited to a deposit account.  Your attitude to risk will probably drive the most suitable investment.

Here are some considerations:

  1. Use personal allowances – the child will be able to earn £8,105 free of tax (2012/13).
  2. Are Junior ISAs or Child Trust Funds suitable?
  3. Trusts – these may provide the saver with more control over the investment.
  4. A pension contribution for the child may be desired.
  5. Friendly Society savings bonds may offer a suitable solution.
Please feel free to download the ‘Investing for Children‘ guide.  It contains plenty of information on what you should consider when investing for a child.
If you require advice on savings for a child, feel free to call on 01554 770022 and we can arrange a no obligation appointment.
Senior couple smiling portrait outdoors

Financial advice you can trust

Independent Financial Advice from Jeremy Phelps, Chartered Financial Planner

The Chartered titles, awarded under the Chartered Insurance Institute’s (CII) Royal Charter from the Privy Council, are steeped in history and they are just as relevant in today’s market.

A uniquely British institution, the Royal Charter is a stamp of quality that has stood the test of time and remained the gold standard for professional services in the UK and abroad.  Its reputation has held fast whilst governments have fallen and whole systems of economic theory have crashed to the ground.  The Chartered title remains a symbol of an unparalleled mark of quality – merit, competence and commitment to the highest standard of professionalism.

They remain the ‘gold standard’ of excellence and integrity.  My Chartered status provides you with comfort and security, serving as a benchmark for quality and ethical practice.

Consumer research by the CII has shown that ‘Chartered’ resonates best with the public in terms of recognition, trust and confidence – both in the insurance and financial planning sectors, and in the broader world of professional services.

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Financial Advice is NOT free.

Retail Distribution Review (RDR for short) – a huge shift in financial services, and I for one think it is for the better.  It comes into effect in January 2013, but it’s started now.

Yesterday, I attended a RDR conference, covering subjects such as VAT, adviser charging, and positioning my proposition to my clients.  There are objectors to the change and others, like my firm – Financial Solutions Wales, who are embracing the change.  My firm is well positioned to provide advice to our clients well into the future.  Both advisers are suitably qualified to provide advice for the future, and I have gained Chartered Financial Planner status. (the Personal Finance Society describe Chartered Financial Planner as ‘the pinnacle for the financial planning professional’).

I feel more comfortable dealing with clients who understand that financial advice is not ‘free’.  Any adviser, like those at your bank, independent advisers, tied agents do not provide free advice, they must get paid!  This has traditionally been through commission, where the product provider sets the payment levels, advisers choose how much they would like from that offered by the firm he/she places the business with.  I like to agree all fees up front, it’s fairer to you – my client.  I met a potential client last week, who was offered a solution from another adviser, and  she was shocked to see the charge was £9000!  You won’t be surprised to understand that she asked me how much I’d charge for the same work – around a quarter of what she was quoted by the other adviser, agreed up front with our firm, delivering a proposition to meet her needs now and in the future.

As an independent financial adviser (IFA) I offer a professional service to my clients, often matching their needs with solutions available.  I have calculated the amount of time spent on providing advice is around 10 hours on average.  My clients see me for around 1/4 of that time, usually an initial meeting and then when I provide my recommendation.  Often, to ensure that they are comfortable with my recommendation, we may add another meeting or two.  ‘Behind the scenes’, I prepare for appointments, telephone providers, design solutions, research products, complete applications and follow up the application until it is in place.

This takes a considerable amount of time.

I must say that I agree that some people will be priced out of taking advice, because as I say before, it is rarely ‘free’.  However, I look forward to taking on those clients who value my services, and feel content with the solutions I provide.

Jeremy.

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The Triviality Limit is £18,000? – Well, not always!

I’ve been helping a client recently, who was looking to draw the benefits from his personal pension plan.CII-Chartered Financial Planner gold copy

He was hoping to draw it all out in one go, sometimes known as using the Trivial Lump Sum or Triviality option.  His problem is that the fund was worth £18,700 – which is more than the Triviality limit of £18,000.

He had visited his financial adviser at his bank, and was told there was no way he could get the lump sum out as a trivial lump sum.  His only choice, he was told, was to take 25% as tax-free cash, and then choose an annuity for the rest of his life with the balance.  The income he was quoted was around £680 each year.

My client was not happy.  He was extremely disappointed that HIS pension fund would take roughly 20 years to be returned to him, and he didn’t know whether he was going to live for 20 years.  He wanted his pension NOW!!

Now, this is where it pays to see a good Independent Financial Adviser.

The bank adviser was correct in many ways, but failed to explore my client’s circumstances sufficiently.

The pension was with Legal and General, and it turns out the pension was in their Managed Fund.  Upon contacting Legal and General, I identified that the fund was indeed worth now £18,900.  Too high for a Trivial Lump Sum?

However, I enquired with Legal and General whether there was any point within the last three months when the fund was valued below the £18,000 Triviality limit, as the Managed Fund is known to be quite volatile and can fluctuate widely.  I also knew that in June this year, there was quite a sharp fall in equity prices.

As I expected, on the 26th June, the fund value fell to £17,790.  The following days it increased again to beyond £18,000.  What my client had not been told by his bank adviser was that he was permitted to use a ‘nomination date‘.  The nomination date can be used to identify a point when the Triviality rules could have applied.  Thankfully, my client used the 26th June as his nominated date.  The result is that he could use the Triviality rules, as he wanted initially.

The result is one happy client.   Just last week he had just under £16,000 paid into his bank account (after HMRC had taken their bit!).  The fund had risen to £18,900 at the date that he eventually claimed his benefits, and the Triviality rules permitted him to keep the growth in the fund beyond the £18,000 limit.

My client was overjoyed by the advice he had received.  My fee, for this work, for this client, was £295.00.  Good value for money for some sound advice.

I would like to point out that this article is based on all the information presented to me by the client, and the research I undertook on his behalf.  It is my professional opinion on the matter, and I would be more than happy to discuss any similar offers.

If you need advice on this or a similar matter, please give me a call on 01554 770022, and I will explain how I may be able to offer professional independent financial advice.

Pension Income Options – a difficult choice?

Here is my article which appeared in the Llanelli Star  on 14th August 2013:

Question:

I am nearing retirement and have a personal pension that I started many years ago.  I have received lots of paperwork from my pension company.  I want to make sure that I make the correct choice when I apply for my pension income, but there seems to be many options available.  I am worried that I will make the wrong decision, which could affect my income for the rest of my life.

Response:

We’d all like to think that we’ll have a level of income that will really let us enjoy our retirement. However, with the cost of living rising all the time, it’s more important than ever to consider all the options available, to help you get the most out of your retirement income – and your retired life.

When you retire, you’ll be able to access your pension savings. You can usually take a tax-free cash lump sum of up to 25% of the pension fund. Meanwhile, the rest is often used to buy a pension annuity, designed to give you a stable, guaranteed income for the rest of your life.

What you might not know is that you don’t have to take your pension annuity from the same company that you’ve been saving your pension with. The ‘Open Market Option’ means that everyone can shop around all the pension annuity providers in the market to get the best possible income in retirement. There are sometimes significant differences between the incomes that pension annuity providers will offer you.

Some providers may give you a higher income if you have certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and lifestyle factors such as smoking. The difference between the best and worst incomes offered to you as a pension annuity could be considerable – so it’s worth speaking to an Independent Financial Adviser so that you can help you get the most suitable solution for your individual circumstances.

It’s also worth remembering that with most pension annuities, once you have made your decision you can’t normally change your mind and move your savings elsewhere.

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Overseas property through SIPP – here’s what the FSA think

Here is an email I’ve just received from the FSA, which backs up a blog I posted last year on unregulated investment through SIPPs.

It’s rather long, but if you’ve been approached by someone about investing in some ‘exotic’ overseas investment, take heed, reading this may save you a fortune, and more importantly, save your retirement income from going pear shaped!

Dear Sir/Madam

Advising on pension transfers with a view to investing pension monies into unregulated products through a SIPP

It has been brought to the FSA’s attention that some financial advisers are giving advice to customers on pension transfers or pension switches without assessing the advantages and disadvantages of investments proposed to be held within the new pension. In particular, we have seen financial advisers moving customers’ retirement savings to self-invested personal pensions (SIPPs) that invest wholly or primarily in high risk, often highly illiquid unregulated investments (some which may be in Unregulated Collective Investment Schemes). Examples of these unregulated investments are diamonds, overseas property developments, store pods, forestry and film schemes, among other non-mainstream propositions.

The cases we have seen tend to operate under a similar advice model. An introducer will pass customer details to an unregulated firm, which markets an unregulated investment (e.g. an overseas property development). When the customer expresses an interest in the unregulated investment, the customer is introduced to a regulated financial adviser to provide advice on a SIPP capable of holding the unregulated investment. The financial adviser does not give advice on the unregulated investment, and says it is only providing advice on a SIPP capable of holding the unregulated investment. Sometimes the regulated financial adviser also assists the customer to access monies held in other investments (e.g. other pension arrangements) so that the customer is able to invest in the unregulated investment.

The FSA is investigating a number of firms and has secured a variation of their Part IV permission so that they are unable to continue operating in this way. The FSA is also considering taking enforcement action against these firms.

We have seen cases where, as a result of these advisory strategies involving unauthorised firms, customers have transferred out of more traditional pension schemes and invested their retirement savings wholly in unregulated assets via SIPPs, taking on very high and often entirely unsuitable levels of risk despite receiving advice on the pension transfer from regulated firms.

Depending on the circumstances, the customer may not be able to have recourse to the Financial Ombudsman Service or Financial Services Compensation Scheme should there be a problem with the unregulated investment.

Financial advisers using this advice model are under the mistaken impression that this process means they do not have to consider the unregulated investment as part of their advice to invest in the SIPP and that they only need to consider the suitability of the SIPP in the abstract. This is incorrect.

The FSA’s view is that the provision of suitable advice generally requires consideration of the other investments held by the customer or, when advice is given on a product which is a vehicle for investment in other products (such as SIPPs and other wrappers), consideration of the suitability of the overall proposition, that is, the wrapper and the expected underlying investments in unregulated schemes. It should be particularly clear to financial advisers that, where a customer seeks advice on a pension transfer in implementing a wider investment strategy, the advice on the pension transfer must take account of the overall investment strategy the customer is contemplating.

For example, where a financial adviser recommends a SIPP knowing that the customer will transfer out of a current pension arrangement to release funds to invest in an overseas property investment under a SIPP, then the suitability of the overseas property investment must form part of the advice about whether the customer should transfer into the SIPP. If, taking into account the individual circumstances of the customer, the original pension product, including its underlying holdings, is more suitable for the customer, then the SIPP is not suitable.

This is because if you give regulated advice and the recommendation will enable investment in unregulated items you cannot separate out the unregulated elements from the regulated elements.

There are clear requirements under the FSA Principles and Conduct of Business rules and also in established case law for any adviser, in the giving of advice, to first take time to familiarise themselves with the wider investment and financial circumstances. Unless the adviser has done so, they will not be in a position to make recommendations on new products.

The FSA asks regulated firms, in particular financial advisers and SIPP Operators to report to the FSA firms that are carrying on these activities in breach of the FSA requirements. You can do this by contacting our whistleblowing team on 020 7066 9200.

I would like to point out that this article is based on all the information presented to me by the client, and the research I undertook on his behalf.  It is my professional opinion on the matter, and I would be more than happy to discuss any similar offers.

If you need advice on this matter, please give me a call on 01554 770022, and I will explain how I may be able to offer professional independent financial advice.

Autumn statement 2012

TaxOn 5th December 2012, George Osborne gave his 2012 Autumn Statement to Parliament. The proposals are as follows:

FUEL

  • The 3p increase in fuel duty, planned for next January, is cancelled.

BENEFITS AND PENSIONS

  • From 2014/2015 lifetime allowance to fall from £1.5m to £1.25m.
  • From 2014/2015 annual allowance to fall from £50,000 pa to £40,000 pa.
  • Legislation will be introduced in Finance Bill 2013 to make these changes and will be published in draft on 11 December 2012. The Government also announced that they will discuss with interested parties whether to offer a personalised protection regime in addition to a fixed protection regime.
  • Maximum Government Actuary’s Department rate (GAD) to rise from 100% to 120%.

STATE BENEFITS

  • Basic state pension to rise by 2.5% next year to £110.15 a week.Most working-age benefits to rise by 1% for each of next three years.
  • Child benefit to rise by 1% for two years from April 2014.
  • Local housing allowance rates to rise in line with existing policy next April but increases in the following two years capped at 1%.
  • Changes to welfare to save £3.7bn by 2015/16.

TAXES AND ALLOWANCES

  • Basic income tax threshold to be raised by £235 more than previously announced next year, to £9,440.
  • Threshold for 40% rate of income tax to rise by 1% in 2014 and 2015, from £41,450 to £41,865 and then £42,285.
  • Main rate of corporation tax to be cut by extra 1% to 21% from April 2014.
  • Inheritance tax threshold to be increased by 1% next year.
  • Bank levy rate to be increased to 0.130% next year.
  • £5bn over six years expected from treaty with Switzerland to deal with undisclosed bank accounts.
  • HM Revenue and Customs budget will not be cut.
  • ISA contribution limit to be raised to £11,520 from next April.
  • No new tax on property value.
  • No net rise in taxes in Autumn Statement.

ECONOMIC GROWTH

  • Predicted to be -0.1% in 2012, down from 0.8% predicted in the Budget.
  • Forecasts for next few years are: 1.2% in 2013, 2% in 2014, 2.3% 2015, 2.7% in 2016 and 2.8% in 2017.

GOVERNMENT BORROWING/SPENDING

  • Point at which debt predicted to begin falling delayed by a year to 2016/17.
  • Deficit is forecast to fall this year, as is cash borrowing.
  • Deficit to fall from 7.9% to 6.9% of GDP this year, and to continue falling to 1.6% by 2017/18.
  • Borrowing forecast to fall from £108bn this year to £31bn in 2017/18.
  • £33bn saving to be made on interest debt payment predicted two years ago.
  • Deficit fallen by a quarter in last two years.
  • Government spending as share of GDP predicted to fall from 48% in 2009/10 to 39.5% in 2017/18.
  • Spending review to take place in first half of next year.
  • Departments to reduce spending by 1% next year and 2% year after.

JOBS AND TRAINING

  • Unemployment expected to peak at 8.3%.
  • Employment set to rise in each year of the parliament.

TRANSPORT

  • Extra £1bn to roads, including upgrading A1, A30, and M25.
  • £1bn loan to extend London’s Northern Line to Battersea.

EDUCATION AND FAMILIES

  • £1bn to improve good schools and build 100 new free schools and academies.
  • £270m for further education colleges.

INFRASTRUCTURE

  • Ultra-fast broadband expansion in 12 cities.
  • £600m for scientific research.
  • Annual infrastructure investment now £33bn.
  • £1bn extra capital for Business Bank.
  • Gas Strategy to include consultation on incentives for shale gas.

OVERSEAS AID

Promise to spend 0.7% on development to be honoured next year, but not exceeded.

Thank you to the Compliance Services of SimplyBiz plc for putting together this summary of the Autumn statement 2012

If you need advice on the changes and how they may affect you, please give me a call on 01554 770022, and I will explain how I may be able to offer professional independent financial advice.

Beach scene with blue wood decking

Pension investment in overseas property

I am aware as a practicing IFA in Llanelli of some serious, possibly misleading advice being offered to pension savers who risk losing all of their pension savings.

This blog has been inspired after listening to the BBC Moneybox programme of 24th July, titled ‘Pension scams under investigation’.  I urge anyone offered a scheme of the type I describe below to listen to the programme or download the transcript.

My concerns are described as follows:

Earlier this year a new client approached our firm, saying that he had attended a local business club dinner and been approached by someone (not a regulated financial adviser) who offered ‘free pension reviews’, with a view to moving the fund to a Self Invested Personal Pension (SIPP), which allegedly offer some fantastic, guaranteed rates of return of 8-9% per annum.

The offer certainly looks attractive,  and I could not contain my clients enthusiasm, although I was immediately on my guard, by such an offer of a guarantee.

However, he had come to my firm for a second opinion.  You’d think he must be suspicious?

We reviewed his needs, and they were basically as follows:

  • He is aged late 50’s
  • He has circa £100,000 in his personal pension
  • He has a low (cautious) attitude to investment risk
  • He needs the income to start around age 62 (around 6 years away).
  • His pension is presently invested in fixed interest and equity based funds with a well known pension provider.

Following a comprehensive fact find, my advice was to stick with his existing pension, but review the funds due to his cautious attitude to risk.  We would charge him a nominal fee for our time and advice on this matter.

The client asked for our opinion on the SIPP (with guarantees), that he had been offered.  Upon investigation, the investment was to be made into Barbados properties.  It was through an unregulated investment, which basically means that there is no Financial Services Compensation Scheme protection, and is in a scheme which is on the radar of FSA officials who are concerned with transactions of this type.  Click the link here, for what the FSA say about these types of schemes.

My advice to the potential client was that the SIPP scheme offered did not match his risk profile, timescale for investment and need for income in the future.  In my honest opinion, it is quite possible he could lose all of his £100,000 pension fund, or at the very least, find it incredibly difficult to liquidate his pension when the time comes to start taking an income in the future.

The client had been made aware of my concerns, but had gone ahead with the SIPP investment anyway!

If you have been offered a similar scheme, please be cautious.  If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!

I would like to point out that this article is based on all the information presented to me by the client, and the research I undertook on his behalf.  It is my professional opinion on the matter, and I would be more than happy to discuss any similar offers.

If you need advice on this matter, please give me a call on 01554 770022, and I will explain how I may be able to offer professional independent financial advice.

Worried employee

Protecting your income

We all like to think the same way – it will never happen to me!

But have you ever considered how would cope financially if your were to suffer an illness or disability, leaving you unable to work?

How would you pay the bills? Could you survive on state benefits?

Income Protection (also known as Permanent Health Insurance) is an insurance policy that helps you cope financially if you can’t work due to illness, a disability or an accidental injury. It can provide you with tax free income if you make an eligible claim, which can then be payable through to retirement age.

The pricing of income protection usually depends on your occupation – the bigger the risk of sickness, then the higher the amount you pay. Premiums can be lowered if you choose to support yourself financially through the early months of a claim, as you can decide when you would like payments to start.

At my firm Financial Solutions Wales, we can discuss your exact income replacement requirements, the level of cover required, along with how you could support yourself in the event of needing to claim. As we are independent, we can look at all the providers of income protection and make a recommendation to meet your unique circumstances.

Please feel free to download the ‘Protecting Your Income‘ guide*. It contains plenty of information on what you should consider when thinking of taking out an Income Protection plan.

If you require independent financial advice on Income Protection, feel free to call on 01554 770022 and we can arrange a no obligation appointment.

*Brochure provided courtesy of http://www.adviser-hub.co.uk