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Category : News

Financial planning is not about products

In financial planning businesses such as our own, a relatively small proportion of our time is spent dealing with the implementation and servicing of financial products on behalf of our clients. Because financial planning is so much deeper than simply putting products in place.

Instead our clients today come to us with relatively simple questions (that are in fact quite complex) such as “Will we always be ok?” or “Have we enough money?” There’s no easy answers to these ones! Because to answer them, we need to know what sort of a life you want to lead, and then we need to put a cost on that life. It’s only then that we can start to develop a financial plan to help you achieve that life, help you build a risk appropriate investment portfolio, plan for your retirement and protect yourself if that’s what your plan requires.

But sometimes our clients approach us about other financial challenges they might have, or indeed simply want to bounce ideas off us! We’re delighted to help and give you an opinion if we can. And if we can’t help you directly ourselves, we often know someone who can actually help you.

Here are some of the areas we’ve been asked about.


Tax Advice for Individuals

Business owners and professionals will usually have an accountant. Many PAYE workers don’t. That doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from tax advice; some of you may want information about annual gift exemptions, others may want general tax advice. We’ve been asked many tax questions over the years. With some of these, we can give you the answer. However if we can’t help you ourselves, we have relationships with some accountancy and tax firms that will provide you with the services you need.


Advice about Bank Accounts

We came across a situation some time back with a client where neither their bank manager nor their accountant had spoken to them about the importance of having multiple signatories on their bank accounts, both personal and business accounts. We believe that this is simple, practical advice in most situations, but of course each situation should be looked at on it’s own merits. Unfortunately in this particular case the client died and his wife ended up in an awful situation of being unable to access his / their money without jumping through all types of legal hoops… This is an area you should consider – would a death or incapacity of one of you be made worse by being unable to access cash in bank accounts?


Enduring Power of Attorney

This is a legal document that can be set up by a person during their life when in good mental health. It allows another specially appointed person to take actions on their behalf should they become incapacitated through illness in the future. This prevents assets being frozen and going under the control of the courts and allows the person acting on your behalf to make a range of personal care decisions on your behalf.

Anyone who has been through this situation, needing to access the assets of a relative who has lost their mental capacity (e.g. to pay for their care) will know the value of having an enduring power of attorney in place. It can be incredibly frustrating being unable to carry out simple actions on the person’s behalf without it.

At the same time, many people also draw up a “Living Will” which captures their preferences in relation to areas such as end of life care, their preferences in terms of resuscitation etc. when very ill or close to death.

We suggest that you give this some thought and if it is something you want to progress; the best place to start is with your solicitor. They will talk you through the process and then draw up the papers that are needed to put the enduring power of attorney in place.


A Will

Yes we still come across clients from time to time who don’t have a will in place. We always strongly suggest that you get this in place. It is a relatively simple process, usually carried out with the help of a solicitor. However the benefits are significant. It enables you to ensure your assets are distributed as you intend on your death and that this process is carried out as painlessly as possible.

These are just some of the areas that we’ve been asked about. While our primary role is to help you build a robust financial plan and then put in place financial solutions to achieve your financial objectives, we’ve a pretty broad perspective of a range of related areas. So don’t be afraid to ask! As we said earlier, if we can’t help you, we probably know someone who can.

Are you a cohabiting couple? Get protection advice!

According to the Census carried out in 2011, 12% of families in Ireland are now made up of cohabiting couples.  This cohort of our population still faces some unique challenges when it comes to personal finance and inheritance. In this article, we’re going to identify some of the significant issues to be managed, and set out why it is so important for cohabiting couples to get expert financial advice. Not doing so could result in some very expensive tax liabilities down the road!


The Background

In 2010 the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act was enacted. This Act conferred rights similar to those of a married couple on registered civil partners and qualified cohabitants. The rights extended though are different for both.

Registered civil partners now have automatic rights to each other’s estates on death. This entitlement was not extended to cohabiting couples, who can apply for a provision out of the deceased’s estate but have to pay inheritance tax on it.

As a result, it is critically important that cohabiting couples get expert financial advice in order to avoid inheritance tax bills in the future.


The family home

As cohabiting couples are not treated for tax purposes in the same way as married or civil partnership couples, the death of one partner could result in a sizeable tax bill for the surviving partner. First of all, cohabiting couples should make themselves aware of the qualification conditions for Family Home Relief, which allows a complete exemption from Inheritance Tax and Capital Gains Tax if those conditions are met. This relief is available to any two individuals, which of course includes cohabiting couples. Meeting these conditions could result in a significant tax saving on the death of a partner.


Mortgage Protection

Mortgage Protection will be put in place as a condition of gaining mortgage approval. This policy repays the loan to the bank in the event of death of a borrower. Should the conditions of Family Home Relief not be met, there is a potential tax liability for the survivor on the death of their cohabiting partner as their Inheritance Tax Threshold (the amount on which you don’t pay tax) is only €16,250.

In the worst case scenario, if one partner alone bought the house and subsequently died, their surviving partner’s tax liability could be based on the full value of the house (less the threshold amount) – a very sizeable bill.

Arranging mortgage protection on a joint life basis might give rise to a potential tax liability, as could the inheritance of the property itself.  Solutions we would consider could include,

  • Increasing the amount of life cover to cover the inheritance tax liability
  • Taking out a “life of another” policy
  • Taking out a section 72 policy to specifically pay the tax

We suggest strongly that you seek our advice to find the very best solution for you.


Personal & Family Protection

As cohabitants have no automatic rights to their deceased’s partners assets, unless they have a will in place the proceeds of a life assurance contract could even end up in the hands of the deceased’s next of kin. This can be avoided by the policy being structured correctly. Again we will examine your specific circumstances and advise you on the optimal route to ensure that on your death, your assets end up with your intended beneficiary and in the most tax efficient way possible.  There are very important considerations around the type of policy to be used and who pays the premium, in order to ensure the most tax efficient solution.


Small gift exemption

In Ireland there is a small-gift exemption, which allows anyone to gift up to €3,000 in any tax year to anyone else with no attaching tax liability. This can be done every year and is an effective way for cohabiting couples to transfer some wealth to each other and for parents to transfer wealth to their children – €6,000 is allowed each year from 2 parents to each child. This can really add up over time!

Cohabiting couples can use this exemption very effectively where one partner is financially dependant on the other. In order to avoid a liability for inheritance tax, it is crucially important that the person who will benefit from the policy actually pays the premium from his or her own means. If they don’t have means and their partner pays the policy, they are liable for inheritance tax on the death of their partner. The small gift exemption can be used to transfer wealth to the partner without means, who can then use this to pay the premium. This will enable the policy owner to pay the premium where he/she doesn’t earn an income.


The goal of this article is to give cohabiting couples a flavour of some of the important issues they need to consider in relation to their personal finances. We will be delighted to talk you through your specific situation, and help you ensure you avoid any nasty surprises at a later stage.

What’s the story with SME’s and pension schemes?

Small & Medium Enterprises (SME’s) and pensions schemes… they don’t appear too often in the same sentence! Pensions are a real issue for employees working in these small businesses and a headache for their employers. So what is the current situation and what needs to be done?


Pension coverage is at historically low levels

With the economic crash, pension coverage levels fell dramatically in Ireland. At the end of 2005, 56% of the working population in Ireland were in pensions schemes. Roll on a decade later and this figure had fallen to just 46%.

However these figures include public servants who we know are all included in pension schemes. So when you look at the private sector only in Ireland, the coverage figure at the end of 2015 is a lowly 33%.

We also know that almost all large employers in the private sector have pension schemes for their employees, which in turn means that pension coverage for SME workers is a lot less than this one third figure…


Do SME workers need pensions?

The answer to this is a resounding yes! The maximum state contributory pension for someone aged under 80 in Ireland today is €238.30 per week. While politicians like to increase this figure, it is becoming ever more difficult to do so. Unfortunately old age pensions and pensions for public servants are paid out of tax receipts; there is no pot of money that has been saved to pay for these. Today there are approx. 5 people working (and paying tax) for every retired person (taking money from central funds). But by 2040 this ratio will have halved, so there will be less money coming in and more going out.

Old age pension rates are very unlikely to ever provide more than subsistence benefit levels. Workers need to plan their retirements themselves.


Why is the problem so acute among SME’s?

There are a number of reasons for this, and all of them valid. However that fact doesn’t make the problem go away…

First of all, many SME businesses started from nothing. Many started in the owner’s kitchen or garage, as they pursued their wish or need to build a business themselves. Taking earnings out of the business was a challenge in itself, never mind funding a pension! Employees were then hired as needed, often pushing the earnings of the owner back again for a period of time until the new employee became productive. Funding pensions remained down the priority list. If the owner didn’t have a pension scheme, the employees were unlikely to have one either.

Then as SME’s moved on to a more sound footing, why were pension schemes not introduced? Some of the reason may be down to the increased flexibility that exists within SME businesses. The owner decides how much will be paid to an employee in total – usually he / she will be happy for the employee to decide the split between salary and pension. More often than not, the employee wants to maximise income today, so they take all of their earnings as salary. So part of the reason is down to choices made by employees in SME businesses. Corporates on the other hand are much more rigid. When you join a large organisation and agree a salary figure, you are also automatically enrolled in the pension scheme. You’re not given the option to opt out of the pension scheme and take the money as cash instead.

We also know that SME businesses were very hard hit during the economic crash as they don’t tend to have deep pockets or wealthy shareholders behind them. As a result, they slashed costs in their businesses simply to survive. Pension contributions were one of these costs.


So what needs to be done?

Unfortunately the problem is not going to go away for employees in SME businesses. There are a few stakeholders to bringing about change.

Employers in SME businesses need to start thinking a bit more like large companies. Pensions are a social requirement for workers today. They are doing a disservice to employees to look after them while working, but to then effectively set them adrift in their later years. SME employers often also underestimate the value of pensions in recruiting the best people into their businesses and then retaining them. Pension schemes are a really important and valued employee benefit.

Employees need to take ownership themselves too. This is not their employer’s problem. If employees want more than simply eking out an existence in retirement, they need to take some pain today. This is either in the form of lower earnings and a pension contribution by their employer, or saving for retirement themselves.

The state has a role to play too. First of all, tax relief must continue to play an important role in encouraging people to save for retirement. However more needs to be done… And this may be in the form of mandatory pensions, where employers are obliged to provide pensions for their employees. This system operates in a many countries around the world, and is currently being studied by policy makers in Ireland. Watch this space – you’re going to hear a lot of discussion about auto-enrolment in pension schemes in the coming years.


If you are an SME owner or an employee and want to start taking control of this issue yourself before being forced by auto-enrolment, give us a call. We’ll be delighted to guide you.

What’s changed over the last decade?

History teaches us many things. Particularly if we’re looking for a bit of guidance in prudent personal financial management, the last decade offers us a wealth of useful lessons.

During the last decade we’ve seen a (hopefully) once in a lifetime global economic collapse, the entire banking system teetering on the brink, followed by a deep recession. However thankfully now in Ireland (although unfortunately not in every corner of the country), we’ve seen a strong recovery in recent years to a point where it appears the boom times are back! So what can we learn from all of this, particularly as we hear that dreaded “boom” word??


Be careful who you listen to

Let’s start with the European Central Bank’s Monthly Bulletin of March 2007 that said,

“Looking ahead, the medium-term outlook for economic activity remains favourable. The conditions are in place for the euro area economy to grow solidly. As regards the external environment, global economic growth has become more balanced across regions and, while moderating somewhat, remains robust, supported in part by lower oil prices. External conditions thus provide support for euro area exports. Domestic demand in the euro area is also expected to maintain its relatively strong momentum.

“Investment should remain dynamic, benefiting from an extended period of very favourable financing conditions, balance sheet restructuring, accumulated and ongoing strong corporate earnings, and gains in business efficiency.”

Well, how about that! Within a few short months the global economy started to implode, and the whole EU project faced desperate times with the emergence of the PIIGS economies – do you remember them? These were also the days of Dublin taxi drivers boasting about the 3 properties (never to be built) they had bought for a song on a beach in Bulgaria.

So be careful who you listen to and be very circumspect about market noise and the latest “sure fire” investment opportunity.


Keep a long-term perspective

When you are looking at your pension fund, or your risk rated investment portfolio, you need to maintain a long-term focus. There’s always a huge temptation to try and time the market, but this is folly.

The people who suffered most in the economic collapse were those who had no plan and tried to call the market. These people typically sold assets such as shares or property after significant falls in value and then after suffering so much, were very slow to re-enter the market and missed most of the recovery. In fact, stock markets had pretty much fully recovered in 2011, but many people were out of the market for much of the recovery period and their portfolios did not recover. In fact the S&P 500 rose by almost 200% (196.2% to be exact) from the eight years from March 2009, rewarding people who stayed invested.

People with a plan typically stuck to it and avoided making short-term calls. They did not make large scale asset movements and as a result they experienced the collapse, but more importantly also the recovery in the markets.


Diversification is key

Back to those Dublin taxi drivers, and many other people in Ireland, this is one lesson in particular that was bitterly learned. Ireland’s love of property above all other assets hit many people very hard. No matter what your investment objectives are, it is very important that you protect yourself by not being over-exposed to any one asset category in particular.


Keep emotion out of it

If investing were a science then there would simply be a formula for success. We all know this is not the case. Our successes (and failures!) are strongly affected by uncontrollable market factors, which emotionally affect us and cloud our judgement.

The people who tend to suffer most are those who exhibit extreme emotions in relation to investing. Being too greedy is a recipe for disaster in a rising market, as these people often don’t take the opportunity to lock in any gains. In a falling market, excessive fear is also a big enemy as people exit the market and are too fearful to re-enter, thus missing a market recovery. The answer is to make investment decisions on logic alone…both yours and that of your adviser!


Have a safety net

The economic collapse resulted in a lot of pain for many people, with salary reductions and a large increase in unemployment being two of the most unwelcome effects.  For these people, cashflow became an immediate issue as their non-discretionary outgoings (such as mortgage and other loan repayments) typically did not reduce in line with the fall in income. This caused significant issues for people with no cash buffer as they struggled to deal with banks and other creditors, resulting in significant financial pressure, stress and a dramatic fall-off in their lifestyle. Going forwards, many people have prudently prioritised a cash (or other liquid asset) buffer as one of their investment objectives.


Don’t go it alone

As people saw their portfolios collapsing and faced uncertainty about their financial futures, it became more and more difficult to make rational decisions. This is where a trusted voice became extremely valuable and for many, that voice was their financial adviser. We’re able to stand back, remove the emotion from the situation and provide clear thinking in a difficult situation. Sometimes the advice might be to do nothing. For others, we can help you face up to your situation and plan on how to deal with it.

Having that second opinion, apart from the positive impact it will have on your financial wellbeing will also seriously reduce your stress levels!
So in summary, our advice is to have a financial plan and stick to it. Tune out of the market noise and watch the horizon rather than the next hill. And let us help you to keep emotion out of your decision making and to stay on the right track.

Minimise the impact of divorce on your financial plan

A marriage breakup is usually a traumatic time. Very significant life decisions are needed about custody of children and access arrangements, and where each party will live. Often relations between the parties become quite fraught… and then financial arrangements need to be agreed.

At this stage, the difficult areas of dividing up the assets, maintenance payments and agreeing the ongoing repayment of debt need to be tackled. Having a financial planner involved in this process is very valuable, as they will approach the task in hand without emotion. Our job is simply to achieve the very best outcome in relation to the financial issues that will inevitably arise.

So to help you, here are some of the areas that we can help you with.


We’ll start with our lack of emotion!

We’re actually as emotional as the next person… except when it comes to our clients’ finances! At this highly charged time, it is invaluable to have someone at the table who will leave emotion at the door, and who will look coldly at the financial picture. Sometimes a potential solution such as selling a family home in order to buy two smaller homes needs to be voiced, but often it is difficult for both parties to agree this themselves. Having a voice of reason can save a lot of time, expense and additional heartache.


Make sure you get (the right) life cover in place

Once an agreement for maintenance payments are put in place to support the other spouse and children, it is very important that life cover is put in place to secure these payments in the event of death. However we strongly suggest that you seek advice in relation to the type of policy and the beneficiary profile in order to reduce the Capital Acquisitions Tax (CAT) liability on receipt of the benefit.

If you are the recipient of maintenance payments, it is also important to ensure your ex-spouse has adequate income protection cover should he/she be unable to work because of illness or injury.  Also we’ll help you to ensure that you retain any health insurance cover, as lapses in cover can lead to increased cost or indeed reduced coverage down the road.


Be realistic about household expenses

This is particularly important if you previously didn’t pay too much attention to the money being spent by you and your ex-spouse each month. If you are to be the recipient of maintenance payments in the future, you need to immediately take a forensic look at what is spent to maintain the family. You need to track and document your monthly expenses very diligently, and also think through the one-off expenses that arise during the year – motor expenses, education expenses, holidays, club fees, insurance costs etc.

All of these costs quickly add up and we can help you think through them all. However we don’t have a magic wand to make them go away – the reality going forwards is that a single income may / will have to sustain two households, so sacrifices often need to be made.


Pensions are a minefield – we’ll help you through it

Pensions are complex beasts at the best of times. On divorce they become even more complicated. We can help you to ensure an equitable solution in relation to an ex-spouse’s pension, through the application for a Pension Adjustment Order (PAO). This entitles you to a share of your ex-spouse’s pension fund.

There are different ways that these can be established. The benefits for both parties can remain in the pension scheme until the pension scheme member retires, or instead the non-member can transfer their share of the assets to their own arrangement. We’ll help you identify what’s the right approach for you.


We’ll help you to minimise the tax bite

This can emerge in many ways. If people are generally inexperienced in financial matters, we can help you structure your income tax payments to avoid any nasty (big) tax bills. We can also advise you in relation to the transfer of assets between both parties to ensure this is done as tax efficiently as possible. And we can help you reduce where possible any future inheritance tax liabilities.


Divorce is very difficult and the financial repercussions can be immense. Don’t let them spin out of control – we can help you maximise the value of every euro that is available.

What’s all this talk about auto enrolment in pension schemes?

You might have heard references in the media to “universal pensions” and to “auto enrolment” of employees in pension schemes. So we thought it might be useful to give you some thoughts about our thinking on these concepts.


What are universal pensions and auto enrolment?

Universal pensions are pretty much what it says on the tin. It is a concept of every adult (or at least every working adult) having retirement savings in place to help fund their old age, when they are no longer working.

Auto enrolment is a similar concept, but this time aimed at all employers who would be obliged to include all of their employees in a pension scheme. At the moment, some do and many don’t. An employee would automatically have to be included in a pension scheme by their employer, with contributions paid by the employer, the employee and the state (via some form of tax relief). The employee could then choose to opt out if he/she so wished.


Why might auto enrolment be introduced?

Because Ireland has a looming retirement crisis. State old age pensions, which provide subsistence level benefits only, are likely to be under significant pressure in the future as they are paid out of current tax revenues – there are no savings in place to pay them. So today’s workers pay tax, which funds the payments to pensioners today. Currently there are 5 people working for every pensioner. However this rate will halve by 2040. There will be less money coming in and more going out – the cost of state pensions are increasing by approx. €200m each year.

So the government has a problem and needs people to save for their retirement themselves. And this challenge is only getting bigger too, as a result of the collapse of the economy. In 2009, private pension coverage in Ireland (those with pension funding in place) was 51.2% of workers. However by the end of 2015, this figure had fallen to 46.7% coverage. When you look at the private sector alone (excluding all public servants), coverage levels are down at less than one third of employees. So the issue is that under the current voluntary system, a great proportion of workers simply don’t (or are unable to) make provision for their future needs. The government has articulated that auto enrolment is the main plank of a potential solution to driving up coverage levels.


When might it be introduced?

This is the big question! Auto enrolment is certainly a number of years away as it’s one of those nettles that successive governments have failed to grasp. However it appears to now be on the horizon within the Dept. of Social Protection. There’s no doubt that it will take some time to design a scheme, gain agreement with all social partners and then implement the scheme. Maybe we’ll see it in the early 2020’s?


Is auto enrolment the way to go?

First of all, Ireland is not the only country with this ageing population and retirement challenge. Auto enrolment has been introduced successfully in a number of countries around the world, and as recently as 2012 in the UK. As a result, pension coverage in the UK jumped from 47% in 2012 (similar to our coverage today) to 66% last year. So the results have been very encouraging there and in other countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

The benefit also of following these countries is that there are also lessons to be learned from mistakes that they made. Any system that is introduced needs to minimise the administrative burden for employers. Any new system also needs to avoid a “race to the bottom” where employers with good pension schemes in place for employees might reduce benefits to the minimum allowed under auto enrolment.


How will it impact you?

We work hard with all of clients, encouraging structured retirement planning. After all, our goal is to help you to live the life that you want to live, without money being an insurmountable hurdle. Retirement planning is central to the achievement of this goal. So if you’re following a structured retirement plan, then auto enrolment will not impact you at all as it is aimed at people with no retirement funding in place. If you have no pension funding in place, auto enrolment will get you started, through your employer setting up a scheme.

But waiting for auto enrolment is not the answer. This has been one of the biggest political cans kicked down the road by successive governments. Don’t risk your future waiting for this to stop. Come and talk to us and we’ll help you to start taking control of your financial future in retirement.

How well is your company protected?

One of the more important business activities of any company owner or partnership is the whole area of risk management. Yes of course you have the day-to-day challenges of bringing your products to market, selling, building your brand and your presence, and meeting and exceeding the expectations of your customers through your product delivery.

Sitting behind these are the important tasks of running the financial side of your business, getting the best people in place and running your business efficiently. And then there’s risk management, in case anything goes wrong.

So what do you think about when you think of something “going wrong”? Is it a fire in a warehouse, an accident involving a company vehicle, maybe somebody tripping and falling in one of your retail outlets? Is it someone suing you for poor performance in your business activities? These are all areas where businesses build contingency plans or put insurance in place.

But one area that sometimes slips under the radar is the potential impact to your business or partnership if something happens to your most important assets. Your people. We want to make you aware of the different strategies that you can put in place to safeguard your company against the death or inability to work of one of your key people.


Partnership Insurance

People who are engaged in a professional partnership, such as solicitors, accountants, medical professionals and others who work together outside of a company structure need to consider what would happen in the event of the death of one of the partners in the firm. Because on death, the deceased partner’s share of the firm immediately becomes part of their estate, which could be called upon as a debt by the deceased partner’s survivors. This potentially could create enormous issues for the remaining partner(s) who would need to immediately raise finance (if they can) in order to buy out the deceased partner’s share. Of course the alternative is that a deceased partner’s family member could instead become involved in the firm instead, this being a real potential recipe for disaster!

BDO Simpson Xavier released the sobering statistic that 72% of businesses cease trading within 5 years of the death of business’s founder, often because the remaining partners simply don’t have the financial firepower to compensate the deceased partner’s estate and keep the business going forwards.

Thankfully partners can protect themselves against this risk. Each partner can take out partnership insurance on the lives of their partner(s). Should one partner die, the remaining partner(s) now have immediate access to the necessary capital to buy out their deceased partner’s share of the firm. The deceased’s family are looked after and the firm can continue to grow.


Co-Director Protection

This is similar to partnership insurance but in a company context where there are directors in the business who are shareholders of the business. When there is Co-Director Insurance in place, in the event of the death of a director, the remaining directors (or the company itself under a Corporate Co-Director’s Insurance policy) can buy out the shareholding of the deceased director.

This prevents a deceased director’s family having to become involved in the business, where they may have no desire or experience to do so. This insurance also enables the company to control it’s own destiny, should such an unfortunate and unforeseen event occur. The deceased’s family are fairly compensated and the remaining directors retain control of the ownership and direction of the business – a best-case scenario for all concerned.


Key Person Insurance

It’s not at all unusual to have one or two key people in a business, who are not shareholders in the business. They may simply be exceptional employees with unique talents or expertise that the business relies upon heavily. To lose such a person would be like cutting off a limb, and may even threaten the very future of the business, as their input is so key.

Businesses can protect themselves against the loss through death or illness of such a person through a Key Person Insurance policy. These policies enable the business to survive such a loss, by providing a cash lump sum for the business. This may give the business time to hire required replacements or to pay down some debt as they adapt to life after their deceased colleague. This insurance might prevent a business imploding after the loss of a key person.


Yes it is important to protect your physical assets, your premises, your vehicles and your stock and to ensure you can adequately manage any other potential liabilities. But your people are the very heartbeat of your business.  Don’t let losing them lead to the death of your business.

How much money are you happy to lose?

“Well none obviously” I hear you say. But is that actually the case?

This is a really important question, and one that we spend a lot of time on with our clients, helping them to answer it. It is really important because it helps you clarify how much risk you are willing to take with your money in return for different levels of reward. Let us explain…

When we start working with a client who is saving or investing money, whether it is to build up a nest egg, grow an existing portfolio of investment assets or indeed plan for their retirement, gaining clarity around your investment objectives is the first step. When do you want this money to be available and what must this money be able to do for you? We’ll take an example…


Sean and Mary

We had clients recently (we’ll call them Sean and Mary) who had a sum of money to invest as a result of an inheritance. We spoke at some length about their future lifestyle goals and dreams and throughout our discussion, one goal kept coming to the surface. When they retire in about 12 years time, they want to escape from Ireland for a few months every winter and live somewhere warmer. They want their own place in the sun.

So now we had both a timeframe (12 years) and an objective (a holiday home). The question that they now started asking was what size / type / quality of holiday home could they afford? And so our conversation turned to risk and reward.


Attitude to risk

We explained that we needed to understand their attitude to risk. Are they people who would invest this money and take no notice of movements in stock markets and other assets over the next 12 years, even where there were significant swings? Or instead, are they likely to lie awake at night worrying if the value of their pot of money decreases at all, even just in the short-term? Of course relatively few people are at either extreme end of the risk spectrum, most are somewhere in between. It’s our job to find out where you are on this spectrum.


Capacity for risk

We also look to establish your capacity for risk. This is effectively your financial firepower in terms of taking risk, or how much you can afford to lose. If your financial goals are out of reach or significantly threatened should you lose some or all of your money, then you have very low capacity for risk. If you have lots of other financial assets and losing some or all of your money won’t make a material difference to you, then you have a high capacity for loss.


Risk v reward

Once we understand your attitude and capacity for risk, this leads us to a conversation about building the right investment portfolio for you. Because risk and reward are inextricably linked. If you can’t take or don’t want risk at all, then maybe your money needs to be on deposit. You will get a very steady return (or at least you should), albeit a very low return. And apart from the impact of inflation, you won’t lose any of your money. But you won’t grow it either.

However if you are comfortable with your portfolio being more volatile and taking swings in value, this offers the opportunity for you to make higher returns. But of course you are now running the risk of losing money (instead of growing it!) and possibly suffering a correction in markets just before you need your money, potentially scuppering your plans. This is the classic risk v reward trade-off.

We can demonstrate how different baskets of assets (cash, bonds, shares, property etc.) can be combined to produce different risk & reward profiles.


Back to Sean and Mary!

Coming back to Sean and Mary, they are actually relatively conservative investors. They don’t want to (and would) worry about their money if there are significant swings in their investment over the next 12 years. They’re happy with only gentle falls in their investment amount from time to time, while recognising that this conservatism will potentially suppress their return. But they are very sure about one thing. They definitely want to afford that place in the sun in 12 years time and have no other means of funding it. They’re happy if the property ends up being a little smaller than they might wish for. But to them this is better than shooting for a palace, but possibly ending up with a cardboard box!


Does your investment portfolio reflect your attitude to risk and your capacity to take it? We’d be delighted to hear from you and help you make sure that you have a risk appropriate portfolio in place.

Brexit, Trump etc. How do you keep your investments on track?

Lots of factors are currently creating a great deal of uncertainty for investors; Britain breaking up with Europe, President Trump settling into the White House (and everything that promises!) and continuing low growth across Europe. Then when you consider interest rates at rock bottom, uncertainty caused by global terror and other such negative factors, the picture is quite daunting for investors today.

So what do you do?

Well the answer is probably, not very much! Let us explain…


Stick to the plan

First and foremost, remember your investment objectives, and crucially your investment timeframes. In most cases, these are medium to long-term – at least they should be if you are invested in any sort of risky assets. These time frames are critical to your investment success. The markets regularly experience short-term volatility, but to try and time this volatility usually turns out to be folly. Research tells us time and time again that staying invested is the key to long-term success. Investors who look to sell out at the top and buy at the bottom usually miss both points, and often by very wide margins.


Volatility is not the enemy

Volatility is simply a feature of investment markets which go through periods of both calm and volatility, sometimes in line with the market cycle, at other times reacting to once-off events. Times of volatility have historically proven to be bad times to make significant investment decisions, as strategies tend to be coloured by short-term factors. Don’t let your emotions cloud your decision-making.


Stay diversified

A far more robust approach to investing is to stick to the asset allocation approach that was used in constructing your portfolio, as this is more likely to deliver long-term success. There are endless examples of investors chasing that one sure bet – technology companies in the late 1990’s, bank stocks in Ireland and foreign property investments in the 2000’s.  And we all know where these ended up. A key principle of successful investing is to stay diversified across asset classes, geographical regions and sectors. This will protect you against unforeseen calamitous events in a single area.


Don’t stop believing (or saving)

When short-term volatility happens, some investors are slow to commit more money to their investment strategies. This is effectively trying to time the market. It’s important that you keep the faith! Keep investing, although talk to us about the best way to do this. It may make sense for you to employ a strategy such as “euro cost averaging”. This is where you invest a fixed amount at regular intervals. This ensures that if markets are moving around, you are buying in to the market at various price points, thus ensuring you’re not exposed to the risk of investing and be exposed to an immediate fluctuation.


Look backward as well as forwards

While of course we are always at pains to point out that past performance is not a guide to future performance, at the same time it’s sometimes worth looking back and seeing where you came from. This hopefully will give you confidence in the future! Look at an investment that you’ve had for a long time – this could be an old pension fund, a children’s education fund or even your family home. Or for example, just look at stock market returns over any 10year+ time frame. With very few exceptions, the results are extremely heartening. This will give you a sense of how time is your friend and will bolster your confidence to stick with a consistent investment approach throughout good and bad times.
Often it simply makes sense to sit down with an expert who will look dispassionately at your situation and reassure you, or guide you towards a change. We would be delighted to help you.

Important: Past performance is not a guide to future performance

Image courtesy of Michael Vadon