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Philip Portal

Protect Your Assets – They’re After Them!

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It is a privilege to own assets. To most of the world they represent power; and one of the most important powers they endow on those who own them is freedom. Freedom to buy things, to go places, to treat yourself, to live in a better area, to give your children better schools, freedom to buy the best medical and health services and even freedom from some of the activities (like 8 – 10 hours’ work each day) which occupy most peoples’ time.

Few people, if they spoke honestly, would prefer not to have a comfortable cushion of wealth safely tucked away in addition to the funds to meet their daily needs. Some of these people will go to great lengths to grasp them from those who they think have them.

In this article I will outline some of the dangers or threats which wealth attracts – each of which I have either experienced or witnessed in 22 years as a personal international financial planner. I will also offer suggestions as to how to counter these threats.

1. Theft and burglary.

Traditionally this was focused on break-ins to private property. Alarm systems, fearsome dogs, together with supportive and observant neighbours and security patrols, tend to mitigate this threat. I grew up as a friend to one of the daughters of the de Rothschild family. I still remember a childrens’ party where the private beach venue was protected by visible patrols of countless security guards. This was the era of kidnapping, when no family of substance could have confidence that their children were safe.

Today the stories are more of credit card fraud, and of internet theft. No internet security expert will deny that threats do exist in online commercial transactions – even in ATM cash machines. A friend of mine in Oman told me only last month how the use of their credit card in France caused a fraudster to take regular withdrawals for several days, several times a day, from a variety of banks in Rumania. Apparently the fraudster can install a gismo into the card slot of the machine which copies all the card details; and a camera or person behind you in the queue can watch you type in your pin code.

My tips:

  • Make sure your physical property is appropriately protected, as above. As regards card and internet fraud:
  • Check how your bank will refund you should this happen. Leading international banks invest in highly sophisticated systems to protect their cards and cardholders – and to protect themselves against potential liability.
  • Be discreet inserting your PIN number!
  • A separate card for internet shopping, and / or for ATMs, is advisable – with tight credit limits.

2. Extortion – mild and extreme.

I find this, maybe curiously, to be the most threatening of the dangers addressed in this article. It increasingly arises in relation to people who have assets, or who are successful.

What form does this take? In one way or another, a threat is made which leaves the victim fearful: and money is demanded for the withdrawal of the threat.

The problem here is the following. Under the banner of freedom, our modern age supports instant open global communication. Through the media and the internet, this is available instantaneously, 24/7, at minimal or zero cost, all over the world. This is to be welcomed ! The issue is that, when it is abused, no satisfactory recourse is available to the victim who may have been wrongfully slandered, accused or destroyed through these media.

Try suing someone for internet defamation. Even in countries where legal process is relatively speedy, this is a gruelling experience.

  • The first obstacle you face is – what jurisdiction should you sue under?
  • Next you will find ‘burden of proof’ problems – anyone can express their opinion about you or your business and it may be impossible to prove that these are ill founded.
  • Then you will experience the cost: and defamation and libel are notoriously expensive to pursue through the legal process.

This ‘media extortion’ appears to be the most common contemporary form of extortion. Kidnapping, or threats of injury or worse, take more organization and skill and tend today to be confined to globally renowned figures with global scale wealth. People of my generation will remember the severing of John Paul Getty’s ear… this form of extortion is fortunately not usually applied to us lesser mortals.

My tips:

  • Counter publicity – maybe opening a website which carefully and undefensively counters or dismissing the allegations made elsewhere.
  • Positive marketing: maybe countering the negative vibes with positive: such as opening a website to promote the very person or business being attacked.
  • Search engine domination: so that anyone searching finds your own version of events rather than your defamer’s version. To sustain this requires constant attention – or paying someone else to sustain your site’s domination.

Above all else: don’t let it get you down. Stay angry. To give in emotionally is exactly what our adversary is hoping for. Keep pioneering your future ! And be grateful that you have better things to do than throw mud at other people !

3. Taxation !

This may seem irrelevant to people in Oman. But beware ! Assets such as real estate are subject to heavy taxes in most jurisdictions – including the UK and the US. Rental income is usually nowhere near as serious a cost as inheritance taxes; although fortunately solutions can be arranged if financial planning advice is sought at an early enough stage.

My tips:

  • Seek financial planning advice from a qualified financial planner or a professional tax advisor in the appropriate jurisdiction/s.
  • Do this as early as possible: and act on the advice without undue delay.

4. Adverse legal action.

Legal action against you does not mean that you are guilty of anything. But this can be hard to remember as you are thrown on the defensive to protect yourself. Anyone who has experienced a court case against a family member or friend will know how the sheer process can turn you emotionally inside out, and for months or years on end.

No wonder that this method is also used often by extortioners! The largest proportion of cases are settled out of court – and too often because the defendant simply wants out from the pressure it puts on him, his family and his associates.

Legal actions have been called “the games of the rich”. They are best avoided unless the budget available to carry them through is very large. In one case I know of, three civil cases were filed by the plaintiff, an ex partner of the defendents. They responded with three criminal cases and an additional 7 civil cases. Eventually it was the plaintiffs who were warn down, and a settlement was made. The biggest beneficiaries however were, as usual, the lawyers. The emotional fallout on both sides was enormous.

My tips:

Be vigilant with your ongoing relationships – business and otherwise. Do not underestimate the value of spending the time to talk through issues with colleagues, family members and associates.

These legal battles are usually the external sign of a breakdown of relationships, and there are usually one or more opportunities to restore them before it is too late.

5. Inactivity!

Assets require time. They also take management. Where someone manages your property, your business or your portfolio then they still need monitoring – and, from time to time, they need challenging. Laws change, taxes change, opportunities change – and, most importantly, you change. As your life moves forward your financial situation changes, as do your financial requirements: and it is of fundamental importance that as your life moves on your assets and investment strategies are adjusted accordingly.
So why not leave the assets in cash in a vault?

Because one of the greatest threats to your capital is inflation. With inflation at just 7.5% your R.O.1000 today will be able in 10 years’ time to buy goods worth only R.O. 500 today – its real value will halve. To stay still in its purchasing power, money has to be put to work earning more money!

My tips:

  • Allocate time to your assets on a regular basis.
  • Choose sound professional advisors on whom you feel you can truly depend. Be aware that this trust can take years to build.
  • Be aware that leaving your money idle without any plan to make it grow is not an advisable strategy.

CONCLUSION

It remains a joy and a privilege to own assets ! With them however come responsibilities. We are ‘stewards’ of our assets, caring for them on behalf of ourselves, our families, our friends, our communities and our planet. We must remain vigilant, and look objectively at the hazards on the road ahead. This demands that we be engaged – and take appropriate measures to anticipate and counter threats to their value. In many situations a trust or foundation or even a company can be a good protective vehicle, shielding key assets from any forms of attack on you or your business. These will be addressed in my next article in Oman Business Today.

 

The author is a fully qualified international financial planner, practising since 1984. He is an independent agent of ISGAM, a private Swiss asset management company which manages many of his clients’ assets.

Family Finances – Are Your Loved Ones Included?

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An international financial planner looks at how we tend to plan our family finances and finds that, like in so many areas here, changes are taking place in Oman…

Traditionally, in most societies the man of the family has been the caretaker of the family’s finances.

He has earned, or inherited, the family’s assets; he alone manages them; he alone has the information about them; and if / when he becomes incapacitated or dies, or when his son/s prove a degree of financial maturity, he starts to pass the information and the assets to his male heirs.

Today, in the west as well as in more traditional societies, this pattern is changing. Firstly, women are increasingly educated to the same standard as men. Their innate business and financial gifts become clear, their suitability to positions of responsibility and leadership is acknowledged and they gather experience in major positions in business and political life as well as in society.

The next step follows: women take an ever greater role in many families’ finances. I often find professionally that women in a couple relationship express no interest in their personal or family. Often a man’s spouse will decline to attend a financial planning meeting I hold with her husband. Increasingly however, women see this as an essential aspect of running their own lives and pioneering their own future. They increasingly earn their own savings, make their own investments and, in the western cultures, they even inherit a share of their parents’ estate equal in value to what their male siblings inherit.

Many psychologists consider that women and men have different but complementary skills in personal finance. Typically, they argue, women who have experience of taking care of the home, including household budgets, prove more diligent in balancing income and expenditure and use more grounded common sense in managing finances, investments and business.

Men, they argue, typically have different gifts – they are for example often more comfortable taking financial risks, tend to be more effective in ‘closing sales’, and maybe more naturally pioneer the drive forward. This has been referred to (by psychologist Maslow) as the ‘hunter gatherer’ role.

This is even affecting heirship customs, or estate planning. As a financial planner for higher net worth families more and more I hear the request that measures should be taken in good time to protect the spouse’s interests and to ensure her financial wellbeing when eventually the husband dies. In the west this is normal: US and UK law states that ( only after the state is satisfied that it has received the full inheritance tax payments ! ) the deceased’s wishes as expressed in his / her legal will are to be followed – and the vast majority of married peoples’ estates are primarily willed to their own spouse.

Meanwhile my experience of the children of our clients is that they could usually have been far better prepared to receive the wealth they will eventually receive. Childrens’ education usually does not extend to lessons in balancing income with expenditure, and at safeguarding savings whenever there’s a surplus. Even less does it include investment or wealth management. And less still does it extend to the protection of the assets against major dangers – the subject of my next article.

To the contrary, the comfort of their childhood lifestyle often stints their appetite for hard work, their interest in taking calculated business risks, and their ongoing striving to achieve. This omission on the part of the parents is not, in my experience, because the children are not interested. Rarely are my own children more attentive in listening to me than when I’m speaking of financial or business risks I’ve taken – and in particular of where I messed up and of how much it cost me!

This is an area where I believe we as parents could often give far more to our children than we do. So what is my message in this article ? It is that the dymamics of family finances are changing, and that this is happening throughout the Arab world including in Oman, as well as in the west. Women and particularly wives are requiring much more information and more of a role in deciding their family’s financial future. And for us parents: for our dreams for our children to come true, we need seriously to address some difficult questions.

  • How does a child who has been ‘born with a silver spoon’ become and remain motivated to
    earn and achieve ?
  • Should we or should we not hold back from being generous with our children if we can afford it – e.g. with the level of pocket money we give them, or with the sophistication and cost of the ‘toys’ we give them.
  • At what ages is it best for a child to start to be given some real financial responsibility – or is the answer “the later the better”?

In my work I see many unfortunate results of these issues not having been satisfactorily addressed at an early enough stage. I encourage you to do so – and to let your family benefit accordingly.

 

The author is a fully qualified international financial planner, practising since 1984. He is an independent agent of ISGAM, a private Swiss asset management company which manages many of his clients’ assets.