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Neil Woodford making headlines and the lessons it tells us

If you read the financial press, this is big news. ‘Star fund manager’, Neil Woodford, stopped investors withdrawing money out of his Woodford Equity Income Fund on 4th June, after the sum total of investment withdrawn from the fund reached a staggering £560m in less than four weeks. Kent County Council wanted to withdraw a further £263m, but was unable to do so before trading halted.

Investment analysts have attributed this action to the significant poor performance of the fund over recent months. Neil Woodford was once the darling fund manager who could do no wrong. A few years ago he was riding high when he left his employer, Invesco Perpetual, to set up his own company, Woodford Funds. With a reputation for having the midas touch, he’d built a large following amongst both retail and institutional investors, many of whom followed him to his new venture.

Once the blue-eyed boy, his public apology probably hasn’t gone far enough in the minds of some investors who are unable to withdraw their funds and are now nursing significant losses.

There are a number of issues at play here which, as advisers, we seek to address when managing client portfolios.  

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Investing is about managing risk and diversification is a key part of this. Committing all your money to one investment manager is never a great idea. By selecting a range of funds, we spread the risk within portfolios.

Good governance is essential

A robust governance process is important when managing client portfolios. When selecting funds as part of a portfolio, our established investment governance process ensures that these are regularly reviewed and action is taken where and when appropriate. This framework ensures that we act early on managing any potential risks that may impact portfolio performance.

Asset allocation is a key driver to performance

It is not just about selecting the right funds. When constructing client portfolios, we take into account the importance of asset allocation. This is the split between different types of investments such as UK and overseas equities, fixed interest and cash.  Asset allocation is as important as fund selection.

Follow the fund, not the manager

Fund managers are human, they don’t get it right all the time. The most sensible approach is to consider the fundamentals governing the fund itself, not the individual investment manager. We want to understand the answers to questions such as what process and approach does the fund take to manage risk and the stock selection process? What governance process and framework is in place to ensure a fund delivers against its stated objectives. Fund managers can be flavour of the month, it’s the fundamentals of the fund itself that provide better insight.

How can you make the most out of diversification?

Diversification is a word that seems to get tossed around a lot in conversations around savings and investment. We hear it often, but what does it mean?

Put simply, diversification is a risk management strategy that mixes a variety of investments within a portfolio. Through having different kinds of assets in a portfolio, the goal is to obtain higher long-term returns and lower the risk of any sole holding. Essentially, you are hedging your bets.

By smoothing out the risk of each investment within your portfolio, you’re aiming to neutralise the negative performance of some investments with the positive performance of others. Though your investments will only benefit when the different investments are not perfectly correlated, you want them to respond differently, often in opposition to one another, to market influences.

One drawback to be aware of, though, is that by limiting portfolio risk through diversification, you could potentially be mitigating performance in the short term.

Types of investment

Most fund managers and advisers diversify investments across asset classes and determine what percentage of the portfolio to allocate to each. Such asset classes include:

  • Stocks – shares or equity in a publicly traded company.
  • Fixed-interest securities – also known as bonds, fixed-interest securities represent a loan made by an investor or a borrower and are often used by companies, states and sovereign governments to finance various projects.
  • Real estate – buildings, land, natural resources, agriculture, livestock and water or mineral deposits.
  • Commodities – basic goods necessary for the production of other products or services.
  • Cash and short-term cash equivalents – savings, cash ISAs, savings bonds and premium bonds.

How do you make the most of it?

The unfortunate nature of investment is that all winning streaks end. It’s human nature to be drawn to winners and avoid losers. But investing is much more fluid, with no particular investment reigning as champion for long. By investing only in what’s doing well currently, you might miss out on any rising stars beginning their ascent to success. You may want to jump from top performer to top performer, however more often than not, the best gains will have been and gone by the time you invest. You may even be investing prior to the asset reducing in return.

In an ideal world, you’d get high returns from your savings and investments with no risk. However, reality dictates that there must be a trade-off – high risk often leads to higher returns.

Though it is sensible to hold part of your assets in low-risk investments, such as Cash ISAs, some see value in investigating more high risk investments in order to acquire those lucrative higher returns. However, you need to make sure that you’d be happy with running the risk of making a loss.

A general rule of thumb is that the older you are, the less you’ll want to expose your investments to market risk – meaning that diversifying into more low risk investments may be the ideal approach for you in order to keep your investments secure.

There are also many ways to diversify within a single kind of investment. For example, with shares, you can spread your investments between large and small companies, UK and overseas markets and within different sectors like technology, financials or raw materials.

Finally, remember that the value of investments, and the income from them, may fall or rise and you might get back less than you invested. Always proceed with caution – diversification helps mitigate the risks but won’t remove them entirely.

Gifting rules and inheritance tax, what you might not know

Following an in depth study conducted by the National Centre for Social Research (NCSR) and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), it has been discovered that only one in four people making financial gifts are aware of the risks of inheritance tax. Further to this, they found that only 45% of gifters reported being aware of inheritance tax rules and exemptions when they gave their largest gift.

A staggeringly low 8% of respondents considered tax rules before making a financial gift and most did not associate gifting with inheritance tax. When compared with the fact that over half of respondents said that they planned to leave inheritance, it’s obvious that there seems to be a gap in gifter’s knowledge.

For those who were aware of the rules surrounding inheritance tax, 54% said this influenced the value of their largest gift. This was most prevalent amongst affluent taxpayers who had assets of £500,000 or more. Respondents below this threshold had more limited knowledge of the long-term effects of inheritance tax, the seven-year rule or the annual limit on gifts.

So, where does the money go?

80% of gifters gave to individuals, with charities coming in second at around 10%. The most common beneficiaries were adult children, followed by 15% giving to parents or other family members and 14% making gifts to friends. The most popular reasons were presents for birthdays and weddings.

The data also suggested that even when individuals considered inheritance tax rulings, it did not deter them from giving the gift.

The rules

You can give away £3,000 worth of gifts each tax year (6 April to 5 April) without them being added to the value of your estate. This is known as your ‘annual exemption’. You can carry any unused annual exemption forward to the next year – but only for one year.

For smaller gifts, you can give as many gifts of up to £250 per person as you want during the tax year as long as you have not used another exemption on the same person.

The current starting threshold for inheritance tax for a single person is set at £325,000. This amount is then doubled for married couples and civil partners, who also have the additional benefit of the residential nil-rate band, which allows for a further £150,000 of tax-free, property-based inheritance per person. This particular allowance is set to rise to £175,000 as of the 6th of April 2020.

An unsuccessful PET is taxed depending on how long the gifter has lived following the giving of the gift and is referred to as ‘taper relief.’ If a gift is given less than three years before death, the full rate of 40% is applied to the gift, tapering off to 8% if the gift was given between six to seven years before death.

However, this is not the case when it comes to transactions with a reservation of benefit. For example, if you give away your home to your children and continue to occupy it rent-free, the property is still considered as forming part of your estate immediately if the worst were to happen. An individual cannot retain possession of a chattel or property whilst making a PET.

Though it may be difficult to plan for the worst, knowing how to best mitigate the tax surrounding gifts and inheritance can help you make key financial decisions at the most opportune moments, and prevent any avoidable losses when it comes to sharing your assets with the people and organisations that matter most to you.

What does it take to retire early?

The idea of retiring in your 50s or even your 40s sounds like a pipe-dream to most, what with the increased cost of living, inflation and other economic factors slowly eating away at your predicted earnings. This hasn’t stopped the rise of the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement, though, a new method of frugal living that aims for early retirement, escaping long working lives and living off the stock market or other supplementary income for good.

One of the most infamous experiments carried out by Stanford University is the marshmallow experiment, where a pair of psychologists gave children a choice: one reward now, or two rewards if they waited around 15 minutes. Some of the children took the early reward of a marshmallow. Others struggled, but managed to wait longer, occupying themselves until it was time to receive a double reward.

Saving for retirement can be very similar to the lesson in delayed gratification, only more difficult. The children knew what reward awaited them should they be patient – most adults don’t have a clue if their savings will be enough for the future. When the reward is intangible or complicated, it’s even more difficult to set limits now in the hope of future benefits.

So, how do you do it?

Keep your spending in-house

From small seeds of saving do sturdy trees of retirement grow. Simply put, it’s good to aim small when beginning your savings journey. That £2.65 coffee from your local coffee shop is now going to be an instant in the office. No more eating out for lunch, it’s time for homemade meals to be brought into work with you. Cutting out the small daily expenses can really help boost your long term savings and help usher in that desired early retirement. Let’s take our £2.65 coffee for example, the average UK citizen works around 260 days a year – that’s £689 a year!

Utilise technology

There are a number of apps available, such as Moneybox, that make some basic assumptions about stock market returns and inflation rates which then inform you as to how much you’ll need to save. Having a handy app on your phone can help you make decisions on the fly and allow you to check what a potentially impulsive purchase may cost you in the future.

Shop around

Saving money where you can on bills, transport and other outgoings can help to grow your retirement pot quickly and without too much skin off your nose. Ask yourself whether you really need that magazine subscription or streaming service. Can you find a better deal on your phone or energy contract? The answer is often yes.

Take advantage of saving opportunities

The government has recently introduced a new Lifetime ISA open to those aged between 18 and 40. LISA account holders can save up to £4,000 a year, with the government adding an annual 25% bonus up to a maximum of £1,000. There is a limit, however. You won’t be able to contribute to a LISA or receive the bonus when you turn 50, but the account will stay open and your savings will continue accruing interest or investment returns. For more information on the terms of withdrawal and eligibility, check out this government’s guide.

Decide what your goals are

Ready for some serious saving? Pretirement is an app developed for the financially-inclined who want to put away small savings over the long term in order to save for a holiday or a new car. Their headline claim, using their clever algorithm, is that by saving £800 a month towards your retirement, you shave years off your working life, depending on what your retirement goals are.

And there’s the big question. What are your retirement goals? Do you want to live a life of luxury, enjoying all the potential freedoms that your new found free time will have to offer? Or would you rather have a comfortable yet frugal retirement. There’s a whole range of options available to you, and your retirement goals will help to inform you of how much you need to save and invest. A financial adviser can be a great help in determining this factor as they can give you direction on what the ideal savings plan is for you.

At the end of it all, the message is to save when and where you can. It’s about growing your savings and securing your finances.

The popularity of Equity release is growing, but is it a good move?

Equity release is no longer the niche lending area it once was. More and more homeowners over 55 are choosing to release cash tied up in their homes and there are few signs of this trend subsiding.

Lending in 2018 increased by 27% compared to the previous year and is now nearly double what it was in 2016. It’s likely that the UK’s growing elderly population, where many don’t have the pension security of generations past, is partly behind this expansion. The growing variety of equity release products on the market could also be a factor. Newer products mean that homeowners are able to gradually release money from their property, rather than taking it as a lump sum.

Is it a risky option?

Equity release doesn’t exactly have a squeaky clean reputation. There have been past accusations of mis-selling and there are occasions where relatives find themselves receiving less inheritance than they might have expected.

Because of the way interest accumulates over the years, people can end up owing a large amount of money that is paid back from the value of the property when a person dies or goes into care.

Whether equity release is a suitable solution really depends on a person’s individual financial and personal circumstances.

As well as getting sound financial advice beforehand, it’s always best to be open with loved ones about releasing equity from your property. Two in three complaints to the Financial Ombudsman about equity release come from relatives of people who have died or gone into care. It can save a lot of upset later on to be open about releasing cash from a property when you do it, rather than further down the line.

The bottom line is that equity release can play a crucial role in supporting a full retirement, alongside pensions, savings and other assets, for the right homeowner. Since homes are most people’s largest asset, it makes sense to at least consider how this asset can be used to fund retirement. Downsizing in later life is another way of releasing money from your home.

Sources
https://www.mortgagestrategy.co.uk/feature-the-rise-and-rise-of-equity-release

What to know about ISAs in 2019/2020

The rules around ISAs (or individual savings accounts) change relatively often and different types of ISA rise and fall in popularity depending on where savers consider the most competitive place to put their hard earned money.

ISAs are a great way to save because of their tax efficiency. You don’t pay income tax or capital gains tax on the returns and you can withdraw the amount any time as a tax free lump sum. Because of their tax efficiency, there are set limits on how much you can save using ISA accounts.

The 2019-20 tax year is an interesting year for ISAs because the main annual allowance isn’t increasing. The yearly total you can invest in an ISA remains at £20,000. This means that the ISA limit remains unchanged since April 2017.

Remember that all ISAs don’t have the same allowance. For Help to Buy ISAs, you can only save a maximum of £200 a month, on top of an initial deposit of £1,200. Lifetime ISAs (LISAs) have a maximum yearly allowance of £4,000, on top of which you benefit from a government top-up of 25% of your contributions.

One ISA allowance that is rising (slightly!) is the Junior ISA, increasing from £4,260 to £4,368. This means that relatives can contribute slightly more to a child’s future, in a savings account that can only be accessed when they reach 18. Junior ISA accounts are rapidly gaining in popularity, with around 907,000 such accounts subscribed to in the tax year 2017/2018. Great news for the youngest generation!

Stocks and Shares ISAs are also gaining more popularity, with an increase of nearly 250,000 in the last tax year. On the whole, though, the number of Adult ISA accounts subscribed to in the last year fell from 11.1 million in 2016/17 to 10.8 million in 2017/18.

For investors with Stocks and Shares ISAs, Brexit uncertainty has understandably created cause for concern. In this scenario, your best course of action is to make sure that your investments are properly diversified around the globe. Speak to us if you are unsure about what you can do to reduce risk during any post-Brexit turbulence. We’ll be more than happy to help.

Sources
https://blog.moneyfarm.com/en/isas/annual-2019-isa-allowance

one in seven widows are missing out on valuable tax breaks

New data reveals that thousands of widows are missing out on valuable tax breaks on money inherited from their late husbands or wives.

In 2015, the government introduced a new rule that allows spouses to claim an extra ISA allowance. This allowance, known as an Additional Permitted Subscription allowance (APS allowance), is available to the surviving spouse or civil partner of a deceased ISA investor, where the investor died on or after 3 December 2014.

According to the Tax Incentivised Savings Association (an ISA trade body), around 150,000 married ISA savers die each year. However, just 21,000 eligible spouses used their APS allowance in the 2017-18 tax year, meaning they may be paying more tax than they need to pay.

Many bereaved spouses are unaware of the extra protections they can claim on, while others find the process difficult and confusing.

It is thought that many of those who lose out are widows whose husbands pass away without informing them of the exact nature of their financial affairs. In some cases, widows only discover large sums of money long after their husband’s death.

Situations like this have led to many to call for greater transparency between spouses around their financial affairs. A culture of privacy around financial matters is rife among the ‘baby boomer’ generation, where the higher earner often manages the money and investments. This can leave the bereaved in a precarious position, especially if they don’t know what bank accounts, investments and companies their spouse may have managed.

If your partner has left funds held in an ISA to someone else, you’re still entitled to APS. For instance, if your partner left an ISA of £45,000 to their friends and family, you can use your APS allowance to put an extra £45,000 into an ISA of your own.

Think you might be able to claim? You can apply through your late partner’s ISA provider. You will need to fill in a form, similar to when you open an ISA.

Sources
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/personal-banking/savings/one-seven-widows-missing-valuable-tax-breaks/

New year, new you for your finances

With the new year comes new possibilities, and most of us like to put a resolution in place. While you might not stick to your January gym membership or finally get that novel written, committing yourself to a financial resolution is an excellent way to start 2019.

Improving a financial situation has proven to be a high priority for the British public as we turn the first page on a new calendar. In fact, the average adult will commit £4,600 on financial resolutions; this includes goals like paying off a debt or moving house. For those under the age of 25, 11% of people aim to clear their debts in the new year, and for the over 55s that figure increases to 15%.

Even with the best intentions, however, it can be tough to see resolutions bear fruit. Luckily, there are a few steps you can take to give yourself the best chance.

1. Look before you leap!

It can be tempting to jump into the new year with big plans for the future, but if you’re not looking at where you’re coming from, you may not be giving those plans the preparation they need to flourish. Review your spending for 2018, collect your bank statements, bills and receipts and look out for areas of excessive or unnecessary expenditure. Once you’ve identified any pitfalls, they’ll be much easier to avoid in the year ahead.

2. Find your feet

Once you’ve got a good grasp of how the past year has been for your finances, you’ll have an understanding of where you are currently. There may be actions you can take immediately to better your situation. For example, review any subscriptions or direct debits that you now deem unnecessary. Sell any unnecessary items to create an income without any serious lifestyle changes. Consolidate debts with balance transfer cards, to make payments more manageable and to potentially lower your interest rate. Simplifying and strengthening your financial situation at the start of the year will give you greater control over the coming months.

3. Set goals and be reasonable!

There’s no point in setting a goal that is unachievable, only to disappoint yourself when you inevitably fail to meet it. With a solid understanding of your recent financial habits and your current position, set yourself an achievable plan for the year ahead. Be specific and make it measurable! Rather than pledging to eradicate all of your debt, identify a portion that you’re confident you can clear, and set yourself benchmarks to help track your progress.

4. Draw up a budget

It’s all well and good having a plan but you’ve got to stick to it. A well constructed budget can be just the thing to keep you on the straight and narrow. Gather information about your income and outgoings and regulate your spending. For example, it can be very tempting to treat yourself when you receive some unexpected income but don’t ignore the opportunity to bump up your savings. Perhaps consider splitting that extra money between debt repayments and future savings, and if there’s any left over then go for that posh meal. The key is to keep up to date, and revise your savings goals and budget plans as you go so that you’re prepared for whatever the year may bring!

With the right preparation and planning, 2019 can be a great step forward for your finances – take on the challenge and have a happy new year!

Sources
https://www.equifax.co.uk/resources/money_management/new-year-new-start-to-your-finances.html

How can millennials get on the property ladder?

There’s been a lot of talk in the press recently about generational inequality, which has mostly been with good reason. Those currently in their twenties and thirties are earning far less than people the same age did 10 to 15 years ago.

The 2008 recession has put the millennial cohort far behind in terms of earnings and wages. Wages have never fully recovered since the recession and are still behind their pre-financial crisis peak. Many may be unable to ever afford to get on the property ladder, meaning they will have a lifetime of rent payments to fund.

Also, rising house prices have meant that the average deposit has risen from around £10,000 in the Eighties and Nineties to between £50,000-60,000 today, according to analysis by accounting firm PwC. Even when adjusted for inflation, the rise is dramatic.

Auto-enrolment in pension schemes has begun to address some of the long term issues around retirement funding but even still, these do not compare to the security offered by ‘gold-plated’ direct contribution schemes.

The younger generation are already aware that they will have to work far longer. Early retirement will likely be the premise of the rich, lucky or extremely frugal. Fortunately, millennials look set to be able to cope with the demands of a longer working life. The younger generation are fitter and healthier compared to previous generations with far fewer smokers and better diets.

Although a longer working life might be a path towards an eventual retirement, it does little to help young people get on the housing ladder. The fact of the matter is that many young people will need some kind of ‘leg up’ if they are to achieve the financial stability that many of the ‘baby-boomer’ generation managed.

The income gap between older and younger generations means that many young workers will have to rely on the wealth accumulated by their parents and grandparents if they are to sustain the same quality of life.

Family loans have become increasingly important for the financial wellbeing of young people. Many are giving younger generations so-called ‘early inheritances’ in the hope that such loans will enable them to get a foot on the property ladder. This is already so widespread that nearly eight out of 10 first-time buyers in London are receiving some sort of financial help from their parents.

Parents and grandparents are funding help through a variety of means. Almost three quarters of parents used their life savings to help out with the cash, while a third downsized or released equity from their homes. Another third accessed pensions cash; either cashing in lump sums through income drawdown or annual annuities. 7% remortgaged and 6% took out a loan themselves.

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Sources
Sunniva Kolostyak “Fireworks for millennials” in Pensions Age, November 2018
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/personal-banking/mortgages/baby-boomer-vs-gen-y-homebuying-in-1982-compared-to-2016/

Pension drawdown in an era of long life expectancies

Pension drawdown in an era of long life expectancies

Retirement planning means taking into account a whole host of factors. You have to navigate tough questions like, ‘What will the impact of inflation be?’ or ‘When will interest rates start to creep up?’

As well as these, there is another question that must be considered: ‘How long will you live?’

This question is unanswerable but figures suggest that some pensioners might be getting this figure very wrong when it comes to drawdown. Many are running the risk that their retirement pot kicks the bucket before they do.

Research by AJ Bell indicates that 50% of people aged 55-59 who’ve entered income drawdown say they have only enough savings to tide them over for 20 years. This might sound like a long time but when you consider that average life expectancy for this cohort of savers is 82 for men and 85 for women, many risk running out of money.

The reality is that none of us know how long we will live. When you factor in that there’s a fair chance that a few of AJ Bell’s respondents might live to 90 or even 100, it’s clear that many pensioners could be drawing from their savings at an unsustainable rate.

Withdrawal rates

AJ Bell also asked their respondents about their withdrawal rates. They discovered that 57% of people in the 55 to 59 age bracket are withdrawing more than 10% of their fund each year. This reduces to 43% of people in the 60 to 64 age bracket and 34% of people in the 65 to 69 age bracket.

While many use their early retirement to travel and embark on their larger plans, over-withdrawing early on could mean that they end up without the money to cover costs that arise in later life, such as care costs.

The average size of the fund in AJ Bell’s questionnaire was £118,000. Based on this, a 10% annual withdrawal of £11,800 would result in the income lasting just 12 years. However, if the withdrawal is reduced to 6% of starting value, the same fund might last for 29 years. These estimations don’t take into account the detrimental impact of inflation, which currently runs at 2.7%.

Working out a sustainable drawdown rate is difficult and depends on a whole range of factors. Your regulated financial adviser or planner should be able to give you your best chance of a good retirement outcome.

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Sources
https://www.retirement-planner.co.uk/232530/tom-selby-life-expectancy-guessing-game