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6 UK dining experiences to feed your intrigue

Food is one of the greatest and most diverse pleasures that life has to offer – it can be simple, complex or anything in between. But a dining experience is another thing entirely. And there’s a whole range of different dining experiences available across the UK.

Dine on the water 

If the gentle lap of waves against the sides of a boat fits into your idyllic dining experience, you’re in luck. All over the country there are companies that offer river cruises where you can relax and enjoy a good meal while experiencing the many beautiful sights the UK has to offer. Canal Boat Cruises offer a series of countryside river cruises that are worth experiencing, whereas companies such as Bateaux London deliver fine dining sightseeing cruises in the capital for the metropolitan diner in you. 

Dine in the sky 

For those of you who’d like a more hair-raising dining experience, London in the Sky might be for you. Hanging 100ft above South Bank, 22 diners can enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner and cocktails prepared by a team standing at the centre of the table. Offering an indulgent menu of food and/or drinks, London in the Sky is a unique dining experience that’s worth booking if you’re planning to visit the city. 

Dine on the rails

Steam trains have been a part of British culture for over a century and there’s a whole host of companies that offer nostalgic trips through the countryside, complete with an excellent meal or afternoon tea. Into the Blue have a great selection of luxury and steam train dining experience trips that appeal to anyone who loves travel and food. 

Dine in the dark

Going from seeing sights to seeing nothing at all, the next entry on our list is a sensory experience that’s not to be missed. Dans Le Noir Londonoffers a dining experience so innovative that it won the British Restaurant Awards Best Culinary Experience Award of 2017. Diners are hosted and served by visually impaired waiters with the aim of generating a very human exchange between staff and diners. It’s truly a revolutionary take on dining and is a string worth adding to any foodie’s bow. 

Dine on the roads

For those of you who prefer your dining experiences on tarmac, rather than river or rail, Bustronome offers a gourmet sightseeing tour of London’s famous landmarks. You can travel in style, while enjoying foodie treats on the upper floor of a glass topped double-decker. The menus are often inspired by the changing seasons and are worth checking out regardless!

Afternoon tea at the Ritz

How could we not talk about dining experiences without mentioning tea at the Ritz? Treating yourself to one of the world’s most decadent afternoon tea services is something we have to recommend. With 18 different choices of loose-leaf tea and a large mixture of sandwiches and cakes, it’s a perfect way to enhance any visit to the capital. 

So there you have it, a list of experiences to add to your bucket list. Whether you’re looking for fine dining with a twist or a chance to be a tourist with your tea, there’s something here for everyone.

Sources
https://canalboatcruises.co.uk/cruising-restaurant/
https://www.theritzlondon.com/dine-with-us/afternoon-tea/
https://www.bustronome.com/en/london/
https://london.danslenoir.com/en/home/
https://www.intotheblue.co.uk/culinary-gourmet/steam-train-restaurant/
https://londoninthesky.co.uk/
https://www.bateauxlondon.com/thames-river-cruises

How to stay safe online

As we venture further into this new digital age, the security of your personal data grows more and more important. That’s why, for this article, we’ve decided to delve into the world of online security. Below you’ll find a series of strategies that we recommend you employ to protect your presence online… 

Keep software up to date

Make sure to keep installing software updates for your devices and programs. You can turn on automatic updates for many devices and applications for those of you with busy schedules. Staying up to date with security updates helps to protect your data from the newest digital threats out there. 

Avoid phishing scams

Phishing is a fraudulent attempt to obtain your sensitive data such as usernames, passwords or credit card information. They can be carried out by phone, text or through social media – but, most commonly, email. As a rule of thumb, financial institutions or governmental agencies will not ask for your personal passwords or credit card information via communications. Be suspicious of any official looking email, message or phone call that asks for personal or financial information.  

Practice good password management

Lots of us have too many passwords to manage, so it’s easy to cut corners like reusing the same password. We recommend that you try to have a different password for each account you have online and if you cannot remember them, it may be best to download some password management software or to keep a hard copy of them somewhere secure. 

Here are general rules you’ll want to follow when it comes to passwords: 

  • Use long passwords – 20 or more characters is recommended. 
  • Use a strong mix of characters, numbers, punctuation marks and letters. 
  • Don’t share your passwords with anyone. 
  • Update your passwords periodically, at least once every six months. 

Use mobile devices safely

Mobile devices have become an integral part of our lives and, more often than not, we use them regularly to communicate and stay up to date with our business. A few tips for securing your mobile device include: 

  • Only install apps from trusted sources 
  • Keep your device’s operating system updated
  • Lock your device with a PIN or password 
  • Never leave it unprotected in public

Be careful what you click

Avoid visiting unfamiliar websites or downloading software from untrusted sources. These sites often host malware that will automatically, and often subtly, compromise your computer. 

If attachments or links in an email are unexpected or suspicious for any reason, don’t click. 

Install anti virus software

Only install an antivirus program from a known or trusted source and make sure to keep it up to date. There are plenty of anti-virus programs out there to choose from, so it’s best to do some research in order to choose one that’s right for you. 

Back up, back up and back up again

Back up your data regularly – if you are a victim of a security incident, sometimes the only way to repair your computer is to erase and reinstall the system. Many cloud based programmes will do this automatically but if you store everything on a local device, regular back-ups are very important.

Some additional tips 

  • Use public wireless hot-spots wisely – make sure to connect to trusted networks and not share any personal data 
  • Be wary of what you plug into your computer – flash drives and mobile devices sometimes may contain malware
  • Be careful of what you share on social media websites 
  • Monitor your accounts for suspicious activity 
  • Use a firewall – Mac and Windows computers have basic firewalls installed as part of their operating system that can help to protect your computer from external attacks 
  • Bank or shop online only on trusted devices and networks and log out of these websites when you’ve completed your transactions. 

So there you have it. A quick rundown of how to stay safe online. We hope that these tips helped.

Sources
https://www.cnet.com/news/the-best-password-managers-directory/
https://securingtomorrow.mcafee.com/consumer/consumer-threat-notices/10-tips-stay-safe-online/
https://staysafeonline.org/blog/15-online-security-privacy-tips-college-students/

Ethical investments:what shade of green are you?

Light green, dark green – there’s a whole range of shades when it comes to ethical investment opportunities. If you want to invest your money in line with your moral compass, then ethical investment funds or ‘green funds’ are suited to you. There are a few types to choose from; let’s check them out…

Dark green

Dark green funds refer to funds that hold international ethical values at the heart of their investment strategy. Funds such as Kames Ethical Equity excludes certain areas completely. Tobacco and alcohol, oil & gas, munitions manufacturers and companies that utilise animal testing will not be found in such a portfolio. Another fund by Kames is their Ethical Cautious Managed fund which excludes energy stocks, tobacco and banks with investment banking operations. It also excludes government gilts on the bond side. 

Focused green

This is how we refer to ethical funds that only focus on a couple of particular areas for investment. Investing Ethically’s WHEB Sustainability fund has three focuses: health and population, climate change and resource efficiency. Legal & General’s Gender in Leadership fund is about investing purposefully without compromising returns – they believe that responsibly run, diverse companies will benefit both society and the investor. 

Light green

Funds within the lighter shade of green have ethical focus; they may invest in companies that are responsible in their practices, but might still be part of an industry deemed to be less than ethical. Such a fund would invest in an oil company aiming to move over to greener sources of energy. One such fund is Vanguard’s SRI Global Stock Fund which only invests in companies that meet the UN’s Global Compact Standards on environmental protection, labour standards, human rights and controversial weapons (it also excludes tobacco companies). 

Ethical investing offers the possibility of growing your wealth whilst benefiting society and is becoming more popular with investors of all ages. The ethical value of a particular fund, however, lies solely with the individual’s own personal values, as what is seen as ethical to one person may be deemed not so by another. That’s why it’s best to make sure each fund’s investment portfolio is consistent with your personal views before you invest. 

With all investment opportunities, there can be no guarantee of returns regardless of the fund’s ethical objectives. There will always be a degree of risk involved. It’s clear that investing ethically is becoming an increasingly important consideration for investors. Reflecting this, the sector has developed to offer a much wider range of funds and opportunities to meet a broad range of investor needs. The growth of the sector can only be seen as a positive step for investors and the broader society. 

Sources
https://www.lovemoney.com/news/77612/8-ethical-investment-funds-kames-jupiter-stewart-wheb-vanguard
https://www.hl.co.uk/funds/research-and-news/fund-sectors/ethical
https://www.ft.com/content/e75917a0-86ef-11e9-a028-86cea8523dc2
https://www.theguardian.com/money/2008/feb/11/investmentfunds.moneyinvestments

Cash versus bonds, which is safer?

Protecting and growing wealth is often one of the main objectives clients have. There are many investment opportunities out there that are described as ‘safe,’ but many individuals feel that cash is the safest option for them. Keeping your money in your account is an appealing option, as you know exactly where it is and can access it at any time. However, it may be worth looking into the other investment options available to you. 

Here’s some more detail of the cash versus bonds debate.

The benefits of cash

The main benefit, of course, is that you maintain complete control over your money. You simply deposit it into your bank account and there it remains. You can then review your balance and transaction history easily, knowing that no one else has access to those funds. 

Cash is available for those rainy days or times when emergency funds are required – it gives you flexibility. 

The risks of cash

Inflation is one of the biggest risks to cash. According to the ONS, the 12 month inflation figure as at June 2019 was 1.9%. This is the rate your savings require just to maintain their buying power, anything less than this and you are, in effect, losing money. 

The second risk surrounds what are referred to as ‘opportunity costs’. These are the potential profits that could have been acquired if your money had been used differently. Since holding cash generates relatively little profit, the opportunity cost could be quite high. 

It is generally prudent financial planning to always hold some cash for quick access and ‘emergencies’. Understanding just how much will be dependent on personal circumstances. Like all investments, there can be a risk of holding either too much or too little cash.

The benefits of bonds 

Unlike cash, investing in bonds offers the benefit of consistent investment income. Investing in a bond is similar to making a loan in the amount of the bond to the issuing entity – a company or government. In exchange for the loan, the issuing entity pays the bondholder periodically. The income generated by bonds is generally stable and quite predictable, allowing for robust financial planning. Once a bond matures, the issuing entity pays the bondholder the par value of its original purchase price. 

The risks of bonds 

The main risk of bond investing comes when the investment loses value. If the issuing entity defaults, you may lose some or all of the investment. It’s important to note, however, that bonds are rated to measure the credit quality of any individual bond. The higher the rating, the lower the risk. Government bonds tend to receive the highest ratings.

A bond might also lose value if interest rates rise. However, this is only a concern if a bondholder is looking to trade it in before the bond reaches maturity.

Sources
https://www.investorschronicle.co.uk/portfolio-clinic/2018/08/30/think-carefully-about-swapping-cash-for-bonds/
https://www.fool.com/how-to-invest/a-quick-guide-to-asset-allocation-stocks-vs-bonds.aspx
https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/103015/cash-vs-bonds-what-pick-times-uncertainty.asp

What is a green mortgage, and what can it do for you?

Back in 2017, the UK government published their Clean Growth Strategy, a report that included plans to work with lenders in order to create “green mortgage products,” that are able to “take account of the lower lending risk associated with more efficient properties and the reduced outgoings for customers living in more efficient homes.”

More recently in June 2019, The World Green Building Council Europe launched a new report: ‘Creating an energy-efficient Mortgage for Europe: the supporting role of the green building sector.’ So steps are certainly being made all over the world to introduce green mortgages into the market, but what exactly are they?

Green mortgages in the UK are mortgages that support energy-efficient homes. Barclays launched their first green mortgage back in April 2018, partnering with construction companies all over the UK in offering green mortgages on energy-efficient new builds. The home has to have an energy efficiency rating of 81 or above, or be in energy efficiency bands A or B, to be eligible.

Analysis by the Bank of England in October 2018 found that homeowners living in energy-efficient properties are less likely to be in payment arrears. The study of 1.8 million properties found that around 1.14% of energy-inefficient homes are in mortgage payment arrears, compared with 0.93% of energy-efficient properties, concluding that “energy efficiency of a property is a relevant predictor of mortgage risk.”

In support of these new energy efficient mortgages, providers are offering reduced rates for those looking to purchase property. The premise is simple: those owning energy-efficient homes are less likely to be in arrears, therefore carrying reduced risk to the lender.

These new mortgage options herald a more ethical, mutually beneficial approach to lending that fits within the new swathe of greener policies being enacted by governments around the world. Craig Calder, Director of Mortgages at Barclays, says that: “Green Mortgages need consistent support at the highest levels if they are to become the norm rather than a strand of alternative lending.”

With more and more companies seeking to improve their energy efficiency and their carbon footprint, financial opportunities such as green mortgages may become the norm. However, with such schemes still being relatively new, it seems that only time will tell.

Sources
https://www.mortgageloan.com/environment
https://www.barclays.co.uk/mortgages/green-home-mortgage/
https://bankunderground.co.uk/2018/10/16/insulated-from-risk-the-relationship-between-the-energy-efficiency-of-properties-and-mortgage-defaults/
https://www.worldgbc.org/creating-energy-efficient-mortgage-europe-access-report
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/700496/clean-growth-strategy-correction-april-2018.pdf

What is the open banking revolution?

Over a year and a half ago, a digital revolution introduced a new way for people to handle their money: open banking. All of a sudden at the touch of a button, you could compare household bills, control direct debts and track payments across each of your bank accounts.

Consumers can now provide their consent to allow for financial transaction data to be accessed without requiring them to give their personal login credentials to a third party. The government backed the new development with the aim of bringing more competition to the marketplace.

Specifically, the law requires UK banks to share their current account holder data through application programming interfaces (APIs). APIs are an integration technology that allows for different forms of software to communicate effectively with one another. They have a plethora of benefits and can be utilised in a number of valuable ways. In the finance sector, the main focus is on providing consumers with products better suited to their individual needs.

However, despite the initial buzz during the launch, public awareness has remained relatively low. According to a survey conducted by banking software developer Splendid Unlimited, only one in four people had heard of open banking in 2018 and one in five people who had heard of open banking said they knew what it actually was.

What’s out there?

Countless apps exist that can revolutionise the way we deal with our finances. Most high street banks now have apps that enable you to view all your accounts in one place, HSBC even goes a step further with their Connected Money app, which allows their customers to include the accounts they’ve opened with competitors in order to create a more convenient overall picture of their finances. There are also third party apps such as Yolt that give you oversights into your ingoings and outgoing while other apps like Bean enable you to compare deals on household bills, cancel subscriptions and track payments across all of your accounts.

There are apps for debt management, investment, retirement, credit analysis and more. Open banking can be seen to be fully embracing Apple’s famous 2009 slogan: ‘There’s an app for that.’

Risky business

According to research conducted by PwC, over 64% of adults are expected to have signed up to open banking driven services by 2022. However the research found that customers are slow to adopt due to concerns over companies they aren’t familiar with having access to their personal financial details.

Open banking came at a time when banks were becoming synonymous with poor digital security. Though many open banking supporters are seeking to dispel these concerns by maintaining data security.

Experts have determined that if open banking provides returns on investment, maintains trust and continues to respect the data of its users, then the mass adoption of budgeting apps and digital money assistants may happen sooner than we think.

Though the industry may be seen to be still finding its feet, if customers are educated on the safety of their data and the value open banking provides, banks and app providers may be able to build that vital trust that pushes the open banking revolution into the next stage.

Sources
https://www.ft.com/content/a5f0af78-133e-11e9-a581-4ff78404524e
https://www.ft.com/content/3930bbd2-f619-11e7-8715-e94187b3017e
https://www.unlimitedgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/LG-Unlimited-Open-BankingReport_Splendid_v03_LR.pdf
https://www.pwc.co.uk/industries/financial-services/insights/seize-open-banking-opportunity.html

Drawdown tax and flexible retirement income. What does it all mean?

Once you reach 55, a whole spread of opportunities will open themselves up to you. One such bonus is the fact that you can finally access that hard-saved pension fund. Up to 25% of your savings can be taken tax-free, with the remaining 75% being subject to income tax. The payable amount depends on your total income for the year and your tax rate. This is known as drawdown tax. 

You’ll only have to pay tax if you decide to draw over the 25% threshold. In this case, any income you take will be added to the rest of your taxable income for that year, and will be taxed at 20% after you pass the personal threshold. Therefore, if you were to take out a large withdrawal pushing you into the £40,000 to £150,000 bracket, you could be taxed at 40%. 

Your pension provider is required to deduct any tax before a withdrawal is paid and it’s likely that when you take a taxable payment for the first time, you’ll be taxed using an emergency tax code (it may be worth speaking to your pension provider about how you will be taxed). 

How do you manage your pot? 

If you choose to stay within the 25% lump sum, more often than not you’ll move the rest into one or more funds that allow you to take a taxable income at times to suit you. It’s wise to choose funds that match your income objectives and your attitude to risk, as the income you receive might be adjusted periodically depending on how well your investments are doing. 

You can also move your pension pot gradually into income drawdown. The 25% bracket still applies to each amount you move across, so you can take a quarter of the amount tax-free and place the rest into drawdown. 

A way to make your retirement income more flexible is to invest in an annuity or another type of income product, such as a gilt or corporate bond, which usually offer guarantees about growth and income. 

However, it’s paramount that you carefully plan how much income you can afford to take under pension drawdown as you don’t want to run out of money. Factors such as living longer than expected, taking too much out too early and poor investment performance can potentially hinder your drawdown plans. 

That’s why it’s important to regularly review your investments.

Sources
https://www.pensionbee.com/pensions-explained/pension-withdrawal/how-does-pension-drawdown-tax-work
https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/flexi-access-drawdown
https://blog.standardlife.co.uk/combiningyourpensions-2/

20 years after the ISA was launched, what does the future hold?

A study by the Yorkshire Building Society found that savers deposited £4.3bn into ISAs in the final week of the 2017/18 tax year, and the tax year just gone (2018/19) was set to see a similar final week deposit of up to £4bn. This was despite the number of ISA holders falling from 11.1m in 2016/17 to 10.8m in 2017/18.

ISAs, therefore, are continuing to be attractive.

They were launched two decades ago as a tax-free alternative to traditional savings accounts which failed to offer an interest rate that competed with the rate of inflation. At its advent, the total tax-free allowance was £7,000, but at least £4,000 had to be invested in funds, meaning the maximum you could save in a cash ISA was £3,000. Since then, the ISA portfolio has grown to include Help to Buy ISAs, Innovative ISAs and Lifetime ISAs. In addition to this, the tax-free saving allowance has increased, and today, savers are allowed to deposit up to £20,000 into their ISAs each tax year, tax-free.

That means no interest tax, no income tax and no capital gains tax. Cash ISAs also offer access to funds as easily as regular savings accounts and are an excellent choice when it comes to choosing a default savings account.

Take-up appears to be declining amongst younger generations, though, as the total number of adults saving into an ISA fell from 11.1m in 2016/17 to 10.8m last year. With so many opportunities available to young people these days, perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising that saving into an ISA is losing its appeal?

How can ISAs evolve to maintain appeal?

Clues may lie within the rise of Open Banking, as digital money apps have empowered many people to manage their money more actively.

These apps play a huge role, although it could be suggested that financial education should begin at a very young age. Encouraging young people to invest for the long term requires knowledge of the difference between investment and saving.

Einstein famously said that: “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple,” and it would be unwise to underestimate the importance of simplifying language. The financial sector is awash with acronyms and savings jargon, creating potentially confusing barriers to entry for savers.

Some financial advisers have called for a more holistic approach and to examine how other industries are driving long-term behaviour change. Think of how the music industry changed the way we purchase and listen to music with digital distribution and online streaming platforms such as Spotify.

Ross Duncton, head of Direct at BMO Global Asset Management, says that a ‘revolution is due for the savings and investment industry – with ISAs centre stage.’ After all, if savings options were to remain the same for the next twenty years, the steady decline of ISA uptake will only continue.

Sources
What Investment – Issue 434 May 2019
https://moneyfacts.co.uk/news/savings/billions-of-isa-savings-expected/

Why investing your money is more profitable than leaving it in a bank account

You’ve worked hard to accrue your wealth, so naturally you’ll want to see your finances flourish and develop. That raises the question: how best should you grow your finances?

Many people are drawn to banks to save their money, opting for the chance to get some interest and their money back. But in a time of rising inflation, you may be watching your money devalue over time. The wealth of many people in the UK is under threat, as inflation has risen past interest rates to slowly reduce your money’s buying power.

With inflation vastly outstripping savings account returns by 2%, it may be time to seek out other more valuable options to invest. Michael Martin of Seven Investment Management told the Financial Times that at the current rate, a £100,000 lump sum will fall to £81,790 in just ten years.

However, every year we’re reminded that equities are far more likely to produce higher returns than cash deposits. The most recent Equity Gilt Study released by Barclays found that since 1899, British stocks have returned 4.9% a year in real terms, compared to 1.3% for gilts and 0.7% for cash. Over the last decade, the respective figures are 5.8% for stocks, 2.7% for gilts and a miserable -2.5% for cash.

An investment kept for five years at any stage has a 76% chance of outperforming cash, which is no small margin. However, if you extend the holding period to ten years, the figure climbs up to a dizzying 91%.

The Barclays study also found that reinvesting income dividends is crucial to long-term returns. If you had invested £100 in UK stocks at the end of 1945 without reinvesting the dividends, the amount would now be worth £244 after inflation.

Ian Cowie, Personal Account columnist for the Sunday Times, says that shareholders “benefit from improvements in efficiency and inventions that occur over time.” Meaning that, as companies innovate and grow, the situation becomes mutually beneficial.

With cash suffering from a steady decline as time goes on, it may be better to look towards other avenues of financial development as a way to diversify your savings and help them grow.

The value of investments or income from them may go down as well as up. As stocks and shares are valued from second to second, their bid and offer value fluctuates sometimes widely.

Sources
https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/should-i-save-or-invest
https://moneyweek.com/505257/stocks-beat-cash-and-bonds-over-the-long-term/

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.