Why This Rebel Is Keen To Remain In Europe

I’m on a narrowboat this week and not paying much attention to the news, but when an MP is murdered in cold blood it’s an event that can’t be ignored.

It seems as though the perpetrator was suffering his own mental health problems, but such extreme action has to have some underlying trigger. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to guess that the Brexit campaign could have been it. I can’t be the only one to have become thoroughly disenchanted with the way in which the campaigns have descended from at least some semblance of intelligent debate to bickering, personal attacks and name calling. It seems that this has to be the way of modern politics.

(FILES) This file photo taken on August

image from metro.co.uk

What depresses me further is that the debate seems to have become about nationalism and whether you are ‘for’ or ‘against’ Britain and her continued existence. To even suggest that a vote to Remain is anti-British has to be the ultimate in distortion of reality.

I’m as passionate about this country – by which I mean the United Kingdom in its entirety – as anyone, and it’s because of this very belief that I am so strongly in favour of staying in.

That doesn’t mean I’m happy with the status quo, far from it. Europe is by no means perfect, and if it is to succeed in the long term it has to change. I think that the idea of ever closer political union in Europe is wrong, and that the EU has made some significant errors of economic policy that haven’t helped the lives of its citizens.

Red Tape Can Be Good

But despite the rhetoric there is a lot of good to being a member of the European ‘Club’. A lot of the so-called ‘red tape’ that comes out of Brussels is aimed at harmonising trade, and that requires regulations to be proposed, drafted, debated and accepted. In return our businesses can sell their goods right across Europe with no further restrictions, and this has been a boost to trade over the years. In my own field, financial services, it has taken a long time to get this harmonisation in place and there is still a way to go, but Britain has been a significant winner in its areas of expertise, with 30% of the European banking market, half of Europe’s fund management business, and well over 80% of hedge fund activity, a major money-spinner for the City. Leaving the EU would definitely put this major trade at risk, and it could take years to recover our position. Surely if rules are being drafted for the pan-European market that we will have to conform to anyway, it makes sense to have a place at the negotiating table?

Immigration

Arrivals from the European Union customs channel at Stansted Airport, England, Britain UK

image from viewsbank.com

Perhaps the greatest area of concern for many people is that of immigration. On this one I’m probably of a different view to many, because I’m all in favour of open borders. In my idealistic world it would be possible for anyone to travel anywhere without hindrance, and it would be great to think that, one day in the future that might happen. I do accept that the world isn’t ideal, of course, and in reality controls are required, but free movement of goods, services and people within the EU seems to me to be a laudable objective. This doesn’t mean free access to all services the state provides, of course, and it’s here that the debate should focus in my view. David Cameron has already gained acknowledgement of this within Europe and the Government’s policy has for some time been aimed at limiting benefits for migrants.

There’s a well-proven economic case for such free movement. At a time when Western economies are facing the prospect of ageing populations as the 1950’s baby boomers’ move into retirement, we need younger workers to be able to grow. It’s also true that many new businesses are started by immigrants seeking a better life for their families. Ultimately the way to resolve the pressure of immigration is to help make the countries from which the people come to be stable and prosperous, and here the EU has a role.

If we were to exit the Union I really can’t see how things would change much on this front, either. A large proportion of immigrants are from non-EU countries already, and we couldn’t hope for much tighter controls whilst enjoying unfettered movement of our own goods, services and citizens. It’s folly to believe otherwise.

Change is already happening

There is evidence that the EU is already changing. Its politicians are getting the message that, right across Europe, there is disenchantment with its opaqueness and remoteness from the people whose lives it affects. The influx of smaller nations who have joined in recent years

Eu Flags

image from guardian.co.uk

aren’t interested in ever closer political union, they want better access to Europe’s markets, stability, and protection against aggressors, notably Russia. Britain, with its emphasis on defence (on which we spend more than most other Euro nations) and trade is seen as a strong and consistent voice with the scale and economic clout to be a positive leader in Europe. The very intensity of the UK Brexit debate has made politicians across Europe sit up and take notice. We aren’t the only ones who aren’t entirely happy, as evidenced by rising nationalistic voices in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and many other countries. Something must be done.

Agitate from within

I’ve always seen myself as something of a rebel. I’m all in favour of shaking things up and agitating for change. But I came to realise a long time ago that crusading through the streets holding placards and chanting slogans is nothing like as effective as being on the inside and influencing things with the people who hold the power. Attractive as it might feel to make a protest against Europe and ‘stand up for Britain,’ let’s not throw away years of negotiations and effort that could set us back 10 years or more and leave us with less influence and no real gains.

Instead, let’s create the necessary change from within with a strong voice and firm principles. Let’s stand up for Britain as a negotiating partner and not a truculent absentee.

In my humble opinion, a vote for Britain is a vote to Remain.

Andy Jervis

19-06-2016

IFP Conference Report 2015 Day One

As a long-standing member of the Institute of Financial Planning I have always enjoyed attending the Annual Conference, held for the last few years in the luxurious surroundings of the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport. Today is the first day of the Conference and it’s already provided plenty of meaty food for thought.

I first got involved with the IFP in the early 1990’s, and much of what Chesterton House now practices has been learned from that long association. Members have always been generous in sharing ideas, and I’ve been highly impressed by their dedication to delivering great results for clients as well as wanting to know how to run highly effective businesses – two things that go hand-in-hand.

Twenty years ago the Annual Conference was held at Cambridge University, a mark of the aspirations of the leading players in the Institute at that time, during an era when salesmanship was much more highly prized by financial institutions than academic rigour. Since then, the regulators have imposed the need for learning on to advisers in the form of the RDR, which brought in the requirement for financial qualifications for anyone giving advice to the public. Many of the old school decided that was a time to leave the business, but for the IFP it felt like its time had come. With a burgeoning need for high quality advice from a wealthier, older and more time-pressured population facing an ever more complicated world, the IFP’s blend of holistic financial planning skills, high integrity and focus on long-term relationship based business models is proving successful for those practitioners who choose to follow it.

The Conference is the annual coming together of advisers and financial professionals seeking the latest ideas and techniques, as well as to enjoy the camaraderie of ‘front-line’ practitioners. It’s always an inspiring event and this year is proving no different.

We began this morning with a session specifically designed for members of firms holding the Accredited Financial Planning Firm designation, of which Chesterton House is proud to be one. An overview of a member survey that gave us some useful benchmarks on which we could measure our respective firms performance was followed by an excellent talk by Nicky Simonds-Gooding of Gazing Performance Systems about how to raise your performance in an increasingly pressurised world. Nicky taught us to use the Samurai principle of the ‘Double Gaze’ – being able to focus intensively on specific details whilst still having an eye on the Bigger Picture, something that resonated strongly with our approach at Chesterton House. She went on to remind us that the High Performance mind set says that however good we are, we can always improve, and suggested some techniques for generating that improvement. Inspiring stuff.

The Institute’s AGM was followed by a session discussing the future of the IFP, which has just agreed to merge with the Chartered Institute of Securities and Investments, a much larger body with an academic base. This has been a big deal for IFP members and, amongst general approval of the potential benefits of the deal, there was concern that the unique qualities of the IFP might be subsumed into the CISI over time. We were assured that wasn’t going to happen, and members were reassured by the obvious enthusiasm for the idea of an expanded organisation being able to spread the word about what real financial planning is and its potential to change people’s lives.

The next session asked, ‘Does Size Matter,’ with leaders of small, medium and large financial planning firms discussing how to continue to deliver a consistent client experience and the highest quality advice as firms grow. This is something that’s particularly relevant to me in my role as Chairman of Chesterton House as our own growth continues, and there were some useful observations from the panel that I noted down.

The next session from Alison Broadberry of Charles Russell Speechlys Solicitors explored the area of Estate Planning for Business Owners. This was another topic of great relevance to me as our Legal Team develops its role in working with families and successful business people to ensure that their assets end up where they intended. Alison explained how a ‘Company Will’ can be used to create certainty for business owners faced with the death of a partner or owner, as well as ways to use trusts to protect business assets on death and massively reduce tax bills. The session was a helpful reminder of these ideas that will be useful when advising clients who are in this situation.

The final session from Michael Langerup of ETF Securities asked, ‘What’s So Smart About Smart Beta’. This was a talk aimed at the investment geeks among us, investigating as it did the market for passive investments based on Exchange traded Funds (ETFs) and the differences between them. If you’re really interested in Systematic Factor Strategies based on key macro risks as a way to diversify your portfolio I’ll be happy to speak to you separately. Or send you to see Michael.

With a lively exhibition area used as a meeting and eating venue for the evening it was great to catch up with some old acquaintances as well as make some new ones. After such an interesting day in a great Conference venue its no wonder some of us keep returning each year.

Tomorrow is an early start as sessions start at 8.15am, and it’s just turned midnight as I write this so I think that’s enough for now. Over and out!

 

Protecting Your Legacy

Last Wednesday (23rd September, 2015) saw our Team gather together with an audience of around 40 guests at Quorn Country Hotel to consider how to ‘Protect your Legacy’.

Over the course of the morning Nelissa explained why it’s so important to make a Will, Rebecca told us how Inheritance Tax works, how much you’re likely to pay, and various ideas for how to avoid it.

Richard went on to explain how valuable tax reliefs can help reduce your IHT bill, especially in the area of Business Property Relief. Dave went on to cover a range of planning possibilities using trusts to reduce your tax whilst still keeping control over your cash.

We asked the attendees how useful they found the Seminar, and the praise was high. They told us that the morning had been clear and informative, and had given them a new insight into planning for the future. There was also a wide appreciation that everyone’s circumstances are different, and that there is no single solution that works for everyone. You can view some of their comments in this short video.


The final session of the morning gathered a number of the ideas together in the form of a ‘real-life’ case study, the story of one particular Chesterton House client with a long relationship with the firm. Richard and Rebecca explained how, using a combination of financial planning, investing and legal strategies it had been possible to reduce this couple’s eventual tax bill to a tiny fraction of the amount that would have been payable without taking any action, whilst still ensuring that there were ample funds to pay for the care and support that was required for several years towards the end of their lives.

The case study was a great example of how a long-term professional relationship, focused on a person’s needs, goals and objectives, implemented and adjusted regularly over the years as those needs and circumstances change, can bring not only great peace of mind but also real financial benefit. It also highlighted the advantage of financial, legal and accounting professionals working together to get the best outcome for clients – a hallmark of our service at Chesterton House.

If these are topics in which you have an interest, you can start by having a word with our Team. They would be very pleased to discuss your situation with you.

Here Comes The Sun!

Standing in a large field wearing steel toe-capped boots in a chilly September wind isn’t our usual idea of Chesterton House-style hospitality, but it’s what we and around 30 clients and friends were doing this week. So what was it that had captured our interest?

We were guests of Foresight Investment group, owners of one of the UK’s largest solar energy farms, which happens to be located just a few minutes drive from our offices near the village of Wymeswold.

In fact it wasn’t until towards the end of the visit when the site manager invited our party to climb the small hill that overlooks the former airfield site of the farm that we fully appreciated the scale of this silent power station. Despite being home to an amazing 140,000 solar panels over a 190 acre area, the development is unobtrusive from the adjacent roads and I suspect that few local residents appreciate its scale either.

Looking out over a sea of solar panels

We had earlier been welcomed to the site by Nick Morgan of Foresight, and he had explained the investment merits of this form of energy production, with its stable and highly predictable revenue stream. Richard Urwin, Investment Director at Chesterton House, told the assembled group about the benefits arising from an index-linked income stream and why this farm had been included in our clients’ investment portfolios.

Site manager Arnoud Klaren then went on to share details of the site, how it was constructed, and how it harvests energy from the sun to generate a constant stream of electricity for the National Grid. With a potential output of 34 MW of electricity, the site produces enough energy to power the equivalent of 10,000 homes.

Except, of course, when there is no sun, which remained conspicuous by its absence. The grey skies got greyer, the wind got colder, and the boots got less comfortable as we stood and listened. We were pleased to hear that the panels still generate power even under the very darkest of daylight skies, but we were denied the opportunity to hear the inverter – a large caravan size metal box that turns the solar direct current into the alternating variety required by the grid – really sizzle, as Arnoud assured us it does when the sun shines bright.

It was obvious that the unseasonal chill hadn’t dimmed everyone’s enjoyment of the event, however. Arnoud fielded a wide range of questions with clear and enthusiastic answers, and we all learned a great deal about both the practicalities and problems of modern ‘clean’ energy generation as well as the financial implications involved.

As the world focuses on reducing its carbon emissions this promises to be one area that is ripe for continuing innovation. An obvious problem with solar-generated energy is what happens at night, and Arnoud described some of the ideas that are being developed to be able to create a stable energy stream, from the use of batteries to store surplus power, to using lakes that use surplus power to raise water in daytime allowing it to fall and generate hydroelectric power as required overnight. As the number of alternative energy generators increases, with consequent falls in installation costs, it becomes more economic to investigate these ideas and create workable solutions. Watch this space!

As the cool breeze continued we were pleased to retire to the Windmill Inn in Wymeswold which provided us with an excellent buffet lunch in their welcoming warm surroundings. The comments we received then and since confirmed that everyone had found this an enjoyable and very informative way to spend a morning.

We’re grateful to Foresight for this opportunity, which we may repeat in the spring. If you’re a client of Chesterton House, or you’re interested in the possibilities of using solar power in your portfolio, and you’d like to come along next time please drop Jenny a line at jenny@chestertonhouse.co.uk and she’ll get in touch when we’ve fixed something up.

And let’s hope that next time the sun comes out. I would love to hear that inverter sizzle!

 

Build Recurring Revenue

Andy will be speaking on the subject of ‘Profit’ at three ‘Love Business’ breakfast workshops to be held in Leicester, Nottingham and Derby on the mornings of 23rd, 24th and 25th June 2015 respectively, and he has written a series of blogs to set the scene for the workshops. If you’re in business entry is free. Each one will be packed with dozens of ideas around the theme of doing great business in the new age of the millennial buyer. Click here for more details and a registration form.

Most businesses survive on their next order. If the order doesn’t materialise, their business is dead.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is usually scope to focus on building recurring revenue as the route to higher profits, greater predictability of income, and more capital value in your business.

What product, service or benefit will your customer enter into a contract with you to provide? Could you make your life – and, more importantly, your customer’s life – easier by agreeing the details now?

I’m constantly amazed by how many businesses completely fail to capitalise on this future revenue stream. For example, for many years we have used the services of a heating engineer to carry out an annual gas safety check on property we own.

Has the engineer ever suggested a regular contract to guarantee that this important check will never be missed? Perhaps offering priority attention in the event of breakdown or emergency? Maybe even special ‘favoured customer’ terms on other work?

You can guess the answer.

We’ve periodically required our offices to be refurbished and painted. Has the contractor ever offered to schedule future work in advance to an agreed schedule on a regular monthly payment scheme? If so, might there have been other work that could have been included on the schedule – other properties, or maybe our home?

I’ll let you speculate on whether this ever happened.

When we’ve taken a car for service, did the garage recommend a service plan to cover the cost of future work and guarantee a high standard? No – although the very same garage offers a five year service plan on a new car we bought from them.

I could go on and on (and as my wife tells me, I often do!).

But you get the idea.

Some businesses don’t lend themselves to this type of regular-payment arrangement, but in my experience they are the exception, not the rule .

So let’s say you achieved this, and were successful in getting a substantial part of your work onto a recurring, contractual basis. What implications would that have for your work scheduling? For your staffing needs? For your ability to seek efficiencies in delivery as a result of your new focus on consistently repeated processes?

Being able to predict revenues, costs and profitability in advance, what effect would there be on the value of your business to a potential purchaser?

Of course, if you’re going to make promises you need to match them with great performance. Don’t offer what you can’t deliver.

But for many customers seeking great service from a business they can trust, entering into a long term contract is one less thing to worry about. And one more step towards your highly successful business.

Income Less Expenses Equals Profit

Andy will be speaking on the subject of ‘Profit’ at three ‘Love Business’ breakfast workshops to be held in Leicester, Nottingham and Derby on the mornings of 23rd, 24th and 25th June 2015 respectively, and he has written a series of blogs to set the scene for the workshops. If you’re in business entry is free. Each one will be packed with dozens of ideas around the theme of doing great business in the new age of the millennial buyer. Click here for more details and a registration form.

I have a friend and long-standing client who is focused on cost reduction in his business, and has been for years. Over time his business has become more efficient, leaner and better run.

His problem is that, in all of that time, his turnover has remained stationery. He now delivers his service for less money than he did ten years ago. His business is slowly, inexorably, strangling him to death.

He hasn’t learned the lesson that Ken Blanchard expressed in his seminal book, ‘Big Bucks,’ the third of his cardinal rules of business. It’s a simple rule, and it says ‘Income Less Expenses Equals Profit.’

Now you might imagine that is just what my friend is practising. If you do, you’ve missed the most important part of the equation.

There are two variables in play here; Income and Expenses. One has limited application. The other is completely without limits. Which will you spend your time working on?

Let me expand. You cannot cut your expenses by more than 100% of their current level. The more you cut, the harder it will be to grow. A business spending nothing is unlikely to move forward (although if you know of a way to run a business with zero costs, I’m all ears!).

Income, on the other hand, can be expanded exponentially without limit. Yes, this expansion is likely to mean higher costs, but my point is that the fastest way to more profit in your business is more income, not lower costs. That’s why the world’s great companies devote so much of their revenue to marketing and revenue expansion.

My friend lives in the shadow of the stigma of failure. Yet unless he changes his ways, failure is inevitable. In your business, are you prepared to countenance the risk of success by focusing on growth?

Profit is a Way of Being

Andy will be speaking on the subject of ‘Profit’ at three ‘Love Business’ breakfast workshops to be held in Leicester, Nottingham and Derby on the mornings of 23rd, 24th and 25th June 2015 respectively, and he has written a series of blogs to set the scene for the workshops. If you’re in business entry is free. Each one will be packed with dozens of ideas around the theme of doing great business in the new age of the millennial buyer. Click here for more details and a registration form.

In your business and mine, profit is a state of mind and a way of being. It derives from how you see the world, which in turn reflects in the actions you take and the results you achieve.

It sounds obvious to say that making more profit is the first objective of business, but in my experience that most often isn’t true, especially in smaller businesses. Ultimately you are driven by your values, which are the keys to your world. Understanding your own values is essential if you are to leverage your effectiveness.

For example, if you are in business, will you act to put more money in your bank before you focus on producing a great product? Before excellent design? Before building a first class reputation and the respect of your customers?

Is profit more important to you than working with a great team? Enjoying turning up for work each day? More important than doing work that fulfils you and gives your life purpose?

Or do you believe that doing these things will lead to profit? If so, how will you know?

Do you actually believe that making high profits is a ‘good thing?’ Or do you carry a secret belief around with you that suggests that companies that are highly profitable are somehow unethical, devious or self-serving? If you do, you’re not alone.

Who knows, you may be right.

If you’re running a registered charity.

Assuming that you’re not, perhaps it’s time to get your thinking straight about profit.

Here’s my view;

The level of profitability in a business reflects the value that the business delivers to its customers multiplied by the efficiency with which it delivers it.

That efficiency extends into all areas of business activity, encompassing production, finance, sales and marketing, people, etc. It’s what makes for the day to day challenge of running a successful enterprise. It has to be at the heart of everything you do, or eventually your business will fail or, much more likely, it will be completely without teeth in the fight to deliver your best work to the widest audience.

Which is where your profit will come from.

Ken Blanchard expresses this superbly in his excellent book ‘Big Bucks.’ In it, he describes the three cardinal rules of business.

Firstly, your business must be about something much more important than just making money.

Secondly, making money has to be the most important thing.

The resolution of this apparent dichotomy is what makes good businesses great. My advice is to get very clear about what your business brings to the world in words that are meaningful and inspiring to both you and your customers before you try to figure out how to deliver it profitably.

And the third of Blanchard’s cardinal rules? That’s for another blog.

 

 

How much money should I leave behind for my children?

 

This is a question that I was asked by a client recently, and as with many such questions, it’s a complex one to answer as it depends on your own personal views and values, as well as the personality and capabilities of the child.

When I thought about it further, I came to the conclusion that it’s actually the wrong question. You have no idea when you are going to die, what your future circumstances might be, how much wealth you may have, and what sort of person your child may grow into. I would therefore suggest that a much better question is to ask, “How can I prepare my child to make good decisions around money, to use it creatively and for the good of him or herself and society, and to avoid the bear traps and leeches that populate the financial world?”

There is plenty of evidence for the damaging effects that too much money too soon in life can wreak on young lives. Vorayud Yoovidhaya, the grandson of the founder of Red Bull was accused of the hit-and-run death of a police officer whilst driving his million-dollar Ferrari, and reportedly used his wealth to buy off the officer’s family and avoid prosecution. Brandon Davis, 32 year old oil heir and friend of Paris Hilton, is a regular in the tabloids for drug infringements and alleged nightclub brawls. Prince Pierre Casiraghi, son of Princess Caroline of Monaco, was accused of being “completely obnoxious”, insulting models and swigging from a $500 bottle of vodka after a brawl at a New York nightclub that left him in hospital. There are plenty of other examples.

 

For parents trying to deal with these excesses, views also vary. Gene Simmons, bass guitarist with American group KISS and reportedly worth $300 million, reportedly told CNBC “…in terms of an inheritance and stuff, (my kids are) gonna be taken care of, but they will never be rich off my money. Because every year they should be forced to get up out of bed, and go out and work and make their own way.”

 

Bill GatesMicrosoft founder Bill Gates feels similarly. He said “I didn’t think it was a good idea to give the money to my kids. That wouldn’t be good either for my kids or society.” Instead, he and his wife Melinda created the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 1994, which today has assets of over $37 billion.

 

 

Movie star Jackie Chan does not plan to leave his millions to his son, Jaycee. He told a reporter “If he is capable, he can make his own money. If he is not, then he will just be wasting my money.” Contrast that approach with young Suri Cruise, daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, who at the age of six reportedly had a three million-dollar wardrobe, and whose mother was apparently planning to surprise her daughter with an eight foot, $24,000 Grand Victorian Playhouse for Christmas, complete with running water, electricity, and extensive landscaping.
These are, of course, examples from the extreme end of the wealth spectrum. Nevertheless, the range of sentiments which are expressed can apply to all of us who have surplus funds that our children may one day inherit. So how do we prepare them for that day?

 

 

Inevitably, the good financial habits of children are likely to be built on the foundation of the practice of their parents. But sometimes, those habits aren’t always recognised.

 

I had a conversation with clients a few years ago when mother expressed a desire to give her three children a significant sum so that they could each buy their own homes. I asked her what was important about making this gift to her. She thought for a moment, and then told me that she didn’t want her children to struggle in the way that she and her husband had done over the years.

 

I reminded her of a previous conversation when we had explored her values in depth. At that time, she told me of her pride in achieving her financial success as a result of having to struggle and make good decisions in the tough times. This, she had said, had been the making of her.

 

I didn’t need to ask whether she wanted to take this away from her children. She saw the point immediately.

 

I quickly told her that I didn’t disagree at all with her giving money to her children – she could easily afford to do so – but she should firstly be clear about whether the children were ready to receive it.

 

George Kinder refers to these issues extensively in his book, ‘The Seven Stages of Money Maturity’. He describes the first two stages, Innocence and Pain, and explains how it is necessary as part of life’s journey to feel the pain before one can move onto the next stage, acquiring Knowledge. If the pain isn’t there, neither is the incentive to do the work necessary for personal growth.

 

Financial knowledge is essential on this journey. It is common for the very wealthy to enrol their children in financial education classes at an early age, enabling them to be equipped to deal with complex decisions around investment, accounting and trusts as well as to understand the role of philanthropy and community service in a well rounded financial life. It is a fact that the financial literacy of many young people leaving school today is extremely poor. Many have little idea about how a mortgage or credit card works, what the stock market does or how companies and governments operate. The child who understands these things early in life has a clear head start when it comes to understanding and dealing with his or her parents wealth.

 

Kids PiggyPerhaps the starting point for your child’s financial education is to revisit your own. Are your financial habits and attitudes appropriate and taking you where you want to go, or do you need some further coaching or education? Have you written down your own attitude to money, wealth creation, borrowing, saving and investing? When your child asks a financial question, are you able to give a rounded response?

 

Is money a problem for you, or is it the solution to a problem? How comfortable are you with your own wealth? If you have some issues in these areas, the chances are your child will grow up reflecting your views.

 

At Chesterton House we seek to work with our clients and their families to address these issues over time. If you don’t have a relationship with a financial planner who can assist you in this area, there are lots of financial information websites that are a good starting point. You need to make sure, though, that they aren’t just a cleverly dressed up sales message and that they are offering genuine education. Take your time to research and find a source of help that chimes with your own personal goals and values.

 

If you need any help on this topic, let me know. I’ll do what I can to point you in the right direction.

A Lesson In Entrepreneurship

I hadn’t heard of Graham Mulholland or his company, epm:technology, before last Thursday. If I had passed him in the street I doubt I would have given him a second glance. A quiet, unassuming figure, slight of build and modest in dress, Graham doesn’t come across as a person of great power.

Until you start to listen to his story. Because Graham is one of the finest examples I’ve ever come across of a true entrepreneur.

I was at Simon Bozeat’s Midlands Leadership Experience Money Debate listening to a group of successful local business people talking about how they did it and what they’ve learned. Gold dust to someone like me.

I’m always interested in the characteristics of successful business people, and how they got to where they are. There are some common features that are evident across this group, and Graham exhibited many of them. Features such as;

Vision. Graham told how he had realised that his business needed to grow, and that meant a new building. He described his vision of a factory purpose built for his business, a shining example of a modern icon for the high-tech field he operates in, with room to grow in line with his plans. The resulting construction (so new it doesn’t yet appear on Google) is clearly a product of Graham’s imagination and vision and he’s obviously very proud of it.

epm technology building

Single-mindedness. Graham negotiated government funding for the building project, tapping into an allocation of money available to businesses in the Derby area. When the auditors charged with approving the grant checked Graham’s books, they questioned why he was writing off a sizeable value of machinery to purchase new equipment at the same time as moving to the new premises. Graham pointed out that the project was designed to future-proof the business and relying on ageing plant, despite it still having life left in it, wasn’t part of the plan.

The auditors prevaricated. Graham dug in. If he couldn’t build the project as he’d envisaged it, he told them, let’s call the whole thing off.

I believed he would have done, too. They obviously believed him as well, because he got the money, got the new machinery, and created the platform for his business that he’d set out to achieve.

Problem-solving. As an engineer at the leading edge of technology, Graham is obviously used to solving problems. But what was so impressive about his approach was that he doesn’t just solve problems – he blows them apart. Like a true entrepreneur, his mind set is to view problems as a challenge to be solved, and if you can’t go round it, or over it, or under it, then just go straight through it. Very inspiring.

Courage. Graham described the process of acquiring other businesses along the road, and how he was doing deals with companies at a time when his own business wasn’t in the best of financial shape. Yet he knew that the acquisition was the right thing to do, and he made it happen.

Self-reliance. Whilst Graham clearly understands how to build a great team of people, he also realised that in making the decisions he needed to make he wasn’t going to get support from some key players, especially the banks. His willingness to look for other options meant that, instead of being in hock to them he was a few steps ahead, meaning he could dictate terms when it mattered.

There were other qualities I could highlight, but you get the picture. The point is, if you want to get things done then find someone like Graham in your life or your business who will show you that you don’t have to take no for an answer, and that if your vision is clear enough you really can change the world.

Thanks Graham, and the other speakers at the event, for sharing your story. I for one appreciated it.

If you’re interested in meeting people like Graham, the Midlands Leadership Experience is a great way to do it. You can register for more information on their website.

 

Borrowing to Invest

Often the ideas in a blog post spring out of a conversation with a client or colleague, and this one is no different. So James, this one is for you.

Debt is expensive, and your lender needs to make a return on their money so they aren’t going to give you interest on cash you deposit with them of more than they’re taking off you in loan interest or they’ll soon be broke.

So why borrow at all?

Reason one is to enable you to buy something now and pay later. Your house is the obvious example.

The second reason is to invest. If you can make a return on the borrowed cash of more than the cost of the loan, you’re in profit.

The problem is that generating a return of more than your loan interest rate can only usually be done by accepting more risk. The scale of this risk will determine your willingness to borrow.

If the money is going in to your own business you might think the risk is worth taking. If you can borrow £x and turn it into £10x or £100x that sounds like good business.

You could put the money into shares or similar investments. The returns should be better, but there’s no guarantee, and the value of your borrowed investment can fluctuate wildly.

If you’re using mainstream investments borrowing to invest might still be an attractive strategy. The return on a well-managed mixed portfolio (shares, bonds, etc) has averaged several percent a year more than the average mortgage rate for decades, so profits should be forthcoming.

By far the most popular form of borrowing to invest is to purchase investment property. Whilst the returns aren’t spectacular, the income you’ll receive from renting out your house or building is reasonably predictable. You’ll be able to work out the return for yourself.

Investing in property has some other important features. Firstly, it’s easier to get someone to lend you the money in the first place. Lenders are happy to take property as security for your loan, and if you can’t keep up the repayments they could grab it back and sell it to get their money back.

Secondly, interest payments on property investments can usually be set against the rent for tax, reducing the true cost of borrowing significantly, especially if you pay tax at the higher rate.

The third reason is one of psychology. People view property investments as long term so they tend to worry less about swings in the price of houses or buildings. They will ride through economic downturns and tough times to get the benefit of long term growth.

There are very few lenders, on the other hand, who would accept your share and bond portfolio as security, so you’re restricted to either borrowing lesser amounts in the form of a personal loan, or using a property that you own as the security the bank will require. I’m not sure there’s a lot of sense in this rule, but that’s how it is.

Your share portfolio will probably require tougher nerves, too. The sheer visibility of share prices is a big reason why many people don’t stay the course. They are much more likely to cash in when times are bad instead of riding through the ups and downs to get the returns that come through over time.

So is it worth it? Let’s put some numbers on the table to show what’s possible.

Let’s say you borrow £100,000, in the form of a mortgage on your existing property, at a loan interest rate of 5% a year. Here are the figures:

At start 5years 10 years 15 years 20 years 25 years
Amount borrowed £100,000 £100,000 £100,000 £100,000 £100,000 £100,000
Total loan plus interest cost at 5% £100,000 £125,000 £150,000 £175,000 £200,000 £225,000
Total loan interest cost at 5% with 40% tax relief £100,000 £115,000 £130,000 £145,000 £160,000 £175,000
Amount invested at 3% compound growth £100,000 £115,927 £134,392 £155,797 £180,611 £209,378
Amount invested at 5% compound growth £100,000 £127,628 £162,889 £207,893 £265,330 £338,635
Amount invested at 7% compound growth £100,000 £140,255 £196,715 £275,903 £386,968 £542,743
Amount invested at 9% compound growth £100,000 £153,862 £236,736 £364,248 £560,441 £862,308

Or, to show it another way:

Chart

Interestingly, even where the loan interest and the return achieved are similar (as shown by the 5% less tax relief and 3% growth lines) the investment return still outstrips the loan interest cost over time. This is because of the compounding effect of the investment, whereby interest is earned on interest.

What this says is that if you could get a return of, say 7% a year whilst paying interest of 5%, over 25 years you would have made a profit of £317,743 in total, and if you could get a 9% return you’d be ahead by £637,308.

Of course it also shows that if your return is only 3% a year you’d be £15,622 worse off in total, although you would still have £109,378 left over if you paid off the outstanding loan at that point, because you’ve paid the loan interest along the way.

So should you follow this plan to get rich? As always, the answer is – it depends. There are a few questions you’ll need to ask yourself before you start. Here are some of them;

  1. Are you able to borrow the money in the first place? If the amount you want to raise is substantial you’ll probably need something to offer as security and you’ll need to show how you propose to make the repayments.
  2. Can you afford the repayments? Do you know how much they will be and how to calculate them?
  3. What will happen to your plan if the loan interest rate changes? Could you afford the extra commitment if the loan cost doubled, say? There was a period in the 1990’s when interest rates reached 15%. If that happened again, how would you cope? (everyone taking out a mortgage should consider this question, by the way).
  4. Do you know what the likely return on your investment will be?
  5. Do you understand how secure your invested capital will be? What’s the risk of losing some or all of it? Do you really understand what you’re getting into?
  6. Are you prepared for the inevitable swings in market prices and investment values? For example, an investment in shares would have returned around 9% a year over the last 20 years or so, but there were some years when values were down to almost half their previous level. Do you have the stomach for that kind of ride?
  7. Will you need to borrow for any other reason? If you’ve used up all of your credit line you’re going to have to sell something or do some tough negotiating to free up cash in the future.
  8. Are there restrictions or time penalties involved in either loan or investment terms? If your lender decides they want you to repay the loan immediately and you’ve put the cash into something that won’t pay out for five years you have what we call ‘a problem’.
  9. Is it worth it? Does the extra money you’ll make justify going through all of this work?
  10. Do you have the necessary skills to get the required returns for yourself? Or if you are giving the money to someone else to invest for you, have you carried out thorough (and I mean thorough) due diligence on them? Even the most plausible of people and finest of institutions can go pop or get their sums badly wrong, witness Lehman Brothers, RBS, Equitable Life, Tesco, etc., etc., etc.,…….). If in doubt pay for really good professional advice.
  11. If you’re dealing with an adviser; Do you understand the difference between sound advice and a sales story? Be especially careful of advisers who try to educate you. Here’s a quote from the Dalbar Report (dalbar.com); “Investor education….. has been used as the vehicle to transfer responsibility from the expert to the unwitting neophyte. By providing education, the investor is expected to make prudent decisions that relieve the expert of any responsibility. This use of education as a litigation defence may be effective in arbitration, in the courts and with regulators but it does nothing to protect the investor from making bad decisions.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
  12. What does your partner or spouse make of your plan? Trust only goes so far. Full communication is better.
  13. What is there about your plan that is so obvious that you’ve overlooked it?

Having tried to scare you with what could go wrong, don’t forget that you don’t get to win the trophy by sitting in the changing room twiddling your thumbs. If you’ve answered these questions carefully you should be prepared and be able to avoid the worst mistakes. Having decided, stick with your plan! Persistence is one of the keys to successful investing.

Good luck!