Nocturnal Animals, skin-deep values

Nocturnal Animals

The stories we tell ourselves invariably shape our lives. The choices we make about a partner, a spouse or a career are born of our own life experiences, encouragements and admonishments.  In our culture, success, invariably translates as material wealth. Increasingly this is underlined by fame or notoriety, where maintaining an image is all. Nocturnal Animals explores these ideas.

Hungry 

Traditionally within financial services, we have all been encouraged to want rather more. More will make us happier. To define our success by the amount of our net worth.  When I began advising, over a quarter of a century ago, the mantra of the day by those leading and training new recruits was to encourage over-reach. To ensure that advisers were sufficiently motivated (hungry) to achieve sales.  We were encouraged to appear successful, to be the success we wanted, despite not yet possessing any. Many took this as instruction to buy and acquire the things that presented the appearance of success, getting into debt in the process. This created further imperative to sell. The world of the adviser was very much “eat what you kill” which in short meant, if you don’t sell, you don’t eat. Almost everyone was self-employed.

Pressured Living

The result of a commission only culture, was unsurprising. “Advisers” were under huge pressure to make a living – which involved selling policies. This resulted in high-pressured sales and of course the bigger the commission the better. Anyone that genuinely wanted to advise clients fairly (by which I mean, not to rip off) was generally derided and ridiculed for their paltry earnings and stance.

Stand up, get out, shake up

Those advisers and firms that wanted a more ethical, sustainable approach had to choose to go against the grain, charging fees in a world of “free advice”.  There were not many and it was only in 2013 that the regulation was put in place to make this the case, though it’s still half-baked now.

Predators and wild beasts

The stories we tell ourselves, to justify our actions are important and explored in the gripping, violent and intense drama of “Nocturnal Animals”. Exploring the base elemental instincts of desire, hunger and longing for success. Like animals on the prowl, laying traps for prey. The villain of the film, Ray Marcus, is utterly horrible and brought to life with a performance that will leave you sleepless by Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

Now you see me…

Today the entrapments are ever more subtle, though I’m sure Shakespeare and others would contend otherwise. Hiding a lie between two truths, disguising fact for fiction and vice versa (how Shakespearian right?). In the film, art dealer Susan (Amy Adams) is confronted with truths about her past that go some way to explaining her current malaise. The revelations are presented in a gripping, horrifying work of fiction. There are discomforting lessons for Susan and for us all. Who and what we choose to listen to and believe, has consequences, contrary to the narrative that implies otherwise.

Knowing not wanting

Whether you are a client, an adviser or just checking out our website, the key to knowing what we (all) really want and what we (all) value, requires understanding what and who we don’t want to be. As for Nocturnal Animals, it has both style and substance. As for the financial services industry, it still lives with the legacy of the past, as do many investors. Here is the trailer for Nocturnal Animals, an enthralling film by Tom Ford…

Dominic Thomas
Solomons IFA

You can read more articles about Pensions, Wealth Management, Retirement, Investments, Financial Planning and Estate Planning on my blog which gets updated every week. If you would like to talk to me about your personal wealth planning and how we can make you stay wealthier for longer then please get in touch by calling 08000 736 273 or email info@solomonsifa.co.uk

Nocturnal Animals, skin-deep values2017-02-17T10:13:23+00:00

Financial Planning and Elvis

Financial Planning and Elvis

It is undoubtedly true that Elvis is one of the most famous singers in history. His fans continue to enjoy his music long after his death (one of the greatest legacies of art) and his music continues to be reworked and performed. We all know of the claims of vast numbers of Elvis impersonators.

Elvis rose from a very modest background and to some extent epitomized the American dream. At the time of his early death (age 42 in 1977), it is said that he had about $5million in the bank (around $20.5m by today’s measures). Of course there was also property, notably his recently renovated with 1970’s glitz Graceland; Elvis could also spend… as has been well documented.

Thankfully he had a Will of which there were just three beneficiaries, his father Vernon, grandmother Minnie Mae and his daughter Lisa Marie.  His father was the Executor. Thanks to a good relationship with his ex-wife Priscilla, who whilst not being a beneficiary, became the sole Executor following the deaths of Vernon (1979) and Minnie Mae (1980).

A little less conversation ?…

Priscilla was presumably one of the few people that said “no” to Elvis. A recent film (Elvis and Nixon) reflected (how accurately it is unclear – “based on true events”) some of the excesses and delusions that Elvis suffered. In this story he asks Nixon to make him a spy or Federal Agent. It would appear that his persuasive powers and charm secured him such a status, however nominal.

What has this got to do with financial planning? Well, Elvis is perhaps a more extreme example, but his experience is common to celebrities, who are often surrounded by people who rarely, if ever, appear to question, challenge or oppose some of the decisions being made. We can all think of examples of albums, books, performances or appearances, where the celebrity in question really should have said “no” and it appears that nobody else, those closest, said as much. I very much doubt that being a celebrity is all its cracked up to be, in fact I’m fairly sure it is a lonely and rather uncomfortable status. Yet we are all prone to blindness. We all wrestle with denial of reality.

I believe that a great financial planner, does not simply help you to secure your future, but also acts as a reality check, someone to challenge your assumptions and plans without envy or malice. Without this, presumably only friends and family have such proximity to be able to serve a similar purpose, but is that really likely? Or even fair? You may be surprised to learn how often I am with couples who at some point in our meeting say “you never told me that… I didn’t know you wanted to do that… this is the first time I have heard you express that”.

Of course others may be able to provide some form of counsel, I’d suggest that was healthy, but a financial planner, has a unique collection of hard and soft “facts” about you to provide a far better opportunity for you to grapple with the building a future based upon who you really are and who you wish to be. We all have talents, but sometimes our abilities in one area of our lives fool us into thinking we can handle others that appear “easy”.  This is not the sole preserve of celebrity. We all have versions of ourselves, but an honest reflection without judgement is a value that may well be priceless.

As for the movie, well if it is true, its unbelievable… (but I enjoyed it) so here’s the trailer.

Dominic Thomas
Solomons IFA

You can read more articles about Pensions, Wealth Management, Retirement, Investments, Financial Planning and Estate Planning on my blog which gets updated every week. If you would like to talk to me about your personal wealth planning and how we can make you stay wealthier for longer then please get in touch by calling 08000 736 273 or email info@solomonsifa.co.uk

Financial Planning and Elvis2017-01-27T10:54:32+00:00

“A-List” you don’t want to be on

Solomons-financial-advisor-wimbledon-blogger

“A-List” you don’t want to be on

The Inland Revenue, these days known as HMRC, yesterday published its list of 1,172 “aggressive tax avoidance schemes” which are under investigation. These are the sort of schemes that the media has been providing significant coverage and delighting in the opportunity to have a pop at an “A-List” celebrity or two… or rather more. The list is a 2 page document of numbers, looking rather like a sequence from the film “The Matrix” which I asked my design team to parody to make the point. Like it?

Solomons-IFA-Twitter-HMRC

Tax avoidance is perfectly legal, tax evasion is not. Tax avoidance includes everything from investing in an ISA, pension or using your annual capital gains allowance. It would also include moving savings into a lower or non-taxpayer’s name to avoid a higher rate of tax on an albeit puny amount of interest. These are of course “schemes” that are manufactured by the Chancellor and HM Treasury to satisfy number of aims. Firstly, to provide a tax-break for voters. Secondly to encourage saving and therefore reduce reliance on State support and finally to encourage trade, which is how we create jobs, raise taxes and pay our way. Most people with a modicum of intelligence will use tax avoidance schemes if they can.

Tax evasion is illegal, it always has been. Tax evasion is the deliberate and wilful, non-payment of owed taxes. This is effectively the running away to Rio with your millions out of the reach of HMRC. Society loses out and society is cheated and if the tax gap figures are to be believed this amounts to between £31-£35billion each year.

Aggressive tax avoidance schemes are a grey area, hence we are in this mess. To suggest that they sail close to the edge of the rules is fair. Some schemes deliberately creating or manufacturing losses, or moving money around offshore to avoid the UK tax system. As with most things, some of this is more obviously close to evasion than others. The motivation behind it all is to pay less tax, not necessarily to have a fantastic investment return. However in the context of 45% or 50% tax rates, the tax saving is of course a very healthy return. Invariably those that market and manufacture these schemes are paid handsomely (some might say excessively) for their cut of the scheme. For example on £100,000 investment, which might save £100,000 of tax a charge of £15,000 is not uncommon. The motivation is to save tax, because some people pay huge amounts, which they believe is unfair. This is probably due to a belief that Government has no real idea about how to spend wisely. It is often coupled with the idea that personal control over personal wealth is a defining feature of real freedom.

My view is simple. It isn‘t surprising that people want to reduce their tax bill. The tax system could be both simple and fair, but it is highly complex. I believe that this is deliberate. Complexity serves the very wealthy, who are also those with power. However some of these schemes are used by more “ordinary people” not simply the super-rich. People that fundamentally believe that they pay more than their fair share of tax. This is where the debate or argument needs to be had, as there is little real prospect of Governments (of any persuasion) having a simple Tax and Trust system, despite deceptive terms like “Simplification”.

Whatever your view, HMRC are now investigating a huge number of schemes, each of the numbers represents a scheme number. HMRC now has the power to simply take money from your bank account. This process is very much a case of guilty until proven innocent and whilst some will be, not all are, yet this approach could have a very damaging impact. Of course, those that peddle the schemes are usually covered by water-tight contracts with clauses waiving any responsibility and point to “Queen’s Council” as opinion not “fact”. Hmmm.

Anyway, we will not use schemes that “sail close to the edge” of tax rules. We will use allowances and avoidance tools of course, but not the type that land you in trouble with HMRC. There will be no need to dodge bullets…

Dominic Thomas: Solomons


References:

HMRC Avoidance: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/avoidance/

HMRC strategy: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/budget2013/evade-avoid.htm

“A-List” you don’t want to be on2017-01-06T14:39:35+00:00
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