I’m Basically OUT
The malaise of modern life, my friends! The rat race! The daily grind! What’s it all for? What’s it all mean!
When it’s all said and done wherefore doth shall we lay our weary heads and sup the sweet wine of remembrance, contentment, and tranquility? What doth shall be our reward and retribution for a life spent toiling, boot at our backs and carrot in our faces!
This two-part article is about how I had several meetings with the UK’s largest wealth management company in their sector — 1.2 - 1.2 billion pounds cascading through their esteemed halls monthly and clients numbering over 800,000 — about if it was even possible for me to retire to a beach shanty in Thailand with the salary I’m currently clawing in.
I said: "This what I make now and all the things I own. I want to retire to a delightful beach shanty on some blessed strip of sand somewhere hot. Can we make this happen? Can you guys make this happen for me?"
Let’s find out!
St. James’s Place Seems to Have Some Experience with Money
Started in 1992 in the UK, St. James’s Place is a FTSE-100 wealth management business, listed at number 60 on the UK stock exchange. It’s massive. They look after about 148 billion pounds of funds in management in four markets. They specialize in face-to-face, goals-based financial planning, and in addition to that, they offer a range of other products and services designed to help their clientele financially navigate all the major milestones in life: getting married, buying a home, securing medical / life insurance, providing for your family, tax consultancy, repatriation consultancy services, drafting a will, and more.
Adding value above and beyond a simple brokerage service, your partner at St. James’s Place is someone on-call you can pick up the phone and call or meet with, and is guaranteed to provide clear and concise answers not just about your individual finances but in issues concerning all the above major life events.
Kind of like your lawyer but for your money and not about the stuff you’re thinking of doing illegally.
And here all your important life events are in one handy graphic:
This Is Your Life
Yup. Here they all are. Early years. Adulthood. Maturity. Arranging mortgages, making a will, making personal contributions to a personal pension, setting up a trust, reviewing legacy planning, buying an annuity plan — yeah, I’ve got maybe 8% of this timeline done.
Is “Securing a PlayStation Five” not on here?
So yeah, SHOCK, I’m still somewhere very much at the start of “the journey” on this timeline. I’m starting somewhere around the “personal budgeting and cash flow modeling” region and hopefully ending up, when it’s all said and done at “streamlining more vodka buckets than Bridget Jones going through a divorce in some wonderful ocean paradise”.
Wealth Management Demystified
One of the great aspects of St. James’s Place is their emphasis on demystifying, to me, anyways, some very nebulous and intangible concepts.
“Wealth management”, “investment portfolio”...
Head of Marketing, Matt Mitchener makes this point:
Matt: “When this term comes up — ‘wealth management’ — I think a lot of people get really scared.
As in, 'well, I’m not wealthy, I can’t get into this. I can’t be a part of that.'
But, at the end of the day, basically everyone can. We work with teachers setting aside 500 pounds a month, and we look at the best ways to do that.
What we do find is that people move to Shanghai for a two, three-year contract and they’re suddenly here 10 years and have done nothing for those 10 years and they go back to the UK and suddenly they’re making half of what they were.”
This… this hits close to home.
Who Are St. James’s Place’s Clients and Who Can Be
Let’s start with the former. For in-house investment solutions, St. James’s Place can only deal with UK, European, and Australian passport holders, as well as Singaporean and Hongkongese clients, where they also have offices. Due to the nature of the tax laws in America, Canada, and New Zealand, among others, St. James’s does not accept clients from these countries for services relating to in-house investment.
They do however, offer a range of other products and services for most foreign passports holders. (They cannot work with PRC nationals. ) For expats in China, they offer health insurance consultancy services, advice on drafting a will, property sales advice, and a very, very important one: appointing temporary guardians for your children while they are in China.
In the event that something should happen to you here, you’ve got to make sure your family is looked after legally. Parents, they can help you with this. You should take care of this.
The typical St. James’s Place client. Individuals, families and business owners spanning all age ranges. They work with middle to senior managers, C level-type people who have been earning very well and have the capacity to save on a regular level or have amassed wealth, and have a reasonable amount of money to invest.
They also work with individuals in their late 20s who are in the process of paying off their higher education. Said individuals are in China and they’re earning fairly well and they’re in a position where they can start to save. Singles. Young couples. New parents.
People at the start of their journey who are ready to consider the larger life milestones they will encounter down the line.
‘Financial Advisors’ - Wait, Like the Guys Who Randomly Call Me?
Not like that. Not like that at all. Very different. St. James’s Place doesn’t cold call. Most of their business comes from client referrals, people researching online, and their community presences.
A key foundational element of St. James’s Place’s China-based business is that they’re “the only regulated company in an unregulated market”. This means they conduct themselves adhering to the same compliance checks as their branches in the UK. We’ve all got those calls. There’s a lot of people out there who do self-directed trading, jumping on different platforms, buying and selling whatever.
St James’s Place offers the security and accountability you would as if you were in the UK enjoying their services there.
What's the Process for Learning More and Maybe Becoming a Client
In determining if St. James’s Place is right for you, it’s a three- (or sometimes four) meeting process which goes from an initial, getting-to-know-your-hopes-and-dreams meeting to a more involved discussion on your current and financial situation, to an analysis session of said situation, to a concluding decision point meeting wherein you chose you own destiny.
The first meeting is quite informal. So, it would be a case of meeting you officially and finding out more about what your understanding of wealth management is and if you had any specific areas that you wished to talk about.
The second meeting is setting aside an hour or 90 minutes at their office, your home, or your office, and it deals entirely with this: Where you are now? Where do you want to go? In this meeting, they gather information to construct your “CFR”, confidential financial review.
The next meeting is a summary and cashflow report to identify mathematically the areas that you need to focus on and to what level you need to focus on them to achieve your goals. St. James’s Place presents their findings from a mathematical perspective — cashflow modeling — outlining the different options vis-a-vis an achievable and comfortable financial strategy.
The final meeting takes place after you have had the opportunity to mull it over, and a decision is reached on your part to what extent you want to be involved -- if at all. And then the logistics involved moving forward.
My First Meeting with My Financial Advisor aka AM I SCREWED?
To provide a better picture of how this process plays out, SmartShanghai sent me to have my finances looked at by Peter Worth, an Associate Partner at SJP. This is part of the ongoing series of articles that the management at SmartShanghai is making me do, which are less like investigative journalism pieces and more like passive aggressive attempts at interventions to get me to lead an adult life.
Well, yeah, I'm trying, man! Let’s do this.
A few caveats. I'm a Canadian citizen so I wouldn't be taken on at St. James's Place for investment solutions. Due to Canada's specific pension and tax laws, St. James's place doesn't work with us. But this is what would happen if they did.
This is based in reality but I don’t want everyone to know my exact financial life (or lack thereof) so the numbers are smudged a bit this way and that.
But ballpark. This is fictional (kinda). The purpose of this is to show people who have never been to a financial advisor what it's like.
So, yes. This is where I am now. I know where I want to go. Let’s see if St. James’s Place can help me get there.
This is where I am now: 60rmb in the bank. (!)
I know where I want to go: Owning a beach shanty somewhere in Thailand.
This is a transcription of the my meetings with Pete, the St. James’s Place financial advisor who is going to get me from here to there.
SmSh: Alright, let’s get into it.
Pete: Welcome, thanks for coming in. So, I assume you’re on a full working visa?
Pete: Are you married?
Pete: Just in case, in the future, we have to look at life insurance, do you smoke?
SmSh: Ummm. Let’s say I’ve quit.
Pete: Okay, good. When was the last time you’ve updated your will?
SmSh: I don’t have a will.
Pete: Is there any reason for that?
SmSh: I don’t know how to do one.
Pete: So, that’s something we could look at if you like as well. Do you have any children?
SmSh: Two cats. I’d like to state on the record here that they will get nothing. I’d like that on record.
Pete: [Laughs.] Do they have aspirations to go to university?
SmSh: [Laughs.] Not these cats.
Pete: Just as something to factor in later on at some point, do you have any aspirations for children?
SmSh: …Yeah. Maybe, at some point? I guess? There’s always hope. Maybe just one. One seems like enough.
Pete: If you were to put a time frame on it?
SmSh: Um, five years? 10 years?
Pete: The reason why I ask that, is that depending on your contract and employment situation, you may be one of the privileged few that gets their company to pay for international education, which in China is massively expensive. But regardless of whether your get your company to pay for it, in 17 or 18 years time from 5 years from now, they’ll be higher education to consider…
And, also, you’d need to think about appointing guardians and things like that as well.
Pete: Have you ever appointed a Power of Attorney for assets?
SmSh: I haven’t.
Pete: So, that would link back to the will if we want to look at that at some point. So, current employment status. Full time. And you mentioned you’ve been here 14 years?
SmSh: Um. I moved over here in 2006, so what is that. Jesus. 15 years. Before that, Canada.
Pete: And the million dollar questions is: How much longer do you think you’ll remain overseas. Not just China but overseas…
SmSh: Um. At least 5 more years. Could be longer but… let’s just say five. And then probably back to Canada.
Pete: After 5, 6, or 7 years. You plan to stay in Canada before…
SmSh: Yes, before moving to my sweet, sweet beach shanty in Thailand.
Pete: So, you’ll work in Canada until you reach your retirement point. What is the rationale in going to back to Canada?
SmSh: Well, I’ve got to settle a few old scores, y’know. Some people, they don’t know it yet but they’ve got a reckoning coming…
No, not really. My parents are still there and they’re getting on in years a bit, so it would be nice to spend some time back home before… y’know.
Pete: Not the nicest thing to ask, but will be there any financial support required for your parents at that point?
SmSh: Ah. No. Not really, They’re pretty well-off.
Pete: Okay. Just going back to the Thailand beach property retirement thing. What age would you like to be in a position to do that?
SmSh: Next week sounds good.
Pete: [Laughs.] I’ve just left my wand in the back office…
SmSh: [Laughs.] I don’t know. I’m 43 now. Let’s say 55? 60? Is 60 enough time for me to fully enjoy it, you think?
Pete: I should think so. Okay. 60. Current employment in terms of remuneration? You’re on a monthly basis or an annual basis?
Pete: Okay. What’s your net monthly income?
SmSh: Around 30,000rmb.
Pete: Okay. In addition to this, included in your employment, do you get any additional benefits? Accommodation, medical insurance, flights…
SmSh: Good lord, no. Are people getting that? Should I be getting that?
I also should mention, I also do additional stuff on the side. Freelance work for stuff out of country. So, occasionally on a few months out of the year my income is closer to like 35-40,000rmb a month.
Pete: How many months out of the year would you say you do that?
SmSh: Maybe four.
Pete: On a typical month, obviously it’s been a bit difficult over the last 18 months, when people aren’t traveling as much. But on a typical month, what does the end of the month look like? Is there money left at the end of the month?
SmSh: Yes. I’m not really spending too much money in Shanghai these days.
Well, Taobao… I’ve recently learned Taobao… so two steps forward and two steps back kind of deal.
Pete: Okay, so, if we are looking at general expenses, rent, expenditures —how much would you say you’re spending a month?
SmSh: Including rent, probably between 10 and 15,000rmb.
Pete: In the short term, any changes to that?
Pete: So, pretty consistent over the next few years… and then moving on to assets. In terms of property and savings…
SmSh: Let’s dial in my savings at zero RMB.
For assets, I own 25% in another F&B venture here in Shanghai. Let’s say it’s an upscale cocktail lounge…
Pete: Are there any ongoing financial commitments to that?
SmSh: No. There was an initial investment a few years back but we’ve recuperated that investment. So, it’s sort of it’s own thing now…
Pete: Are you getting any additional income from that?
SmSh: We do a profit share at the end of the year, my partners and I, so like a good year, maybe an additional 150K net for the year.
Pete: And is that going to be staying constant?
SmSh: Well, THAT’S the million dollar question. For the purposes of this, let’s say… yes?
Pete: Any additional assets?
SmSh: Two cats.
Pete: [Laughs.] What are their names?
SmSh: Charlotte and Emily Bronte. The Bronte sisters. And would you believe they have not produced a single noteworthy piece of literature between them.
Nothing. Nothing but disappointment.
But yeah, that’s it. No properties. I rent my apartment…
Pete: Any aspirations to purchase any property before Thailand?
SmSh: Oh, I don’t know how any of that works at all. I can’t see myself getting into anything like that.
Pete: Okay, in terms of retirement, are you looking to purchase a property in Thailand?
SmSh: Yes, I was thinking, yeah. Like, I was going to bring two suitcases of cash, one to buy a bungalow and one to live off of.
So, like, I was thinking you’d help me make these suitcases as big as humanly possible.
Pete: Have you done any research as to the type of property you’re looking to get?
SmSh: No. No, I have not. I can google it right now… Ah, yeah, I should have done that. Have you got any idea?
Pete: For like a one bedroom? Maybe around 100-150k USD?
SmSh: Let’s shoot for that.
Pete: Assuming that’s purchased. Any pensions to consider? Have you a pension in Canada?
SmSh: I have no idea but I want to say no.
Pete: No? I assume you worked in Canada before China?
SmSh: Not really so much. I was a janitor and a garbage man for a few years. And I worked at Dairy Queen, are you writing this down?
I moved here, basically, right after university. Should I contact the Dairy Queen about my pension?
Pete: Well, fair to say that your pension is probably quite small.
SmSh: Oh yeah. It was a minimum wage kind of deal.
Pete: [Writing this down.] Well, I’m going to put Dairy Queen on there. I’ve never had Dairy Queen on my Confidential Financial Reports before…
SmSh: [Laughs.] Cheers.
Pete: Okay, any private savings or investments?
SmSh: No. I have around 60 in the bank.
Pete: 60,000? Canadian?
SmSh: Six. Zero. RMB.
Pete: [Laughs.] And your only bank account is in China?
SmSh: Yes. Bank of China.
Pete: Any other sources of value? Fine art? Expensive spoons?
SmSh: Umm… I’ve got a comic book collection. And a PS4. Yep, I’ve got nothing.
Pete: But also no loans or debts or anything?
Pete: Any life insurance policy?
Pete: Any reason for that?
SmSh: I just… don’t know how to do it.
Pete: Okay. Siblings? Any ties to other family members?
SmSh: Older brother and older sister. But they’re fine. …Financially, anyways.
Pete: Any expected inheritance?
SmSh: Umm… I would say, yes? But I wouldn’t know like… an amount or anything.
Pete: Sorry, yeah, it’s always a tricky thing…
SmSh: My dad is an economist so he’s always really on top of these things. I have my parents’ wills in my drawer in my apartment but I’ve never opened them or anything…
Pete: Yeah, thats fine. If you were to summarize your overall position, how do you think you’re doing?
SmSh: Umm, I’m okay, I think? After 15 years of paycheck to paycheck I think I might be in a pretty okay position to try to save some money? Maybe? Seems like I’m finally making more money than I’m spending…
Pete: Is there any specific area you would like to focus on? What is your biggest objective?
SmSh: Well, the accumulation of massive amounts of wealth, fame, and power, of course, has been the immutable drive, really.
Not really. Honestly, I’d just like to grow my savings. I’m getting older, so I have to try to figure things out. I guess I’ve always had the capacity to save but never the predilection to do so.
So, yeah… I guess I’m trying to think of the future.
Pete: Of course, it’s a good thing to have rainy day money. So, we’ll come on to this more in a second, but if you were to lose your current job, how long would it take you to find another job in that area and remuneration?
SmSh: Let’s say… between four and six months.
Pete: Okay, so from an emergency funding situation, if you are spending 15K a month, erring on the side of caution, we need to be at 6 months of 15K in terms of what my personal recommendations would be in terms of your emergency funding. So, before we even start securing any further investments….
SmSh: Oh, so thats the first step? Making sure I have an emergency fund?
Pete: Absolutely. And then we build from there. Once that’s taken care of then we can start looking at how we can move forward with the suitcases full of money in Thailand.
Pete: So, unless I've missed anything, the next thing we’ll go through is a lifeline exercise, which is something I was taught when I moved to China and something that I really think is a useful exercise, because it make something that is quite intangible — where your money is coming from and going to over the next decades of your life — very visual.
Okay, what we’re going to do now is map out to best of our ability what is going to happen between now and retirement. So, on the X-axis is we’re just mapping out increments of ten years of your life. So, 43, 53, 63, 73, 83…
SmSh: Oh, my man, you don’t have to go that far. Let’s be real.
Pete: [Laughs.] So, time along the bottom and on the vertical axis we’ve got income. So, the first thing we’re going to pop on here is your emergency money. Should be around the 90K mark. And then we’ll start here in terms of your monthly annual income.
Starting now, we’e saying that you’re going to be making this amount of money for the rest of your time in China, which you said is 5 years.
So, we’ll mark that here and keep this amount until 48. And then what will happen to your income at 48?
SmSh: I’d probably lose the monthly income but maintain the income from the F&B business. It’s an equity kind of deal.
Pete: Would you look for employment when you went back to Canada?
SmSh: Do I have to? Let’s say part time? Just sort of freelance, I guess. In terms of an income, maybe I’d be making half of what I make now?
Pete: Okay, so we will put your income at that for this period — 48 until 60 years old— which is when you want to move to Thailand. And then retirement happens and, obviously, the income stops.
Now as you mentioned you’ve also got the F&B income which… of course, we wish for continued success but from a financial perspective it’s always good to be pessimistic…
SmSh: Oh, yeah. Pessimism is exactly the word I would use. Would you believe the Michelin guide passed us over again this year…
Pete: What’s the end game with it?
SmSh: Well, sell it? Franchise it to make a million of them. I have no idea. It’s something that I can’t really make any sort of prediction on what would happen. Realistically, I can’t see it being part of my financial life in like… 10 years. But who knows how it would all end.
Pete: Okay, so right here we should stop this income. And now. My favorite question. Hypothetically, you’ve made it to 60. You’ve bought your Thailand property. Your income had stopped. You still have your emergency funding.
You’ve had your child. And your child has been educated.
Pete: [Laughs.] if you close your eyes I can make some sounds of crashing waves.
How much would you need a month in Thailand?
SmSh: I don’t know. 10 grand a month RMB?
SmSh: I don’t know what I’m doing, Pete. It’s pretty cheap over there, no?
Pete: Yes, that’s true but there are other costs associated with retirement. Medical insurance. Maintenance fees on your property.
In the UK, we say start with 1000 USD a month—that’s the money that goes away with bills and utilities and things. So, Thailand is cheaper, let’s say start with 500 USD and then add on to that.
Let’s say 2500 USD a month.
Okay, from an inflation perspective, so we’ve got to factor that in. So, we steadily increase your income here in the coming years to account for inflation. We want to make sure you’re still leading a happy and enjoyable life, and buying the same amount of goods and services.
So, going back to the start, we have the emergency funding, a child potentially when you move back to Canada, which will then mean at around 60 to 65, there’s going to be university.
SmSh: Unless I can nip that in the bud early. Maybe I can put a stop to that. The kid going to university, I mean.
Pete: We said around 150K for the property in Thailand and we put that in there and also. Let’s assume, the kid doesn’t listen to dad and wants to go to university…
SmSh: What’s wrong with a trade school. Or a job at Dairy Queen, which is the family business. A birthright, really…
Pete: How much would you like to be in a position to financially support your kid?
SmSh: I have no idea. What’s the right answer. What do people usually say.
Pete: Let them fend for themselves.
Pete: Well, it all depends really. Canadian university, domestic student. 10 to 20,000 USD a year? And then it goes up depending on Ivy League schools…
SmSh: We won’t have to worry about that, trust me on this.
Let’s say 15,000 USD a year for four years. I think mine was around 15 a year. I think it was half from my parents and half from student loans. And I was a teaching assistant for the later years. I don’t remember. It’s been a while.
Pete: The one thing to be mindful is that this comes on the wrong side of retirement. So, it becomes a little more important in terms of costs and income at this point. Again, things of course might change. You might still be pulling in income from other sources
SmSh: If it comes down to my child’s education or my beach shanty, I think we all know which direction I'm going to go…
Pete: [Laughs.] Is there any other significant costs that we are missing here?
SmSh: No, I don’t think so.
Pete: Okay, I think we have a working model of how your retirement is going to look.
You mentioned that you would like 2.5K USD to spend per month. So 30,000 USD a year. As I mentioned at this point, we need to take into account inflation. Like any state or private pension company, there needs to be a pot of money that is invested responsibly, that allows you to draw out of it on a quarterly basis for example. Assuming that you’ll be taking 5% out a year, it should match what the investment is pulling in.
That leaves you with a comfortable margin. That means we have to aim for a pension pot of 600,000 USD. So that will allow you to take out your 5% a year and most years not dip into the pot.
And the reason we do this is that we don’t know when you’ll pass away. If we knew when, we’d take slices of the cake and then…
SmSh: We’d eat the whole cake.
Pete: Exactly. So, that would be what your retirement is looking like. Money for university, money for a property in Thailand, money to sustain your lifestyle. Three significant financial commitments that we are accounting for.
As said, the next step — the next meeting — is me going away and putting together a report, and me putting the numbers together so we can get to there from where we are right here.
SmSh: Hows it looking?
Pete: Well, there are always options. It’s very, very rare that we’ve said to clients. Well, you’re screwed.
It’s important to do something sooner rather than later and important to understand the implications of not doing something.
Another thing to think of: We always look at worst case scenarios and even working with that, we can always make positive changes.
Matt: So in our next meeting, we’ll look at the numbers, and we look at investment strategies to broaden your financial horizon and add value to existing value. Then we’ll look at how St James’s Place works, with our investment committee, and then we’ll look at all the costs involved.
And then after that meeting, it’s a matter of you going away and deciding on whether Peter and St. James’s Place are the proper fit to be handling your assets…
…until the cats get them.
SmSh: [Laughs]. They’re not getting shit, come on.
Tune back in tomorrow for "I’m Ready to Retire to a Beach Shanty in Thailand - Part II", wherein Pete shows me my confidential financial review and does a cash flow report to determined whether all my dreams shall come true!