John Simmonds, Chief Executive of Blevins Franks, is based in London but heads a firm whose clients are anywhere but the UK. It’s a little unfortunate, then, that he doesn’t like “getting on planes” as he admitted this week during a “flying” visit to southern Spain, before heading up north and on to France.
Blevins Franks offers international tax and wealth management services to British expats who live in France, Portugal, Malta and Cyprus as well as Spain. The firm’s presence in France has just expanded with the acquisition of Siddalls from IFG Group PLC, although Spain is still its biggest base with 40 per cent of the total business.
So just how big are they? How many British residents’ fortunes pass through the hands of John Simmonds and his team?
“Blevins Franks deals with 2.2 billion euros of clients’ money,” he says quite calmly, clearly used to talking about this sort of figure. “And we have around 4,000 clients,” he clarifies, adding that before we start calculating how much that is each on average, the size of client portfolios ranges greatly, up to as much as 30 million euros.
As well as all having assets that need looking after, the expatriates on the Blevins Franks books fit a similar profile in all the countries the firm deals with.
“Most of them are people who have sold their businesses and retired abroad,” says Simmonds, who points out that enquiries from new expats are picking up now after the crisis.
“People have started to consider moving abroad again,” he explains. It is quite common for property owners to downsize in the UK and buy a “reasonably priced” place in the sun when they retire.
One of the first problems they have to deal with though comes in the form of taxation. On its website Blevins Franks promise to “shelter” a client’s wealth in terms of taxation. But what exactly does this mean? Simmonds stresses that, even though the word “threat” also appears in their literature, they do not see the taxman as the big baddie who needs avoiding.
“In more than 30 years we have proved that the thing to do is to be tax efficient, not to avoid tax.”
“We understand taxes in Spain and the UK,” adds the chief executive, pointing out that the rules are different wherever you go and in Spain there are even regional differences.
Understandably one of the main concerns of these wealthy retirees is inheritance.
“People want to get their affairs in order before they die,” says Simmonds. In the UK money is inherited by the spouse but in other countries, such as France or Spain, that is not the case and there could be an entitlement for children even though the spouse is still alive.
“People want to know who’s going to get what.
The parents have retired here, but the kids could be anywhere,” he explains.
So does the tax situation put people off moving to a particular country? “Tax isn’t a long-term driver,” says Simmonds, “People know where they want to go.”
And that is normally a place where they have enjoyed happy holidays in the past. More often than not this is Spain – even now despite the dreaded ‘Módulo 720’ that calls for the declaration of worldwide assets.
“We aim to give people peace of mind,” says Simmonds, with regard to his clients’ concerns about these obligations with the Spanish ‘Hacienda’. “We make sure they fill in the forms correctly.”
Once the wealth has gone past the taxman the next problem is what to do with it. With the financial crisis and recent developments the chief executive agrees that now people are “nervous” about banks. But not everyone wants to take risks.
“Most people want to take a conservative approach these days,” he says. “We observe a client’s attitude to risk.”
Some might want to live dangerously, though. “If people want to play we tell them to play with someone else,” says Simmonds.
The chief executive is clearly proud of his firm’s reputation. “About 70 per cent of our clients come on referrals. We’ve been looking after some clients for a long time.”
John Simmonds likes to repeat expressions like “peace of mind” and “affairs in order”. He says theirs is a “relaxed company”. However with 160 employees in 20 offices around Europe dealing with 2.2 billion euros, it’s clear they can’t relax too much. And neither can their boss when it comes to catching a plane.
Courtesy: Sur in English
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