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Phuket Business: Beware of the hammer and nail approach



PHUKET: There is a very famous quote that often comes to mind when speaking with many of my colleagues in the wealth management industry: “When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.

Unfortunately many advisers fall into this trap, and despite the fact that everyone’s situation is different, they will recommend the same solution to every person that they come across.

This has become apparent, even within my own company in some instances since we will not “step on each other’s toes”. Often, after sitting down with the same person, two colleagues will come away with two radically different ideas on a solution.

This might seem surprising but this bias is wired into the way we think as humans. Since advisers can’t be experts at everything, they tend to become better educated about either investments or products that they have had success with and these are often mismatched with the client’s time horizon or risk tolerance. These are the two common mistakes I see being made on a regular basis.

Since the most widely publicized financial or “paper” investments are stock market based, a vast majority of advisers will recommend these, even if the client has a time horizon of a few years on the money.

My opinion, which is echoed by the vast majority of academic institutions regarding this subject, is that, unless it is speculative money, you should have a 10-12 year time horizon to safely “invest” in the stock market.

If a client has a shorter time frame but an adviser is not familiar with the alternatives, they are often too afraid to stray from what they know and thus make the mistake of mismatching the time horizon of the investment.

Another area in which the offshore industry often mismatches needs with the “easiest sell” is with savings plans. These can be great value if one ‘dollar costs’ averages over the life of the term by consistently paying premiums. Unfortunately many people I sit down with, who hold these policies, stop paying in or reduce payments when the markets are declining, which is exactly the wrong thing to do. By doing a few scenario exercises with the client beforehand an adviser might discover that a savings plan is not the right investment vehicle.

Personally, I prefer portfolio bonds since the investment options are enormously better. Of course these require even more discipline to continue contributing in bad times, which history has shown is always the best time to invest.

The hardest part about avoiding the above mistakes is that they are in fact honest mistakes. Many of you will have good gut instincts to avoid the unscrupulous advisers out there, but none of those red flags will be waving if the adviser is simply giving less than perfect advice because of technical shortcomings.

Clients usually go with advisers they like and feel they can trust, which is generally a good thing. The best way to avoid one of the above mistakes is to take the time to understand the potential downsides of any recommendation given to yourself.

There is always a trade off somewhere and if you take the time to think , it usually becomes evident.

Lazy thinking, or seeking to avoid thinking critically all together, is the root cause of many mistakes by clients and advisers alike.

David Mayes MBA lives in Phuket and provides wealth management services to expats around the globe, specializing in UK pension transfers. He can be reached at 085-335-8573 or

— David Mayes


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