Category Archives: Finance

The critical role of a consultant in umbrella funds

Sanlam Employee Benefit’s head of special projects David Gluckman penned the following in response to a recent article published as part of a Sygnia marketing campaign.

Consistency is the only currency that matters” is a well-known slogan of one of South Africa’s leading asset managers.

At the other end of the spectrum, a new player entered the commercial umbrella fund market less than 4 months ago proudly announcing “one all-in fee as a percentage of assets under management” and illustrating projected cost savings to clients adopting this model versus the competing leading commercial umbrella funds. Besides some fees such as costly hedge funds being over and above the so-called “one all-in fee”, importantly all these projections assumed there would be no need to separately pay for the services of a consultant. Today the message is slightly different and we should now understand that these projections were never accurate in that the true intention was always to leave “financial room for the employment of independent consultants.”

But the new player does raise some valid questions as regards the most appropriate governance model for commercial umbrella funds. These questions are important given the massive growth in this market (see graph below).

Two recent experiences highlighted to me that a very important question to explore is what will in the future be the role of the consultant in commercial umbrella funds.

  1. One highly respected independent consultant to a large book of Sanlam Umbrella Fund clients (and who also has many clients participating in other major commercial umbrella funds) raised the issue with me at our 2016 Sanlam Employee Benefits Benchmark Symposium, and said he is worried about the sustainability of his business given the increasing power of the major commercial umbrella fund sponsors.
  2. Various senior Financial Services Board officials also raised the matter in an April 2016 workshop with Sanlam Umbrella Fund representatives, essentially asking whether consultants introduce an extra and unnecessary layer of costs. They wanted to explore whether Sanlam could instead provide these advisory services thus savings costs for the ultimate clients of umbrella funds being the members.

The Sanlam Umbrella Fund governance model was structured consistently with thinking as set out in my paper entitled “Retirement Fund Reform for Dummies” presented to the Actuarial Society of South Africa as far back as 2009. In that paper I argued:

The role of intermediaries (aka consultants) requires particularly close scrutiny. I would argue their role is a particularly vital one if we want to create a culture of effective competition.

Rusconi argues “In the institutional space, however, savings levels are less likely to change and marketing is more about attracting another provider’s customer than about motivating additional savings”.

Such arguments emanate from the premise that intermediaries do not add value to consumers – an assertion that I would challenge. My view is that there are both good and bad intermediaries, and we need to find a model where market forces will push in the direction of forcing intermediaries to continually “up their game”.

There are many good intermediaries who not only fight for the rights of their clients, but also serve as an effective means to ensure that product providers are continually aware of the need to provide quality service in an increasingly competitive environment.

Easy way to increase your wealth

I am regularly asked for advice by younger people looking for a sure-fire way to build their wealth. They are often surprised when I tell them to invest more time and money in themselves and their human capital. Historically, people who do this are likely to create significantly more wealth over their lifetime than those who don’t. It is obvious that you need to accumulate investment assets but you also need to ensure that you earn income at an increasing rate over your career. The best way to do this is by investing in yourself.

What is human capital?

Human capital is the combination of skills, knowledge and abilities you have that will enable you to generate income over your working life. Nearly all of us have an ability to generate some income but very few people consistently invest in themselves so that they can increase their earning potential over time. According to the Federal Reserve of San Francisco, university graduates generate R16 million more income over their careers than non-graduates. This might give some context to the #feesmustfall campaign in South Africa.

If you choose to invest in yourself, you need to ensure that your skills and knowledge remain relevant and adaptable to changing economic conditions and an evolving business environment. You should regularly review whether you need to add to your skills or knowledge-base. Additionally, you need to be honest enough with yourself to be able to decide if you need to change careers if you are in a dead-end street. For instance, I would not consider newspaper printing as a long-term career option!

Specialise but not too much

Some careers reward those who specialise but one should always be careful of becoming too narrowly focused in your career. For example, deciding on an academic career researching the mating habits of albino penguins in the Southern Cape might not ensure a long-term income. However there might be less risk in being the orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in surgery of the shoulder in South Africa. Many young people strive to be a manager in a large corporate. This might be the most risky career choice one can make. Managers are essentially generalists and are often the first people to be fired in a merger or downsizing. If you plan to work in a corporate, you might do better focusing on being a revenue generator or product specialist.

Not only for academics

If you are not academically inclined or you have no interest in tech, you could always consider specialising in old world industries. There is a massive shortage of plumbers, electricians and general handymen. Now that more people work in services industries, there are many fewer people who can work with their hands. This provides an ideal opportunity for reskilling yourself if you have the inclination.

In the age of mass production and “mass specialisation” provided by the internet of things, it should not be surprising that there is a major shortage of people who can build or create objects with their hands. I believe craftsmen who can make handmade items such as furniture or master builders are in big demand. It does not surprise me that craft beer, artisanal baking and coffee are becoming major industries. More people are becoming interested in where their food and drinks are made and this includes where the ingredients are sourced. This is the type of trend that is likely to suit those with old world skills and when skills are limited and demand is increasing, your earning ability increases rapidly.

It does not matter what you do today, you need to be conscious of how you can grow yourself and possibly change course when required. Viewing yourself as an income generating asset that requires work and maintenance is probably your best investment. Charlie Munger said of his business partner: “Warren Buffett has become one hell of a lot better an investor since the day I met him, and so have I. If we had been frozen at any given stage, with the knowledge we had, the record would have been much worse than it is. So the game is to keep learning, and I don’t think people are going to keep learning who don’t like the learning process.”

Financial advice worth the cost

Q: I will be going on pension at the end of this year at the age of 65. I have no debt and my home is paid for.

I have been involved with four different financial advisors, but cannot get away from the exorbitant costs that are involved. I have my pension and a separate retirement annuity (RA) and about R2 million in cash which they all would love to invest for me. I am left with the impression that they could invest my money to earn about 1.5% per annum more than I could, but since their fees will be 1%, it hardly makes it worth my while.

I now seem to think that my best option is to take my R500 000 tax-free allowance from my pension and draw down the minimum of 2.5% on the rest. If I subsidise myself from my cash reserves, I can survive for the first six years of my retirement while still leaving the rest of my pension to grow. I would not even have touched my RA yet.

However I’m still wondering if I  would be better off investing the cash amount through a financial advisor?

To answer this question, we need to take a step back. Before you can decide what you want to do with your money, you need to know what you want to do with your retirement.

One person’s retirement dreams are very different from another’s. For some it is to slow down, but for others it is to do the things that your working life never allowed you to do.

At your age a financial plan should support your remaining life plan and lifestyle. Your  financial plan is one component of a flexible life plan that will need to see you through from your mid 60s into your late 90s.

Bear in mind that if you manage your investments yourself, you need to set aside the time to monitor your portfolio and be disciplined to adjust to different market conditions. You also have to keep your emotions in check when markets are volatile. These demands and complexities of successful investment management can prove challenging, even for the most informed individual investor.

People everywhere are also living longer. You therefore have to consider the long-term implications of managing risk, your money, tax and liquidity.

In addition, we live in very uncertain times. The IMF has cut South Africa’s 2016 growth forecast to 0.1%, foreign investment in the country has dipped to its lowest in ten years, a credit downgrade is still on the horizon, and there are still uncertainties around Brexit and Chinese growth, to name only a few. Getting the right financial advice to manage these risks is more important than ever.

A professional advisor will help you set up different investment strategies to achieve certain financial goals and provide assistance and guidance with retirement and estate planning. Competent financial advisors are knowledgeable about financial markets, investing landscapes and tax implications.

The reality of retirement

Q: I am 56 years old, healthy, have a reasonable job and presume I can work for the next 10 years.

I have a home which is worth about R2.5 million, with a relatively small bond. However, apart from an annuity worth about R300 000 I have no other savings.

My youngest child is almost independent, and in a couple of months time I will be able to save R10 000 per month. This amount can increase to R20 000 in the next 18 months.

How should I invest this money and how much trouble am I in?

The really important question here is the last one. In our view, any investor currently requires approximately R1 million for every R4 200 of monthly income they want before tax and after costs.

This yield is specifically constructed to provide an escalating income that keeps up with inflation. We are aware that an investor can source a fixed yield that is higher, but that would mean that it doesn’t increase in the future and progressively becomes worth less.

This also assumes that your capital will be maintained and over occasional periods will grow faster than inflation. This is important, because if you don’t have to use up your capital, how long you live and how long you need an income for become inconsequential. You could live beyond 100 and still have a secure income.

This is obviously the optimum position.

The next important question is then what to invest in to give you the best chance of building a retirement pot. The table below will demonstrate a value in today’s money of what your savings could be worth in ten years’ time. This is based on 18 months of investing R10 000 and then 102 months of putting aside R20 000 per month.

When looking at this table you have to consider that there are two key drivers that affect the investment return.

The first is cost. It may seem intuitive but it is amazing how investors are so easily duped. Costs reduce returns, and the higher the costs, the bigger their impact.

Where investors are usually fooled is that they are led to believe that their provider is somehow 25% to 30% better than the rest over a longer period. We are not so sure anyone can consistently claim that. There are good value options out there, so be cost conscious.

The second consideration is your choice of asset class. Investors hate volatility, but growth assets come with volatility. As a result, most dilute their returns with stabilising asset classes that have no track record of beating inflation over longer periods.

If you want to achieve returns of well above inflation, you therefore have to be prepared to live with short-term volatility. That means investing in products that predominantly hold growth assets such as equity and listed property.

Finally, something the reader has not specified is their expectations in retirement. Probably the biggest hurdle we face with individuals about to retire, is that they want to continue their current lifestyle with very limited resources.

In this particular instance, you should consider the possibility of downscaling and modifying your lifestyle to unlock the capital in your home. This will both provide more capital and potentially lower your required income.

If we use the example above and assume that you do successfully build up R3.2 million, your retirement fund grows to R425 000 (in today’s money), and that you downsize and release a sum of R500 000 from the property, then your wealth pool would be around R4.125 million. We could therefore advise taking an income of R17 325 per month before tax as prudent.

That is probably the highest sustainable income you are currently looking at when you enter retirement.

The difficulty in determining cost effectiveness

Determining what added value you get when you pay above-benchmark investment fees for your collective investment scheme is similar to weighing the cost-effectiveness of a luxury German sedan against a Korean family car.

Will you get enough additional value from the investment to compensate you for the extra money you have to pay? Put simply, will you get bang for your buck?

If a fund delivers a 100% return during a particular year, an investor will probably have no problem sacrificing 10% of the return in fees. But if the return was 11%, forfeiting 10 percentage points in costs would make no sense.

This is probably the most important point in evaluating the fees you pay for your collective investment, says Pankie Kellerman, chief executive officer of Gryphon Asset Management. It is not about the absolute quantum you pay, but about what you buy for it.

The impact of costs

Calculations compiled by Itransact suggest that if an amount of R100 000 was invested over 20 years at an investment return of 15% per annum (inflation is an assumed 6%) at a cost of 1%, the investor would lose 17% of his returns as a result of fees. If costs climb to 3%, the investor would sacrifice almost 42% of his returns.

Unfortunately, it is not always that easy to get a clear sense of what you pay and what it is you pay for, but the introduction of the Effective Annual Cost (EAC), a standard that outlines how retail product costs are disclosed to investors should make this easier.

Shaun Levitan, chief operating officer of liability-driven investment manager Colourfield, says the time spent looking around for a reduced cost is time worth allocating.

“I think that any purchase decision needs to consider costs, but there comes a point at which you get what you pay for.”

You don’t want to be in a situation where managers or providers are lowering their fees but in so doing are sacrificing on the quality of the offering, he says.

“There tends to be a focus by everyone on costs and [they do] not necessarily understand the value-add that a manager may provide. Just because someone is more expensive doesn’t mean that you are not getting value for what you pay and I think that is the difficulty.”

Costs over time

Despite increased competition and efforts by local regulators to lower costs over the last decade, particularly in the retirement industry, fees haven’t come down a significant degree.

Figures shared at a recent Absa Investment Conference, suggest that the median South African multi-asset fund had a total expense ratio (TER) of 1.62% in 2015, compared to 1.67% in 2007. The maximum charge in the same category increased from 3.35% in 2007 to 4.76% in 2015. The minimum fee reduced quite significantly however from 1.04% to 0.44%.

A good investment in the short term

Q: I’ve decided to sell my house, and I expect to realise just under R1 million. I would like to use this money to pay off our debts like our credit cards and possibly our cars. That will leave me with approximately R500 000.

My plan is not to buy another house just yet as we are not sure if we may move to a different province or even different country in the next couple of years. With all that is going on in the markets and considering that all of my other money is either in exchange-traded funds (ETFs), unit trusts, retirement annuities and another property that I own, would it be wise to invest my money in physical gold? Or would it be better to invest in a money market account where I can get 6.4%?

I want something safe, as it is not often in life you get a lump sum like this. We are also sacrificing having a nice big house in order to live in a smaller dwelling for the sake of being prudent and using this opportunity wisely.

As with many similar questions that I have been asked over the years, it is vital that you meet with a financial planner. A full understanding of your financial situation is required. It is not wise to give recommendations based on only a portion of your investment information.

However, that said, let’s assume that I have understood your risk profile accurately, and that a ‘couple of years’ refers to two years. I would consider the following to be wise counsel:

It is unlikely that allocating the full amount to gold would be appropriate as the price of gold can be volatile over short-term periods. I would also assume that the lump sum of R500 000 is unlikely to be a small portion (i.e. less than 5%) of your overall portfolio, and this makes it even less appropriate to allocate the full amount to gold.

In addition, you specifically ask about physical gold, which in most cases is Krugerrands. When investing in Krugerrands there are fees of about R3 000 per ounce (you can buy for R21 000 versus selling for R18 000 as per the Cape Gold Coin Exchange), which need to be taken into account. Over a short-term horizon, these costs could be really punitive.

The gold price would therefore have to increase substantially over your two year period to beat the 6.4% per annum offered by your money market option. Remember you will also have to take into account the storage and insurance costs of holding physical gold. Therefore, taking all things into consideration, I would consider gold to be a relatively high risk investment for you.

The money market is probably one of your safest options. However, I am interested that you quote an interest rate of 6.4%, as I know other options that offer up to 8.0% per annum. Make sure that you do your homework well, in conjunction with your financial planner. You may even look at the possibility of a 24 month fixed deposit, where the interest offered is currently about 8.8%.

Depending on your marginal tax rate and your age, a more efficient investment may well be through a dividend income-type of portfolio. Ask your financial planner about this because you should be able to achieve an improved growth rate after tax compared to a money market. All in all, this will still be the relatively low risk that you require in a two year, short-term investment.

The FinScope consumer survey seem to suggest

In the wake of the #DataMustFall campaign, it seems that the data revolution might have a valid and legitimate plea. The campaign founders made a presentation before the Parliamentary Communications and Postal Committee on September 21 on the costs of data in the country. According to the soon-to-be launched findings of the FinScope South Africa 2016 consumer survey, the results show that the average South African spends about 9% of their purse on airtime and data recharge, cellphone contracts, telephone lines and internet payments. The average person spends approximately R700 a month for communication-related expenses.

Parallel to the #DataMustFall campaign, which is gaining traction, is the #FeesMustFall (reloaded) campaign, which is also resurfacing in light of the announcement of an up to 8% fee increase made by the Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande. While university students would like to see a 0% increase, universities are requesting increases to sustain operations and fund research.

Therefore, in light of these developments and expenses, how does the purse of the South African consumer fair? The preliminary results of the FinScope 2016 survey shows that South Africans spend R688 per month on average on education.

The FinScope findings further show that South Africa’s total personal monthly consumption (PMC) expenditure in 2016 is estimated at R220 billion (monthly). On a monthly basis, the average individual spent approximately R5 400 during the period of conducting the FinScope 2016 survey. The results show that the main components of expenditure are on food (21%), transport (11%), utilities (11%) and communication, which amount to 9% of the spending purse.

Overall, individuals’ spending on education is 6% of their purse (estimated monthly spend of R12.2 billion). Further demographic analysis of the data per race showed that black communities still bear the greatest brunt of the education costs. For the average black South African, education expenses constitute 7% of their purse – this is higher compared to other races for which the purse composition for coloured, Asian, Indian and whites are at an average of 4.3% of their purse.

Furthermore, as one analyses the data further, it shows that nearly 12 million black South Africans spend more than 10% of their purse on education-related expenses. This is further exacerbated when noting that the average income per month is R4 723, R6 294, R12 265 and R17 123 for black, coloured, Indian and white South Africans respectively. As such, the cost of education places a heavier burden on black South Africans.

What it means for your financial plan

Traditionally, the focus of every financial plan was retirement. Everything was built around the day that you have to leave formal employment at the age of 60 or 65.

However, more and more people are having to ask what happens next. In a time when life expectancy is steadily increasing, the idea of throwing away your briefcase and putting your feet up to live out your ‘golden years’ in peace and quiet is looking increasingly less appealing, and less practical.

For a start, there is little point in retiring ‘to do nothing’. Many retirees find that they are actually busier than they were during the working lives, but the difference is that they can do what they enjoy.

“We are finding more and more people who are re-thinking retirement,” says Kirsty Scully from CoreWealth Managers. “In most cases, they have been professionals in their careers and they want to stay employed to continue with their personal and professional growth and development, yet they don’t want a typical work schedule. They are looking for flexible working arrangements so as to have a good balance between work and leisure.”

Wouter Dalhouzie from Verso Wealth says that from both a mental and physical well-being point of view, it is important for retirees to keep themselves occupied.

“I had a client whose health started failing shortly after retirement,” he says. “He started a little side-line business and his health immediately improved. When he retired from doing that, his health went downhill and he passed away within a matter of months.”

Verso Wealth’s Allison Harrison adds that she recently attended a presentation that discussed how important it is for people to remain active. “The speaker explained that if we don’t continue using our faculties, we lose them as part of the normal ageing process,” Harrison says. “The expression she used was ‘use it, or lose it’!”

She relates the story of a retiree who had been in construction his entire working life.

“After a year in retirement, he decided to buy a second home, renovate it and sell it,” Harrison says. “This was very successful, so he decided to repeat the exercise using his primary residence.  This yielded a bigger return than the first one and thereafter then moved from house to house, renovating, selling and moving on.”

This way he ended up making more money in his 20 years of retirement then he did in his 40 year building career.

Tips to become employable

Luthuli Capital was founded and structured as a Pan-African multi specialist company that offers a global approach to wealth management portfolios. The company offers investment advisory services to local and foreign individuals and multinationals, among others. I’m joined in the studio by one of the co-founders, Mduduzi Luthuli. Thank you so much for your time.

MDUDUZI LUTHULI:  Thank you for the invitation. Glad to be here.

NASTASSIA ARENDSE:  Let’s take it back to the beginning and start off with how Luthuli Capital came together.

MDUDUZI LUTHULI:  I think if you are going to start a company it’s always something that’s there. It’s just a matter of acquiring the skills for you to be confident to run the company and wait for the circumstances to be there.

I’ve been in the corporate sector now – from banking into the financial advisory industry – for about seven years. My previous employer gave me a great opportunity in management and it’s really there where I got to cut my teeth and get to the point where I realised I think it’s time for me to go out there and do this on my own.

We’ve got two offices here in Sandton and one in Durban. It really was the Durban office that was also the big motivator because we’ve got a project going on down there which involves the internship, and that also just got to that point where, if ever you are going to do this, this is the time.

NASTASSIA ARENDSE:  And I know that you work with Trudy as well. How did the two of you decide that it’s our synergies and both our characteristics and everything we’ve learned from our own sort of corporate size that can work together – and let’s do this?

MDUDUZI LUTHULI:  We both come from the same industry. So from a product knowledge side, services, the competency was there. I think really where the synergy comes from is they say I’m the driving force, I’m the bully, I’m the hard-core one. My real talent is bringing the clients into the business, going out there and selling the dream and convincing them that this is something you should back.

And Trudy, as head of client services, is the mother of the business, if I can put it that way. And really her strength is in client retention. You play a fine balance between finding new clients and also looking after your existing clients. And that’s really where we work with each other’s strengths and work very well together, because she heads up the client retention. I bring them and she looks after them.

NASTASSIA ARENDSE:  How competitive is the industry that you are in right now?

MDUDUZI LUTHULI:  It’s extremely competitive. I don’t think I have the words to truly describe how competitive an industry it is. One of the fantastic things and one of the shining lights about South Africa is that we have a very good financial system. Or let me say that the governance and the legislation here is very good and that really translates into the financial advisory system with the initiatives that the FSB puts out there – the financial planning institution, to make sure that as financial advisors or wealth managers we move away from a culture of just selling for the sake of selling, and seeing ourselves and conducting ourselves as professionals and as a professional field.

Meet the challenges of financial inclusion

Relative to its peers in the SADC region, South Africa has a high percentage of people with formal bank accounts. While 94% of the adult population in the Seychelles has a bank account, and 85% do so in Mauritius, South Africa’s banked adult population stands at 77%.

This contrasts starkly with the likes of Madagascar or the Democratic Republic of Congo, where only 12% of adults have bank accounts. In Angola, the ratio is 20%.

These are figures produced by the Finmark Trust, an organisation set up more than a decade ago to promote financial inclusion. And at face value, they may appear to suggest that South Africa is measuring up reasonably well.

However, the Trusts’s Dr Prega Ramsamy says that there is a lot more to financial inclusion than whether or not someone has a bank account.

“It’s a multi-dimensional problem,” he told the Actuarial Society 2016 Convention in Cape Town. “There is an element of access, but there is also an element of affordability, an element of proximity, and most importantly an element of quality. We might have huge access in terms of people having bank accounts, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are financially included because the quality of such access might not be there.”

He pointed out that often products are inappropriate or inaccessible.

“At the moment there are about 20.9 million people in South Africa with access to insurance,” he pointed out, “and of those, 18.9 million have funeral cover. So funeral insurance completely dominates the sector.”

He acknowledged that there is a cultural aspect to why this is such a popular product, but he questioned why so many people are able to afford funeral policies but don’t have any other long term risk cover or savings.

Ramsamy pointed out that ten years ago, about one million South Africans had multiple cover, in that they held more than one funeral policy. That number has grown to five million. Yet the penetration of other risk products has remained very low.

“We sit in an office and think we can provide insurance, but we don’t really know if this kind of insurance fits the needs of the people we are selling it to,” he argued. “Agents are also just interested in selling numbers for commissions, but don’t ask if what they’re selling is the type of insurance or product that their customers need.”

Speaking at the same event, Ruth Benjamin Swales of the Asisa Foundation acknowledged that there is a real challenge for financial services companies to design more relevant offerings.

“For instance we have many people in South Africa who work intermittently,” Swales said. “But most savings and investment or insurance products require monthly contributions. Just that minimum requirement excludes many people from being able to access relevant products that could improve their financial well-being.”