In the increasingly interconnected world of finance, understanding cross border financial planning and cross border wealth management is becoming vital for investors. A lot of people today are globally mobile – we like to think of them as ‘global citizens.’ That’s why we work with primarily three categories of people in the cross-border space.
1. South Africans living as expats all over the world, typically to maximise their earnings and career prospects. Dubai, the UK, throughout Africa, Europe, Asia … all popular destinations. But you still think of South Africa as home and may want to return (as opposed to having formally emigrated). Or you’re on a contract that means you spend a certain amount of time abroad and then return to SA for your breaks.
2. Expats living in South Africa (primarily from the UK and Europe) who love the lifestyle and weather we have to offer. Most of your income and asset-base is in Pounds or Euros, but you may have a home in South Africa, and need to support your lifestyle here from foreign pensions/assets.
3. South African’s who simply want to diversify their investments globally via offshore investment opportunities, purchasing property internationally etc.
Whatever your situation, navigating the complexities of international finance and investing can be daunting yet rewarding. This piece aims to demystify the process, offering insights into making informed decisions about your global financial journey.
Understanding the Basics of Cross Border Financial Planning
What exactly is cross border financial planning? Simply put, it involves managing your finances across different countries. This includes investments, taxation, estate planning, and retirement savings. For South Africans with interests abroad and expats living in South Africa, this means balancing the financial laws, regulations and opportunities of multiple jurisdictions. Why is this important? Global financial planning offers a world of opportunities – from accessing international markets to diversifying investment portfolios. However, it also comes with its unique set of challenges, such as understanding foreign tax laws and managing exchange rate risks.
Challenges and Opportunities in Cross Border Financial Planning
Once you begin investing globally and expanding your asset base across borders, the complexity of your situation increases significantly. Some of the challenges you face include:
• Navigating complex tax compliance across different jurisdictions.
• Dealing with the uncertainties of currency fluctuations.
• Understanding the legal intricacies of different countries.
On the other hand, the opportunities are plentiful and can create a far more secure financial position for you and your family:
• Diversification of investments can reduce risk and enhance potential returns.
• Some countries offer tax-efficient investment opportunities.
• Places with low or no income-tax regimes which allow you to maximise your earnings (which perhaps is not as advantageous as it was before if you’re South African since the introduction of the expat tax).
And most importantly – you have greater protection and security against a weakening currency, uncertain political outlook, and growing economic risks. That’s obviously especially true in relation to our situation in South Africa – but even if your wealth is primarily housed in a more ‘stable’ economy like Europe or the US – global diversification simply makes sense.
Taxation is a crucial aspect of cross border financial planning. Reporting foreign income correctly is essential, whether it be earnings, interest or dividends. Here understanding the implications of DTAs between South Africa and the jurisdiction that income is sourced is critical. If you’re an expat living in South Africa, your foreign pension income will typically be exempt. Then there are capital gains and how those are taxed could be different depending on the nature of the asset, e.g. real estate vs. financial assets. It’s imperative to understand how these laws affect your investments and overall financial strategy. Tax residency (and its implications) can have a huge impact on your cross border financial and wealth planning. As a South African, understanding the consequences of being ‘ordinarily resident’ – even when you’re living the life of an expat elsewhere is crucial. Likewise, as a UK expat for example, understanding ‘deemed domicile’ and the impacts of that for your asset base are fundamental to successful planning.
Investment Strategies for Cross Border Wealth Management
Being able to build a global investment and asset base is a necessity (for anyone that has the means). Having international investments and assets increase your financial security because you’re less exposed to the vagaries of one economy, market, or currency. Diversifying across different countries and asset classes is about reducing risks and increasing opportunities. That’s investing 101! But cross border wealth management also requires a nuanced understanding of each market’s risk profile. Here are some points to consider:
• Global Market Analysis: Understanding the economic and political climate of potential investment destinations.
• Asset Allocation: Balancing between equities, bonds, real estate, and other asset classes across different regions.
• Risk Management: Assessing and managing the risk inherent in international markets, including political and currency risks.
That’s why we believe in creating customised investment portfolios for our clients with cross-border requirements. A tailored approach based on your needs, risk tolerance and objectives. Using tax-neutral jurisdictions to house investments like the Channel Islands and placing investments in tax-efficient structures to make ongoing tax compliance simple are always part of the conversation.
Estate Planning Across Borders
Estate planning becomes more complex when assets span multiple countries. It involves navigating varying estate, inheritance laws and tax regulations. Here’s what to look into:
• Legal Differences: The legal framework governing estates can vary greatly from country to country. Many countries (particularly in Europe) still have forced heirship rules. That’s why you should consider having a foreign will (s) for each jurisdiction in which you own assets – in particular property.
• Tax Implications: Understanding the tax implications in each jurisdiction for both the estate and the beneficiaries. Situs tax implications on US and UK assets as a non-resident are crucial to factor into your planning. Those Google or Amazon shares you own could lead to having to pay US Estate taxes. IHT in the UK for estates above £325,000 needs to be considered. And how does that fit into your global estate planning requirements?
• Harmonizing Plans: Ensuring that estate plans made in different countries are not in conflict. That comes back to the need for worldwide wills and potentially a will drafted specifically for the jurisdiction in which you own assets. Then you might need to make provision for estate and inheritances taxes, probate, executors fees and making sure there is sufficient liquidity to pay for all of that. It can be complex and needs specialised guidance.
Navigating Currency and Exchange Rate Risks
Currency fluctuations can significantly impact the value of your international investments and income. Moving money into and/or out of South Africa in a way that is seamless, simple and cost effective is the biggest challenge. Banks make a killing on FX. That’s why we prefer using specialist firms that can help the seamless transfer and exchange of currencies. And in a way that puts more money in your pocket!
5 Critical Cross Border Financial Planning Tips
1. Do your homework. It’s easy to open an online brokerage or trading account for example and purchase a bunch of US shares. Or purchase property in Europe. Understand the ramifications from a tax and estate planning perspective.
2. Make smart investment decisions. This is particularly true if you work in an expat haven where financial regulations are less stringent. There are plenty of ‘cowboy’ operators selling investments with ridiculous fees and lock-ins.
3. Get your estate planning done. We see it all the time. People with offshore accounts and investments without worldwide or foreign wills, let alone a carefully crafted estate plan that deals with all the nuances of having a global asset base.
4. Don’t forget about FX. This is particularly true when moving money in and out of South Africa. Be smart about the providers you use. Banks make a fortune on this. You can save a ton of money working with a currency specialist.
5. Work with specialists who can give you proper advice both from a financial planning and tax perspective. There are plenty of people willing to sell you the next best thing, be it real estate or some kind of investment. That isn’t advice. Know the difference.
Henceforward as Your Cross Border Financial Planner and Wealth Manager
One of our taglines at Henceforward is – ‘Local Roots, Global Reach.’ We believe we can be your guide through the complexities of cross border financial planning. We have relationships with smart people and companies across the globe. And we don’t pretend to know all the answers. But we do have an extensive network that typically means we know how to find them.
When choosing a planner, consider:
• Experience and Expertise: Look for someone with experience in cross border finance.
• Understanding of Your Goals: Your planner should understand your financial goals and personal circumstances.
• Reputation and Credentials: Check their credentials and reputation in the industry.
Cross border financial planning is a dynamic and complex field, offering both challenges and opportunities. By staying informed and seeking expert advice, you can navigate these waters successfully. Remember, the key to successful cross border financial planning is a well-thought-out strategy tailored to your unique financial situation.