Family Money: Rethinking Pensions
Managing director of Westminster Portfolio Services (Thailand) Ltd.
As I wrote about some weeks ago, global pension fund
assets are in serious trouble. Recently published figures are perhaps even
more frightening, and should serve as a clarion call both to retirees who
are relying on corporate or private pensions, and to those hoping to
retire in the next decade or so.
Three consecutive years of heavy stock market falls in
11 major markets have taken $2,800bn off world pension funds, leaving them
back at 1997 levels. Half of this - some $1,400bn of asset value - was
lost last year alone.
The increased liabilities pension planners now work
under only make matters worse: the money has to be found to honour
pre-existing commitments, but taking these liabilities into consideration,
global pension fund balance sheets have worsened by over 20%.
Global pension funds peaked in 1999 at $13,485bn.
Annual average growth in the nine years up to the 1999 peak was a healthy
12%, ahead of a post-war market annual average rise of 8.2%.
Over that period average growth was stable - but the
TMT (Technology, Media, Telecommunications) bubble inflated valuations and
created expectations of early retirement. That bubble burst in April 2000
and set off the subsequent three-year slide. As a result of market falls,
more and more companies have been closing their final-salary pension
schemes to new entrants.
Work longer, draw less
Most countries in the developed world are struggling
with severe pension funding shortfalls. Increased life expectancy and
declining birth rates have led to an ageing population, placing a heavier
burden on pension providers, both State and corporate.
Many European countries are switching to
"funded" schemes and avoiding pay-as-you-go schemes. For
instance, after the market falls of the past three years Germanyís
funded pension assets now stand at just 10% of GDP. By 2025 Germanyís
pension shortfall is forecast to be 110% of its gross domestic product
(GDP). That is unsustainable, and pension funds will be under pressure,
either through statutory force or through their own industry, to put their
funds into better order.
The news is not looking good for expats with dreams of
taking early retirement at 55. A recent survey asked independent financial
advisers (IFAs) for their views on possible UK government policy options
to address the UKís pension funding crisis. Most respondents believe
that only by taking drastic action will more people be persuaded to plan
adequately for their retirement.
Of those IFAs who took part, the majority (58%) believe
that a key solution would be to increase the current State retirement age
from 65 to 70 years. The chief reason why IFAs are keen to support this
retirement age increase is their belief that clients would save more if
they planned to retire at 70 rather than 65. A cynic might think this
opinion to be self-serving - but the growing number of bodies in the UK
calling for an increase in the State pension age include the National
Association of Pension Funds and the Institute of Public Policy Review, as
well as most financial institutions. The implications for workers
approaching retirement age are massive. But there is no question that
radical steps need to be taken to address a very real crisis.
More choice, more options
Expats are somewhat luckier, with more options
available for offshore personal pension planning. There are a number of
offshore retirement-income providers, most of which are life assurance
companies based in Dublin, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. The products on
offer are called Ďinternational pensionsí - but this marketing wrapper
is slightly misleading, since you should not expect such products to
operate in the same way as pensions back in the UK.
For example, these plans do not guarantee a proportion
of a final salary. Rather, they operate along similar lines to defined
contribution schemes as they are designed to build up a capital reserve
over time from investments made in a range of equity and bond funds. The
amount of capital built up will depend on the amount you contribute over
time into the plan, your selection of funds - conservative, balanced, or
aggressive - and of course, the performance of the markets in which these
funds are invested.
Essentially, offshore international pensions are
investment-based savings plans which are built up by expats making either
regular payments (premiums), or contributing lump sums as and when they
can afford to. Some plans offer a combination of both payment methods.
These offshore savings plans are favoured by many for
being more flexible than comparable pension plans back in the UK. Offshore
plan holders are not restricted as to when monies may be drawn down, nor
are investors beholden to purchase annuities with the accumulated capital.
Another difference from onshore pensions is thereís
no pre-set limit on a specific age for maturity: you may choose your own
maturity date or contributory period.
Many plans allow you to increase or decrease regular
contributions, typically on each anniversary of the plan (to offset
inflation and keep pace with rising income), and most will allow access to
accumulated capital if you suddenly need some emergency cash.
At maturity, you again have choices: you may elect to
remain invested in the plan, drawing down either a regular Ďpensioní
or irregular amounts as & when you need them; or you may withdraw all
the accumulated capital and simply keep it on deposit in the bank.
One obvious advantage is that offshore plans grow
without tax being deducted at source, and drawdowns remitted into Thailand
are free of tax too.
There are a variety of plans available with differing
features and charging structures to suit each individual investorís
needs and circumstances - but remember that if you stop these plans early,
youíre likely to suffer a penalty, and most importantly, it will never
achieve the goal for which it was set up: providing you with an adequate
pension for the rest of your days.
Personal Directions: To measure intention,
look at the results
By Christina Dodd,
founder and managing director of Asia Training Associates
I had the experience yesterday of being asked why I did not
respond to a particular e-mail that was sent to me. In view of the fact that I
check my e-mails about five times a day, I asked the person the simple
question of, "when was it sent?" The reply, which was rather
long-winded was, "about a month ago". I stopped to gain my composure
and to think before reacting and to enquire a little further into this. As it
turned out, the basis of this meeting we were having revolved around the
information contained in the elusive e-mail! The immediate thought that came
to my mind was, "if this meeting was so important and the information was
so crucial to the meeting, why didnít anyone follow-up on the e-mail? Why
didnít the sender ask for a receipt? Why didnít anyone call me?"
This type of situation is not rare or isolated. It happens
with avid frequency and not only with e-mailing and every other form of
communication, but with the way we go about doing almost every kind of task.
It makes me think of two important things (apart from the obvious) and they
1. To measure someoneís intention, look at the results of
their actions, and
2. People are more reactive than proactive.
In most conversations I have with managers and businessmen
and women these days, these subjects always come up. They struggle with such
matters in the workplace and of staff not initiating tasks, not thinking
ahead, not planning ahead, but sitting back and waiting for results to
magically appear - to suddenly happen. They wonder why a lot of projects donít
have the expected results and this concerns small, medium and large-scale
The first statement is as clear as a bell. If you want to
know how intent someone is on doing something, just have a look at the
results. The results speak for themselves. In my episode with the
"one-month-ago e-mail", the sender gave zero importance to this - he
had no real intention of doing anything about it and it was obvious because of
the end result. If he had really intended for me to get the e-mail, he would
have followed up the same day, if the matter was so important. It is that
This way of measuring intention can be used for everything
that we undertake to do in life. When people say theyíll call back for
instance, or get in touch with you later, you can gauge their level of
intention by when or if the call comes. How you interpret their level of
intention is entirely up to you. Perhaps there are factors out of their
control that influence their efforts and their intentions.
Measuring your own level of intention is an interesting
exercise. Just go back to some task you have set yourself to do, maybe you
have been meaning to write to a friend who is overseas or you have been
meaning to call a family member back home, and you just havenít got around
to doing it. What does it tell you about yourself and your intention to do
these things? Is it that you are too busy or is it that you havenít placed
enough importance on them? If you really wanted to do these things, you
would have done them, right? If you really intended to write the letter
or make the call, you would have done it, right? Take a quick look at results,
and you will instantly realize the level of your intention. Your level of
intention will determine the kind of results you produce. Half-hearted
intention produces half-hearted results. Whole-hearted intention produces
whole-hearted results. The arithmetic is fairly easy to follow.
This statement becomes very interesting when you take a
look at the workplace and at the people you work with. It can tell you a great
deal about them in a moment. And it will help to confirm the fact that most
people are reactive as opposed to proactive. Itís much easier, after
all, to be that way and you donít have to think or do very much.
Such is human nature, but in the world of getting ahead and
performing well in a job, it pays to be on the proactive side of the table.
When companies call for new recruits in virtually any position, this
characteristic or attribute is high on the list of selection criteria. It
identifies those most likely to get ahead and to be more successful in their
working careers. They are a rare find indeed and employers will search high
and low to source them and when they do find them, itís like striking gold.
But in the real world, we are who we are and there are a
many great ways that we can learn to improve ourselves and the way we do
things. In order to do this, it doesnít mean that we have to change who we
are, but it means that we have to able to change some of our thinking and our
attitudes towards things. Learning how to be more proactive is not an
impossible task and like any task we all undertake, if we place a high level
of importance to our intention, then the results will come out accordingly and
they will speak for themselves.
The amount of intention we put into something is a major
factor in the final outcome. It is a driving force in the way we approach our
everyday private lives and our professional lives. It can dictate whether
something is going to be a success or a failure. It can determine whether you
are going to be a success or a failure. It is so much a part of who we are
that it is critical to be able to understand its ultimate power.
For more information on these subjects and other training
matters, please contact me by e-mail at Christina. [email protected] and visit
our website at www. asiatrainingassociates.com
Have a great week!
The Doctor's Consultation by Dr. Iain
Corness: Your personality - can it change
your disease pattern?
by Dr. Iain Corness
Can your personality determine the diseases you will get?
Yes it most certainly can. And thatís for certain, too. After much recent
research, including clinical studies, the answer is out. Be happy and stay
well. Be aggressive and get heart attacks and cancer.
Now that does not mean that all happy folk live to be 183
and the misery bags croak at 45 - but there is enough evidence to show that
your personality type influences the sorts of diseases you will get later in
However, this is really nothing new. In the ancient times
of Hippocrates, the healers were interested in the personality of the patient,
because they felt that this had a bearing on the disease process. This
conclusion was reached after observation of the patients. This combination of
mind and body and disease is the basis for holistic healing, and even though
Hippocrates and his healers did not have all our pharmaceutical treatments and
wonderful tests, they did treat the person, not just the disease.
So why do we fall ill in the first place? Is it a personal
weakness, is it just "lifestyle" or just plain bad luck? Since I am
not a great believer in "luck" be it good or bad, my leaning after
many decades of medicine is towards a type of personal weakness. After all,
you can take two people with the same lifestyle but one gets ill and the other
does not. Why? Simply, one person was more susceptible than the other - in
some way they had a pre-disposition or call it a "weakness".
Simplistic I know, but it seems to fit.
So what factors seem to be involved in bringing about the
pre-disposition. Genetics are one, and do play a part - if your parents are
diabetic then you will most likely have the problem too, but it is not the be
all and end all. The modern scientific studies with large numbers of people
have come up with interesting statistics. One famous researcher, Eysenck,
lumped us all into four main personality categories.
Type 1 have a strong tendency to suppress their emotions
and tend towards "hopelessness" and are unable to deal with personal
Type 2 people, on the other hand, are also unable to deal
with personal stress, but react to life with anger and aggression.
Type 3 is less clear-cut with a mixture of all these
Type 4 covers the optimistic and relaxed who deal much
better with interpersonal stress.
Using these broad categories and looking at disease
profiles that each type gets, returned some amazing facts. Type 1 was the
cancer prone group, Type 2 got the heart disease, Type 3 got both while Type 4
people were not prone to either cancer or heart disease. Can you see whatís
Eysenck did not stop there. He went on to show that when
people modified their personality they also modified the expected disease
profile. When you think about it, this is staggering stuff! By attention to
your personality profile you can modify your disease profile!
The most significant personality trait was
"anger". Learn to modify your anger response (and this can be done)
and you become less "at risk". This is almost approaching Buddhist
philosophy now - but you CAN modify your personality. That last sentence can
make you live ten years longer, happier and disease free. Forget all the
wonder cures, just look at yourself first! Hippocrates did more than say
Is there something that can be done about telephones in
this country? So many times when I ring a company looking to buy something
I get a recorded voice (in Thai) and I have no idea what they are talking
about and eventually I give up in disgust. They miss on a sale and I donít
get what I want. Why donít they take a leaf out of the American
telesales marketing book? If they want to sell to me, they have to speak
my language. Surely this is obvious? What is your answer to my problems,
Dear Cheesed Off,
You have lots of options, Petal. First off you can
get somebody who speaks Thai to ring up for you. Secondly, you could try
learning enough Thai so you can do it yourself - after all, this country
is called Thai-land, if you hadnít noticed, and the native language is
called Thai. Surely this should be obvious, even to you. Or thirdly, you
can ring America and order what you want from there direct, in that quaint
dialect called "American" English. Or fourthly, and probably the
best option in your case, is to go back to America, where life will be
simpler for you.
A little something for you to chew on! I realise that
Thailand is not a cricketing nation, but wonder if protective boxes are
available in Pattaya. My problem is not from Ďgoogliesí but more on
Ďgooliesí when traversing certain sois. What can I do? I have recorded
a recent episode in verse to illustrate this matter and append a version
for your consideration.
"As we were walking down Soi Six,
Two ladies grabbed us by our mits
Sawasdee Khar, the first one said,
Letís pop inside and see Uncle Ned.
It may be haa roi, may be hok;
It all depends on how much you joke."
Advice please on this sticky wicket, Hillary.
One week I get sketches (thanks again, Dickens 44),
and on another I get verses! But yours is going from bad to verse, Iím
afraid, Petal. As you can see, I cleaned up the rhymes a little and
decided that iambic tetrameter was a more preferential cadence for the
rhyming couplets, but your meaning has been retained. So what can you do
to keep yourself safe while traversing certain sois? Simple, drive down in
a Volvo - theyíve got great safety records. I think it is also safer if
you give up writing poetry, it doesnít appear to be your best medium,
Mistersingha. Stick to your day job!
My Thai friend is driving me nuts with his giving in to
his family at all times. Anything they want, he will give them, even if it
is personal items of jewellery that I have given him. They want money and
he will dish it out - only problem is that it is my money that he is
doling out. And itís not just a few hundred baht here and there, itís
by the thousand. I believe that it is the custom in Thailand that children
look after their parents, as a matter of duty. I did not know that this
covers a grasping avariciousness by the family towards the children. Is
this the norm for this country? It seems that the family condones this
behaviour, and even encourages it. If it is, I think I will make some
other country my next port of call.
Duty to oneís parents is part of Thai culture, but
how that is applied is not quite so clear. Since you are worrying because
your finances are part of all this, you should consider that you also have
a duty to your bank account, and your duty is not to his parents. However,
once you give something to your boyfriend, it is his prerogative as to
what he does with it. Nevertheless, it is also your prerogative to ignore
the begging from your boyfriend, no matter what the reason for the asked
for hand-out from his family. There are families in Thailand that are not
so avaricious. In all countries there are cultural differences, you have
come across one extreme. There are others in Thailand not so extreme. The
choice is always yours
With so many of the men writing in with problems, would
it be possible for you to start some kind of dating service so that we
would know that the girls have your recommendation. This would stop a lot
of problems and heartache, surely?
Dear Me First,
Iím sorry, Me First, but you are not the first to
suggest this as an answer for all the broken hearts out there. Apart from
the fact that Hillary is a columnist and not an introduction agency, I see
many, many problems with your suggestion. How could I possibly give the
girls a Ďrecommendationí as you suggest? Even after an interview, I
would still not really know the full story behind any Thai girl who would
want to have an association with you. The responsibility and care is
yours, Petal. Not mine.
Camera Class: Become an ĎEventsí photographer - and return with the goods!
We all get asked to take photographs at events. Happy
Anniversary! Happy Birthday! Congratulations on your engagement, graduation,
marriage, baptism! Have a great vacation! It just goes on. Every week there will
be some sort of celebration. Now have a look in your own family album and you
will undoubtedly get all sorts of memories - hereís Bill when he graduated,
Noiís birthday, Lekís wedding or even Felixís funeral.
For all these people, the event is an important milestone in
their lives, in some way or another, and so the event deserves to be recorded
properly. And guess what, you canít do it with one shot - it should even take
more than one roll of 36 shots on.
So to make sure that you can get the event in its entirety,
here are a few hints from Harry Flashman. The secret is to start long before you
get to the event venue and sit down and make yourself a list. A checklist, in
fact. What you have to remember at all times, is just what is this event all
about? Let us assume that the party you are going to record is a birthday. Hereís
what you should be thinking about.
What do you need to show? Firstly you have to show that it is
a birthday, not just any old party. Secondly you have to feature the person
whose birthday it is. Thirdly you have to show who came to celebrate the
birthday and fourthly any significant gifts that were received. Not even Henri
Cartier-Bresson would be able to get all that lot into one photograph!
It should go without saying that you have checked your
camera, it does work, you do have film and you do have spare batteries for the
flash. Here is the type of list I would draw up for myself if taking photographs
for your childís birthday:
1. Shot of birthday boy looking at a birthday card (close up
- this gives the visual clue that it is a birthday)
2. Birthday boy opening present (close up - more clues)
3. As above with parents and friends standing around (wide
4. Mother placing candles on birthday cake (classic clue)
5. Father lighting candles
6. Blowing out the candles (close up - an absolute
7. General shots of people singing and clapping
8. Happy time shots
Note that all these shots are designed to set the scene, show
the participants and nominate the "star". There are varied shots, some
close up, some group shots and together they make a package called "Billyís
Probably one of the most important items to remember is my
adage - "Walk several metres closer!" When people are just small dots,
you cannot pick out who they were, several months later. Do not be afraid to
walk in close - this one factor alone will result in much better pictures.
For many of the shots, you will also have to be prepared,
because when the action happens at an event, it can happen very quickly. For
example, blowing out the candles. You canít say, "Sorry, I wasnít
ready. Can you do it again please?" The name of the game is to know what
you are wanting to shoot, and be ready for it.
Now when you come to put them in the family album, you have a
nice group of pictures which many years later will continue to say "Billyís
Birthday", unmistakably. And you made it happen photographically. Well
So next time you are going to photograph an important event,
buy a couple of rolls of film and plan your shots, take them deliberately
according to the plan and be amazed at how much better your results will be!
One final word of warning. When you have become the Ďofficialí
photographer for any event, you cannot be the life and soul of the party until
you have taken all the shots on your list. You are being relied upon to come
home with the goods. You canít do it with a belly full of gin and tonics!
Recipes from Rattana: Gazpacho - the famous Spanish cold soup
Gazpacho is always served cold, so it is a most refreshing
soup for these hot days. This recipe is particularly simple, as it uses canned
tomato juice, rather than having to process tomatoes in the blender. You will
need a blender to prepare this soup, but do not over blend. The soup should
have a thick consistency. You can also substitute red and yellow bell peppers
for green if you wish.
Ingredients Serves 4
Tomato juice 1 litre
Cucumber peeled and chopped 1
Green bell pepper cored and chopped 1
Onion chopped 1
Garlic 2 cloves
Olive oil 2 tbspns
Vinegar white 4 tbspns
Using the blender, first chop up the garlic, then add the
cucumber and bell peppers (capsicum), adding tomato juice as needed to liquefy.
Finally add the rest of the juice. If you want elegance, press through a sieve.
If youíre going for heartiness, just leave it the way it is. Mix in the olive
oil and vinegar. Now refrigerate overnight.
When ready to serve, pour into bowls and garnish with salad vegetables as
you see fit: minced or notched and sliced cucumber; thin green bell pepper
slices; chopped coriander and croutons.
Ask your local US Consul
My girlfriend got a U.S. visa yesterday - yay - but why
did we have to pay a hundred bucks for a two-minute interview?
- Also in Need of Beer Money
You arenít seeing double (at least, not in this
instance). Last time, we pondered the "why did we have to pay a hundred
bucks?" issue. This week, we turn to the immortal question: What is the
visa interview, and why does it last two minutes?
Longtime readers already know that, by the decision of
our nationís duly elected representatives, visa applicants to the U.S. are
"guilty until proven innocent." Visa officers are required to
assume that tourists are in fact planning to stay permanently, unless the
applicants can demonstrate otherwise. (A visa refusal doesnít mean we
think youíre lying. It just means you canít prove youíre telling the
truth. Thereís a vast gray space of inscrutability between those two
statements, and thatís the zone occupied by a visa refusal.)
In order to ferret out what an applicant intends, a visa
officer relies on several tools: the information on the application; the
information supplied by supporting documents; the personís application
history (if any); the results of an antifraud analysis; a computerized check
of the applicantís name against "lookout" databases around the
world; and the interview. The interview is not the sine qua non of visa
issuance. In fact, by the time the applicant reaches the interview window,
the officer often already has a pretty good idea of whether the visa can be
issued, based on the other tools.
Although the interview serves to elicit any additional
information thatís needed, its more important function is to confirm whatís
already been presented: good information, good interview, pass; bad
information, bad interview, no pass; good information with bad interview or
bad information with good interview, things get interesting. In the first
two of these situations, the interview can be very fast indeed. In the third
and fourth cases, the interview is likely to last longer than two minutes.
Even here, however, the interview will not last longer than it takes to
gather disqualifying information. Remember that old board game
"Operation," where the goal was to remove plastic organs with a
pair of tweezers, without touching the metal parts that would make the
patient buzz? A visa interview is like that - if the guyís already buzzed,
weíre not going to waste your time seeing if you can complete the
So: How do you ensure a good interview? Easy one: Be
honest. It happens all too frequently that an applicant has what she thinks
is an unusual situation (we get several thousand applicants per year, so
whatever it is, it probably isnít), tells us what she thinks we want to
hear rather than explain it, and is refused - whereas if sheíd been
straightforward, she might have left with a visa.
Not only does a visa applicant sign a certification that
the information is accurate - making misrepresentation potentially perjury -
but, for all the new technological safeguards, a large part of the process
still involves trust. Damage that credibility with a deliberate inaccuracy,
however small, and it becomes nearly impossible to convince the officer to
take a leap of faith that the person is coming back.
To clarify: an applicant who comes in and says, "I
want to be honest. I just paid a guy 6,000 baht to get me a job as a
waitress in Las Vegas - funny, but they only accept women - and Iíd like
to go on a tourist visa" WILL be refused. However, if sheís honest,
then when she comes back to get a student visa to go to NYU, that previous
refusal wonít necessarily be held against her (Las Vegas Community College
might give us pause). If sheís caught in a lie the first time, the
threshold for making the patient buzz is going to be that much lower the
next time around.
Coming soon: Social Security applications as
Have a question about visas, passports, travel to the
United States, services for American citizens, or related issues? Ask the
Consul. Send your e-mail to [email protected] with "ask the consul"
in the subject line. If your question isnít selected, you can get an
answer by calling the Consulate at 053-252-629, from 8 to 4.