The Doctor's Consultation
by Dr. Iain Corness
Are check-ups worthwhile?
Many people work on the principle that they would rather
not know about any underlying or sinister medical conditions they may have.
After all, we are all going to die one day, aren’t we? I have always said
that despite all advances in medical science, the death rate will always be
the same – one per person!
However, check-ups are inherently involved in that important feature called
the Quality of Life. Longevity alone, with no quality, just isn’t worth it
in my book. Or yours, most likely, otherwise you would not be reading this
The guiding principle behind check-ups is to find deviations from normal
health patterns at an early stage. Early enough that the trend can be
reversed, before damage has occurred. Examples of this include Blood
Pressure (BP), a significant factor in poor health in the future if
unchecked now. High BP can affect many organs in the body, not just the
heart. But an elevated BP generally gives no warning symptoms.
Another example is blood sugar. Again, it requires sky-high sugar levels
before the person begins to feel that something might be wrong. And by then
the sugar levels have affected vision, the vascular system and many other
systems, all of which can decrease your quality of life in the future.
Amputation of a limb is a common result of unchecked blood sugar levels. A
situation that nobody would wish for themselves, I am sure.
Respiratory conditions also rate high on the list of medical events that can
decrease your quality of life. Yet the majority of these can be found early,
and treated successfully.
Cardiac conditions and abnormalities, be that in anatomy or function, can
also very adversely affect your quality of life, but are very easily found
during a routine check-up. Various blood tests and an EKG can show just how
well the cardiac pump is functioning, and how well it will continue to
function in the future. The inability to walk more than 50 meters certainly
takes the fun out of shopping, yet this can be predicted - if you have some
Another of the silent killers can be discovered in your lipid profile, with
cholesterol and its fractions HDL and LDL being intimately connected with
your cardiac status. Again a situation where detecting abnormalities now can
mean that you can get through the deadly 50-60 year age bracket in the
future with clear coronary arteries and a clean bill of health.
There are actually so many of the conditions that can affect your enjoyment
of the future that can be discovered early. Renal (kidney) function and
liver function can be monitored through an annual check-up, as can prostate
size (indicated by the PSA blood test) or breast tumors (by mammogram).
So hopefully I have influenced you enough to begin to think about an annual
check-up. If so, I have some very good news for those of you living in
Pattaya. The Bangkok Hospital Pattaya has repeated their previous King’s
birthday promotional package with big discounts on check-up packages
purchased between the 20th November and 20th December, and the check-up
packages can be used until the 31st of March 2007.
Every package purchased between November 20 and December 20 entitles you to
a free umbrella and a chance to win a free round trip ticket from the new
Suvarnabhumi airport to Chiang Mai and return, flying Thai International
Airways, plus free entrance to the Royal Flora Ratchapruek Expo 2006-7 (the
international horticultural exposition honoring His Majesty King Bhumibol
So if you want to stop and smell the flowers, and feel well enough to do it
all again next year, can I suggest that you do think of the annual check-up?
If you are under 40 years of age, and think you are in good health
(non-smoker and moderate drinker) then every two years will be fine. If you
are older than 40, then make it an annual event. It is good ‘insurance’ for
Heart to Heart
It is a long time since I written to you but I follow your column every
week. When I am in Pattaya I buy your newspaper and when I stay in the
Jungel (sic) I read your newspaper on Internett (sic).
First of all I hope you still understand and can correct my bad englisch
(sic). (From here on, gentle reader, I have done as he asked and
corrected the English!) Then I suggest following: I have noticed that
you now not only involve yourself in social matters but also electrical
matters between US and Thailand. You also become involved in Real Estate
problems. I suppose when you were employed in your newspaper your scope
of work was social matters. Because you now also involved in two other
branches I suggest the following: You must visit your big boss and ask
for a bigger salary. This is my recommendation to your boss. Please show
him this letter from me.
I have read in your column before that the old airport had a “Leave Your
Brain Here center” for farangs before taking a taxi to Pattaya. I hope
the new Airport does not have this “Brain center” for farangs so you can
have more capacity to concentrate on your new branches. If you feel that
you have too much spare time you can start with a visit to the many
farang bars in Pattaya and believe me, you will have stories for the
next 100 years. I find your column sometimes very informative and
sometimes very funny. Your newspaper will never be the same without you.
Thank you for your advice, and as you can see, I did correct the
“englisch”! I have cut out your suggestion for my Big Boss, asking for a
bigger salary, and left it on his desk. I shall let you know when it
happens. Probably also in the next 100 years, as I am sure he doesn’t
really understand the hard work that goes into being an Agony Aunt, my
Petal. Reading up all that electrical nonsense and getting real estate
agents to open up and tell the truth is not easy.
Unfortunately, the new Suvarnabhumi airport had its “Leave Your Brain
Here center” built before they even constructed the toilets. This is why
you will see a number of men with glazed eyes, pockets full of blue
diamond tablets and crossed legs coming out of the new airport and
lining up for the bus to Pattaya. And while the bus does have a toilet
on board, there is no brain reclamation service, so the poor dears
arrive here very thirsty and answer the call to “Sit down sexy man” and
then open their wallets and are trained to say, “Help yourself!” Of
course, this is an invitation that no self-respecting Pattaya lady could
possibly turn down. Well, I ask you, how could she?
Unfortunately, after the chap gets his brain back at the airport and
discovers he has bought a house in Nakhon Nowhere, for which he has no
title deeds, a motorcycle and three meters of gold chain, he then writes
to Ms. Hillary, as if I can do something about it. It’s hard some days,
David. It really is.
I do hope that our newspaper will never be the same without me, but I am
not planning on leaving soon, so don’t fret, David!
We are coming up to Xmas, when all our overseas friends are looking at
their holidays and looking to come and stay with us. Honestly, this
becomes a little too much at this time. If I had nothing else to do
other than entertain old friends then it would be fine, but I have work
I have to do as well. I don’t want to give old friends the cold
shoulder, but I’m at my wits end, honestly! What should I do?
Guest house Gertrude
Dear Guest House Gert,
This is a very common problem when you live in a place that other people
save for 11 months to come and visit. It is also very normal for your
old friends to want to see you, and possibly save some money by staying
with you. You actually have the answer already when you called yourself
“Guest house” Gertrude. What you have to do is run your home more along
guest house lines. Tell them that as you have other work to do, you will
leave everything out for them for their breakfast and then you will meet
them for dinner at 7 p.m. and we will all do things together from there.
I am sure your friends will appreciate that even though they are on
holidays, you are not. They need time to themselves too and will be
grateful for the chances to explore on their own. Have some brochures in
their room with suggested trips like Nong Nooch gardens and the Sriracha
Tiger Zoo and let them take it from there. Many tourist facilities will
even pick them up and deliver them back, so you don’t need to be a taxi
service as well. They will be happy, you can do your work, and you can
enjoy each others company at night. Just think about it, you can even
get one of those nice wooden signs with “Gerties Guest House” carved
Camera Class by
Can you be a self-taught master photographer?
In one word - Yes! There are many of the world’s photographic
greats who taught themselves how to shoot. And quite frankly, with the number of
books available on the subject from photographers such as Michael Freeman or
some of the Kodak series, there is no reason why you cannot emulate the greats,
and begin to produce better photographs yourself. (Or you may even keep some of
these columns as reference guides!)
Blurry action in the rain
Action in the rain
The question is how? The answer is by observation and
by recording. I have always recommended that all new photographers
should keep a notebook and just jot down a few details of the settings
used, which can later be referred to, if the end result was what you
wanted. Use the same settings in the future and you have reproducible
results. And reproducible pictures. I don’t care if you are using a
digital everything, all-singing, all-dancing automatic camera. Even
noting down whether the photograph was taken with the light, or against
the light (known as contre-jour, because much of early photographic work
came from France) is a start.
Take for example, the way to stop the action to get shots in the rain
like photo number 2 with this week’s column. This follows a well known
path to get these sorts of shots, but if you haven’t noted the details
at some stage in your photography career then you will not get them, but
will end up with shots like number 1.
Let’s analyze both these shots to show just how they were produced. For
shot 1, the shutter speed was 1/30th of a second and the aperture was f
5.6, and for shot 2 the shutter speed was 1/30th of a second and the
aperture f 5.6! So far, both of them were identical, so what was the
difference to get these very different photographs?
The secret was in technique, in this case, called panning. With photo
number 1, I just held the camera still and snapped the motorcycle as it
came into view in the viewfinder. That 1/30th shutter speed was enough
to stop the slowly moving baht bus, but not enough to stop the faster
motorcycle, which was also closer to the camera. The end result was a
blurred motorcycle, which in itself does indicate action and movement,
but not what I would call a very satisfying picture.
Now to photograph number 2. This was taken by the same manual camera,
and the focus was fixed at the point where the shot was taken, however,
the camera was not fixed in position as it was in photo number 1. I
looked up the road and placed the motorcycle in the center of the
viewfinder as it came towards me, then by smoothly swinging the camera
in a horizontal arc and keeping the motorcycle in the center popped the
shutter when the subject was level with me, continuing to follow its
course as it went away. This is important, as otherwise you will have
the situation of a ‘fixed’ camera and a moving subject, as to get these
panning shots correctly you need a moving camera and the moving target
subject. As you can see, the end result was most satisfactory. The
camera was moving faster in its arc than the slower baht bus, so it was
blurred, while since the camera was moving at the same relative speed as
the motorcycle, it was ‘stopped’ even though the shutter speed was only
1/30th of a second.
However, the lesson to be learned here was the simple fact I had done
this before, so I knew what to do. Originally I wrote it down in my
notebook! Just the same way I suggest you do!
Money Matters Graham
Macdonald MBMG International Ltd.
Investment Portfolios Part 1
Some time ago we were somewhat astonished
when we read that many offshore private banks are finding it difficult to
continue providing specialist investment and banking services to the
“medium-wealthy”. The initial cause of our discomfort was the term “medium
wealthy”. It’s long been a pillar of faith with us that while all wealth may
be relative, the single most important factor is that to the individual
concerned it’s generally extremely important. Whether it’s Bill Gates
needing to ensure that the IRR on his assets is adequate to ensure that he
retains his primacy as the world’s richest individual or whether it’s
someone in rural Thailand eking out a subsistence wage to be able to feed
the family, for every individual’s own reasons, our wealth is usually
extremely important to each and every one of us. It is just too important to
be simply boxed and categorised as HNW (High Net Worth), MW (Medium Wealthy)
or the most appalling classification that we’ve seen used by any of the
major banks, NWP (Not Worth Pursuing).
Scott Campbell Core Funds
Rank in sector
13th out of 156
1st out of 107
1st out of 68
That’s not to say that silk purses can be made out of cow’s ears but some
solutions can usually be implemented at most levels of income that can help
to improve an individual’s financial planning. Thai financial planning teams
start offering schemes at just THB 2,000 per month, whereas offshore a
monthly savings plan can be established for as little as GBP 50 per month.
However, in terms of real wealth management (i.e. managing wealth that has
already been created) a critical mass is, to some extent, required. At any
company worth their salt, whilst it should be recognised that certain
minimum criteria have to apply to certain transactions, they would also do
their utmost to create highly personalised solutions for all investors. The
process of quantifying clients needs in terms of liquidity, risk profile,
tax-efficiency, required returns and a whole host of other variables that
are extremely personal to each individual investor, is extremely
time-consuming and intensive. The outcome of this process relies on finding
a suitable solution for each individual need.
For as little as AUD 5,000, solutions can be fashioned that are acceptable
to many investors. For as little as GBP 25,000, platforms can be utilised
that create highly personalised portfolios. For just Euro 400,000 or USD
500,000 we believe that it’s possible to create the very best portfolio that
any investor can buy - above that the only differences might be slightly
reduced net charges.
However, it appears that we are far from being the norm. The business
strategies developed by banks at the height of the equity bull market, which
relied on healthy revenues from portfolio management services, have proved
to be unsustainable. This has caused many well-known banking names to
drastically re-work their ways of doing business and, in some cases, to
completely withdraw from providing any services at all but the very wealthy.
After a decade, in which the concept of the “mass affluent” became the buzz
words in the ‘retail strategy’ for quite a number of banks - many of whom
then began to boast of offering a more specialised service for this
‘category’ of people - most clients of upmarket banks now “find themselves
talking to a call centre if they’re not careful” according to one senior
private banking analyst.
Just as investors, sucked in by the bull markets of the late 1980s and
throughout the 1990s, started to think that these halcyon conditions could
prevail indefinitely, private banks’ business strategies increasingly
centred on what had become the banking Holy Grail - portfolio management.
High Street banks set up wealth management divisions and clients’ capital
was placed in ‘buy and hold’ equity funds (which were then somewhat
neglected) and balanced portfolios without the need to invest heavily in
genuine market expertise - according to Michael Maslinski, a London-based
advisor to private clients.
Maslinski goes on to say, “As long as these banks could keep slicing, say,
1.00% a year from clients’ equity portfolios, they were happy. The markets
would keep going up, and their profits would too. The economic basis of the
industry was based on that simple fact.”
The attraction of the equity market strategy for banks was compelling. To
take just one telling example: in a six-month period between late 1997 and
mid-1998 the German Neuer Market - the country’s high-tech bourse - put on
1,200 points, a staggering amount. Around the world, developed markets were
performing similarly. For a private bank, such increases translated into
instant, no-brainer profits and allowed them to extend their largesse to
individuals far further down the wealth scale than they had dealt with
before. Banks did not have to offer real, impartial, investment expertise
and could push clients into in-house investment funds or easily selected
“best of breed” funds instead. In other words, private banking wasn’t really
very private at all.
As long as equity markets were doing well, all clients’ money could simply
be invested by the banks’ into equities irrespective of their risk and
liquidity appetites - unfortunately this state of affairs cannot prevail
indefinitely and the result was some very disappointed clients, some major
damage to banking reputations and a recognition that private banking needed
to be more akin to the bespoke Absolute Return Portfolios managed by such
companies as Miton Optimal.
Although, in certain circumstances, it can be said that some private banking
institutions have been “economical with the truth” with regards to
disclosing completely reliable performance figures, it is possible to
estimate these from the disclosed holdings of private bank portfolios at the
end of each quarter. Based on this, the sector average of Global Asset
Allocation (dynamic) is a more than generous proxy for what were essentially
poorly diversified, equity-biased, global portfolios.
Just compare what the more commonly known bank managed funds did when they
are compared with the track record of Miton Optimal’s Scott Campbell to the
end of 2002 (i.e. including the massive corrections of 2000, 2001 and 2002.)
The table below reveals that even when MitonOptimal’s funds were having
their worst year since inception, the figures the fund returned were far
from being a disaster for investors and have other fund managers turning
green with envy.
Although the Miton Optimal funds have maintained their outperformance of
private bank portfolios since then by achieving first place at the end of
2003, 2004 and 2005, the differences at that point are both stark and
relevant to where we are today. We really should focus on these:
40.70% better return over 5 years than peer portfolios
34.23% better return over 3 years than peer portfolios
12.05% better return over 1 year than peer portfolios
What banks offered to their “medium wealthy” clients during this period was,
in general, neither personalised nor was it real portfolio management.
Putting all investors in the same boat because they believed that it
couldn’t sink turned out to be wholly inappropriate. Failing to diversify
properly across all asset classes and to manage the portfolios actively or
intelligently turned out to be an act of the grossest negligence that seems
to have somehow escaped detection - are the victims just too embarrassed?
Whatever the investor reaction, the banks’ cover has been blown - cheap,
passive equity proxies are no longer any substitute for genuinely
personalised, actively managed, portfolios and the banks have had the choice
between doing the decent thing, i.e. supplying what they actually claimed to
be providing all along, and just walking away from the hole that they had
dug for themselves. Clearly the latter option was both the easier and the
Catherine Tillotson, a private banking strategist at research consultancy
The Scorpio Partnership in London, believes that the market crash just
widened the gap between what the banks were offering and what they claimed
to be - “What we have seen in the last couple of years has been banks
reducing what they offer to the merely mass-affluent and substituting
inferior managed portfolios and internet banking for the true relationship
banking they promised before the crash.”
In fact, a number of high-profile banks have either exited the business
altogether or have quietly upped the required asset level. A bold joint
venture between Merrill Lynch and HSBC, which aimed to provide top-flight
personal banking to medium-wealthy expatriates, complete with online share
dealing and portfolio management, hit the rails when the economics failed to
work. Merrill Lynch currently requires $5m in assets before it will take a
client on. The joint venture had been intended to cater for individuals much
further down the wealth scale but the economics of the bear market suddenly
meant that clients could only get a much limited service from their private
bank, if they were even allowed through the door at all.
Michael Maslinski points out that a bank has to bring in revenues of, on
average, $50,000 to $60,000 per year on a portfolio of $5m to make a profit,
if it is to maintain an often ruinously expensive team of advisors, analysts
and relationship managers. This is because the bank will choose to use
expensive in-house resources which are frequently second best anyway, rather
than being seen to outsource to cheaper levels of expertise from rival
Below that level of assets, and without the benefit of constantly rising
equity markets to provide easy profits, it is simply impossible for banks
with their monolithic, inflexible structures to offer a top-end service. The
financial models that banks created were drawn up around the precept of easy
profits. Once markets got tougher, banks didn’t have the expertise or
resources to continue making profits for their clients and, therefore, for
themselves. Thus for most banks the idea of admitting that a competitor
might have better skills than them in a particular investment space was
As a direct result of this, a survey by IBM Financial Services found that
only 25% of European private banks are currently meeting their financial
targets. “For the normally affluent, say with £500,000, the days of getting
a proper private banking relationship complete with dedicated relationship
manager are over,” says Ms Tillotson at Scorpio.
To find the requisite skills at this level along with a reasonable fee
structure and personalised service means looking at independent wealth
managers rather than banks. That’s not only the view of MBMG International
or Ms Tillotson, who points out that the boom time made banks lazy, but also
of Cerulli Associates. This is a US research company that has discovered
that an increasing number of specialist independent financial advisors seem
to be dominating the medium wealthy (£250,000 to £5m) clients now that
private banks have demonstrated their inability to service properly.
Cerulli found that high-net-worth financial advisors in the UK already act
as intermediaries for over half of all investment portfolios within this
‘sector’. Not all private banks are out for the count. Some avoided the
tar-pit of the last few years’ irrational bull market.
Leopold Joseph, one of the few private banks that do try to do well by their
clients, resisted the temptation for easy equity returns. The managing
director, Michael Fornara, said, “Some of our colleagues got too carried
away.” He continued, “but we’ve never really been an equity managing bank.
Clients shouldn’t expect what is not on offer - easy money. But it is still
possible to manage money intelligently and well.”
We’d still rate this as a second best to the genuine private client
personalised relationship that a fully qualified and legal IFA can offer but
at least this bank is on the same page in terms of impartiality and
independence of investment choice.
The above data and research was compiled from sources believed to be
reliable. However, neither MBMG International Ltd nor its officers can accept
any liability for any errors or omissions in the above article nor bear any
responsibility for any losses achieved as a result of any actions taken or not
taken as a consequence of reading the above article. For more information please
contact Graham Macdonald on [email protected]