HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

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 column.
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 serial records!
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 Adulyadej).
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 the future.

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary
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.
Dear David,
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!
Dear Hillary,
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 into it.

Camera Class  by Harry Flashman

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).


1 year 3 years 5 years

Scott Campbell Core Funds

1.70% 6.62% +23.96%

Sector Average

-10.35% -27.61% -16.74%

Quartile Ranking

1st 1st 1st

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 more profitable.
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 organisations.
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 beyond contemplation.
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]