This article is for professional investors only, and not intended for retail investors.
First published: FT Adviser
Article by Matt Dickens, Senior Business Development Director
Later life planning has become more topical than ever over the past year as our whole industry has worked hard to absorb the changes brought about by the pandemic, progressing financial planning to meet the “new normal”. This article explores three of the greatest challenges later life planners currently have to consider and prepare for, tax changes, market volatility and the cost of care, and shows how a comprehensive later life plan, delivering more than just estate planning for inheritance, is increasingly important.
In 2019, the new Conservative Government, facing the challenge of delivering an orderly Brexit, but not yet dealing with the impact of a global pandemic, promised there would be no changes to Income Tax, National Insurance or VAT. Eighteen months on, they find themselves in an unprecedented economic scenario, with a deficit of £394 billion1 (19% of GDP), its highest level since 1945. While commentators remain focused on the ongoing pandemic and its impact on both lives and livelihoods and when it might come to an end, they also have one eye on the issue of paying for the extreme lengths the Treasury has gone to, to keep the country financially afloat. Likewise, investors are equally mindful of this issue – if the Government needs to balance the books through fiscal policy, how will any decision made now fare in a post-pandemic financial future?
For advisers, there are two clear ways to approach this planning dilemma.
Firstly, one could attempt to foresee the future and plan for the measures that might be implemented in the coming months and years. The problem with this approach is that one would need a crystal ball.
Secondly, one could accept that there is no way to predict the measures that will come into effect and wait until there is some form of clarity. But herein lies the problem of delay in the face of continued uncertainty. For almost a year now, many have held off on vital long-term plans due to the fear of the unknown, yet they need to accept that another year or more of inaction due to the potential of further uncertainty comes with its own real risk. And the longer it goes on, the more risk they are taking.
The simple answer to this conundrum is to embrace a strategy which remains flexible to any possible changes, but in the meantime delivers on the key outcomes the client requires. Any financial planning strategy needs to stack up in line with the wider objectives of the investor, such as achieving investment growth, rather than focusing purely on the tax advantages of a particular strategy, as these could change or even disappear. This is why I believe advisers should be developing a wider later life planning proposition, and not just narrowly focussing on estate planning.
Here is an example of a desired outcome of someone planning for later life;
To invest capital in a way that maintains flexibility throughout later life to pay for any unplanned needs, but also consider any potential care needs that might be needed, knowing that their wealth has been successfully grown up to the point of death, so maximising the legacy that will be passed onto the chosen beneficiaries.
Breaking it down into individual objectives:
Note the desire to reduce any IHT payable is deliberately last on the list of desired outcomes. The danger of focussing on the estate planning part of these objectives is twofold. Firstly, the threat of impending tax changes, or tax relief changes, causes uncertainty as to the efficacy of any purely tax-focussed strategy. And this remains the case whether one feels they can predict the future or not!
Secondly, the danger of ignoring the other higher priority objectives, as many tax-focused strategies are a one trick pony and restrict the potential for wider benefits. In this case, the investor may have to forgo any long-term investment growth, or the flexibility to easily and predictably access the investment to pay for care, for instance.
So, when considering the threat of tax changes to later life planning, the approach should always be to allow the investment rationale and wider utility of the service you recommend to lead the planning decisions, rather than just narrowly focusing on the tax benefits.
Another challenge that is particularly unwelcome in later life and particularly visible in the current environment is the potential for continuing investment volatility. In this phase of their lives, investors are unlikely to have the flexibility to “time the market” when they want access to their wealth. For instance, making a withdrawal to help family members in need, pay for care requirements or ultimately passing the investment onto beneficiaries upon death. These are not predictable events. Reflecting upon the volatility of markets in 2020 and the uncertainty of 2021 and beyond, investors may well be minded to forgo any potential upside of an investment, perceiving them as too risky.
However, an alternative, as many asset managers have been doing over the last decade, is to look to private investments that are not exposed to market sentiment in the same way as listed investments are. While on the face of it this sounds riskier, certain investment strategies can provide investors with an appealing level of security and predictable returns. One way to do this is via private companies that engage in secured lending. By their nature, loans carry lower risk than equity investments as they do not fluctuate in value over time. Senior, asset-backed loans provide the investor with additional protection against any loss in value. Executed within sectors that are demonstrating strong resilience to the pandemic and any ongoing Brexit effects, these loans can provide an attractive return with low volatility. Such companies are common investments for Business Relief qualifying services where services should be valued on their “fundamentals” not reliant on positive investor sentiment.
In the same way that the increasingly maturing cohort called the baby-boomers have recently come under detailed discussion by advisers with respect to their intergenerational planning needs, the same level of consideration should also be given to their increasing need for long-term care. During the pandemic, the importance of and reliance upon the UK’s care system has become very clear, yet there is an insufficient level of planning taking place to ensure that people are prepared. Research shows that the majority of family members who have experience of a loved one being in care were not satisfied with their experience. One of the factors that can surely make this unfortunate outcome more comfortable is being prepared, both financially and through being armed with knowledge or advice on this complex sector.
This is why it is more important than ever to flexibly have access to one’s wealth in later life. It is impossible to predict what any one person’s needs are going to be in the future and so separating money to prepare for care and to prepare for estate planning is futile. At the same time, perhaps the need will not arise and so the money could be contributing to the investor’s other objectives rather than being held back from an investment. So, undoubtedly a flexible posture to later life planning is key and if the investment can gain value over time to contribute to paying for life’s needs then all the better. The final benefit that could assist with this challenge is a specialist care advice service, which is included for all Ingenious Estate Planning (IEP) investors. As well as advising clients and their families on the vagaries of the UK’s complex care system, the IEP Care Service helps investors to make decisions in a time of need and stress. Specialist, independent advisers give individuals and their families invaluable support, liaising between the NHS and care providers to achieve the best possible care outcomes.
2020 brought several challenges faced by later life planners into sharp focus. The pandemic made us far more aware of our mortality and the importance of planning ahead. The next 12 months should herald an opportunity for wealth managers to scrutinise the later life services they offer to see if they really deliver on the outcomes and needs that their clients are after in the light of the future issues they may face. If there was ever a reason to adapt to changes in the external environment it would be now, before risking losing touch with those who do. 2021 should be seen as a great opportunity. Only by considering any changes to the legislative landscape, delivering consistent and attractive risk-adjusted returns and considering any future needs and costs of our clients, can we deliver a truly robust and value-adding financial later life plan for investors who need it.
1Office for Budget Responsibility, Economic & Fiscal Outlook, November 2020