Singapore Expat: Should You Invest With St. James’s Place International?

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John’s phone rang.

He picked it up. There was a polite British gentleman on the other line. “We would like to offer you significant savings with the new and revamped SJP [St. James’s Place] investment platform,” he said.

John is a savvy investor. But he was curious.

Expatriate focused financial firms usually charge Everest-sized fees. “This firm promised to be different,” John said. “I wanted to see if they were giving me smoke and mirrors.”

John agreed to meet the fellow. “But it was exactly what I expected,” he said.

To understand John’s disappointment, we need to look at the average costs charged by firms that offer full service financial management and advice.

Advisory HQ publishes average fees for a variety of UK and U.S. full service financial planning firms.

 

Average Full Service Financial Advisory Fees (not including fund expense ratio costs)

advisory-hq-fees Source: Advisory HQ

 

The average investor with a $50,000 portfolio pays advisory fees of 1.35 percent per year. The typical investor with a $500,000 portfolio pays 1.06 percent per year. That includes financial planning advice and portfolio management.

Fees for St. James’s Place International are higher than the industry average.

Management fees (not including the hidden fees for the funds’ expense ratios) total 1.5 percent per year. Including mutual fund fees, investors could pay 3 percent or more each year.

The firm outlines its charges in its International Investment Account Product Summary. On page 5, it reads:

 

“There is an annual management charge of 1.5% of the value of your investment each year… We will also provide you with ongoing advice to review your investments to ensure it remains appropriate. The cost of this each year is 0.5% of your total investment… If you invest a lump sum with us, the cost of the initial advice and our services will be 4.5% of the amount you invest.”

 

John listened to the advisor’s sales pitch. It upset him. “The 4.5 percent upfront fee is like a kick to the teeth. It might as well say, ‘here’s your first penalty for giving us your money.’”

But Andy Sumner, the Principal Officer of St. James Place International (Singapore) emailed me to say that this 4.5 percent fee is already included in the 1.5 percent annual charges.  It does sound confusing, based on the following statement on page 5 in the St. James Place International Investment Account Product Summary.  Pasted from the prospectus it says: 

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 8.01.54 pm

To quote the company’s prospectus again, it reads, “If you invest £100,000, the cost will be £4,500.”  

Investors who decide that the fees are too much then get kicked in the groin. If they want their money back before a six year period, the firm charges them a penalty.  

Investors who leave after just two years, for example, pay a fee that’s equivalent to 4 percent of their portfolio’s value. This could hurt. An investor with $1 million invested would pay a $40,000 penalty.

St. James’s Place International’s Early Redemption Penalties

st-james-place-penalty-fees

 Source: St. James’s Place International: International Investment Product Summary

 

This isn’t the most expensive expatriate financial advisory firm.  But its fees are described in a murky way.  

If we include fund expense ratio charges (which aren’t included in the 1.5%) investors could pay more than 3 percent per year in annual fees.  Mike Alfred, a chief executive at Brightscope, a financial information firm in San Diego, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal suggesting that when total investment costs are 2 percent or more, “It’s really going to be hard to accumulate assets.”  

“There’s a moral to this story,” says John. “Great investments are bought, not sold.”

Nobody, it seems, cold calls the public to offer a great investment opportunity.

 

Andrew Hallam is the author of The Global Expatriate’s Guide To Investing





Andrew Hallam

I’m a financial columnist for Canada’s national paper, The Globe and Mail, as well as for AssetBuilder, a financial service firm based in Texas. I’m also the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School (2nd Ed. Wiley 2017) and The Global Expatriate’s Guide To Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat (Wiley 2015). My mission is to educate, motivate and inspire people on basic retirement planning and best practices for investing, using evidence-based strategies. I'm happy to comment on your questions. However, please read the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and the Comments Policy.

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54 Responses

  1. Owen says:

    This is becoming all too common of a case. Working at a big international school in Singapore, it is really easy to find my work email through our website. I get a lot of these emails targeting expats, and even specifically Canadians. Great article and warning – it needs to keep spreading!

  2. Luke Janssen says:

    Andrew, well said. I think others are afraid to call these guys out. I shared your article on LinkedIn. AAM are the same and I am now 20% down on the money I gave them. Have moved to The Fry Group who I am happier with. Personally I would like to see these guys SJP, and AAM go out of business.

  3. Neville De Nazareth says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for the article, I am currently thinking about investing with SJP and a couple of points they provided differ from your article, hence I was hoping you could help clarify them.
    Fees charged:
    Roughly SG$ 6 (3.21 Pounds) per month absolute value
    No other fee – the 1.5% is payable from the funds and another 1% for expense ratio. But I’m told that other funds charge 3% for this, was I informed correctly?
    Regarding the 4.5%, yes it is worded in a confusing manner, what I’m told is that this 4.5% is the cost to SJP and hence they charge the 6% (4.5 + 1.5 their fee) if customers pull out in the first year as the table you shared shows.
    The 0.5% fee is already included in the 1.5% fee payable by the funds.

    In summary, they charge 2.5% of the invested amount from the funds and 3.21 pounds per month. Assuming I don’t pull out in 6 years, is this higher than other Wealth Management companies out there? If so, is it justified by the returns they tend to provide? This is what matters at the end of the day.

    Thank you in advance.

    • Hi Neville,

      If you are looking for a full service provider, you would pay half this amount with AES International. There are no charges to sell at any time. The biggest drag on performance is always the ongoing fee, and the ongoing fees for SJP are much higher than they are with AES International–especially considering the fact that AES International will exclusively build you a portfolio of index funds. That’s not the case with SJP. Index funds (ETFs in this case) are far cheaper than actively managed funds. http://andrewhallam.com/2016/04/how-aes-international-in-dubai-will-build-you-a-portfolio-of-index-funds/

      Interestingly, what you say here still doesn’t make much sense:

      “Regarding the 4.5%, yes it is worded in a confusing manner, what I’m told is that this 4.5% is the cost to SJP and hence they charge the 6% (4.5 + 1.5 their fee) if customers pull out in the first year as the table you shared shows.”

      Cheers,
      Andrew

      • Neville De Nazareth says:

        Thank you Andrew, really appreciate your quick response and help.
        I will look into AES International.
        Well what I was told is that this is the explanation for why SJP charges 6% if you back out within the first year (4.5% plus their 1.5% charges).
        It isn’t that customers would pay an additional 4.5% just to invest their money.
        Does this make sense? Honestly, the person at SJP too said this was misleading.

        Cheers,

        Neville.

        • That firm isn’t the most expensive in the world, Neville. But they don’t predominantly select ETFs (index funds) for clients, so their fees end up being a lot higher. And if your sister’s house burns down after one year, and you can actually help her with some cash, do you really think SJP should penalize you for that?

          Cheers,
          Andrew

  4. Lucy says:

    Hi Andrew

    Many thanks for this. I’ve spoken to a number of such advisors and came across this excellent article. I actually contacted AES to start a pension scheme but they informed me that unless I had around $75k to start an offshore pension I’d be better of simply saving until I have around that figure. Is this the best way to prepare for a pension as an expat? I was explicitly told by AES that even just putting money away in a savings account was better than going with these ‘wealth managers’. What would your advice be to an new expat that doesn’t yet have large savings or assets but wants to start preparing for the future.

  5. Hi Lucy,

    I wrote a book that describes what you could do. I suggest opening an account with an online brokerage that’s recommended in my book. I use TD Direct International. Then, follow the instructions in the book on how you can simply build a portfolio over time. Once you have $75,000, you could transfer the assets to AES. Or, you could simply keep doing what you’re doing with TD Direct International. Here’s the book’s link: http://bit.ly/globalexpat

  6. Lucy says:

    Hi Andrew

    Is there a reason why you advise to use TD Direct vs Vanguard? I’ve read Vanguard to be the best for buying ETFs.

    Thanks

    Lucy

  7. Lucy says:

    I think I found the answer, it’s because I need to be in the US to open a Vanguard account whereas I assume TD Direct allow me to open an account from abroad as I’m in Indonesia right now.

  8. ron says:

    Lucy TD will not allow you to open an account from Indonesia. Try Saxo or IB.

    • Lucy says:

      Thanks Ron

      What if I have a bank account in Singapore, does that help? Or do I need to have an actual address?

      • ron says:

        Yes, they look at residency. You can check it on the TD website. The moment you select Indonesia there you get a message that they cannot accept you. I don’t really understand what the issue is as the banking sector in Indonesia is better regulated than in many other countries so I guess this is based on a developing nations bias that’s probably 30 years outdated. Since the Asia crisis in 1998 Indonesia has totally cleaned up its banking sector.

        • Ron,

          With Indonesia, it has more to do with their legal framework. TD Direct International needs proof that an investor is who he or she says they are–and not Osama Bin Laden. That means going to an attorney or notary and verifying identity with a passport. TD Direct International trusts such certifications coming from countries like Singapore and Malaysia. But from Indonesia (where people can literally purchase drivers’ licences) there’s an excellent reason for saying no. Rather than an outdated developing nation deal, this is very current indeed.

          Cheers,
          Andrew

          • ron says:

            That’s right Andrew. But somehow I thought Lucy does not hold an Indonesian passport.

          • Ron,

            She could be a Canadian living in Indonesia. The same thing would apply. That Canadian would need to get verification of residency from an Indonesian notary. And TD Direct International doesn’t trust such legal frameworks, for very good reason.

  9. Lucy says:

    I’m British. Disappointing I can’t use TD. I’ll try finding Sack or IB but could this mean that whilst I’m in Indonesia I can’t start buying EFTs?

    • Lucy,

      You could start to buy your ETFs via Interactive Brokers. Switch brokerages after you leave Indonesia (see my book for reasons why).

      Don’t use Nutmeg. As an expat, you’ll get hit with British capital gains taxes when you sell.

  10. Lucy says:

    A friend suggested Nutmeg?

  11. Patrick says:

    Hi Lucy and Andrew

    I actually live in Indonesia and experienced the same deVere pitch and luckily didn’t take it further due to a chance conversation with a colleague who faced huge penalties when trying to access his money.

    So, I’m in the same boat as a British expat in Indonesia who can’t open a TD account. I’ll explore DBS Vickers but I also heard about Fidelity. Would you recommend them Andrew or will they have an issue with me being in Indonesia? Am I also right that as a Brit I should only invest in ETFs which follow the British stock exchange in order to avoid tax implications i.e. I shouldn’t invest in Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF as that exposes me to US tax? Is that correct?

    I’ve ordered your books too, both of them, I’m eagerly awaiting getting my head around this and it’s encouraging to hear that you consider it easy to self teach oneself.

    Cheers

    Patrick

    • Patrick,

      After reading my expat book, open an account with Interactive Brokers. They will let you open an account from Indonesia. Once you leave Indonesia, transfer the assets to TD Direct International (if you’re still abroad). You’ll see why, when you read my expat book.

      Cheers,
      Andrew

      • Patrick says:

        Better to save and wait given they need 10k (interactive) to start than rush in with DBS then?

        Will certainly switch when I move Andrew.

        Thanks Andrew, looking forward to reading them.

  12. Patrick says:

    Hi Andrew

    Saxo have contacted me and made it incredibly easy for me to open an account, they’ve even lowered the original investment amount so are more flexible with the funds needed upfront vs Interactive Brokers. I saw that you recommended Saxo in an older post, has your position changed with them? Certainly easier to open than with DBS Vickers too. Is it because of the custody fee that you would recommend waiting until I have the 10k USD for Interactive Brokers?

    Cheers

    Patrick

  13. Patrick says:

    Hi Andrew

    Just a quick query. I read in an earlier post that you recommended Saxo, however I’d be interested to learn if your position had changed given their custody fee and trade fees vs say DBS Vickers. They contacted me today and made it sound incredibly easy to open with them and would drop the amount needed to kick start the account – though opening a multiple currency account is only for those who have 100k to start with.

    Overall, what would you advise: Wait until I get the 10k together to go with Interactive Brokers or just get started with SAXO/DBS?

    Your advice is thoroughly appreciated.

    Patrick

    • Patrick,

      Since TD Direct International reduced their fees, they’ve become my brokerage of choice. Their platform is also far simpler than that of Saxo’s.

      Cheers,
      Andrew

      • Patrick says:

        I’m also in Indonesia so unfortunately I’m unable to access TD.

        I’m wondering if I wait until I have the 10k to go with Interactive Brokers or if I should go with DBS or Saxo.

        Is there not really that much difference between those 3 do you think?

        Patrick

        • Patrick,

          You’ll need $10K for Saxo as well. Might as well save it up.

          Cheers,
          Andrew

          • Patrick says:

            Hi Andrew

            Saxo must be keen for business as they’ve told me they’ll waiver the need for 10k and I can start with as little as 2k.

            Still can’t find a direct comparison between Saxo vs DBS vs Interactive.

            Cheers

            Patrick

          • Hi Patrick,

            If you’re looking for a cost comparison, Interactive Brokers has them all easily beat. No contest. But I still prefer TD Direct International because I don’t want the possibility of my heirs grumbling when I’m gone.

            Cheers,
            Andrew

  14. Patrick says:

    That’s that then. I’ll be saving the 10k to go with Interactive then.

    Will your book elaborate on why my heirs will grumble at me?

    I guess I use interactive now and then transfer to TD as soon as I move out if Indonesia.

    Thanks again Andrew, it’s very good of you to take the time to help out such a novice as myself.

    Patrick

  15. Patrick says:

    Brilliant. I’ve ordered them both

    Thanks Andrew

  16. Reginald Chester-Sterne says:

    Definitely not worth the money they charge. I have had nothing but stress and worry over the last 6 months with promises not kept and still my complaint has not been resolved.

  17. Alex says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Very informative article.
    I’m also approached by a salesman from SJP recently. And after his pitch, I was under the impression that if I invest a lump sum of money and willing to keep it more than 6 years, there won’t be any other charges except 3.21 pounds per month.
    However, it seems that there is still a management fee and other “hidden” cost which is reflected in the prices of the funds daily. Correct me if i’m wrong.
    Thank you.

  18. lakmin says:

    Hi Andrew,

    i am finalising my buy in Saxo Bank and have to choose between Vanguard FTSE All world UCITS(VWRL) and Vanguard FTSE All world ETF(VWRD). in your book the symbol VWRD corresponds to Vanguard FTSE All world UCITS. is there a major difference?

    many thanks

    Lakmin ( from Sri Lanka)

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