When Brad Pitt runs out of milk and dashes to the grocery store, he likely hides his handsome mug under a hat and dark glasses. The same might be said for Lady Gaga and Lionel Messi. They’re household names…and paparazzi favorites.
Financial advisors don’t attract the same fame. But when Fortune magazine recently asked me to describe Mark Zoril’s popularity. I said, “Mark Zoril is the most famous financial advisor in the world.” And most of his clients are expats.
Plenty of expatriate financial advisors would cut off their biggest toe for that kind of fame. But most slide lower than the belly of a snake. They sell insurance-linked schemes that trap unwary expats into long-term contracts. Such investors pay nosebleed fees that hemorrhage their profits. If they try to sell before their contractual term is up, they pay stiff penalties.
Sometimes, it costs them everything they’ve invested. I profiled such schemes, and the firms that sell them, in my book, Millionaire Expat: How To Build Wealth Living Overseas.
Fortunately, Mark offers something different.
That’s why his popularity keeps growing. In 2017 and 2018, I gave more than 150 investment talks in 14 different countries. Repeatedly, I kept hearing people say, “I use Mark Zoril’s services.” I’ve spoken in places such as Tanzania, Dubai, Germany, Egypt, Singapore, China and Bali. It doesn’t matter where I go, or how large or small the crowd. Mark Zoril’s clients are as common as cans of Coke.
He teaches expats how to build diversified portfolios of low-cost index funds. “I charge $96 a year,” he says. “I show investors how to navigate brokerage sites. I show them how to make their purchases through a screen-share concept, and I recommend which indexes [ETFs] they should buy.”
Mark doesn’t manage his clients’ money.
Instead, he acts as a guide. Mark recommends index funds because they beat the vast majority of actively managed products. Warren Buffett and a league of Nobel Prize winners in Economics recommend them too.
Most financial advisors don’t like index funds because index fund providers, like Vanguard and iShares, don’t pay advisors commissions, referral fees or trailer fees.
Mark Zoril started his firm, PlanVision, in 2012. “I had been working in the finance industry for 25 years,” he says, “and I saw too many people paying far too much money for investment advice.”
The father of two is based in Plymouth, Minnesota. But he now has clients in 78 countries. “I am sure that if you included the actual nationalities of my clients it would be closer to 100,” he says.
Mark believes that most people can learn to build a portfolio of ETFs on their own. By doing so, they can pay annual fees as low as 0.15 percent per year. They would pay such fees to the ETF provider: most likely Vanguard or iShares.
Mark Zoril charges $96 a year to guide investors through the investment process, and he uses the eMoney system to help with financial planning.
The eMoney system provides answers to questions that investors have when planning for their future. For example, it shows them how much they should save each year to reach their financial goals. It shows what ranges of investment returns they should be able to expect, based on different tolerances for risk.
If you have high interest debts to pay, real estate income or insurance needs, Mark’s use of the eMoney software shows clients how such factors fit into a solid financial plan.
In other words, for $96 a year, investors get more than investment advice.
“Some of my clients contact me multiple times a year,” he says. “Others learn how to invest on their own after spending just an hour with me online, and they’re happy enough with that.”
Mark’s services, however, aren’t for everyone. Some investors prefer full-service providers to build and maintain portfolios of index funds for them. It might cost more, but there’s some merit to that approach.
Investing on your own (or with a coach) is easy when markets rise. Such has been the case for the past ten years. But having calm hands at the helm can be worth the money when markets slide.
AES International, Creveling & Creveling, Private Capital and Satis Asset Management (to name four examples) offer more comprehensive planning for expatriate investors. Such services include international tax planning, estate planning, help with wills and insurance.
AES International also an offshore private banking option for investors through Nedbank. A South African company based on the Isle of Man, Nedbank offers multi-currency accounts, and lending and tax structuring services, among a variety of other options. Such firms cost more. But for many clients, their services are worth it.
Other investors don’t believe that low-cost index funds offer the best solution. But that doesn’t bother Mark Zoril. “I offer a money back guarantee,” he says. “One recent client wanted a more complicated approach – my recommendation was too simple. So I suggested I return his $96. I want to be a match for my clients’ needs.”
One of his happy clients is Lorenza Gazzola.
The 48 year-old Italian has lived in the UAE for the past 16 years. She echoes the hundreds of others who gush about his service. “Every time I have a question, I send him an email and his answers are immediate. There are no silly questions for him, and he always has the patience to be thorough with his answers. I wish I had him on my side 15 years ago.”
Different professions attract different kinds of people. Some, like teachers and those in the health care industry, usually put the needs of those they serve ahead of their own.
But when giving my investment talks, I always say, “Nobody enters the financial services industry to make the world a better place.”
Perhaps I stand corrected.
Photo: courtesy of Mark Zoril