For many foreigners living and working in Japan, retirement may be a long time off; for some, it may be on the horizon. For other expats who have left Japan and moved overseas, how to manage their investments for the future is an ongoing concern.
Choosing the best investment for you and your family in an uncertain world can be a daunting task, which is why financial planning firms such as Argentum Wealth Management are worth a call.
Founded in Japan in 2007, Argentum Wealth Management is based in Minato Ward, Tokyo and also has offices in Seoul and affiliate offices in Hong Kong to advise and offer ongoing support to clients throughout Asia and the rest of the world. They help clients with investment advice, retirement planning, education planning for their children, offshore tax planning, life insurance, as well as pension transfers and UK and U.S. national specific investment solutions. Through Argentum Properties, they help their clients purchase and finance property both in Japan and abroad.
The key to success for businesses like Argentum is trust. Co-founders Lloyd Danon and Martin Zotta are well known in the foreign community and have built up a solid team, enabling them to offer a more personalized approach to working with existing and new clients. Danon was born in Leeds, England, and studied at the Manchester Business School. He has over 20 years of experience working within the financial services industry providing clients with personal financial advice. Zotta, who was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and grew up in New Jersey, has also had over 20 years of experience working within the financial services industry in Japan.
Japan Today visits the Argentum Wealth Management office in Tokyo to hear more.
Why did you decide to establish Argentum Wealth Management and how was it at the beginning?
Danon: Martin and I had worked together in a previous financial advisory company. We worked very well together, and had we decided to set up our own company 11 years ago. It allowed us to give a wider range of services to clients and have full control regarding quality of the services provided. We have continued to grow and we are now the largest firm here offering this kind of service to the foreign community.
Zotta: It was a challenge at first because we actually established the company just before the Lehman shock in 2008. We were able to make it through that initial period, and I think that made our company much stronger as a result.
Is it a competitive business?
Danon: We do have competitors but they don’t offer the scope of services we do. We are the only foreign firm licensed to offer such a large range of financial advisory services. We are a member of the Japan Investment Advisers Association. We also have the largest team in Japan doing what we do.
Who do your clients tend to be?
Zotta: Our clients tend to be foreign professionals who need financial advice that is tailored to their needs. They are people for whom Japanese domestic solutions might not be the right fit for their personal situations, and are looking for solutions that are portable and secure. Some of our clients are just starting out in their careers, whilst others might be mid-career or even retired, so their needs will be different.
Danon: Generally speaking, our clients are professionals on higher incomes but we also offer advice on a wide range of solutions for people who might want to put just a couple of hundred dollars away or they might be someone with seven figures to invest. Some people start investing on a monthly basis with small amounts. You don’t need a large income for that. The objective is to build wealth, or it might be to start a kids education plan, for life insurance, pension planning or many other reasons.
What should people look for in choosing a financial adviser?
Danon: I think trust is a key element. You need to look for is a well-established company with a good reputation, licensed to offer advice locally and that has servicing and client support capabilities in house. The range of services is important. We can offer financial planning options from retirement to kids education to international investment and insurance solutions, pension transfers and inheritance tax planning for residents. We also do property management and have access to properties all over the country.
Pensions are prime concern to foreigners in Japan.
Danon: Pension is something everybody is concerned about. Most people are not expecting to get much from the Japanese government or their company pensions. We can help with pension transfers, consolidating existing pensions or starting somebody with an additional pension. Most pensions are capped and if you are used to a certain lifestyle and you want to maintain that when you retire, you might need to supplement it.
Zotta: If you are only in Japan for a period of time and then move somewhere else, you never get to take advantage of a full government benefits, so it is important to have something that is portable. I think more people are realizing that going forward, it not prudent to solely rely on governments or employers for pension benefits, so it is important to take matters into your own hands and do private planning.
Are many of your clients overseas?
Danon: As we work with the foreign community, many of our clients have moved on to other locations or back home. Regardless of where they live, we continue to support them from Japan. It gives them the ability to have mobility in the workplace without worrying about their investments and accounts. We maintain regular contact with our clients and we have an online portal which they can access and monitor their investments, but meetings are of course done remotely.
Zotta: Remote meetings work well, but we always prefer whenever possible to do face-to-face meetings. We have many clients who no longer live in Japan, but travel here for work or family reasons. It is always nice to be able to catch up with them in person.
Inheritance planning is a big issue in Japan because of the tax system, isn’t it?
Danon: Japan has a very unusual tax system in that the tax burden is on the beneficiary and not on the estate. It almost forces the beneficiary into debt. Usually, an accountant would look at your current assets and liabilities and make an assessment of what your beneficiary tax liability would be and then we can put an insurance policy in place to cover that tax liability. We have many clients with international assets, where one spouse is Japanese, and it is important to put these solutions in place so there is no economic duress on one spouse in the event of death.
Tell us about your team.
Zotta: We are very proud of the Argentum team. It is very international and young team, committed to serving clients, and each one brings something unique to the company. For the advisors, they are required to have a financial background, relevant qualifications and experience. We do extensive in-house training as well as encourage staff to get outside qualifications.
Danon: We’ve been very fortunate in that we have a very low staff turnover. In fact, applicants tend to reach out to us for positions.
How do you get feedback from your clients in Japan?
Zotta: As advisors, we stay in contact with clients as much as we can. Personally, I prefer face-to-face contact whenever possible, or by phone or Skype.
Danon: We develop long-term relationships with clients, and over the years, you come to understand your clients’ customs, ideas, objectives and spending habits. You get to know what they want and what is needed.
How do you ensure you are not dealing with clients with income from questionable sources?
Danon: In Japan and also internationally, there are know-your-client rules and source-of-wealth rules where everybody has to verify their wealth. These are very stringent regulations that all financial institutions require of their clients before allowing them to open any accounts.
For first-time investors, how should they go about contacting you?
Zotta: They can email or phone us and then we will set up a free consultation either by phone or in person. Initial meetings are strictly confidential, and are an opportunity for the client to let us know about their situation and what areas are most important to them.
Is this business a seven-day-a-week job?
Danon: Staff sometimes work on Saturdays. Some clients want to meet early mornings or after work, so the hours can vary. There are a lot of aspects to running the business which have to get done as well during the week. I work really long hours, but try to avoid weekend work so I can spend it with my wife and two kids.
Zotta: As an advisory company, we have to be flexible to our clients’ needs when it comes to scheduling. We strive for better work-life balance as we think this makes us more productive. Work is important, but so are family and friends. I think most clients think the same, and they usually prefer to meet during business hours as well.
How do you guys like to relax when you are not working?
Danon: I like riding motorcycles. Before I had kids, I did that a lot but recently it has been difficult to find the time. We used to do company bike trips because it is a very different way to see Japan and connect with the country. The scenery is beautiful and the weather is great. Also, when you’re on a motorbike, you are a lot more approachable. People walk up to you and chat.
Zotta: Although it’s difficult these days to find the time for longer trips, I still try to get on the motorbike as much as I can, even if it’s just for a quick blast on the Shuto expressway in Tokyo. I also surf when I have time. We go out with the staff to socialize and blow off some steam when we can.
For more information, visit www.argentumwealth.com or call 03-5549-9099.© Japan Today