The Investment Scientist

Archive for the ‘Conflict of Interest’ Category

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Captive Insurance

I went to a conference for CPAs last week, and my biggest takeaway was a concept called captive insurance.

This is the concept of a business owner setting up an insurance company to insure the risk of his/her own business. Thus the name captive.

But what’s in it for one to have one’s own insurance company?

Tax Mitigation

It turns out that Congress has created legislation to encourage captive insurance – some would call that a tax loophole. IRC 831(b) states that small insurance companies ($1.2m or less in annual premium income) pay tax only on investment incomes. In other words, they don’t pay tax on premium income.

Can you see the tax loophole here? If a business pays its captive insurance company $1.2m in insurance premiums, the premium is deductible to the business and yet tax exempt to the captive insurance company. Depending on the tax structure of the business, this could mean a tax saving of 40% to 70%.

But tax savings aren’t the only major benefit!

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Morgan Stanley Smith Barney

Morgan Stanley Smith Barney

I went to a Morgan Stanley financial advisor associate recruitment meeting recently to spy on how they train their new financial advisors.

They have an extremely rigorous 36 month program. New associates are expected to pass series 7 and series 66 license testing in the first 12 months. These licenses enable them to charge both fees and (hidden) commissions. (Comparatively, my series 65 license prohibits me from charging commissions.)

As soon as they get the licenses, they are expected to go into “production.” The firm sets very tough production targets. If they fail the targets, they will be kicked out of the program.

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Is this your fund manager?

Is this your fund manager?

Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Jo White supports a new rule that would allow hedge funds to market directly to the public. I think that’s a fantastic idea. Let me explain why.

Between 1998 and 2010, hedge fund managers earned “only” $379 billion in fees. Do you know how much they made for investors?

Before you answer that question, you should be aware that one-third of hedge fund money is channeled through funds of funds. Their managers need their cut too. Between 1998 and 2010, their take was about $61 billion.

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Morgan Stanley Smith Barney

Morgan Stanley Smith Barney

Last weekend, I went to New Jersey to meet a potential client who is an executive at a pharmaceutical company.

He told me that, as part of the executive benefit package, the company refers executives to Morgan Stanley where they get “free” financial advice. I smirked and said: “Well, we will find out how free it is. One thing I know, though, Wall Street firms are not known for charity.”

It turns out that Morgan Stanley advised him to open several, separately managed accounts (SMA), each with a management fee of 1.5%. The reason for the multiple accounts?

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Old AgeRecently, a client of mine fell, broke his hip and ended up lying on the floor for 20 hours before he was rescued. I went to visit him in the hospital a couple of times. The good news is: he is out of immediate life-threatening danger. The bad news is: he may be wheelchair bound for the rest of his life.

When John first came to me to seek my help with his personal finance, I looked at his overall financial big picture and was pleased overall. He worked at federal and state jobs and enjoyed good pensions. On top of that, he had a decent investment account.

But there was a gaping hole in his retirement security: he was turning 70 then, was divorced, and his children lived far away. That meant if he were to get sick, nobody would be there to take care of him; he would need to hire caregivers. Right then, I insisted that he buy long-term care insurance.

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New Year's investment resolutions

New Year’s investment resolutions

After working as a financial advisor for six years and after reading tons of research, I have developed a good sense about how the average investor loses money. As the New Year approaches, I think it’s good to share my insight so that readers can determine if they are making these mistakes.

Conflict of interest

I cannot emphasize this enough: Wall Street firms don’t work for you. If you have a Merrill Lynch or Morgan Stanley advisor, expect to give away 2.5% of your money every year – about half of it will be in explicit fees, the other half will be in hidden fees. If you invest through insurance products, expect to give up 3.5 percent of your money.

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Young doctors need legal advice

When a young physician joins a practice, he will have to sign an employment agreement.

After a few years as an associate physician, he will make partner, or become a shareholder.

At which time, he will sign a buy-sell agreement.

These two agreements to a great extent determine the wealth this physician will accumulate.

If they are not done right, this physician will likely not see any of the wealth he creates.

I am not being an alarmist. Let me tell you about a client of mine….

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Author

Michael Zhuang is principal of MZ Capital, a fee-only independent advisory firm based in Washington, DC.

Twitter: @mzhuang

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