REPORT

What wealth management companies tell their clients

By Jeremy Wilson

If there’s one thing that politicians can reliably and popularly hate on, it’s people who evade tax – or rather, “reduce their exposure” to it, as we’re obliged to describe wealth management. From left or right, all anyone running for public office has to do for a guaranteed ripple of applause is rail against those involved in tax planning.

As far as politicians and the public are concerned, tax avoiders are the devil: they screw over the poor, and with few involved in the tax planning trade being brave enough or bothered enough to defend themselves, there’s little in the way of dissenting narrative out there.

But how do the people who facilitate tax-avoidance really see themselves – as Scrooge McDucks, or something more benevolent? We got hold of a copy of the promotional material for a exclusive wealth management company based in Liechtenstein. Here’s what they tell their clients.

The practical case

The promotional material doesn’t hold back in its hatred of a political class that it accuses of gross financial mismanagement. Financial management companies such as the one in question manage family office investments over generations.

Astronomical public debt is ‘a perfectly legitimate reason for wealthy families to diversify their assets – tax-compliancy – beyond national borders’.

They look on with disdain at the “red and green” politicians who empty state coffers with their populist schemes then go about “buying up stolen bank data, and using other aggressive methods against their citizens in order to uncover presumed or actual tax offences. In the name of morality, of course.”

These wealth managers are at pains to point out that in spite of cack-handed politicians, it’s the responsibility of the rich to stay within the law, but “astronomical public debt” is “a perfectly legitimate reason for wealthy families to diversify their assets – tax-compliancy – beyond national borders”.

The phrase “perfectly legitimate” is brought into sharper context when presented in the light of Cyprus’ attempt, with EU backing, to enforce a 60 percent levy on those with more than €100,000 in assets. According to the wealth managers, it is governments who are playing fast and loose with the law, not them.

Journalists are also pilloried, with the preposterously named “International Consortium of Investigative Journalists” who are currently processing a leaked database known as “Off-Shore Leaks” coming in for a special dressing-down. Wealth managers accuse them of faux outrage over what is, mostly, perfectly legal “succession planning and asset preservation”.

Even bankers

Interestingly, the final demographic that comes in for bashing is … bankers.

Specifically: “The bankers and financial advisors who in recent decades have made obscene profits – not least from business involving untaxed private assets. The disproportionate rewards they have taken for often mediocre services are now justifiably seen by the public as a symptom of pure, unadulterated greed.

“The practices of many… have rightfully provoked indignation in a world of growing income inequality and financial challenge for governments.”

This description of bankers correlates to most people’s perceptions of wealth managers – so if they’re not driven by pure, unadulterated greed, what guides their moral compass?

Moral guardians

The wealth managers see themselves as the keepers of a “humanity’s greatest innovation: the separation of a person’s life on one hand, and a public on the other”. It’s a philosophy that they lay on thick – from Pericles to the Enlightenment, the balance of private and public has been to adhesive for holding together “any reasonable system that allows free people to live together successfully”.

Digital communications may be ‘the tools of a new form of socialism’.

It is “true blueprint for a society of citizens. This centred on the development of a modern, secularized society with free, mature citizens regulating their affairs rationally, independently and together – individuality paired with a sense of community.”

The age of digital communications may be “the tools of a new form of socialism”, but the wealth managers are here to man the gates against the approaching hoard of transparency fetishists.

And a final word for those who bleat on about the morality of not making every effort to pour as much money as possible into the state’s coffers? The wealth managers have this to say: “The Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini is reported to have said that ‘morality is whatever degree of respectability happens to be modern’.

“Whether they actually passed the great director’s lips or not, these are good and wise words. To take the idea a little further, morality these days is a matter of supply and demand, as is respectability. And the demand for respectability is currently very large.”