Helping expats grow, protect and maximise their wealth through sound financial advice and strategies for pensions and investments is something from which Nigel Green, CEO of independent financial planning giant deVere Group, has made a hugely successful career.
Since he laid the foundations of deVere Group in 2002, Green has steadily built a business that is the world’s largest independent financial advice firm.
The numbers say a lot about both the business and the man.
Green has foresight, patience and perseverance, qualities that have helped him forge a business based on trust.
With more than 80,000 customers living in more than 100 countries, deVere Group is a global business.
But Green strives to offer a local service to expats, wherever they choose to live, work and/or retire in the world.
So what does Green offer that expats like so much?
The secret mix
It’s a mix of service and products. deVere advisers are trained to take a holistic approach to giving financial advice. That means sourcing pensions, investments, life insurance and mortgages that best match each customer’s appetite for risk and their personal financial goals.
Popular products include the Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (QROPS), which is a tax efficient offshore retirement plan for expats, and international investment bonds.
We know our customers and have structured a market where they can come to us for all their financial needs wherever they live
“We know our customers and have structured a market where they can come to us for all their financial needs wherever they live,” says Green.
“I can still see massive potential as the result of several years of low interest rates and disappointing investment returns. Expats do not trust governments or the banks anymore and understand they need to make their own investment plans.
“They’re aware and understand that their financial security and freedom is now a personal responsibility.
“They need the best advice they can get from people who understand the nature of cross-border financial situations and we’re there ready to give it.”
Despite the numbers – those 80,000 customers in 100 countries have $10 billion under advice though deVere Group – Green wants the company to keep growing.
It’s down to luck
But ask him the secret of his success and you are likely to get a self-effacing reply.
“The world is more international and we are there to help people with international advice. More people are ready to move their jobs and look for careers abroad. We have been lucky to be ready and waiting for the opportunity to help them,” says Green.
Whilst Green dismisses much of his success as luck, others have a different view.
For instance, Michael Chu, Group Director of the South China Morning Post – Hong Kong’s largest, most influential and longest-running English-language newspaper says of Nigel Green: “He’s an iconic individual. He has a very strong, very sharp personality.
“Hong Kong is known for being a city that never says no; for being a city that never sleeps; and for being a city that can transform a mere idea into something miraculous.
“I think Nigel Green’s personal story of how he transformed a small company into a multinational company, really embodies that spirit.”
To reach the top in any walk of life may need a fair slice of good fortune, but the rewards are more likely based on hard work, long hours and a dogged determination to win through.
Beneath the surface of a global business is a well-oiled machine with skills and knowledge based on years of trial and error. Not everything goes right first time and since the financial crash of 2009, the rules international financial advice firms have to work within have changed hugely.
Local advice on a global scale
The problem for a company like deVere is that each country has a different set of financial regulations, and acceptable practice in one place is a rule breaker in another.
“This is one of the main reasons expats on the move like our service,” says Green.
“We keep a finger on the pulse in many different countries and change our approach to comply anywhere we operate.
“Years of experience and the skills to develop products and services that best suit the needs of our customers have helped us rise to the top.”
Green also explains that this is where personal service counts, because expats need specific advice relating to their own lifestyle and financial circumstances.
Personal plan for every customer
“Customers are assigned personal advisers. Every client can feel confident that they are making the best decisions they can based on the best recommendations that suit them, from an independent adviser who has scoured the market to find an appropriate solution,” he says.
“It’s all about matching assets with personal goals and service providers,” affirms Green. “To do this properly, you have to know the client, which means an adviser has to understand what they need and want before recommending a solution.”
Green is not only a business leader but a thought leader as well.
In the past, he has spoken out against the controversial US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) which has seen thousands of American expats locked out of opening bank accounts in the countries where they live.
“The claim is FATCA catches tax evaders who illegally shelter money offshore. This is a noble aim, but FATCA cannot tackle this important global issue effectively due to its dragnet, untargeted approach,” observes Green.
“Instead FATCA brands American expats as financial pariahs. They are routinely rejected from banks and other financial institutions in their country of residence because FATCA is costly and the onerous regulations mean Americans are deemed more trouble than they are worth as customers.”
An outspoken critic, last year he won a prestigious award for his public campaign against FATCA, a law that has been so detrimental to US expats worldwide.
Green also lobbied for a Remain vote in the British referendum on whether to leave the European Union.
The vote’s outcome was a shock result. And Green says the impact will be far-reaching.
One of the consequences, he says, of an impending Brexit is that expats are more likely to transfer their pensions away from the UK to offshore QROPS as expats remove financial uncertainty from their retirement plans and look to take more control of their money.
Green sees a QROPS has many advantages for expats, including a built-in method to manage foreign exchange rates against the pound to help anyone depending on a fixed income increase their spending power.
“Other associated benefits of QROPS is that monies can be passed on to heirs after death (after five full years of non-UK residence); there is greater investment flexibility and freedom; and there’s the possibility to dispel UK income tax or death charges,” he says.
Brexit and QROPS pensions for expats
“Another major factor why demand for QROPS is set to skyrocket, is due to the anticipated increase in expat numbers.
“This is mainly down to the fact that while Britain is still a full member of the EU, people who are considering retiring to places such as Spain and France, won’t hang around too long.
“They will want to move while it is still relatively straightforward to do so. The impact of Brexit will make moving to other EU countries far more difficult for British expats after the UK has formally left the EU.”
Besides offering his thoughts on economic and political events, Green also regularly talks about his investment strategies to give customers an insight into his thinking.
His view is stock market growth over the years is a series of peaks and troughs, not a straight line.
“Volatility is rife and investors expect gains and losses, but in the long term the only real certainty about the markets is they keep rising,” he says.
Green also explains his current investment philosophy:
- Don’t try to predict market outcomes – No one can foretell when the market has hit the top or bottom of a peak or trough, but markets are predictable over the long term – they go up
- Kick the market when it’s down – Buy as cheap as you can but avoid procrastination
“If investors buy now, they will make more gains when the market rises, which is why investing in equities is seen as the best way to grow wealth in the long term,” says Green.
“Delaying that investment decision could mean missing out on that growth.
“Don’t forget to diversify and take advantage of any slump in prices to boost your portfolio.”
“Of course, no one can say what will happen in the future, but the past has shown us that markets keep rising over the years, so I believe the time to capitalise is sooner rather than later.”
Following in father’s footsteps
Green started in financial services following in his father’s footsteps after leaving college.
“I was a looking for a career and followed in his footsteps. I was quite successful and became a manager. I then became an IFA in the UK concentrating on UK business,” he shares.
“A friend of mine was working abroad and he persuaded me there was an opportunity in the international market. It took some persuasion but I eventually went abroad and was shocked that the opportunity was so massive.”
Over the next five years, he sees regulators tightening their grip on financial services.
“We may operate in different countries and in different situations, but more and more regulation is the most likely future for the industry,” says Green. “That’s just the way of the world today. As the industry grows, so will regulation and we have to adapt to those regulations and make sure we stay within the framework of any particular country we are working in.”
Green regularly picks up industry awards for his achievements in leading deVere Group to lead the market for independent financial advice for expats.
In 2015, he scooped the prize for OPS Business Person of the Year, the Finance Monthly CEO of the Year and the ACQ Global Awards as UAE Gamechanger of the Year.
This year, he won another award from Finance Monthly for his outstanding contribution to financial services and has won a nomination as the International Investment International Personality of the Year.
Whilst deVere Group itself has won the ‘Best Global Independent Financial Advisory Organisation’ award at the 2016 Business Excellence Awards. Laura Hunter, Awards Coordinator, says: “This awards program showcases the talent, dedication and sheer drive of business leaders from across both the globe and the corporate landscape. I am truly honoured to be able to highlight deVere’s achievements and wish them continued success in the future.”
Green spends most of his time criss-crossing the globe to visit his managers and staff to give some inspirational words and advice.
Each year involves tens of thousands of miles, endless nights in hotels and on aircraft and little time to himself.
Back to the beginning
On the road, Green often revisits the place where his phenomenal business started and somewhere which beckons as the gateway to more growth for deVere Group.
That place is the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, a city built on money and managing wealth.
Hong Kong is our birthplace and, as such, I will always hold a special affection the city
“Hong Kong is our birthplace and, as such, I will always hold a special affection the city,” says Green.
“Asia’s ‘world city’ is uniquely rich in our client demographic, attracting ever more expats and international investors each year. It is a dynamic, exciting place to be. Not least because it’s a thoroughly multicultural destination where entrepreneurialism, success and wealth are celebrated.
“Consequently, the demand for our cross-border products and services continues to grow in Hong Kong and we have a balanced, strategic plan of expansion to meet that need.”
Body and soul
The punishing schedule of almost constant travel has led Green to have more than a passing interest in bio hacking – a lifestyle that encompasses health, exercise and diet to improve the mind and body.
Bio hacking is a philosophy and lifestyle. Bio hacking experiments with diet and health at a personal level, but does not involve illegal or dangerous drugs and is not to be confused with body hacking. Body hackers or grinders look to enhance their body’s performance with technology implants.
“Biohacking is about finding an effective exercise and diet regiment to help you reach your full potential,” affirms Green.
“This means regular health checks, a paleo no carbs or refined sugars diet, martial arts training and lots of running.”
Green encourages his advisers and other staff to fulfil their potential as IFAs, administrators and people by urging them to balance life and work while improving their minds and bodies.
He has a strong personal connection with his staff and transmits that personality through them to deVere Group’s clients.
Projecting personality in to what could easily become a lifeless monolith like so many other financial firms is certainly one of the keys to the success of Nigel Green and his deVere Group.
To deVere, service and making clients comfortable and welcome is what counts, whether they are seeking a mortgage, pension or want advice on investing.