“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
The above quote perfectly captures and describes the dichotomy that 2020 has been. While certain businesses have suffered, either downsizing or even closing their doors, others have thrived. With sympathy, we grant that certain industries were caught in the eye of the storm, such as tourism and hospitality, with little to shield them from the destruction wrought by a new global pandemic. Fate has dealt them a devastating blow, one from which it will take much time to recover.
The fortunate businesses were those that were able to evolve, adapt and stay ahead of the game. That was us, and that is precisely what we did.
In one of the most challenging years on record, Austen Morris Associates (AMA) and the affiliated group had our best year ever. From expanding our FAIS license in South Africa, increasing our staff compliments across all countries and regions and aggressively growing our base, to investing in technology, creating a bespoke range of model portfolios and expanding into foreign jurisdictions, we at AMA have embraced this new reality with relish. A changing world often brings with it a veritable wealth of opportunity.
AMA has been conducting business in Asia for 26 years, with its headquarters located in Shanghai, was fortunate enough to have a head-start in the preparation for COVID-19 across all our locations, simply because of our first-hand experiences in China dealing with the first outbreak. AMA was, therefore, able to prepare its other offices and affiliate companies with guidance and advice that proved invaluable. This information allowed the entire group to get home offices set up and the correct systems put in place well in advance of the pandemic hitting other countries. As an example, AMAA closed its doors to a ‘normal’ working environment and was fully operational, weeks before any lock-down was introduced in South Africa. The group is very proud of its achievements and to date has not furloughed any employees across the globe. Somewhat counter-intuitively, COVID-19 presented many compelling recruitment opportunities.
We do not view our achievements in 2020 with a sense of pride or hubris, but rather gratitude and humility. In a year beset by COVID-19, we have sought and pursued opportunities, and thrived. We have done this by innovating, adapting and finding new ways to support, guide and benefit our clients across the globe.
Below is a summary of our Season of Light.
TECHNOLOGY AND CLIENT CONNECTION
COVID-19 brought with it an unprecedented paradigm shift to people working and operating almost exclusively at home and online. While the transition period was certainly challenging, the shift for most industries is now complete.
Online activity, while previously limited to shopping, banking and general surfing, now firmly includes working. This new reality forced businesses to rethink how they operate. While COVID-19 hastened the ushering in of this new reality, AMA was already far along in this shift, as evidenced by our ICE system, website and client application tool (App).
INTERACTIVE CLIENT ENGAGEMENT (ICE)
AMA Consultants and clients are now able to share in a fluid, synergistic and intuitive user experience through the Interactive Client Engagement (ICE) System. The ICE System is an integral part of the established AMA Wealth Management Service providing a platform for enhanced interaction between client and their consultant, creating a platform for transparency, engagement and co-creation.
Clients can view a summary of all their investments, complete risk analysis profiles and update fact find information live, by themselves, or in tandem with their consultant. This allows clients to enjoy an experience as close as possible to the reality of a physical meeting and client management experience, even when on opposite sides of the world. Business transfers and online acceptance of recommendations, going live in the first quarter of 2021, will further strengthen the connection between client and consultant.
Our website has been redesigned and re-engineered with our clients, both existing and potential, at the forefront of our minds. A visually seductive user experience integrates seamlessly with a wealth of specific investment information, news, events and client testimonials. Prospective clients are guided through a journey encompassing our capabilities, our 26-year history and what it means to become a client of Austen Morris Associates. In the first quarter of 2021, connecting with our clients will become even more integrated when we introduce connections with Facebook, Linked In and Google. Watch this space.
Available on both Android and Apple, our mobile client app is a simple and convenient way for our clients to access their investment valuations and analysis. Features include a currency converter with alerts, live personal investment information, global investment news, a range of investment planning tools, and push notifications for key economic events that may have an impact on portfolios. Our clients can enjoy all of these services conveniently, and on the go, on their mobile phones. Putting all of these benefits directly into the hands of our clients further fortifies relationships between client and consultant. This is vitally important to our overall wealth management service.
THE “TWO-NINETY-FIVE” TRUST PACKAGE
Many businesses claim to be ‘client-centric’. Claiming is one thing. Demonstrating is another.
One of our key initiatives in 2020 was the creation of the most competitive Gibraltar QROPS (Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme) structure in the market. Historically, these archaic structures have been plagued by poor investment performance and excessive fees which erode returns, leading to poor investment outcomes for clients.
To address this, AMA partnered with Sovereign Trust, a global leader in the provision of QROPs, SIPPs (Self Invested Personal Pension) and QNUPs (Qualifying Non-UK Pension Scheme) structures. With 33 years of experience, representation in 25 countries and over $10bn in Assets Under Management, Sovereign have established itself as a true global leader, and thus the perfect partner for AMA. Existing clients with pensions under £150K can benefit from a circa. 0,7% – 1% fee saving, an innovative solution acutely catering to their needs and the professional services of a product supplier with global reach and experience. In addition, the annual trustee fee is only £295 (hence the name). Comparable structures will often charge around £550, and sometimes higher.
CHARTERCROSS CLIENT ACQUISITION
It is with great pleasure that Chartercross Capital Management and Austen Morris Associates Global (AMAG) announce the completion of an acquisition deal to greatly benefit the client base that Chartercross has successfully built up and serviced over the past decade.
Chartercross, which have an outstanding reputation within the financial services industry, is owned by Mr James Dodds and managed by Mr Dale Vine. These gentlemen will continue to build upon this reputation and brand of their company to focus on developing new avenues of revenue and investment structures, managing corporate and high net worth individuals, and company financing.
Mr Dale Vine (Vice President, Chartercross) and Mr Ian Edwards (Partner and Regional Manager for AMAG) will work closely together to facilitate and guide the transition of the Chartercross client base. Both businesses see this as a long-term partnership, ultimately benefiting all Chartercross clients.
The terms of the agreement will allow existing Chartercross clients to benefit from AMAG’s global presence, licensing, investment board and business partners, which includes our Investment partner and global investment research giant Morningstar. AMAG has been actively taking on client bases across the globe, offering reduced fees, enhanced services and a broad universe of investment opportunities and destinations (mainly in respect of discretionary and retirement investments, (QROPS/QNUPS/SIPPS/other).
AUSTEN MORRIS ASSOCIATES INTERNATIONAL LIMITED – MAURITIUS
As a truly global business, Austen Morris Associates offers our clients around the world a bouquet of best-of-breed products and services. To augment this capability, we must operate in the most competitive of global jurisdictions.
In September 2019, we embarked upon the journey of applying for an Unrestricted Investment Advisor License in Mauritius. Such a license would significantly enhance the scope of our financial services and further expand our capacity in terms of offering our clients the best global investment solutions and backed by sound, specific and circumspect financial advice. After a 12-month period beset by COVID-19 delays, we were finally awarded this license late in August 2020. Austen Morris Associates International Limited was born and is officially open for business.
The decision to pursue our Mauritian Investment Advisor License was precipitated by the following:
- Favourable taxation environment
- Robust regulatory environment
- Cost-effective products and strategies
- Streamlined services
CONTINUOUS PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Each year, South African financial advisors are expected to earn what is known as Continuous Professional Development (CPD) points. These points are earned through attending webinars, seminars, workshops and the like, to keep informed and up to date about industry developments, legislative changes and product supplier offerings. Different jurisdictions have different legal requirements and regulatory frameworks specific to the Financial Services Industry. For example, South Africa requires 18 CPD points per year per advisor/consultant. At AMA, we passionately subscribe to the adage: ‘Knowledge is power. That is why each of our SA financial consultants are required to complete no fewer than 32 CPD hours (points) in the cycle (per year). This is yet another way we believe we can demonstrate our diligence and dedication to remaining at the forefront of the industry. 32 points are almost double the regulatory minimum requirement and perfectly aligned to our perennial pursuit of industry leadership and excellence.
AUSTEN MORRIS ASSOCIATES AFRICA (AMAA) – FAIS LICENCE
Speaking of industry leadership and excellence, we have sought to expand our scope of capabilities above that of our peer group. An indication of said scope is that of our Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FAIS) licence. From short term insurance and healthcare to shares and derivative instruments, our FAIS license gives us the ability to offer our clients a broad spectrum of financial services and products, and able to be tailored to their specific needs.
Having recently added the category ‘Participatory interest in a Hedge Fund’, AMAA is now the proud owner of one of the most comprehensive FAIS licenses in South Africa, currently placed in the top 5%.
To access our full license, please visit www.fsca.co.za
CITRINE South Africa
In the second half of 2019, the Investment Committee of Austen Morris Associates Africa took the strategic decision to create a bespoke range of investment portfolios for our South African clients. In partnership with global research and asset management giant Morningstar, the CITRINE Range was created.
The CITRINE Range is a range of five multi-manager, risk-profiled and actively managed portfolios that target defined returns across the risk/return spectrum over time. ‘Active-management’ refers to the strategy of employing a DFM (Discretionary Fund Manager) to both construct the portfolios, and then manage them. Morningstar is the DFM for the CITRINE Range.
The CITRINE Range provides our clients with:
- An experienced and highly qualified DFM that oversees more than $300 billion globally
- Exposure to both actively and passively managed funds
- Dynamic management of portfolios, adapting and evolving with the market
- The active pursuit of superior investment returns over time
During 2020, AMAA has placed in excess of R100m into our CITRINE portfolios, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. In terms of returns, each of the five solutions has consistently achieved either quartile 1 or 2 performance across 1, 3 and 5 year reporting periods.
Following on from the success of CITRINE South Africa, we approached our partners at Morningstar to devise a similar solution for our international clients. In a fortuitous alignment of the stars, we were introduced to the Morningstar-managed global balanced portfolio ‘PCM Global Balanced’. This fund has now been rebranded as ‘CITRINE International’.
The CITRINE International Balanced Fund leverages off Morningstar’s global asset allocation view, providing diversified exposure to both world-class investment managers and investment opportunities. Being a Maltese UCITS fund regulated under European law provides peace of mind to both our product providers and clients.
CITRINE International offers our clients:
- Access to the best international investment managers
- Rigorous qualitative and quantitative research process – leveraging Morningstar Investment Management global best view
- Best blend of strategies and asset classes
- The perfect way to diversify into a broad range of hard currency asset classes
OUR EMPLOYEES – THE AUSTEN MORRIS FAMILY
The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in many businesses globally being forced to downsize or even close. Fortunately for AMA, the opposite is true. In a lot of ways, COVID-19 has brought more dialogue or new introductions into the world. For example, I can personally say I have reconnected with old business acquaintances after 20 years’ absence and interviewed more potential recruits through virtual meetings this year than I did in the previous 3 years. I am very happy to report that across the Group we have increased our compliment of staff by just over 12%.
For this exceptional achievement, I sincerely thank everybody within the Group for making this goal achievable.
While growing the number of staff is important for an expanding business, progression within the company for highly effective employees is also critical.
EMPLOYEES & INTERNSHIPS
We are all aware of the employment crisis globally. Addressing it will entail a concerted effort by a large number of businesses across the world to bring as many people back into the workplace as possible. AMA’s employee growth of 12% in 2020 has allowed us to do precisely this, in a small but defined way. We have offered 15 internships across the Group, to the next generation of eager, young individuals. The experience they will gain will hopefully be a great step forward for them personally, and potentially propel them into a career in investments and finance.
NICK PITRO APPOINTED AS ASSOCIATE PARTNER
Nick has been with AMA for 4 years. His wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise has been a critical element to the success of the entire AMA consultant team. With a 2-year-old toddler and another baby on the way, he certainly has his work cut out, but with the principles, Nick adheres to, and a superb support team around him, the sky is the limit. Once again Nick, many congratulations and well done on your promotion. Alan, Ian, Jon, William, James and myself are looking forward to your invaluable input and insatiable drive in 2021 and beyond across the entire Group.
STEWART DANDO – APPOINTED AS CHAIRPERSON OF THE AMA INTERNATIONAL LIMITED INVESTMENT COMMITTEE MAURITIUS
Stewart joined the organisation as a Key Individual in August 2018. Since then, he has played an integral role in the creation of the CITRINE Range of Investments, the establishment of the AMAA Investment Committee and the expansion of our FAIS license. Stewart has also been invaluable in assisting the Group in obtaining our Unrestricted Investment Licence in Mauritius and ensuring that all regulatory requirements are met, and in most cases exceeded. With Stewart at the helm of the Investment Committee, I have no doubt he will serve our clients and the Group above and beyond what is required.
JOSHUA SWANEPOEL, KYLE DRAKE, MATTHEW NEMETI AND WILLEM LE ROUX – PROMOTED TO THE ROLE OF CONSULTANT
Joshua, Kyle and Matthew began life with us as Business Development Consultants, eagerly approaching clients all over the world to introduce them to the services and products of the Group. Through diligence, dedication and focus they have proven themselves, and have earned their promotions. We look forward to working with them closely over the next 3-year programme.
Willem le Roux is registered with the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Institute and started his career with AMA in the Johannesburg office where he showed remarkable insight into wealth management. After transferring to the AMA Shanghai office Willem worked closely with Senior Partner, Jon Holand, to further his knowledge and is now a permanent and valued member of the Shanghai team of Consultants. Austen Morris Associates Global celebrated our 26th year in business this year, having opened our doors in Dubai back in 1994. Our Managing Senior Partner, Mr James Colclough, has been with AMAG for 19 years and is based in Shanghai. Our Africa operations are managed by Partner and Regional Manager, Mr Ian Edwards and Directed by Mr Phillip Morris. In 2017 my family and I moved over to South Africa where I have helped guide and build the operations in this region. Our company specialises in discretionary and pension investment structures, offering our clients competitive fee structures, market-leading products and a superior service experience.
During what has been a truly crazy and remarkable 12 months, AMA has managed to have the best year in our proud and pedigreed 26-year history. A focus on client relationships, innovation, technology and providing a competitive, commensurate fee-for-service model has given our business sustainability, longevity and genuine relevance on a global stage.
Most importantly, to our new, and more established clients, many thanks to you all. With your continued support and loyalty, we look forward to serving you for a further 26 years and beyond.
Celebrating our success is important, but it must be fleeting. Our focus must now turn to expanding and amplifying the attributes that enabled that very success. Simply put, we feel that we are only getting started…
Merry Christmas to all and I wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2021.