It was December 15th 1996; my wife and I were happy to be in Morzine and were enjoying dinner at hotel Les Airelles. Jean-Claude, the owner, was very attentive – we were his only guests! Heavy snow was falling, so the drive back to our home in Le Biot was a slow one, spotting just one other vehicle parked suspiciously in St Jean D’Aulps, the Gendarmes, who looked bemused that a Dutch plated car should mess up the untouched snow cover.
During Christmas I worked as usual in my IFA business covering Europe, but it was a stress free time; international clients had little to bother them, the main concern being market direction. The FCA did not exist; tax people were only after the big fish; even the Financial Ombudsman, for complaints, was years from formation; regulation was unheard of; QROPS transfers were an age away. The Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey, and of course Switzerland were the favourite hiding centres. Clients were happy to deposit large sums resulting from their global company contracts. Banks happily took in and paid out in cash, accepted transfers from third parties, and asked minimal questions to new arrivals in the beautiful French Alps; they were simply hungry for this amazing new flow of business. The financial world was a relaxed place, where large sums of “tax free” money could be transferred to the Notaries, who would inform the local land sellers that they had become wealthy; keys were given, dreams were realised and that much expanded supermarket just out of town saw the wine shelves emptying like never before. Travel businesses sprung up with sexy names like, “Utah snow and sun”, and their chalets were full the whole winter. The French tax people started to scratch their heads. Not only were local people driving back and forth through the Swiss border every day, but now a new irritation had arrived in town and some serious checking was necessary. The French Fisc. suddenly had many more employees, serious computer power, and somebody could apparently speak ENGLISH !
It’s now October 2019, my wife and I still love to eat in Morzine, but things have changed. Conversations with my clients all over the Rhone Alpes region take on a very different and focused tone. A global directive of information exchange requirements has shaken up the old world called CRS, “Common Reporting Standard”, which means the UK will exchange all financial, bank account, insurance policy and investment account information with France. Even that renowned haven of Swiss Private Bankers are happy to flood Europe’s tax offices with full financial disclosure information on former residents and clients. If that’s not enough, I regularly hear of clients being pestered by cold calling IFAs based in Paris, the south of France, even Dubai. The pleasure of being seen on social media! But now the approach is somewhat different, we have tight European regulation, or do we?
Making life changing investment decisions is a delicate operation. If somebody tells you they are part of XX group in Gibraltar, but due to “flexible” European financial regulation, they can passport, operate in France – beware: if things go wrong the UK, FCA or French regulator Orias will be unable to help you. A fully regulated French company holds the correct licenses and your chosen adviser should know French rules and regulations, preferably from many years experience in the region. Some individuals choose to keep a leg in the old country, just in case, but this half-half decision could cost you dearly. “Is a UK ISA tax efficient in France?” “My money is 100% Sterling, so impossible to move it over here.”
Your chosen IFA should know a great deal. Test their knowledge on markets, tax issues, currency movements/history, inheritance. Can they introduce you to competent local professionals? Moving from one country to another is a big step. Do make sure all fits into place, you should enjoy this wonderful region for years to come.