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Geneva convention
International Adviser

Geneva convention

Posted Saturday, May 16, 2015   |   762 views   |   Trade & Professional   |   Comments (0) Christopher Marriott, director of Blackden Financial, had a dream to live in Switzerland, and he set up the Geneva-based company in 2003 advising English-speaking clients. With a strong focus on local knowledge, the company has largely grown by word of mouth

Blackden Financial arose from founder and director Christopher Marriott’s passion for Switzerland. He first moved to the country in 2001. He had been working for the UK arm of international financial planning firm Towy Law but pressed the head of the company’s global division to open up an office in Switzerland, which they did.

By 2003, cascading markets resulting from the Gulf War led Towry’s parent company Australia Mutual Provident to relinquish its holding, resulting in the office’s closure. Despite this, Marriott decided to remain in Switzerland, as it had been his dream and his family had settled there. He created Blackden Financial in Geneva, with a view to giving English-speaking expats living in the country financial advice.

Fast forward to 2015, and the company now has six employees, including five advisers, and total assets under management of chf45m ($46m).

Expats and inpats
Within the resident English-speaking community in Switzerland, Blackden’s clients split into two groups: those who have to live in Switzerland to work, the expats, and those who have come to the country to retire or, as Marriott describes them, “inpats”.

Typically, clients have investible assets of between chf250,000 and chf750,000, although this can vary greatly, with some coming in lower and many coming in higher. Regardless, they usually fall outside the remit of Switzerland’s large concentration of private banks.

The company looks to mirror the advice model followed by many UK IFAs, focusing on using a holistic, report-based approach.

Marriott’s knowledge of the UK’s advice market stems from his stint as a UK IFA for 10 years, where he says he learnt that clients primarily seek transparency, clarity, impartiality and flexibility.

“We try to understand our clients’ overall goals, and take care of their money as if it were our own,” he says.
Planning ahead
In keeping with this, Blackden begins its relationship with clients with a ‘factfind’, which consists of a confidential questionnaire outlining current circumstances and, importantly, future plans regarding residency and currency.

Marriott says it is the part regarding future plans that largely determines its next steps. “These residential variations mean Blackden’s advice must be inherently holistic,” he says. “For example, someone who plans to retire to France cannot be put in the same currency or investment funds as someone who plans to return to the UK.

“Our decisions usually reflect a client’s medium and medium to longterm financial objectives.”

After a plan is set out and appropriate investments are chosen, Blackden’s advisers meet with clients every three to six months to discuss any appropriate changes to investments with regard to global developments or market changes.

Regardless of global economic variations, Blackden’s clients usually target reasonable returns with an equally reasonable level of risk. As Marriott puts it: “While they are not likely to put everything on black, they are likely to recognise market trends that could affect their returns”.

Most clients come to Blackden with a view to getting their financial affairs sorted by someone who speaks English and who specialises in providing advice that reflects local tax and regulatory requirements. As Marriott puts it, the company benefits from “living and breathing” Switzerland.

“There are many competitors here, many of which have a more global reach than Blackden, but we benefit from a local knowledge that is hard to match when focused on a variety of jurisdictions.”
Shared vision
As far as Marriott can see, the local knowledge is much appreciated, as people moving to the country enjoy being advised by people who understand and, in many cases, share their mindset.

He says that the Englishness, for want of a better term, of Blackden’s advice can often be appreciated even by those expats who do not speak English as a first language. Many of the company’s clients come from Scandinavian and Dutch backgrounds, and speak English as their “commercial language”.

As a result of its dedicated focus on the English-speaking Swiss market, Blackden does not have any current plans to expand beyond Switzerland, preferring to focus on its core group.

However, Marriott says this selfimposed limitation is not indefinite: “For the time being, where we are is where we have always wanted to be, and it is a large enough market for the time being. Steady growth is definitely on the cards over the next year.”

On the face of it, Blackden’s competition in Switzerland could be seen to come from the country’s numerous private banks, but Marriott says such institutions do not faze him, as they simply offer a different type of service, which many expats do not require.

“It’s true to say that if you have a certain amount of wealth you can go to a private bank,” he says. “But most of these advise non-Swiss-resident clients. These businesses focus more on foreigners who require the privacy of such institutions for a variety of reasons, such as confidentiality, security, or in order to spread their assets around.”

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International Adviser is aimed at global intermediaries who advise their HNW clients on International fund, life and banking products and tax efficient solutions to their cross-border needs.

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