Moving Offshore: A Strategic Decision For Americans
It is important to know that perfect timing cannot be achieved when investing or even building a portfolio. However, making an educated and informed decision can help maintain the strategic course and structure the portfolio for the time ahead. Of course, the initial motivation to begin or continue investing will differ from investor to investor. However, there comes a point when the portfolio could become overexposed to one economy, government, or even a single currency. There are many benefits that can be achieved by using offshore investing in building a portfolio due to the advantages gained in privacy, the use of other sound financial jurisdictions to create a nest egg, and access to foreign investment opportunities that may not be available in the U.S. stock market. Using offshore investment accounts can allow investors to move portions of their portfolio out of their domestic economy and market for diversification opportunities and risk mitigation purposes.
While these are the benefits that can be gained, the big question we will seek to answer with this blog is: "is a move outside your domestic economy make sense for your situation, and is it even worth it in terms of opportunities, risks, time, and effort?"
Moving Offshore: Considerations
You have worked hard your whole life to plan for your future retirement, save, and invest while navigating the environment of a fluctuating economy and the ever-changing political climate of your country. So what are the factors to consider when exploring the idea of moving a portion of your portfolio to another financial jurisdiction?
When it comes to the opportunities that exist in just the stock market, the U.S. market makes up 46.2% of the global investment environment. While this is by far the largest market share, it does pose the question of the opportunities of the other 53.8% of the investment market.1 Following the logic of diversification, if all your investments are held in the U.S. market, your portfolio is neglecting the opportunities outside of the U.S. It would be foolish to say that the U.S. market should be ignored. But to ignore the other markets could also leave a portfolio lacking in true diversification to the global environment.
Further, some other currencies perform quite well in terms of price stability in relation to the USD. There is currently no gold standard, meaning countries do not have their fiat currency (cash) pinned to gold; instead, they float and can be traded or exchanged for different rates. A straightforward example is the Swiss franc. Currently, CHF 1 can be traded for around $1.07--this changes daily and is constantly fluctuating--very simply put, you can buy more USD with fewer CHF. However, this can change over time. For example, in January 2000, $1 could buy CHF 1.594. in the most simplistic of terms, if you had used $10,000 to buy CHF 15'940 and forgotten about it and when to exchange it back to USD today, it would have the value of $17205.2 It shows that there can be value in holding other currencies over time and how diversification outside of the U.S. can (but not always) benefit a portfolio. However, there are cases in foreign currency that the USD has gained value over time. This is where diversification can be used as an opportunity to mitigate some risk that is presented when only holding investments in one currency.
Important note: FX trading is complex, and these calculations do not represent any actual investment. They merely mimic the price change from USD to CHF and vice versa. This is not investment advice. Always consult a professional before making any investment decisions.
There is always risk involved when making any investment. Therefore mitigating all risks is just simply not possible. Even if you hold just cash, inflation will diminish the value of your earnings and savings over time. For example, over the past decade, inflation in the U.S. has caused a loss in the value of the USD by 26.1 %. Meaning if you had $10,000 in 2012, it has the same value as $12,610 today. This corresponds to an average depreciation (loss in value) of 237.36 dollars per year. The last time there was a point when the USD appreciated because deflation took place was in 2009, when the change in inflation rate was -0.4%.3 While inflation is not always a bad thing for the economy, it slowly cuts away at the value of cash and your wealth. However, not every economy experiences the same inflationary environment.
If you take a similar scenario and apply it to Switzerland, the value of CHF 10'000 in 2012, it appreciated (gained in value) by 0.8% until 2022. This corresponds to an average increase in value of 0.83 francs per year.4 While this is not a massive gain, it tells us something significant, there was not a loss in the value of the Swiss franc (CHF), and inflation did not cause a loss to the individuals with the wealth of the Swiss. This again shows the abovementioned point in how holding more than one currency in a portfolio can mitigate risk.
Another risk that needs to be talked about is how governments use debt. An example is the U.S. perpetually raising its debt ceiling to pay for its spending habits. While government debt can benefit a country's economy and population, there are healthy and unhealthy levels. The general idea is that when public debt rises above 77% of the gross domestic product (value generated) of a country's economy, it begins to have negative consequences for its currency, economy, and population.5
To learn more about the current U.S. debt situation in relation to your portfolio, you can join us for a free webinar we are hosting on the 18th of January, 2023: Register here.
You can also learn more about upcoming and past webinars here.
Seeing the opportunities and reasons for moving a portion of your portfolio offshore is one thing, but being able to do it in terms of having enough money to start this process is another. Offshore investment banking has some entry barriers, and that is the minimum amount of initial capital it takes to open an investment account offshore. While this can vary from country to country, we will look at Switzerland as the financial jurisdiction for time's sake and because we have expertise in this area. Many private banks will want a minimum of $1-3 Million, and some are starting to consider clients with $500k to open up an investment account. However, when using an independent asset manager to work with, the minimum investment can be as low as $250k to move offshore.
The good news is that accounts can be opened with many structures, such as private (sole and Joint), trusts, LLCs, foundations, and, yes, even IRAs. This allows more flexibility for you to choose how you will set up an offshore account and even how you can begin to wade into the waters of international diversification in various ways. Working with the amount of money makes the issue of trust, privacy, and safety of utmost importance when finding the right partner. It is important to take your time when finding the right partner to help ensure it will be a long-term solution.
If you are interested in learning more about the safety and privacy of Swiss investment accounts, you can read more about them here: The Safety and Privacy of Swiss Investment Accounts for Americans
Time and Effort:
How much time and effort will it take to have an account in a country like Switzerland? To answer this correctly, we will assume that you have done your due diligence and found a partner you trust and are willing to work with. Once the decision is made to open an account, it usually takes 4-6 weeks to open the account. This time frame is due to the distance and time it takes for documents to go back and forth in the process. Because of regulations, there is quite a bit of paperwork to be done; while manageable, it does take time to complete paperwork for all parties involved. The good news is that you do not have to show up in person to open the account, as it can all be done via digital communication. When working with an independent asset manager, you will have a guild to help you navigate the account opening process and a partner who has leverage with the private banks when solving issues for the client. Working with an independent asset manager is a huge perk, as your Relationship Manager will have 25-50 clients under their care. At a bank directly, you would be one of a few hundred the Relationship Manager handles.
You can learn more about the benefits of working with an independent asset manager by reading our blog on it here: The Benefits of Swiss Asset Management for Americans
It is essential to state that moving offshore is not for everyone, but it can be a powerful tool for investors in the right circumstances. Whether for capital preservation, risk mitigation, asset protection (not covered in the blog today), true diversification purposes, or all of the aforementioned aspects, moving offshore may be the right move for the right investor. While the U.S. is an important investment market, being solely invested in it will leave a portfolio at the whim of the various forces that affect it and miss out on over half of the global investment market and the opportunities it can offer Americans.
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