14 MAY 2003

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Investment repatriation scheme should be extended

Jesmond Mizzi is a young up and coming independent investment adviser who has set up his own company to give advice to Maltese investors. Julian Manduca visited him in his Valletta offices.

It is a long known fact that the Maltese are great savers of money and while we are known to be wily businesspersons, we may not be the best at putting our money to good use.Jesmond Mizzi
The amount of times people are robbed of large sums of cash in their homes is evidence of this, but the massive (approximately) Lm3bn Maltese hold in bank accounts is an indication of large amounts of wasted capital.
Admittedly keeping money in a bank may be the safest bet, but money well invested will earn more income and can be quite as safe.
Media friendly Jesmond Mizzi has been popularising investment and for six years has graced our TV screens providing friendly advice.
Mizzi has forged a successful career for himself, starting as an auditor with the firm now known as PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and following this with a senior position at Globe investments before setting up his own company a some six months back.
Mizzi sees a potential business upsurge in Malta in the coming years with Malta’s attractiveness as an investment centre and should private pension schemes be introduced.
Jesmond Mizzi Financial Services Ltd was set up to advise potential investors on the best investment possibilities: "we believe that no association with one company can provide a potential investor with the best solutions for all the clients needs."
"The aim of the independent financial adviser is to act as the agent for the client and recommend the best investments tailored for his or her needs, taking into consideration the clients risk profile and attitude towards investment."
"We are strong believers in investing in collective investment schemes or funds, and our aim is to bring to the investing public fund managers that may not have such a big name in Malta."
Most of the money invested in Malta is that which is carried forward from one generation to the next and Mizzi’s company not only advises on initial investments, but monitors and manages investment portfolios.
"As the investment world is changing very rapidly several fund managers, managing a particular product, who move from one company to another, leaving the investor unawares, and it often happens that the investment performance does not live up to expectations, or even crashes."
Mizzi is optimistic that more Maltese will be investing in the post-EU membership scenario. Mizzi knows of two fund management companies coming to Malta in the near future and his company is bringing one of the companies to Malta itself.
"We will be launching a product of a fund manager which we selected from a vast range of other companies next week. We feel the fund manager has an appropriate product for our market and obviously we have analysed the product and the people running it, which is our role.
"The Maltese tend to invest in different companies, with different fund managers and do not have one point of contact, so their investment adviser is themselves. Often they would see an advert on the media and buy that product. We can monitor such investments, and advise on better investment products. Financial planing is in its infancy and we aim to give our clients all the necessary information to ensure that they understand the market and the investments they make."
Mizzi is convinced that better financial education will help the Maltese to a more secure future and he invests heavily in education, especially, but not solely via the media.
Mizzi’s company has weekly spots on TV – on various stations – explaining to the public the market, what is available and what types of products are available to different people.
"It is high time that people from a younger age plan their way of life, how much they can afford to spend, how much they can invest and how best to invest it."
"As investment advisors we spend money to inform the public that there is much more than buying investment products, one has to understand what one has bought."
Monthly investment plans are becoming popular in Malta, including linked long-term contracts of insurance where people save anything starting from Lm20-25 per month. "Our role is to select the best products from the different suppliers to meet the clients needs."
The core of Mizzi’s business remains clients wanting to invest larger sums they have saved in the banks and while property remains the preferred investment opportunity for some, Mizzi points out that there are advantages to buying funds.
"Property is not so liquid and does not always provide one with an income and anyone just looking for capital growth might choose property, but predominantly, about 90 to 95 percent of investment is in bonds – direct, company, government bonds – or products that earn them an income.
"There was a time when equities were popular and up to 30 percent of investment was in equities, but people are now switching back to bonds which is ironic because now is probably the best time to invest in equities, since they are so cheap."
One of the many contradictions inherent in Maltese society is that while businesses suffer big cash flow problems, Maltese individuals have always been very liquid. About Lm7,500 is kept in the bank by each and every Malta resident, while business credit periods are extending beyond a year in some sectors.
"We tend to meet individuals rather than companies, even though companies do ask us to approach banks for finances. But by and large, there is much more liquidity in the hands of individuals and people keep their money separate from their corporate funds."
"However, more and more business people are having to invest their own money into their companies in order to remain competitive."
Mizzi believes people are now seeing better opportunities than leaving their money in banks: "Money in banks is subject to inflation and one can also see the caution exercised when government bonds are issued, but people are looking also at medium risk and aggressive investments and this is why we believe strongly that the investment adviser should look at one’s investments to advise what could be beneficial in the short and long run."
EU membership prospects had bought a scare to investment advisers that they would be engulfed by larger foreign companies, but Mizzi is not pessimistic: "It is up to the Maltese firms to try and associate ourselves with larger companies that don’t have the local knowledge. I see the possibility of bringing new markets to Malta from other Mediterranean countries. We need to find companies that are not yet international enough in the Mediterranean market."
Since the election Mizzi has seen an upsurge of interest in investment in Malta: "The election had put everything on hold, but since the elections we have seen an interest to invest and people accustomed to going abroad are choosing a Maltese contact, because we can offer any type of investment here or abroad."
"It is easier to grab the phone and call locally than rather than calling the Channel Islands. Through us they can access the financial world much easier."
Maltese people have the reputation of seeking total confidentiality when investing and much –including hot money - was invested abroad in the past, however Mizzi sees the trend changing.
"As we know confidentiality is being reduced or to retain confidentiality is becoming more expensive. With the exchange of information by EU and OECD countries, the reasons for investing abroad are becoming more limited.
"Interest rates abroad have also gone down and people are more aware of what is available. People have to realise that money in bank accounts is subject to inflation,
The investment market could get a boost from a variety of sources and Mizzi would like to see the government.
"I was very much in favour of the government scheme where the public was allowed to declare their assets with the option to register and legalise investments. It was well received, but perhaps not enough."
"We were approaching the elections and some investors were not well-informed, others left it too late also because the rules of the scheme changed. I think it would be very wise to extend the scheme and give a last chance to all those that thought the exchange of information between financial institutions would not happen, or who may have thought that the minister would not be able to obtain information about investments. This is now happening or about to happen shortly and it is important for each investor to have the peace of mind to be in conformity with the law and have access to their money. Often people invested lots of money but had little or no access to it."
"If people still prefer to pay the 15 percent withholding tax abroad they should be aware that that tax rate could go up to 30 percent in some years time."
"If the scheme is re-introduced I believe many more investors will regularise their situation."
Private pension schemes could also have a beneficial impact on the financial sector: "Pension schemes will not only be of benefit to the country in terms of balancing the budget, but will bring money to the investment world on a regular basis. Pension money is directed to investments, and could go into Maltese equities and bonds and could be the starting point of having more money in the local market.
"If there is money going into the market on a regular basis, we could attract overseas investors. More importantly people will start to save so that on retirement they will enjoy a better standard of living.
"We have not seen a company going public for some years now, and pension schemes could be the catalyst for further market business and more companies being listed on the stock exchange."
Mizzi, however, emphasises that the MFSA as a regulator would have to ensure that private pensions schemes are subject to strict guidelines so that investment of funds from the schemes are not subject to too high a risk.
"The individual could be able to choose where she or he wants money invested, so that pension schemes work as they should and will provide the assistance on retirement that one expects. Malta’s advantage is that it can learn from similar schemes that have been introduced in other countries."

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
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