cheese & wine

The Sun had set, the temperature dropped, and the late evening was upon us. There was excitement in the air and with a backdrop of the Dubai Marina skyline the stage was set at Emirates Golf Club, but this was for something more than just a round of Golf.

On Thursday 19th April, we held the AOP Spring Client Cheese & Wine night, courtesy of Jones the Grocer at Emirates Golf Club.

Having held the event in December 2017 we chose a new venue & partner, offering a varied experience of bites, grapes and live music to set the mood and give something back to our loyal clients.

With an unlimited cheese board consisting of Manchego, Brie De Meaux, Blue De Caisses, Buche Jacquin Herbes and Keen’s Cheddar. Flavours that were soft, strong and bitey and a fine selection of Fondue with Breads, Grisini and Antipasti there was enough to satisfy even the biggest of appetites.

This was all washed down by a wine selection that didn’t disappoint with Whites giving subtle taste and zesty flavours from Chardonnay to Sauvignon and Semillon. Bold Reds from Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet hitting the spot with big fruity undertones. Also, a Zinfandell that was like a glass full of strawberries, whatever your taste there was something for everyone.

The ambience was ever flowing with a live band giving us a twist on modern Jazz and funky covers. There were even a few movers and shakers at the dancefloor! The setting was great and the people were wonderful. A fantastic evening enjoyed by all, with a request for the next one to be sooner rather than later.

“A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all books in the world” – Louis Pasteur


‘Doing our bit’ is extremely important to most of us. We love taking part in worthy causes and none more so than those relating to health and well-being. These days it seems there’s a worthy cause to be supported every day of the year. October’s breast cancer awareness month saw millions of women across the globe come together to ‘do their bit’. Similarly, the month of ‘Movember’ sees men from all walks of life, from all over the world doing their bit and growing beards to promote awareness of male diseases such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer and male suicide. These illnesses are more common than most people realise, and raising awareness is crucial in reducing the number of preventable deaths.

Both campaigns have been phenomenally successful in raising the profile of these health issues and have united people in their efforts. But think on this…when the month is over and the hype of each campaign inevitably fades, what can you do to ensure that these diseases don’t impact on you and your family? How will you ‘do your bit’?

The good news is that due to advances in modern medicine, more people are living longer and surviving critical illnesses like these. But, as with any serious illness, there can be a long road to recovery with many people facing crippling medical bills and numerous day-to-day expenses. In instances where there is no income, this can eat into, and sometimes wipe out, a family’s life savings.

As 2017 draws to a close and we begin to contemplate our family lives in 2018, Alpha draws your attention to the importance of the correct cover for these types of diseases. Critical illness cover is designed to protect you and your family from the impact of illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and provide financial security during a time of crisis.

When you have critical illness cover, if you or a family member are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, your policy will pay out a lump sum. You define how much that lump sum is when you take out a plan. The money is tax free and can be used in any way you like. It could enable you to stop working or go part-time, clear your mortgage or pay for specialist medical care.

Everyone should talk to a specialist adviser before choosing a policy. This will ensure you get the best rate and help you decide what will be an adequate amount of cover for you and your family’s needs. The process is straightforward and typically comes with a free medical examination. It can even include free life cover when you take out certain policies.

The bottom line? Having this cover in place will give you the peace of mind that you need during a potentially stressful and traumatic time.  At Alpha, Critical illness is a critical matter. Are you ‘doing your bit’?


How does your budget look like at the end of every month? Is there any spare income left after paying the bills or do you normally get to the end of the money while there is still month left?

As an employee, you receive a salary every month, sometimes broken down into various allowances. From this income, you have your expenditure – typically rent, utilities, internet, mobile phone, shopping and hopefully enough for going out, holidays and savings.

Whatever is left is your spare income.

However, that is far from being the case for many of us. In today’s economy having any extra money left at the end of the month sometimes feel impossible – not an ideal or pleasant position to be in.  Here is where debt happens and can spiral out of control without careful budget management.

On the video below, Andrew Blatherwick take you through a traditional budgeting exercise which will help you in your financial planning. You will need to download the Budget Calculator if you wish to prepare your income and expenditure as a practical exercise.

Andrew also talks about interest rates. He explains how much you really pay back on loans and the effects of missing payments or defaulting. He closes the presentation with his top ten tips for managing debts.


How is the Gulf changing and will you be worse off for it?

The UAE government finances and UAE business climate have not fully recovered from the global financial crisis of 2008 and oil price crash of 2015. Is the current state of affairs in the UAE bad for the long-term future of the region? How about our earnings here in relation to the rest of the world? Is the Gulf getting poorer or normalising, facing the same issues “normal” countries do? What impact will this have on those of us living and earning here in the UAE?

In August last year I wrote about how the strong Dirham meant it was still a great time to be an expat based in the UAE, earning, saving and investing, compared to other parts of the world, despite it being a much less growth-oriented time for businesses and the government finances here, compared to five years before. The decline in oil prices has impacted government spending, and in turn the local economy and all areas of business here – less government spending means less government contracts for local businesses to win and less for the staff to recycle further around the economy. This is true not just in the UAE, but across the Gulf, as the entire GCC area is dependent primarily on oil and resources for income.

The financial media is full of stories on Gulf governments cutting back – reducing government salaries, selling off government assets (the Saudi national oil company Saudi Aramco is listing on the Saudi stock exchange – it has only ever been a state-owned company), and perpetuating low oil prices.

Certainly, it doesn’t look like the oil price will drastically improve, or go anywhere from its current level anytime soon. Oil was last above $100 a barrel on the 5th September 2015. After plummeting to $28.94 by the 15th January 2016, it has stabilized now around the $50 mark, still way short of the $100 level that was expected to last due to ‘peak oil theory’, the idea that the planet’s resources are finite, and this would keep the price high with an ever rising population adding to demand. In reality, the companies searching for and producing oil became more efficient, and the then huge price of oil inspired ever smarter ways to extract and drill for oil, leading to a supply glut, which perpetuates today. So the current reality is likely to continue, and that reality means annual government deficits for Gulf nations. Which in theory means the Gulf governments need to reduce spending further and increase income further. So what are they doing about it?

Economy Diversification

The UAE is the forerunner here, with this process already well under way since the mid-90s, driven by a then young Sheikh Mohammed. The world class hotels and resorts in Dubai and Emirates Airline are prime examples of the successful areas of this work – Dubai as a tourism destination and Emirates are global players in their market, and not linked to oil (low oil prices being good for the airline and visiting tourists). On top of this, there is the Dubai financial district – DIFC, and a still somewhat buoyant property sector. These results have taken a great degree of time and care – and are the envy of the rest of the Gulf, which is much further behind on all fronts.

The most globally important nation in the GCC is Saudi Arabia, politically and economically. Economically, Saudi Arabia has its own young prince, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al-Saud, a 31-year-old who is the driving force behind ‘Vision 2030’ – the Kingdom’s 13-year plan to develop and diversify the Saudi economy:

In short, it is looking at reducing the Saudi economy’s dependency on oil and government spending – and looking to achieve similar success stories to the UAE, development as an Islamic business hub. Saudi does have some other developed industries – it has a thriving food industry serving the wider region – but in terms of service industries like financial services and the technology sector it is relatively undeveloped. Vision 2030 is about developing these areas of the economy.

The listing of the state national oil company, Saudi Aramco, is a huge step in this program. It will be the world’s largest-ever listing, despite only 5% of the company being sold (the other 95% remaining state owned). Saudi Aramco by its own estimates has 261 bn barrels of oil still to be drilled (Value of these reserves as of today’s oil price: $13.2tn).

What stock exchange Aramco will be listed on is yet to be determined. If it publishes on a major exchange as expected, such as London’s FTSE, it will need to release much more information about its business than it has ever done in the past to meet regulations. So this is a big step, from a business culture point of view, and shows that Saudi Arabia is intending to become much more like the rest of the world, and looking to develop the same wide range of industry, and importantly, it knows to compete globally it can’t keep running itself in the same closed way. The listing of Aramco shows it has seen what the UAE has achieved and realises that on a larger scale it can selectively (don’t expect to see western holiday makers in Saudi on the same scale as in the UAE any time soon) develop new industries, with its young tech hungry population.

The rest of the Gulf is in a similar position. The ingrained knowledge that the resources wealth will one day run out has been there for decades, some countries such as the UAE are well on the path of development, and looking to take the next steps into future technologies – and others such as Saudi are looking to tread the path already worn here into financial services and the like. The perpetuating low oil prices have created government deficits which must be filled and added a greater sense of urgency to these reforms than there have been in the past.

The new industries that arise and new companies that arrive as a result will mean that the Gulf will remain a region of opportunity and relative prosperity for those who live here. Those industries that are starting up from scratch or close to it will command high incomes for specialist workers, but what it will also likely mean is a maturity of the existing sectors (construction, oil and gas, tourism) that will in the long term normalize these industries salaries in line with the rest of the world – if each Gulf government has a need to diversify, has less to spend and yet needs to channel its finances towards new areas – then it will not be spending/focusing its financial might on the same areas it always has, and equally, if an industry is already developed, and becoming more competitive not just regionally but globally – private businesses will be looking to drive savings rather than expand – meaning salary normalisation. So we can expect the landscape to change in terms of which industries pay lucratively.

Although these are all challenges, there are a huge number of buttons available for Gulf governments to push for quick wins – simply not available to Western nations. If pushed these will continue to provide boosts to the local economy and workers here. Saudi Aramco’s IPO is a great example. There is huge potential for further lucrative IPOs selling small stakes of Gulf government owned businesses, to bolster the government coffers. As mentioned above – Saudi Aramco is only listing 5% of the company – and this is the largest IPO in history. Typical stock market requirements for listing are companies selling 25%. So in the example of Saudi Aramco, considering they are only selling 5% of the company, this means they could essentially have 4 more subsequent IPOs equivalent to the largest IPO in history whenever they fancy. As a comparison, Britain sold off the family silver of British Telecom and British Gas to private investors long ago, France similar with EDF energy, highlighting that the Gulf is still very much a frontier region for many development opportunities, and this should help all of us who still live and work here in each of our industries (even if they are already developed). It’s very likely the last few years were the worst in the Gulf’s development process, as none of them anticipated the crash in oil. Now that it is a reality, they should continue to steadily progress from here.

Traditionally buying up shares of government supported businesses has been a good strategy too – so maybe some Saudi Aramco shares might not be a bad buy, on a very small scale (buying individual shares is needlessly risky versus the alternatives of grouped funds and ETFs) – the energy sector is likely to continue to stagnate from here, so the main advantage of the shares is their commanding market position.

Earlier last month we held an investment seminar entitled “Trump & Brexit. What’s Next?” Over 70 guests joined us at the Emirates Golf Club to understand personal financial investment and get an insight into how Trumponomics and Brexit have affected world markets. Our invited speakers also explained best practice and overall investment strategy that reduces risks and deliver consistent returns.

If you could not attend, please see below the highlights, notes and full video of the event.

The atmosphere before and after the event was vibrant and social. The feedback was excellent. If you were not there, we would like you to benefit from the content and the experience of our speakers.

The Seminar

Our guests were presented with refreshments and canapés as they arrived and then one of our Senior Associates, James McMullan, started the evening giving thanks to our sponsors, organisers and audience in attendance. James briefly spoke about the work we do at Alpha and how we can assist with all aspects of financial planning, before introducing Paul Temperton, our first speaker of the night.

Paul Temperton is a former economist of the Bank of England and former Vice President of Merrill Lynch. He has been a consultant to Invesco since 2000 and established TIER, and economic and financial market consultancy. He also works on a voluntary basis for the CFA Institute and has written or edited seven books on monetary policy and the Euro.

Paul Temperton’s speech revolved around what he called the three keys issues influencing the global economy and financial markets: the economic policies of President Trump (Trumponomics), the consequences of Brexit to the UK and political uncertainty in Europe. Click here to download his speech notes.

Our second speaker, Frank Hutchinson, is the AOP’s Managing Partner. He spent the last 52 years in the financial services industry and has experienced periods of 15 markets downturns. He is well placed to understand what drives equities, market sentiment and financial instruments.

Frank Hutchinson discussed the best practice method and overall investment stragetegies of AOP to minimise risk and deliver consistent returns. It included modern portfolio theory, investment strategy, asset class diversification, rebalancing and the AOP’s model portfolios. Click here to download his speech notes.

UK Expats in UAE: 7 tips to avoid overwhelming pension scam

The National reported in January that the UK regulator Financial Conducts Authority (FCA) announced measures to increase protection of British investors in the UAE regarding pension transfers. Their clampdown is aimed at brokers and advisers who are putting clients into unsuitable investments and even scamming them of their hard earned money.

The likely target of these companies are those individuals aged 55 and over who will soon be eligible to access their funds as they wish.

So, what can you do to avoid pension transfer scammers?

Here are the top 7 tips:

1. Ensure your adviser is adequately qualified in finance and pensions. The two recognised financial bodies are the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) and the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI). Your financial adviser should have certification in place to show their understanding of investments, securities and pensions. In the UK, the minimum standard is level 4 diploma.

2. Find out if your financial adviser’s company is licensed by the Insurance Authority (IA) in the UAE. Don’t be afraid to ask your adviser for a copy of the company’s trade license. An honest adviser will be very happy to provide you with this. You can also use the IA’s online tool to find out if the agency is registered with them.

3. Double check if the provider and product offered are licensed with IA. You can check this by using the same tool described in the item 2 above. Ask your financial adviser for the provider’s product brochure that he is offering to you.

4. Make sure your adviser’s company is registered with the UK regulator Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). The FCA also have a dedicated financial services register available on their website you can use to search and make sure your financial adviser’s company is registered with them. Check if they are authorised to provide pension advice specially in relation to defined benefits.

5. Ensure your adviser applies a scientific risk assessment method. Not everybody has the same attitude to risk. There are proven scientific ways to access and determine your tolerance to risk. It’s an important step of financial planning and should be ignored, because you may not want to be adventurous with your pension funds. A careful adviser will ask you several questions instead of trying to guess a number between 0 and 10.

6. Make sure your financial adviser has a solid strategy of investment diversification. A knowledgeable and diligent financial planner, normally has a dedicated fund analyst to design and manage your portfolio, selecting diversified assets classes based on your specific risk tolerance. Be careful with those who simply give you two or three hand-picked funds. Watch out for the so-called sophisticated investor funds as they are not suitable for the regular investor. A fair few of these funds have been suspended recently incurring major losses.

7. Ask your adviser about funds entry and exit charges. Some funds or investments carry an upfront charge. Although this is normal from retail outlets like banks, ask to see funds or investments with reduced cost. Look for daily priced and liquid funds, meaning that if you want to switch the holdings or withdrawal money, you can do so fairly quickly.

Alpha Open letter

Effective financial planning is not just about selling products like savings plans, investment bonds or pensions with hand-picked funds to be left alone. It requires a comprehensive and ongoing evaluation of your current and future financial circumstances. It requires a profound understanding of your specific needs and aspirations in short, medium and long terms. We call it financial planning from cradle to grave.

At Alpha we offer financial planning solutions taking into consideration all these relevant aspects and ultimately the three hard and main components:

1. What happens if you die too soon?

2. What happens if you become disabled or critically ill?

3. What happens if you live too long?

By answering these three questions openly, you will find that our financial planners can work more effectively and together take sensible decisions to put your money at work and help you achieve your goals in life – in a timely manner. We will not tell you what to do but prefer to give facts so you can make informed decisions about what you want to do, if at all.

Alpha is registered with both the FCA and IA, which makes us fully compliant with the necessary regulators to safeguard your rights.

We also have an in-house fund analyst, backed by an investment committee, whose put together and monitors all our  client’s investments. These portfolios strictly follow our client’s attitude to risk to ensure that they are not placed in over adventurous funds. All our clients have regular meetings with their financial planners where they get up to date valuations and can discuss and agree before any changes to their portfolio.

It’s an unfortunate disgrace that time and again unscrupulous individuals and companies come about to take advantage of regular people, ruining their financial future and hurting an entire industry. But if you follow the tips described in this article, you can minimise the risks.

If you would like further information or help with your UK pension transfer, please get in touch.