The Perils of Expat Pensions

A few months ago I attended a networking meeting and met someone who works for DeVere, a financial services company that provides pensions and insurance products to expats around the world. He talked to me about a scheme called QROPS, which I hadn’t heard about before. I invited him around to talk me through it. I wanted to find out as much as I could and, to be fair to him, I was already a “cold lead” in that I had virtually no intention of signing up, just a curiosity to find out as much as I could about QROPS as a jumping off point for more research. I’m not an idiot and wasn’t about to sign my entire pension over to someone I had just met, however friendly and obliging they seemed.

After that meeting, in which the rep (sorry, “employee”) was very helpful I contacted my UK IFA to ask for his take. Unfortunately, because he’s not qualified or licensed on non-UK products, he had no advice and couldn’t help. Nor could he suggest anyone else would could help. Bummer.

In the meantime I managed to find out a bit about QROPS. I learned that is a real thing and it, as I was told, an HMRC scheme. So far so good. But after that it gets complicated. The more time I spent trying to find out about QROPS and the more nervous I became. I decided the only way forward was to find someone else who could give me some advice and for this I took to the internet.

There are many expat forums so I posted on a couple of those asking for the recommendations of an independent financial adviser, by which I meant an IFA as we know them in the UK. All through this what was bugging me was that the independent moniker was being bandied around with no obvious independence. I got lots of recommendations for people representing DeVere (there are about three names that tend to come up) and also Spectrum. I had a look at Spectrum and while they do look a bit more independent than I would say DeVere is, I found an article by an ex-UK IFA criticising their narrow portfolio and arguing that in his opinion this meant they weren’t truly independent. The other concern was that if they’re not properly registered, then they don’t have the proper insurance and aren’t strictly liable for giving bad advice. There are some real horror stories out there. Google anything to do with expat pensions (DeVere in particular) and the results aren’t not pretty!

Getting nowhere, I checked in with a friend who does admin about how I might find someone who is qualified, regulated, and insured and she recommended I find someone registered as a Conseiller en investissement financier (CIF), of which there are three sub-groups:

  • Association Nationale des Conseils Financiers (ANACOFI-CIF)
  • Chambre Nationale des Conseils en Gestion de Patrimoine (CNCGP)
  • La Chambre Nationale des Conseillers en Investissements Financiers (CNCIF)

She also recommended a website, Orias, which has a list of each of the advisers registered under each of those regimes – and she advised that CNCIF was the one to go for.

I searched for the name of the guy I’d spoken to and nothing came up.

Then I found the regulatory blurb on the DeVere site, which gave the company SIREN number and stated that they are ANACOFI-CIF registered. So I looked that up and it looks like the manager of the France branch is registered. The info for that is here. I’m not sure how it works if a company is registered and whether that means the people who work for it are also qualified? My understanding is than an IFA is someone who is not recommending specific products from a specific company. My concern with this being if I took advice from someone saying they’re an IFA and that advice turns out to be bad, who is liable if my investment advice was bad and I ended up losing all my money. Or even just half of it!?

Still no further on I enquired again online and was recommended a couple of other firms – Spectrum IFA being one that came up again – but these looked no different to DeVere. I wasn’t getting anywhere.

I posted again on a different forum and was again contacted by someone employed by DeVere. This time a she who said had been an IFA in the UK. So I looked her up and couldn’t find her registered in the UK but did see (she was easy enough to find on LinkedIn) was that she had been employed as a financial adviser for two insurance companies in the UK. So a financial adviser, yes, but is that the same as a an independent financial adviser? I’m not entirely sure.

I quizzed her about it about her credentials and she said that anyone qualified to practise would be qualified as an European Financial Adviser (EFA), which means they have a diploma awarded by the The Personal Financial Society (PFS) in the UK. Apparently an EFA is accredited by the European Financial Planning Association (EFPA). I searched the list of certified practitioners on both sites and didn’t find the names of either of the people I’d spoken to. Was this diploma issued by DeVere then? From past experience I know anyone can set up an organisation and start chucking diplomas about so this was really just more new info that didn’t tell me anything.

So I asked this same person how I would check who is registered and who isn’t. This was a bit cheeky really because I already knew that the person I was talking to wasn’t registered, at least not individually, because I’d searched the Orias database as well as the PFS and EFPA lists for them both. So while the manager of the France office was registered (or at least, the company set up with him in charge was registered) these individuals were not, and I would have expected that as real IFAs they would be.

I’m still not clear on it, to be honest. I really have tried to work it out but I’m not convinced or reassured and that’s all the info I need to convince me that I haven’t met anyone whose advice I trusted enough to make an enormous financial decision like moving my UK-based pension to a QROPS scheme. So that was the end of that. For me. Maybe there’s nothing dodgy about it, maybe it’s all a house of cards about to collapse, but I’m about 20 years away from drawing a pension and that’s a lot of time in which things might change. It’s a decision not to be taken lightly on the back of a couple of meetings an 8-page printout!

For now the pension will just have to stay put.


If you are approached by anyone about financial advice the best thing to do is to check that the person you are talking to is qualified to give that advice. Being qualified is important because then they are also insured – which means if the advice they give is BS you can sue them for damages in future!

It’s easy enough to find out for yourself. Just put their name or the company SIREN number into the search box here: https://www.orias.fr/web/guest/search 

For anyone looking for pensions or other financial advice, there is some useful info re doing your due diligence beforehand in this Connexion article, Check financial advisors online

And if you do manage to find anyone offering truly independent financial advice to UK nationals re pensions and investments, please let me know!


Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

 

 

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If Carlsberg did cycling events…

Well, maybe it wasn’t that good, but for me, getting out on my bike to ride an event I’ve had my eye on since we came on holiday here 4 years ago, it was great!

The event was the VTT Ronde 3 Quilles, an annual event with three routes of 15km, 30k, or 45km, in the hills and fields around the town of Quillan in the Aude region of France. This place really is a haven for anyone who loves cross-country mountain biking and also benefits from being only a stones-throw from some world-class downhill trails too, such as those at Axe-les-Thermes and others at Font Romeu.

Since leaving the UK my mountain bike hasn’t had much trail love. Actually, that’s been true for the best part of 5 years, pretty much since DD arrived. I’ve had a few rides here and there and, if I was still in the UK I’d like to think I was back out hanging with my bike buddies again, at least for the odd ride, but those friends were built up over time and at a time when I had nothing else to do but ride. In a new country making new friends takes time of course, so mostly it’s just me.

Anyway, on the day of the ride DS woke at 6am, his new regular wake-up time, after a busy day and a late night the day before (we’d been to visit friends on the coast so were out all day and only got in at 9.30) I was tired and feeling rough. I’d been planning this ride for a while though (4 years, I suppose) and as I was sitting there with DS, trying to keep him entertained and quiet, I decided just to look up the registration time and see how feasible it was for everyone to come along, as planned. The whole idea was that we’d all go to the lake then I’d go off on the ride for as long as it took while James hung about in the park with DS and DD. That way there was no rushing around.

I checked the schedule online. This being a French event it took me nearly half an hour to find these useful details, which meant that if I was going to get there when registration opened I only had another 30 minutes. Was I, wasn’t I? Fuck it – yes, I was.

I called up the stairs to announce that I needed to leave in 20 minutes for the ride and that I assumed everyone would be staying put. Yes, James confirmed (still in bed, you see) , they wouldn’t be coming along. After a mad dash to get ready, ignoring James’s passive-aggressive appeals to make me stay (he had a cold), my bike was loaded into the car and I was off. Brilliant! I probably could have stayed a while longer and left in less of a rush but this was the first event I’d ridden in France and I wasn’t sure how it worked, with registration, start times, etc and I didn’t want to be late!

Arriving at the park it was very exciting to see that the car park was already full. Obviously lots of people had already set off! I headed to the registration tent clutching my fee (11 euros), excited about the whole thing. Registration was easy enough – just my name, address, age, etc. – then I was handed the laminated event card (it wasn’t a race, so no numbers) and some cable ties for my bike and two tokens: one for my free beaker and another for food. I wasn’t really sure what to do with that so just put it safely away.

Mountain bikers getting ready for to ride at Lake Bertrand in Quillan
Me & DB (my bike) ready for the 15km loop

The start times were staggered so that those riding the longest distances set off first. The ride I was on, 15km, was the shortest and therefore the last lot to set off before the route was signed over to the walkers. There were lots of people, mostly blokes, riding big full sussers with body armour on. What was I letting myself in for? Apparently nothing because as it turned out the average age for the riders on the 15km loop was about 15.

I waited a while, helped myself to a couple of free coffees (very civilised), smiled at a few of the women who were also hanging around, so I assumed were also waiting for the 15km start time, then, after seeing a group riders set off in the direction of the short route, decided to set off too.

Uphill, of course. After a while I caught up with a group of what looked to be club riders; two adults with a group of young kids, mostly boys. I think there was one girl amongst them. They were regrouping at the top of a climb so I “bonjoured” them and then carried on past. Next I caught up with another group: two women riding with three boys, I presume their sons. One was at the top of a descent, looking down it, and said, I think, “attention” to the other woman, which was cue for me to let go of the brakes and fly down as fast as I could. Pure fun.

On the other side the two older boys caught me up and overtook. And that’s pretty much how the rest of the ride went. It was one long dosie-do between me and these two kids. The only people to overtake me for the rest of the ride were two adults on ebikes, which really pissed me off. I get it, but they’d better not be on Strava because I overtook them on a descent (they were mincing down on foot while I bombed down by the seat of my pants) then they came gliding by on a climb shortly after. Fuck that.

The route itself was nice but definitely mostly uphill. It used some waymarked VTT trails as well as some tracks through private land, which is why I can’t share the GPS trace, unfortunately. There were a few nice decents (3?) and one quite hairy one that will be rideable now I’ve had chance to get a good look at it. The nice thing was it ended with a long, swooping descent on some single track all the way from the hill overlooking the lake to the bottom, with a couple of drop offs. It’s shame that that section is one of the ones on private land though, so unlikely rideable outside of this event.

After the ride, well, the registration tent had been transformed into a buffet station. Awesome. I tried to hand in my token, thinking that was needed for the food but no, that was for the sausages sarnies and beer, that they were just getting ready. I tucked into fruit, cheese, bread, pate (all the usual French nibbles!) had a good guzzle of some squash and another coffee then headed back. I had been gone nearly three hours so my time was up.

Unfortunately, because it was a head down and ride type of ride and I was on my own I didn’t stop for pictures, so there’s only the one from the start.

Next year I’ll be riding the 30km and making sure that James and Co. meet me afterwards so I don’t have to squander my beer & food token. It was a really well-organised event!

Knitting, Soup & Savoury Muffins

As much as I love the warmth of spring and summer, there’s something about the autumn light and the urge to wrap up, nest, and make warm, hearty food that makes me wonder whether I should really choose autumn as my favourite season.

The weather cooled all of the sudden just a week or so ago. Before that, luckily while my parents were visiting, we had some 20-degree days where it was warm enough to want to swim and perfect for picnics. Then the next day, just like that, it was 3 degrees. Almost overnight the leaves on the trees turned and the last courgette and tomato plants withered in the veggie patch.

The contrast between being in and out of the sun at this time of year is stark. On those 20-degree days it was glorious outside. The house we rent doesn’t have a garden. The garden is there but is owned by a neighbour and no longer connected to the house. We have permission to use it, which is great, but it means going out of the front door, onto the road, and around through the gate at the side. Also, not having direct access means there are no doors onto it and since that’s where the sun is, as soon a the sun starts to dip in the sky, this East-West facing house becomes cold inside. I’d say on the days with warm sun and cool air there can be a 10-degree difference between inside and out. Over the years that adds up to a lot of extra wood being burned!

With the cool air, the crunch of leaves underfoot, and a sewing room that is open to outside via an uninsulated storage room (grange) on the ground floor below, my mind has made the mental switch in to hibernation mode. At lunchtimes I’m craving soup over salad. On cool days I think of knitting woolly hats and socks rather than sewing summer dresses.

The only trouble is the two smalls rarely eat the soups I make. To my amazement both the recipes below got the seal of approval from DD, which is why I thought I’d better make a permanent record of them pronto! DS did all but throw his on the floor in protest. Oh well. It’s going to a long winter for him if he refuses to eat soup!

The savoury muffins recipe is thrown in at the end because it was also a bit of a hit. If you try and of these or have your own variations, let me know in the comments! Next time I make something I’ll try to add some pics.

Recipes

Squash/Pumpkin & Lentil Soup

Ingredients

Pumpkin or squash. Use whatever squash you have available (I used half a red kuri (hokkaido) squash and a piece long island cheese pumpkin.
1 cup of red lentils
1 onion
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 stock cube (I usually use chicken but for a veggie version just use a meat-free one.)
3 small carrots
2 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup of orange juice
A handful of fresh sage, chopped

Method

  1. Chop all the veg and soak/wash the lentils.
  2. Saute the onions and garlic in a deep pan until translucent.
  3. Add the squash and cook until starting to soften, stirring often.
  4. Add the tomatoes and stir to cook through.
  5. Add the lentils.
  6. Add enough water to cover all the veg, then stir in the stock cube.
  7. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer.
  8. When all the veg is softened, add the sage.
  9. Whizz up with a blender.
  10. Add orange juice plus salt and pepper to taste (mine didn’t need salt because the stock cube was salty enough).

Cheesy Green Soup

Inspired after bumping into my neighbour, who was coming in from the garden with a basket of freshly picked leaves, I thought I’d try this soup on everyone at lunch time. To my surprise it was a success, measured by DD saying, “Well done, you cooked the right dinner, Mummy,” and eating it all up!

Ingredients

A good handful of young and small mallow (mauve) leaves
1 leek
2 cloves of garlic
1 medium-sized potato
1 cup of spinach (I used chopped frozen spinach, as it needed using up!)
50g of blue cheese
1 onion
A handful of fresh parsley
1 stock cube (I usually use chicken but for a veggie version just use a meat-free one.)

Method

  1. Chop all the veg.
  2. Saute the onions and garlic in a deep pan until translucent.
  3. Add the leeks and cook until softened, stirring often.
  4. Add the greens and stir to cook through.
  5. Add enough water to cover all the veg, then stir in the stock cube.
  6. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer.
  7. When all the veg is softened, add the parsley and stir to cook through.
  8. Whizz up with a blender.
  9. Add salt and pepper to taste (mine didn’t need salt because the stock cube was salty enough).

Breakfast Muffins (Bacon and Mushroom)

This one came about one morning when we realised we had run out of pretty much everything, in particular our usual breakfast of either pancakes or porridge.

I used this recipe from The Worktop for the base, with a few tweaks because, of course, I did’t have everything I needed. These came out well but the smalls didn’t like them. More for me and James then!

The great thing about muffins is the will freeze well, much like scones, so any leftovers can be stored for another time. I used to do this all the time when DD was small as muffins were a baby-led weaning favourite of ours but I don’t think I’ve made them once since DS was born. But now they’re definitely back on the menu. I just have to find a good combo that DS and DD will eat.

Ingredients

Muffin base
1 1/3 cups white whole wheat flour (also called golden wholegrain flour)
3/4 cup oatmeal
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 medium egg (it should have been two but I only had one, so I added extra milk and a squirt of mustard mayo)
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup oil

Filling
2 cups of chopped mushrooms
1 packet of lardons (back bacon would be better but it’s impossible to buy in France)
1 clove of garlic (it’s that time of year – garlic in everything!)

Method

  1. Set the oven to 190 degrees.
  2. Saute the mushrooms in oil until the start to soften.
  3. Add the garlic and lardons. Stir until the lardons are cooked through then turn off the heat and allow to cool.
  4. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  5. Mix all the wet ingredients together in a smaller bowl.
  6. Stir the bacon and mushroom mixture into the flour etc in the large bowl.
  7. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry.
  8. Spoon the mixture into a greased muffin tray.
  9. Place in the oven and cook for 10-15 minutes. They’re ready when a skewer or tooth pick comes out clean.
  10. Allow to cool a little or eat straight away.

 

 

 

 

 

What we did in October

After a busy return to real life after the holidays (September), we launched ourselves into a new phase in October and it has flown by with not a minute to spare to update the blog. So what have we been doing in all this time? Well…

We went to the park.

We walked. Some shorter walks together as a four and a longer one with friends.

Two young children and an adult walking on a rocky path through the woods
Walking the rocky path from the Roman bridge at Bugarach

We enjoyed the autumn sun and went to the free theatre festival, un pave dans la malle, which is just up the road. This year DD was old enough to enjoy a show and we saw a really funny one about a miniature circus with a terrible safety record (all the miniature circus creatures were killed off one by one!) Apart from the climbing inside a horse routine, which I think was a bit too much, it was excellent. A really good choice for the five year olds – and lots of adult jokes to keep us entertained. Or so I’m told. My French as it is I think a lot of the nuance was lost on me though so I probably enjoyed it on the same level as the kids. 

Circo Pirulo midway though their act
Circo Pirulo performing at Le pave dans la malle

We had visitors (my parents).

The usual.

We had a lot of problems with the car. It needed new suspension (or something), new tyres, and new brakes. It was VERY expensive, although we saved about 300% on the cost of parts thanks to Magic Mark (as I call him) and his generosity in buying and shipping parts to us from the UK for only a small markup. If you’re anywhere near to Huddersfield and drive a VW, Skoda, Seat, or Audi then look up IVS Huddersfield because their service brilliant.

I managed to get out on my mountain bike and ride a local event. I got a free beaker for the trouble but had to pass on the buffet after so I could get back and rescue James (he was ill and would have preferred me to stay home, I think

Lots of people with bikes by the sign up and refreshment tent at lake Bertrand in Quillan
Getting ready for the 15km at the Trois Quilles VTT event in Quillan

We had a lot of fun in the new bike park at Quillan, which thankfully wasn’t washed away in the terrible floods that were experienced in our area during this time.

The tragedy of the month of course being the floods, which washed away many roads and bridges, devastated communities and also took many lives. It reminded me of floods we had in the UK many years ago and also to be grateful that we live on a hill – and to add “make sure you’re not next to the river” to the land or house buying checklist! Floods can and do happen and living so close to the mountains colossal quantities of rain can fall at any time.

DD rounded off October with her first proper (as in, the first year she’s known about and been interested in) Halloween, complete with trick or treating. Boy do the old ladies of Fa know how to load kids with sugar. We’d heard that in years past they collected about 12kg of sweets and I’m sure that if the total was totted up this year would be on a par with that. She ate her own body-weight in sweets on the night itself and brought as many back. They’re in a cupboard, out of reach, and despite the best efforts of James and me to have one now and again, as well as of course letting the two smalls have some, we still have a full Tupperware of them. Still, she had a lot of fun and the makeup job James did on them both was excellent. Picture to follow! (once I can get it from James’s camera.)

And now it’s November.

Temperatures have fallen a bit and there’s been some rain but in between, so far, we have sunny days. It’s warm in the sun, so it’s a shame that we are living in this East-West facing house as we don’t get much benefit from it and it will stay that way now until next Spring. Needless to say the wood burner is on. We intended to wait until November 1st to light it but had to concede defeat on October 29th on a day when there was no sun and the temperature was in single figures. Chilly – and the house was starting to feel damp.

We have a lot on in November too – and are busy working away on house plans. At the end of next year the thermal study parameters for new builds change, meaning it will be more expensive to insulate a house. We need to find land before then and get a permit. Having our plans at the ready will make that easier. Aside from work, life, kids, etc. that’s our focus for now.

Useful links

Un Pave dans la Malle
An annual theatrical festival in Lieurac, Ariege. Over two days (the weekend) and everything free (except food and drink!)

IVS Huddersfield for Magic Mark (he can keep any VW going way past it’s recommended shelf life, even if the customer moves to another country!)

VTT Ronde 3 Quilles
A regular mountain biking event in Quillan. Routes are usually 15km, 30km, and 45km. There’s a very impressive buffet at the end. Entry gets you a beer and hotdog token too. And there’s the free beaker.