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Heir trigger

Contract Marketing Services managing director Richard Lloyd-Jones looks at the importance of IHT in offshore sales.

This month, our results are based on a series of phone interviews with advisers who have responded to the annual Quantitative IFA Offshore Business Survey. The results are therefore not intended to represent the market as a whole but cover a spectrum of advisers, including some based in the Channel Islands.

The tables show the leading insurance companies and their products grouped in quartiles. This approach is supported by the results from the quantitative survey itself.

The survey has consistently shown that ranking the popularity of offshore product providers more closely represents the results of a cycling race than a marathon – on the assumption, of course, that the cyclists finish in well spaced but tightly packed groups while the marathon runners normally tend to be strung out over something approaching the whole 26-plus miles.

Although offshore products are the most widely used for investment, some advisers take a more selective approach. For example, IFA Mike Abramov said recently: “Inheritance tax planning is my main reason for using offshore products and Canada Life International normally provides the most cost-effective IHT planning solutions.”

Offshore investment planning often includes elements of tax planning anyway so it is not surprising that this often also includes inheritance tax planning. Most of the offshore insurance companies offer a range of trusts which can be used to shelter assets in various ways for inheritance tax mitigation.

Among advisers, there is a difference in perception, however, between those companies which have set out their stall with inheritance tax packages and those which just offer trusts as an additional service.

In the former case, companies such as Canada Life International and Scottish Equit- able International have very high-profile technical support for advisers using their packages. Canada Life’s whole-of-life contracts, used for planning to pay the inheritance tax on the settlor’s death, are rated particularly competitive by some advisers.

Axa Sun Life International and Zurich International also do better in the context of this group of advisers than they have historically fared in the offshore market generally. Other companies, such as Royal Skandia with its wide range of investment links or Norwich Union International which has combined a wide range of funds with still popular with-profits options may have wider appeal in the adviser community but they are not perceived to be as strong in this area.

The complex combination of factors which make up a company’s “brand” affects how it is perceived in the marketplace and what type of business it gets. This is much more important than the name of the provider which is, in itself, a less important factor in the adviser’s decision.

Some offshore advisers avoid packaged products from any product provider. For example, Michael Norem of Moore Stephens in Jersey said: “As wealth managers, we tend to use our own trust arrangements to hold the assets and we appoint external investment managers to run the portfolio.”

The Inland Revenue has recently toughened up its stance regarding pre-owned assets and the use of trusts in inheritance tax planning. Chancellor Gordon Brown is famous for his so-called stealth taxes and, by holding the exemption limits down, he has turned inheritance tax into one of them. Now he seems determined to maintain his income from the tax even where patently prudent arrangements have been made to minimise any liability.

In the light of these developments, Scottish Provident International and Abbey Offshore have recently merged their trust arrangements in to one relatively simple range.

The results of this straw poll seem to indicate that advisers are now taking a closer look at their client’s inheritance tax arrangements.

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