Importance of Saving for the Future as an Expat
You’ll notice that occasionally I like to tell you about some of the interesting stories that happen out here in Asia. This today is unfortunately a true story, and I’m somewhat embarrassed that it happened (as you will read). However, if this post saves just one person from what happened to me, then it will be worth it.
When working in Asia long-term many Expat employees at some point think about how we will fund our retirement years. Typically, in the West a government has implemented some form of assisted savings scheme whereby companies will match a certain percentage of an employee’s wages that they put into a government approved savings scheme, which can be accessed on retirement. But what about Westerners working in countries where these schemes don’t exist? Do you want to end up at retirement with no funds to see you through your non-working years? Of course not. For this reason it is normal for Expats to join a savings scheme for retirement.
The problem is that outside the West there are very little – or even no – rules governing financial managers. Anyone can set themselves up as a financial manager and say that they are qualified, and be based in a jurisdiction that has no government body making sure that they don’t rip off their customers. I’m sure you can see where this story is heading!
Putting my Trust in Essential Finance
During my time in Asia I read about Expats losing their retirement funds through shady schemes, so I was very wary about which company I entrusted with my hard-earned funds. After much deliberation and research I invested with a company called Essential Finance, who joined me up with a Zurich fund. Over many years I put away USD$1,250 per month – which as you can imagine built up into a tidy sum. After about 5 years I withdrew most of the funds to try and start a business, which unfortunately was not successful. I continued to make deposits into the fund though.
The Switch. Essential Finance giving way to Infinity Financial Solutions. The “Solution” for Them to Scam My Money!
Then I received notification that Essential Finance had changed into a company called Infinity Financial Solutions. They trumpeted that they had engaged a company called Tilney which had won awards for their investment management expertise. In hindsight I should have looked more closely into why this deal was done. I guess because I had already had over 6 years of good service from Essential I didn’t consider that the nature of the company could turn bad. How wrong I was.
Shortly after Essential changed to Infinity Financial Solutions I got a call from my financial adviser Alex de Wit asking to meet with me. At the meeting he pressed me to change from the Zurich fund to a new one called Hansard, saying that I’d get better returns. I said to him that I was happy with Zurich and did not have any problem with them, however since he was the expert and was advising me to change, then I should heed that advice. What I didn’t know at the time was that Hansard was NOT better than what I had considering my profile, and in terms of access to funds was MUCH WORSE for me! Alex knew my history, and knew that I had accessed my funds before to try and start a business, but at no point did he tell me that if I switched to Hansard that I would NOT be able to get my funds and in fact would FORFEIT them! Later I found out that Alex had become sick, and I believe that he purposely pushed me to change my product so he could get a high commission and use this for paying his bills. He didn’t have my interests at heart, but did it for himself. Alex, if you are reading this then karma is out for you. You are sick because you cheated people.
The Scam by Infinity Financial Solutions – Signing away my $$$ ☹
Alex provided paperwork discussing the Hansard product, however he DID NOT explain the section discussing “units” and that I would forfeit a certain percentage of my units if I tried to withdraw money before the end of the term (20 years), and forfeit ALL my units if surrendering early. So, trusting Alex’ advice I switched to Hansard and started making payments into it of USD $1,250 per month.
The Scam Details Start to Come Forward
Unfortunately, after 22 months I had to pause making payments as the project I was working on abruptly finished and I had no income. I was not able to pick up more regular work, and so applied to get a partial payment from the funds I still had with Zurich (as I still had money there before I had switched to Hansard). One can make a withdrawal up to a certain point without incurring penalties. I took this payment so I could pay for my kids’ school fees at the international school here (school fees run into tens of thousands of dollars).
Time went on and still I couldn’t pick up regular work. Another term of school fees came up, as well as my ongoing medical and living expenses, so I applied to Infinity to end my contract with Zurich (surrender) and take the penalty, and also applied to surrender my contract with Hansard. At that time the value of my Hansard contract was 27,500. I expect after ending penalties to get a surrender value of around USD$20,000. Alex was quickly able to give me a surrender value for Zurich, but not for Hansard. Being the trusting person I am, I thought it was just some administration trouble.
However, over time the Zurich money got paid into my account and still I had no information from Alex about the surrender value from my USD$27K+.
The Plot Thickens
I started to get concerned about the lack of information regarding my Hansard product. At this stage I thought that the problem was with Hansard. So, I pushed more on Alex to get the surrender value. Finally, Alex told me that I could not get a surrender value until I made deposits for 24 months, and I had only deposited for 22. I was a bit miffed at having to make another 2 payments, and so before I did that I asked Alex to clarify what my surrender value would be after I had made the payments.
Again, I was left with a lengthy delay in reply from Alex. This was very different to how I had been treated in the past. Finally, after another email (and some weeks) to him Alex replied that even after making another 2 payments I would not get any surrender value!
The Hammer Falls – Shock, Grief and Pain finding out the Infinity Financial Solutions’ Scam
You can imagine my shock and embarrassment. In my greatest time of need for finances to keep sending my kids to school I found out that I had no way of getting the US $27.5K I had invested. I called Alex but he did not answer. I sent an email to his boss Tony Mustafa whom I had met a decade earlier when working in China, and he replied asking when it would be convenient to talk. I replied that I was available anytime and then he went dark and didn’t get back to me!
While I was waiting to hear from Tony I did some quick Googling of the Hansard product that Infinity had pushed on me and was shocked to find it was ranked only about 1 star out of 5 by reviewers. For example, on this review the reviewer noted:
“We like Hansard as a company, but we do not rate the Hansard Vantage Platinum II highly. We have had several clients who have had one come and report they were recommended to take the plans out for longer periods to attract bonus even when the adviser knew that the client wanted the money in 5 years. It is not the fault of Hansard, of course, but the fault of the adviser that wanted more commission from the sale. However, the adviser is selling the idea of the bonus obtained on taking out the plan term for longer when not correctly informing the client that the initial unit period will be longer and the bonus will be lost when accessed early. The salesman promoting this get paid proportionally more money for “selling” longer plans to clients.” (emphasis mine)
Sadly, these reviews had come out after Infinity had pushed the product on me, so they wouldn’t have been up in time to help me. Things were not looking good for me! I looked into the current valuation that Infinity Financial Solutions had obtained for me using their vaunted “Tilney” link, and found that they had lost money over the 2 years of investing it! This during a time when the markets were rising! From 27.5K down to 24.3K.
So much for Tilney’s expertise!
I wrote again to the elusive Tony Mustafa, this time with more urgency explaining that I had put my trust in him, his company, and that I had to support my family and needed my savings. Finally, 12 days later he replied that he had drafted a response to my original email but never sent it as he found my second email a little harsh! Wow. I am supposed to be the customer with my fees funding his lifestyle! I wonder how he would feel if someone had taken 27.5k of his money! Then he said, “I will respond to your email shortly and cover all the concerns you raise.”. To this day I have not heard back from him or anyone from Infinity Financial Solutions.
So, this is where the story ends. I believe in bringing to light those who seek to deceive others, and therefore have listed below the staff of this company. My hope is that anyone researching these people and the dishonest company Infinity Financial Solutions will be brought to this page so that they can avoid being scammed.
I am trying to look on the bright side of this sad experience. At least I found out about this scam while only about 2 years in. It is so fortunate that I didn’t lose 5 years of savings. Still, losing US$27.5k through the bad actions of Infinity Financial Solutions hurts. I would advise anyone looking to do the right thing and save money for the future to NOT trust any financial adviser. They are just too shady. Especially do not use Infinity Financial Solutions, and if you have your money with them then get it out ASAP!