The financial management company Blevins Franks has a network of over twenty offices throughout southern Europe and the Iberian Peninsula and, during the past thirty-seven years, has carved out for itself a sound reputation for helping its clients with wealth management and tax planning advice. However, with the recent retirement of co-founder David Franks, following that of Bill Blevins a few years ago, the company has taken the opportunity both to take stock of its structure and appoint John Stone as the company’s chairman.
I met John Stone on a sunny terrace at the Port Adriano Hotel, where we were both embarrassingly early for the interview. Stone is just what you would expect of a man who is chairman of a respectable financial institution: he is courteous, articulate and, for a man closing in quickly on his 70th birthday, urbane and handsome in a way that befits his age.
The London-born Stone has long experience in wealth management – initially as a senior executive for Norwich Union then, after many years, he set up his own hugely successful company, Luxembourg-based Lombard International Assurance in 1991, selling his company to British “blue-chip” insurer Friends Provident for 124 million pounds sterling. During his time running Lombard Assurance, John Stone formed a good mutually rewarding relationship with Blevins Franks and, when Franks decided to retire, Stone was seen as an ideal “fit” in leading the company forward as chairman of the board. As Blevins Franks has a widespread operational base throughout Europe with its back-office facility situated in Malta, it was the individual office directors who exercised their considerable devolved corporate powers in both approaching and appointing the well-connected and experienced John Stone.
I wondered whether, in these difficult financial times in the eurozone, the core business of Blevins Franks might be negatively affected. “No, quite the contrary – if you appreciate that most of our clients are high-net-worth-individuals (HNWIs), they are looking for legal ways of sheltering their assets from tax and looking to plan in a sensible way any potential inheritance issues in the future.”
With this I was immediately intrigued by this high-net-worth individual acronym! Does this mean, John, that your target clientele is not the average man or woman with a 50,000 euro nest-egg? “Yes that’s right, our expertise is working with wealthy clients and tailoring for them a bespoke planned strategy to make sure that their wealth is properly managed, and their taxation levels legally appropriate. Believe it or not, potentially,
Spain can be a tax haven with good planning and the right advice.”
Clearly, over the years, Blevins Franks has become expert in the ever-changing and sometimes dizzyingly complex tax, wealth and inheritance laws here in Spain; a level of complexity that can confound and confuse the most astute of financial managers. Acting as the devil’s advocate, I put it to Stone that for too many years some wealthy British citizens had relied upon the inefficiency of the Spanish taxation regime to somehow disappear between the cracks of this system, so as to put them in a “win-win” situation. John Stone smiled in recognition at this scenario: “Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but I take your point. The days of bypassing tax systems are well and truly over. I think nowadays that people want to sleep at night and so they look to companies such as Blevins Franks to organize, regulate and manage their financial affairs. As a company that is Financial Services Agency registered (FSA) we are duty-bound to act in a client’s best interests within the law; that’s what we do best.”
So, if I were a “HNWI” and came to you for taxation and financial advice, what would the procedure be? “If you were here in Mallorca, you would probably talk to my colleagues from Blevins Franks and they would prepare for you a detailed personalized report that would set out in detail a planned approach that should minimize your potential tax exposure, whilst staying within Spanish taxation law. We would also look to advise you on sensible ways to protect your wider assets.”
John Stone is also an engagingly honest man; when I asked him if he felt that he could share Blevins Franks’ expertise outside of their traditional British clientele he was remarkably frank. “No, I don’t think so. We understand our own specific market, but in financial management culture and language are extremely important. Personally, I think that the subtleties of our advice and service might be lost if we spread ourselves too thinly in areas where we have no track record.”
In finishing our interview, I asked Stone what was the most important element of his business? “Trust……first, second and third, nothing is more important.”
Blevins Franks Mallorca specialises in giving advice for tax-driven, wealth management investments. […] Blevins Franks Tax & Wealth Management Specialists