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Acuity Financial & Tax Spring 2020

Tax, finance and investment matters for company directors, owner-managers and private individuals. 

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What will the future look like for you?  Click on the links below to read the full articles. We do hope you find the information within this edition useful.  

Inside this issue:  

2020 1Investments, business and work in the 2020's: Ian Finch and Tricia Halliday provide their thoughts on the markets, doing business and working in the 2020's. Click here to read their insights> 

 

MACO TPL business finance chartTime to start your tax year-end planning: The deferral of the Autumn Budget, originally due on 6 November 2019 will now take place in 11 March 2020, has created several problems. When it comes, as the first UK budget following an election, it could potentially include some unwelcome measures. more> 

 

19796 MACO FINANCIAL ACUITY NEWSLETTER WEB FILES 09Brexit: the extended play - The drama will continue and is likely to spawn multiple spin off shows in 2020 as the UK enters the 11-month transition period. If you've ever wondered what it would've been like to play Bill Murray in Groundhog Day then you may well have an opportunity this year; What could BREXIT look like after the transition? read more> 

 

Tax TargetsNew government, new tax targets?: How will the new government affect your financial planning? December's general election delivered a Conservative government with the sort of majority which consigns the knife-edge parliamentary battles of recent years to the past. So what will the new government do, apart from "get BREXIT done"? read more>

 

Chartered Standard Corp FP Gold RGB 01Chartered Status awarded to MAFS:  We are delighted to announce that MAFS was awarded Corporate Chartered Status in January 2020.  We are proud to be a chartered organisation and look forward to discussing what this means to you at your next annual review meeting. Click to read the article> 

 

Cash FlowReduce debtor days to improve your cash flow: Cash flow is king in any business. Yet it is one of the areas that many businesses struggle to manage. Here are a few tips to help you to reduce your debtor's days. read more> 

 

Investments, business and work in the 2020s

Ian Finch and Tricia Halliday provide their thoughts on the markets, doing business and working in the 2020s.2020 1

The Markets

2019 was a very different year for investors from 2018. Whereas 2018 saw a pattern of losses across all major markets, 2019 was the exact opposite: the red numbers that marked a year of negative performance in 2018 were replaced by black.

The world’s share markets enjoyed strong rises in 2019 (% change):

 

FTSE 100 +12.1%
FTSE All-Share +14.2%
Dow Jones Industrial +22.3%
Standard & Poor’s 500 +28.88%
Nikkei 225 +18.2%
Euro Stoxx 50 +24.8%
Shanghai Composite +22.3%
MSCI Emerging Markets +11.0%

 

Despite all the trauma of Brexit politics during the year, the UK stock market posted double digit returns, as the table shows. Along with other major markets, the UK benefitted from starting at a relatively low level, following a sharp fall in the final quarter of 2018.

A point hidden in the index numbers is the performance of mid-sized UK companies – those in the FTSE 250, which sit below the top tier of FTSE 100. The strength of sterling during the year (up 4% against the US dollar and nearly 6% against the euro) had a greater impact on the multinational members of the FTSE 100 than the more domestically focused FTSE 250 constituents.

The end result was that the FTSE 250 rose by 25%, more than double the increase in the FTSE 100. The good performance of the pound – the opposite of 2018 – also took a slight edge off the returns from overseas markets for sterling-based investors. However, as the performance of the MSCI ACWI shows, in overall terms 2019 still offered greater profits for those who invested overseas.

2020 starts off with a reasonable investment outlook. The UK is now past its era of Brexit wrangles – at least until the EU trade negotiations begin in earnest. Meanwhile the US and China have just about agreed the first stage of a trade deal and interest rates remain at rock bottom levels, with few pundits expecting any move upwards in the year.

Against that backdrop, it may seem odd to suggest investors should consider selling, but as the tax year end nears, it could be worth realising some of those 2019 gains to take advantage of your £12,000 capital gains tax (CGT) exemption and reinvesting the proceeds – even perhaps in the same funds – via an ISA or a pension

Doing business in the 2020’s

As we move into 2020, businesses will have to adapt in a world that places greater emphasis on sustainable business practices. People will want to work for firms that take care of their employees in terms of their physical and mental health.2020 2

Technology will continue to be the key enabler to allow us to work flexibly, remotely and more effectively. It looks like 2020 is set to be a busy year for businesses in the UK and Internationally.

Customers are also becoming more environmentally aware. Companies like Beyond Meat, the maker of plant-based, protein-rich foods or Everlane, which creates clothes from recycled fibres and plastics, are gaining traction. People are trying to reduce their carbon footprint and are making buying decisions on the basis of the environmental credentials of businesses.

As a result, businesses are responding by focusing on their environmental and sustainability policies. Many firms are adapting their CSR activities to include environmental projects in order to help drive the green agenda in local communities. As we move into 2020, this trend is likely to accelerate.

The leading accountancy bodies have also called for company reporting to address progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They are attempting to establish a best practice for corporate reporting on the SDGs to enable more effective and standardised reporting and transparency on climate change, social and other environmental impacts. This would require relevant and material disclosures about the factors that influence long term value creation (or destruction) for the organisation and society, or that have an impact (positive of negative) on the achievement of the SDGs.

On the technology side of things, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) are continuing to advance. The AI industry is growing and businesses have access to more powerful tools in order to create new customer experiences. For example, music-streaming service Spotify uses AI to make the listening experience more personal by creating customised play-lists for each user. See next article.

Younger workers are putting greater emphasis on physical wellbeing and their mental health. Employers will need to adapt in order to attract the next generation of talented employees. Flexible working and wellness programmes are high on the list of priorities for Millennials and Generation Z employees. The businesses that really embrace these new trends will attract the best people.Outlook

Working in the 2020’s

There is a lot of jargon out there around “the future of work”. What does it really mean for businesses? There are a lot of buzzwords around like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, blockchain, remote working, agile working, augmented reality (AR) and various other new concepts.

As technology improves we have new opportunities to automate tasks. If we leverage new technology effectively, it will free us up to focus on other tasks. Understanding the future of work involves understanding how automation will play out and how that will affect the way we work in the years to come.

There are two levels of automation at play. Assisted Intelligence, where systems and technology help us to perform a task. A good example is how GPS helps us to navigate to a destination. Autonomous Intelligence is where the technology takes the task off our hands entirely. For example - a driverless car, which navigates itself to its destination without any input from a human driver.

In any business, some tasks are completed by people and some by machines / technology. The future of work is concerned with the ever-increasing amount of work that needs to be done and the fact that work is becoming more and more complex.

For example, due to increasing levels of regulation, businesses need to comply with increasingly complex rules such as GDPR or changes to legislation. Rather than hire more and more people, which is expensive, businesses need to leverage technology in order to get everything done, while still managing costs.

The future of work is all about machines and technology taking repetitive tasks off our hands so that we are freed up to do the work that machines aren’t good at.

This includes leadership, creativity, innovation and collaboration. In order to make this transition successfully, businesses need to become learning organisations. In a learning organisation, the firm needs to focus on nurturing talent and developing new skillsets in order to create a more successful business.

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Brexit the extended play

The drama will continue and is likely to spawn multiple spin-off shows in 2020 as the UK enters the 11-month transition period. If you’ve ever wondered what it would’ve been like to play Bill Murray in Groundhog Day then you may well have an opportunity this year, especially as we approach the deadline in December.Brexit

There continues to be significant speculation in the media about the potential impacts of Brexit on investment portfolios and the financial services sector in general. We expect this to be ramped up even further as the Brexit trade negotiations begin in earnest during the 11-month transition period which will begin after the UK formally leaves the EU on 31 January 2020 with a withdrawal deal.

What could Brexit look like after the transition? There are three possible Brexit outcomes:

1.   A UK-EU trade deal comes into force.

2.  The UK exits transition with no EU trade deal.

3.  The transition period is extended while negotiations continue.

At the time of writing, it looks like option 3 will be unlikely as MPs backed Prime Minister Boris Johnston’s bill in December to leave the UK on 31 January 2020, which also included a clause banning an extension to the transition period beyond December 2020.

So, will it be option 1 or option 2? A lot will depend on the willingness and goodwill on both sides to reach an outcome that will be suitable for all of the parties involved. Given what we have witnessed over the past three years your guess will be as good as mine as to how this will play out. Irrespective of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, our advice will remain consistent. Don’t try and second-guess the markets and don’t let short term market volatility distract you from an asset allocated, diversified investment strategy.

As we have never been through this type of event before in the UK, nobody knows exactly how it will unfold and what the impacts will be for equities, inflation, interest rates, trade relations etc. despite what some are confidently stating in the media. There is no past performance, there are no precedents and the future is impossible to predict.

The political turmoil, noise and confusion surrounding Brexit may well be putting you off making decisions, or wondering whether there is something you can do now to weather a potential storm, or a potential slump in the markets.

But before you go too far down this path, there are some key things to remember. Keep in mind the long term time frame. We don’t doubt the resilience of UK companies and predict that they will navigate Brexit successfully and will continue to look for ways to make money. Over the long term the stock market has grown even with short-term setbacks – though there are never any guarantees and past performance is not a guide to the future.19796 MACO FINANCIAL ACUITY NEWSLETTER WEB FILES 21

It is nigh on impossible to second-guess when is the best time to enter or exit the market, as the speed at which markets react to news, good and bad, means that stock prices have already absorbed the information. With any long-term investment strategy, having a mix of investments is key. At any point, there’ll be certain sectors or regions that are doing better than others. A portfolio moving in different directions is actually a good thing. It shows that you aren’t exposed to all the same risks.

Investors with diversified portfolios, who stay in the market, have historically and consistently experienced steady gains over time. Perhaps the most important lesson from the past 30 years of stock market volatility is that heavy falls in markets end up being little more than a stumble in the market’s long term rise. Although this cannot always guaranteed.

So, ignore the noise and daily market speculation and movements, and focus on the long term. It’s also important to remember that volatility also presents buying opportunities. Regular reviews provide the opportunity for ongoing discussion and assessment of appetite for investment risk, investment time horizon and investment goals.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch if there are any matters or concerns that you would like to discuss at this time. Rest assured, we will be keeping a watching brief and will be issuing further communications on our website and by contacting you directly as and when. 

Time to start your year-end tax planning

The deferral of the Autumn Budget, originally due on 6 November 2019 will now take place in 11 March 2020, has created several problems.

It meant that the UK political parties went into the election with just a government sanctioned economic forecast produced back in March 2019 alongside Mr Hammond’s Spring Statement. Plenty had changed in the intervening eight months.19796 MACO FINANCIAL ACUITY NEWSLETTER WEB FILES 16

The UK Budget delay has also had a serious knock-on impact on Scotland’s local authorities who are required to set their budgets and council tax rates by 11 March, as well as Scottish Government departments, public bodies and many third sector organisations who won’t know what they can expect to receive until the Scottish budget is published. Scottish Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay has announced that he will publish the Scottish budget on 6 February 2020 despite the uncertainty surrounding what the Scottish block grant will be for the financial year ahead.

When it comes, as the first UK Budget following an election, it could potentially include some unwelcome measures. History (and the Institute for Fiscal Studies) show that Chancellors of all hues prefer to start off with the financial ‘medicine’ and save the sweeteners until nearer the next visit to the polls. It therefore makes sense to begin thinking about some tax year end planning before the (Winter, now Spring) Budget arrives. Here are some things to consider:

Pension contributions: the complex rules on tax relief for pension contributions forced the previous government into last-minute sticking plaster action to prevent NHS consultants refusing to work overtime. Whatever long-term solution is eventually found, it seems improbable that it will involve granting more tax relief. That might mean restricting relief to a flat rate an idea that has been regularly floated. If you are a higher rate taxpayer, such a change would not be good news.

Capital gains tax: the relative tax treatment of capital gains and income has been highlighted by several parties during the election camp align. The current regime, with an annual exemption of £12,000 and a maximum tax rate of just 20% (other than for residential property and carried interest) is generous. If you have not yet used your 2019/20 annual exemption, doing so sooner rather than later seems a sensible course of action.

ISAs: a few years ago there was talk of capping ISA contributions. With ISAs now costing over £3bn in lost income tax according to the latest HMRC figures, such Treasury brainstorming could reappear. Again, if you have not topped up your 2019/20 contributions, now is the time to act.

Corporation Tax: is scheduled to reduce from 19% to 17% from 1 April 2020. However, we have good reason to believe that this w ill delayed in the Budget. In a speech to the CBI on 18 November Boris Johnson announced that, if elected, the Conservative Party would keep the rate at 19% to provide an extra £6 billion for the NHS.

For more details on these or any other tax year end actions, please talk to us as soon as possible, and definitely before that next UK Budget.

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New government, new tax targets?

How will the new government affect your financial planning?

December’s general election delivered a Conservative government with the sort of majority which consigns the knife-edge parliamentary battles of recent years to the past. So what will the new government do, apart from “get Brexit done”?Tax Targets

A look at the Conservative manifesto, easily the shortest of the three main parties, gives some limited clues.

Income tax

There was a promise of no increases to income tax rates – although it is worth remembering that this does not extend to us in Scotland, nor to Wales, which can both set their own rates. While Boris Johnson had talked about an £80,000 higher rate threshold during his campaign to become party leader, this idea did not reach the manifesto.

National Insurance Contributions (NICs)

A no rate increase promise also applies to NICs, however, this may prove difficult to square with the abolition of class 2 self-employed contributions, which has been regularly deferred.

The manifesto also promised an increase in the national insurance threshold to £9,500 in 2020/21 from the 2019/20 level of £8,632. That is worth a theoretical maximum saving of £104 a year for an employee (and £78 for the self-employed).

The true saving is smaller, as the threshold would have risen to £8,788 through normal inflation linking. The manifesto expressed an ‘ultimate ambition’ – with no date specified – to raise the threshold to £12,500 (matching the current personal income tax allowance).

Social care

After the problems Boris Johnson’s predecessor encountered on this topic during her election campaign, the manifesto (and Queen’s Speech) gave few clues beyond a commitment to build a cross-party consensus to solve the problem of funding social care. One condition of that solution would be that nobody needing care should be forced to sell their home to pay for it.

The change in the NICs threshold represents over two-thirds of the tax cuts promised in the manifesto over the next four tax years.

The financial picture should be made clearer in March, when the long-overdue Autumn Budget will now be delivered. In the meantime, if you want to see your tax bill fall, the solution looks to be in your own.

Call you back – new HMRC guidance on taxing mobiles

Iain Stirling and Kelly Sneddon provide a few pointers for employers and employees on the taxing of mobiles and other devices

If you’ve received a new mobile phone from your employer for the New Year, new guidance from HMRC on the taxation of the device may be useful.Taxing Mobiles

As increasing numbers of employees are using phones provided by their workplace, differentiating between business and personal use can become tricky. Where more than one device is used, or online calls are made on different devices, the picture can be even murkier. HMRC has now published some additional clarification.

The primary consideration is that the phone benefit cannot be converted into money by the employee. So, there is no tax charge on a mobile given to an employee or on any line rental. The cost of personal calls made on that paid by the employer is also tax free. Two connections to one mobile number for example from another SIM card, is regarded as one phone.

A second phone, with its own number, however, does become chargeable. Where a phone is given to a relative or other member of an employee’s household, regardless of whether the employee has a company phone themselves, there is then a tax charge, unless the relative is also an employee of the same employer.

There is also a tax charge where an employer reimburses an employee for using their own phone for business calls. From the point of view of minimising tax across the board, it is already inadvisable for an employer to directly settle an employee’s personal phone contract directly, which results in a tax to the employee and national insurance implications for the employer.MACO TPL individual purple selfies

Where multiple phones are involved, but a clear distinction is made between use for business and for private calls, then there is no tax charge. Oddly, where two phones are provided for mixed use, only one of them needs to be chargeable, and employer and employee just need to agree which one that is.

Primary purpose

HMRC’s guidance is also trying to keep up with an increasing number of devices and apps able to help with making calls, including laptops and tablets. Where the main purpose of a device is to make calls, regardless of what other functions it may have, it is classed as a phone for tax purposes.

However, if you have a tablet with a SIM card that can make calls, its primary purpose is not regarded as phoning, so there is no charge on it. With the range of sizes and applications across all such devices increasing all the time, these distinctions may become increasingly difficult to maintain.

If you’re an employer, before providing your employees with any mobile phones, it’s worth making sure that you are doing so in the most tax-efficient way. And if you’re an employee, check with your employer for any liabilities.


MTD for VAT: the soft landing period ends

For VAT periods starting on or after 1 April 2020 (or 1 October 2020 for deferred businesses) your accounting systems must use digital links for any transfer or exchange of data between software programs, products or applications used as functional compatible software.

That is the end of the current 12 month “soft landing” extension.MTD

Businesses with complex or legacy IT systems may require a longer period to put digital links in place. These businesses can apply to HMRC for additional time to put the required digital links in place. If your business qualifies then the additional time will be granted as a specific direction from HMRC.

If, for example, your company purchases another business it may take additional time to digitally link different software applications or packages to meet the MTD legal obligations.

HMRC will consider an application to extend the digital link deadline longer than the “soft landing” period. That would mean the businesses would continue to be able to “cut and paste” during the extension period.

IR35: the potential tax changes

From 6 April 2020, the UK government is planning to introduce a change to the legislation transferring the responsibility for assessment of individuals working under personal services company’s (IR35), to the company the work is performed for.

If you are contractor you will be aware of the UK government legislation introduced in 2000, known as IR35, which applies a set of rules when determining the level of income tax and national insurance an individual working as a contractor is required to pay. The current legislation requires an individual to conduct a self-assessment to determine whether deductions should be made to their fees for income tax and national insurance.

The new IR35 rules on how contractors and freelancers are viewed by HMRC could leave many facing larger tax bills. Many workers are also concerned that businesses will find the changes to off-payroll working rules too complicated and they will suffer as a result.

Will the changes affect you?

For contractors unsure whether they fall inside IR35, the key is how flexible their position is.forecasting

If you carry out work for a fixed fee, receive payment at the end of a project and generally work for a number of different clients (often at the same time), and you have control over how, when and where you work, you are unlikely to be affected by these proposed changes.

However, if your working hours are decided by someone else and you can be told what tasks you’ve to do, where you’ve to carry them out and how you should go about the work, then you may well fall under the disguised employee banner, and you could be considered as being inside IR35.

The proposed changes to IR35 rules will only apply to larger companies in the private sector. Businesses that meet at least two of the following criteria are unaffected by the changes:

1.   turnover < £10.2m a year

2.   balance sheet assets < £51m

3.   businesses with less than 50 employees.

For contractors doing work with smaller companies, the rules remain the same – it is up to the individual to decide whether they fall under IR35.

Further guidance

HMRC is due to issue guidance on IR35 shortly and we will publish further updates on our website when they become available.

If you are unsure about your position then please get in touch with us. 

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Reduce debtor days to improve cash flow

Cash flow is king in any business. Yet cash flow is one of the areas that many businesses struggle to manage.

Customers are reluctant to part with their money, even if it's to pay for your goods or services. As such, it can take a while for them to pay their invoices.Cash Flow

While longer debtor days might not be a big issue for huge international corporations, for the rest of us, it can be a very real source of stress. You need your customers to pay you as quickly as possible so you can continue to run your business, so it's easy to find yourself working extra hours, chasing up late-paying clients. Here are a few tips to help you to reduce your debtor’s days.

Be clear and concise

When creating an invoice, think about your messaging. Is the due date easy to see on the page, does your invoice state exactly how much payment is required and have you clearly outlined the various payment options that you accept (such as bank transfers, cash, cheque, etc)? Options such as “pay now”, “pay by installments” or “pay on the due date” should be clearly set out.

Offer incentives

Sometimes offering a small discount can motivate your clients to pay on time. Offering say, 5% off the total bill for clients who pay within 2 weeks of the invoice date help a business to get cash in quicker. Setting this type of incentive out at the beginning of a client relationship can go down well as clients can see the early payment discount as a “value add”.

Charge fees for late payment

Incentivise customers to pay you on time by charging a fee for late payments. If you communicate the terms and conditions around late fees clearly, clients will not be surprised if they areSoftware charged for late payment.

If you are going to charge clients for late payment, it is usually effective to give some sort of warning. It may be helpful to send clients an email saying that “payment is due in 10 days time and if it isn’t received, a late payment fee will be applied.” This gives the client an opportunity to respond.

Embrace technology

There are a vast array of systems, and add-on applications for your cloud accounting software, available to help businesses to track invoices, monitor payments and manage clients who have missed payment deadlines. With an automated accounts receivable system, you can keep track of the status of each invoice, who has paid and what is outstanding. You can set up automatic reminders at crucial moments in the payment cycle and significantly reduce your administration time.

By implementing the above strategies, you can reduce debtor days in your business and ensure that you are.

Venture Capital Trusts continue to attract investors

The latest statistics from HMRC show the inflows to venture capital trusts (VCTs) have more than doubled since 2009/10.

At the end of last year, HMRC published details of how much money was raised by VCTs in 2018/19. At £716m, the figure was the highest since 2005/06, when a temporarily higher rate of tax relief was on offer.Trees growth

The increased popularity of VCTs in recent years is at least partly due to the restrictions on pensions, such as the tapered annual allowance rules. The tightened pension limits have made pension contributions tax in- efficient for some high (and not so high) earners.

In contrast, VCTs offer:

  • A 30% tax credit on investments of up to £200,000 per tax year. This is clawed back if the VCT shares are sold within five years;
  • All dividends are free of personal tax, provided the original investment was made within the £200,000 per tax year limit; and
  • No capital gains tax on any gains (but no relief for losses, either).

While VCTs are being used as a pension alternative to obtain tax relief, in investment terms VCTs are very different. Your choice of pension investments is almost limitless and can be as high risk or secure as you wish. In contrast, a narrow investment choice and high risk are both inbuilt to VCTs.

At least 80% of the investments underlying VCTs must be in relatively young, small companies that are not listed (other than on the AIM market). Over the years, successive Chancellors have ratcheted up the risk element by excluding a wide variety of businesses, from market gardens to wind farms.

The latest change to VCT investment rules took effect in April 2018 and introduced a specific ‘risk to capital’ requirement to prevent ‘safe’ investments being made.

This high-risk focus makes it all the more important to take advice when investing in VCTs.

With the Budget now in March, the year end season for VCT capital raising is well underway. Some VCTs have already closed their issues for the year, so if you wish to invest in VCTs to cut your 2019/20 tax bill, the sooner you act, the better.

LISA left standing

The Lifetime ISA is now on its own as the ISA option for first time buyers.Help to Buy

At the start of December 2019, the Help-to-Buy ISA was withdrawn for new investments. Its disappearance means that the Lifetime ISA (LISA) is now the only ISA plan that offers incentives for those savings towards their first home.

However, anyone who started a Help-to-Buy ISA before 1 December can continue to contribute up to £200 a month and has until 1 December 2030 to claim their Help-to-Buy bonus.

The LISA was launched in April 2017 and is rather different from the traditional ISA:

  • It can only be taken out by somebody aged between 18 and 39, with contributions payable up to age 50.
  • The maximum investment is £4,000 per tax year (which counts towards the £20,000 overall ISA limit).
  • There is a 25% government bonus payable on any contribution, meaning a maximum of £1,000 is added if the £4,000 annual limit is met.
  • Withdrawals can be made penalty-free at any time after 12 months if the proceeds are used to buy the investor’s first home and that home costs no more than £450,000.
  • Withdrawals are also penalty free from age 60 onwards.
  • Any other withdrawals (other than on terminal illness) are subject to a penalty of 25% of the amount withdrawn.

The withdrawal penalty is a controversial feature because it claws back more than just the government bonus. A recent Freedom of Information request revealed that HMRC had collected over £9m in penalties from LISA encashments between April 2018 and November 2019.

With the Help to Buy ISA (which had no penalties) gone, there is a risk that more young savers will end up paying LISA penalties. It is a reminder that taking advice is a wise precaution, even for what look like simple savings plans.

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 Martin Aitken Financial Services:  Chartered Financial Planners 

We are delighted to announce that MAFS was awarded Corporate Chartered status in January 2020.300x250 FP2

Every firm that holds Chartered status adheres to an ethical code that underpins broader commitments to professional values. These include putting customers’ interests first, investing in ongoing development of their people’s technical skills and knowledge, and supporting wider initiatives that benefit society as well as the growth of the profession.

The title Chartered Financial Planners is awarded to companies that make a public declaration of their commitment to professional standards. It is granted by the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII), the professional body for personal finance, dedicated to building trust in the insurance and financial planning profession.

But what does this mean and why is working with a chartered financial planner better for our clients? >read more on MAFS website. 

 

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