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The Naked Investor: Life settlement investment one to consider

By Nicholas Watts

Published 01/10/2007

So the Bank of England and the Government together seem to have settled market nerves and the FTSE 100 has crept back to roughly where it was before all the credit market problems broke loose.

But what this has done for many investors is highlight the problem of short-term volatility and raise the question of whether you should put all your funds into cash, or is there somewhere better you can invest in order to beat cash returns?

There are places where you can get in excess of 6% for your cash, which is not bad and might be OK in the short term.

But if stability returns and rates drop again, the same question will come to the surface.

Allied to this is the age-old problem of market timing, ie, attempting to dive in and out of the market as it rises and falls, which is almost impossible, as gauging when it is next about to move is only guesswork.

The only way that an ordinary investor can cope with all of this is to ensure that their portfolio contains a balance not only of different asset classes, but of asset classes that do not correlate. More easily said than done perhaps.

However, there are products out there that meet the need and one of the less well-known ones is possibly the Life Settlement Fund.

This is the purchase of a life policy from a third party who assigns any future benefit to the purchaser. The purchaser then maintains the premium on the policy and collects the benefits on maturity (ie, on the death of the original policyholder).

Now, we need to be precise here as to the type of life policy concerned. We're talking about whole of life policies and, in most cases, those where the policyholder has an impaired life.

The expression 'impaired life', by the way, simply means someone with a medical condition that shortens their life expectancy.

This secondary market is quite new over here, but in the USA life companies have for years bought up these to offset their liabilities elsewhere in the policy portfolio.

In many cases such dealings are seen as socially responsible because the policyholder will then get their money at a time when they most need it - to pay for medical care or home improvements for example when they might not otherwise have the ready cash to do so.

And, in order to ensure any beneficiaries are kept fully informed, purchasers would normally get an acknowledgement from any such beneficiaries before the deal was completed. It would be normal for several bidders to try for a policy.

One of the main drivers of this business in the USA is the fact that there are many more elderly people holding such policies than would be the norm in Europe.

The fund buying such policies would normally get a medical report on the life expectancy of the policyholder and then make an appropriate offer for the policy.

And because there is no investment content to worry about, it does not then correlate to other asset classes.

The main market for such dealings, as I have said, is in the USA where the number of life policies in force amount to some $$16 trillion. Of this $$200bn would be eligible for such funds. So there is plenty of room for growth.

But what about the potential returns? Although you are not going to make your fortune, a return of 8%-10% is the norm.

More important is the fact that this is very unlikely to fall below 8%.

So for investment portfolios, Self-Invested Personal Pensions and Small Self-Administered Schemes, it could act as a useful balancing asset class.

If you want to know more you can visit

Nicholas Watts is an independent financial adviser with Positive Solutions Financial Services, which is regulated by the Financial Services Authority.

Belfast Telegraph

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