Intrepid Investors

You’ve already invested and the ISA’s sorted. You know your emerging markets from your bonds. That said there’s always scope for a few cunning tax tips and an investment sense check. When it comes to money even old dogs can learn new tricks. Read on for fund picks, a pensions MOT and ISA ideas.

*Dodgy video quality disclaimer – this is a new tribe. Better video on its way!*

Calling all gardeners!

If you need a relaxing interlude before plunging headlong into the waves of global equity markets, why not have a listen to this podcast which we made for M&G Investments. We capture the run-up to Chelsea and interview star designer Sarah Price in this first episode, which brings tips and insights from inside a polytunnel for all gardeners and enthusiasts.

OK Intrepid Investors 3

1ISA MOT: 10 commandments for investors

ISA MOT- 10 commandments for investors

So you have an ISA. You have invested. You know the deal with funds versus shares. And you know that the Daily Mail shrieking market meltdown could actually be a smart time to buy in.

Nonetheless it’s always a good idea to set aside 15 minutes to give your ISAs the once-over. So here’s a few pointers to chew over.

Have your needs changed? Are the funds you have still OK? Are you well diversified? 

Things to keep track of

  • Have you got a 'home bias'?
  • Have you got too many funds?
  • Are you paying too much?
  • Are you using ISA allowances?

Our needs are always changing

Perhaps you have inherited some money. Changed jobs and have a different income? Changed tax brackets? Or maybe there are some dependants on the scene?

Commandment 1: Review your position on ‘safe’ versus punchy

How are you feeling about the world? Chances are, you may not feel like taking a risk on Bitcoin when you’re a few months into new parenthood, or if your company is going through a rough patch. You may just feel like you’re getting on a bit and wealth preservation is more important than capital growth. Your personal circumstances will influence your investments, including the amount you hold in riskier assets, such as the stockmarket.

The only time we really lose money in the stock markets is when we are forced to sell. Have you got three months’ income in easy access cash? And would you be OK if stock markets took a tumble? If so, time to add a bit of risk to your portfolio and aim for higher returns.

Commandment 2: Income versus growth

Growth may be appropriate when you are young and thrusting (oooof), but if you want to take a step back in your career, work part-time or change jobs, it might be time to shift your portfolio to create an income stream. This is easily done but may necessitate a greater focus on areas such as global and UK equity income, or higher-yielding bonds. Some top UK equity income funds pay about 3% - 4% income a year – look at the fund shortlists on leading platforms such as Hargreaves Lansdown or check out Trustnet Direct for ideas.

Commandment 3: Do you have the time?

This one needs you to be really honest. Do you have the time to look after your portfolio? Do you follow markets? Do you rebalance every year to keep a well-diversified portfolio? If so, great! If not, these days you can buy a passive multi-asset fund as a very low-cost (about 0.2%) and this will give you access to a diversified portfolio of global assets which a nerd continually tweaks on your behalf. I tend to put half of my savings into one of these. It’s the more sensible but boring bit of my portfolio. Saves me from myself!

Commandment 4: Diversification

Take another honest look. How much of your portfolio is in the UK? Probably more than you would have if you lived in Germany or the US. This is known as home bias. It’s OK if this is on purpose and you are very bullish on Britannia. If not, and it’s just because you know the brand names, then this is ‘home bias’. It’s why I had 40% in Australian equities in my early portfolio when I lived there as a young pup. Bonkers. There are lots of great global funds which give you access to brands and markets from across the world.

Have your funds changed?

Commandment 5: Spot your dogs

Is your fund rubbish? Whether it was great and is now rubbish or has always been rubbish and you just don’t want to admit you made a mistake, you should check. In this respect, Tilney Bestinvest’s ‘spot the dog’ guide – which identified serial underperforming funds that probably should be avoided or jettisoned – can be helpful.

Judging when to sell is tricky. Selling because the numbers look bad over a year is quite often silly. You’re guaranteed to spend money on transaction fees, making the platforms richer and ensuring that you’re always playing catch-up.

But if it’s a turkey and the majority analyst opinion is that it’s a turkey then it might be time to sell. I suggest looking at about three well-known research houses or investment platforms to see if there is a consensus view from the number crunchers. Try Charles Stanley Direct, Hargreaves Lansdown, Interactive Investor, The Share Centre and Morningstar as a few options.

Commandment 6: Is your fund earning its crust?

Another thing worth checking is that if you are paying active fees that you’re genuinely getting active performance. Looking for funds with a high ‘active share’ – it should be on their factsheet:

active share example

This means they aren’t charging you a big fee for brain power and then playing chicken, hedging their bets and just doing what everyone else is doing. We like Nick Train at Lindsell Train for making calls and putting his money where his mouth is. Terry Smith at Fundsmith is another who holds very few stocks in his funds – usually less than 30. Both of these are available through Hargreaves Lansdown.

Arguably the active share % could be called the Cojones-O-Meter. (was that cheap!?)

Commandment 7: Are your funds getting larger?

It is a sad fact of life that the investment industry tends to incentivise fund managers to grow larger and larger funds, but it can lead to a drop-off in performance. It even has a name - ‘asset bloat’ – truly, the gluten of investment funds. If your fund is pushing £1bn, see if there might be a better alternative. There may not be and there are plenty of good funds of this size, but it’s worth a review nevertheless.

General Maintenance

Commandment 8: A question of balance

It's easy to fall in love with those investments that have done well for you. If you’ve made a load of cash in Bitcoin, it’s easy to think that will go on forever. It probably won’t, so it worth rebalancing your portfolios every now and then to stop you having too much in a handful of holdings that have done well in the past. It is worth aiming to hold a balance of sectors, geographic regions and market capitalisations.

My uncle holds an Alaskan mining company and tells me that it is up and down with the news which veers from dismal to glee. This barmy share has more than doubled in value. I tell him he should sell half, take his original investment off the table, and then the rest of this gambling exercise is just potential upside. He doesn’t listen but at least I have bossed him into having more than 90% of his money in sensible stuff!

Commandment 9: Watch your tax wrappers

It is easy to end up with odd investments all over the place. The investment trust saving scheme here, the platform experiment there, a bit in robo and so on. This can mean you are not using your ISA and pension allowances, but have ‘unwrapped’ income, on which you are paying tax. It’s worth sorting this out by transferring investments into a tax structure.

Read up on what is crazily called Bed and ISA or Bed and SIPP. I kid you not. You can ask some platforms to transfer shares or funds into an ISA so it becomes that year’s ISA contribution. It quarantines these investments from future tax. Also good if you have the spare money and can transfer investments into the tax beneficial pension environment.

Commandment 10: Check for overlaps

ISA portfolios are often made of up of a whole host of funds and trusts, many of which may invest in the same stocks. This means you can end up with large weightings in one or two stocks or sectors. This isn’t a great idea from a portfolio diversification point of view even if you really love those companies. Most of the trading platforms allow you to ‘look through’ your portfolio to the weightings in the US, Europe and so on. It will also tell you how much you have in any one company or sector. Hargreaves Lansdown, for example, has a ‘portfolio analysis’ tab and ‘x-ray’ analysis.

Bonus Commandment: You hold how many funds?

(OK, I’m sorry, this is point number 11 but I didn’t want to let the truth ruin a headline.)

I have spoken to people who get so anxious about picking ‘the wrong horse’ that they have more than 50 funds. Completely mad and a good way to unravel any good work that a fund manager might do.

As a rule of thumb I think 8 – 16 is sensible depending on the size of your portfolios. If you’re holding much more than that, you’re probably over-diversified and won’t be getting the benefit from the active managers you hold. If this is the case, consider trimming back to a more focused portfolio. Remember the tax implications of selling outside of an ISA or SIPP.

Go forth

PHEW! At this point you’re probably ready for a glass of vino and some bad telly. Well done. Job done for another 6 months! As a final note, I do love this quote from George Soros:

“Good investing should be boring.”

His point was that if you enjoy it, you’re probably not very good at it. i.e resist the urge to endlessly tinker for the sake of it!

Research investment providers here



The 10 (+1) Commandments

  • 3 months' income in cash?
  • Do you need income?
  • Do you have the time for this!?
  • Is there a home bias?
  • Do you have some rubbish!?
  • Is active actually active?
  • Are your funds too fat?
  • Are you spread around?
  • 'Bed and ISA' !?
  • Overweight one area?
  • More than 8-16 funds.....?

2Funds: Our Top Picks

We asked independent fund research house Square Mile to bring you a few suggestions of decent funds which all specialise in different sectors and geographies.  As always, what’s happened in the past cannot be taken to mean that the same performance is a given in the future – there are no guarantees and no-one has a crystal ball. And as you Intrepid Investors know, investing carries the risk of capital loss. OK. Compliance over - let's get on with it! 

All about funds

  • Typically hold between 25 and 75 investments
  • Active funds have typical annual charges of about 0.75%
  • Good way to spread your bets around

Worldwide Share Funds

Standard Life Investments Global Smaller Companies - “Looking for future leaders”

This fund looks to invest in a collection of smaller sized firms from across the globe which it thinks will go up in value over time. The fund manager is trying to pick quality, growing companies that have the ability, or potential, to be future leaders in their fields. Ultimately, Square Mile would expect the fund’s bias for high quality and growing firms to add value for investors over the long-term and help minimise losses when investor sentiment turns sour; though there will undoubtedly be times when it struggles for example, when its investment style falls out of favour, and bigger companies have their day in the sun.

Standard Life Performance

Stewart Investors Worldwide Sustainability - “Sustainable global growth”

The investment strategy seeks to generate long-term growth through a portfolio of global shares. The team search the globe looking to invest in only the highest quality companies with capable management teams and strong financial characteristics. Furthermore, the company itself has a long-held belief in the responsible stewardship of capital. In practice, this means that the integrity of those running the companies that they invest in must be of the highest order. An attractive choice for the long-term investor who is seeking a global portfolio of quality businesses that are ideally positioned to contribute to, and benefit from, sustainable global development.

Stewart investors performance

British Share Funds

Liontrust Special Situations - “Steady Eddy”

This fund is managed using a very well-considered and defined investment process that steers the managers towards steady businesses that are gradually growing and generating high levels of cash. The preference is for companies that have a clear competitive advantage. The team is fully prepared to sell those companies that lose their advantage or fail to translate it into superior returns.

Whilst this is not designed as an income paying strategy per se, the companies within the portfolio tend to generate a high level of dividend growth over time as shareholders participate in the companies' success. It is important to note that the fund tends to avoid companies in certain parts of the market, for example those associated with mining, and utilities. Therefore, the fund could underperform the broader FTSE All Share index if these types of companies perform well.

Liontrust performance

Threadneedle UK - “Blue chip Brits”

The bulk of this fund tends to be invested in well run blue chip UK companies that have strong franchises, barriers that deter potential competitors and are profitable. These types of companies should prove reliable and attractive holdings for investors over the longer term.

It is run by Chris Kinder, who is a conviction led manager who forms his investment views with a deep level of research. He’s not afraid to go against the herd. Mr Kinder is a thoughtful and frank person and is plainly driven to continue the success of this strategy.

Given this fund's clear investment philosophy and process, the support network behind Mr Kinder, his investment experience and passion to succeed, Square Mile consider this an excellent strategy to gain exposure to the larger end of the UK market



Unicorn Income - “Mid-sized income”

With Simon Moon and Fraser Mackersie at the helm, this fund is run by a pair of managers who appear to have formed a strong working relationship with an acute focus on the needs of their investors. Their process has been designed to highlight higher quality companies that are committed to paying and delivering sustainable dividends.

The fund has a natural bias to small and medium sized companies and as a result it can and does look very different from a large number of competitor strategies - many of which invest in large, blue chip companies, especially from an income perspective. This could result in a more volatile return profile, particularly when viewed against the FTSE All Share, for example.

Overall, Square Mile feel this strategy should appeal to investors who are keen to diversify their UK equity income streams away from the market's more significant distributors, but are prepared to accept some additional volatility over shorter time frames.

 unicorn performance

Jupiter Distribution - “A smoother path”

Square Mile believe this fund may have some appeal for the more risk averse investor.

This fund has two core chunks – one made up of shares and one made up of bonds. These are blended and balanced to produce the final outcome.  The bond part of the fund invests in the debt of reliable businesses which have sensible longer-term strategies and where the manager feels comfortable holding each issue until its maturity. On the shares side, the emphasis is on higher quality dividend paying companies.

Jupiter performance


Polar Capital Technology – “long-term tech taste”

The Polar Capital Global Technology fund is managed by experienced investors who are skilled in identifying changing industry trends and the companies that are poised to benefit as a result. Square Mile believe this is an attractive fund for long term investors who are looking for exposure to rapidly growing technology companies. The managers have a long investment horizon and this is reflected in the fund’s objective which is to outperform the Dow Jones World Technology index over a period of five to seven years. This fund should only considered by investors who are prepared to hold this strategy for a least this timeframe.

The fund has a performance fee in addition to the annual management charge, the managers receive a 10% share of any performance that is ahead of the fund's benchmark. In principle, Square Mile are not against such fees since they arguably greater align the managers interests with those of the fund's investors. This will increase costs for investors, but Square Mile think it is a price worth paying for a strategy such as this.

Polar performance

Bonds or Fixed Income

JP Morgan Unconstrained Bond - “Cautious pick ‘n’ mix”

This is a solid bond fund that can invest across a range of fixed income securities, run by an experienced team of investors. The fund is very much managed with a defensive mindset and therefore chunky losses and turbulence should be limited. Historically this has indeed been the case, and other than some minor volatility, the fund’s return profile has been remarkably smooth.

Square Mile believe this fund is likely to be suitable for investors who wish to gain exposure to fixed income markets in a risk-controlled manner, with a strong focus on capital protection.

JPM performance

Henderson Preference & Bond - “Income generating” 

The managers of this fund are experienced investors who work very well as a team and have proven themselves adept at managing macroeconomic, market and security specific risks over a range of market conditions.

The strategy has a specific focus on income, with the managers seeking to achieve a level of income which is high but, at the same time, consistent with the preservation of investors' capital.

The fund tends to have a bias to corporate bonds in order to meet its income objective and is therefore likely to perform strongly when these markets are rising. However, this can be at the expense of more variable performance in falling markets. Overall, Square Mile believe this fund may be suitable for investors seeking a high but sustainable level of income, with a focus on capital preservation over the course of a market cycle, but who are prepared to accept some degree of volatility, particularly over the shorter time frames.

Henderson performance

 Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.



Square Mile like:

  • Standard Life Investments Global Smaller Companies
  • Stewart Investors Worldwide Sustainability
  • Liontrust Special Situations
  • Threadneedle UK
  • Unicorn Income
  • Jupiter Distribution
  • Polar Capital Technology
  • JPM Unconstrained Bond
  • Henderson Preference & Bond

3Pension MOT: 4 Stages

Even the most clued-up investor usually has some pensions tidying up to do. The average person apparently has six or more jobs during their lifetime. They may have a pension from each of them, plus personal pensions held on the side.

Have you got a chaotic bunch of half-remembered pensions stuffed in a drawer somewhere? Or, worse, as a distant memory? This can make it difficult to know what you’ve got and whether it’s invested appropriately. Are you really making the most of the available tax relief? In fact – do you know what you’ve got? Time to get the pensions marigolds on.

Sort your pension

  • Full new State Pension about £160 a week
  • Workplace pensions now 5% of 'qualifying earnings'
  • Divide total pension by 20 for annual income estimate

Stage 1: How much have you got?

What's in the sock drawer?

This means turning out that drawer, leafing through ancient correspondence and working out where you have pensions. Go back through every place you’ve ever worked and try and remember if you had a pension as part of your employee benefits. Pension schemes of which you’ve been a member should be sending you a statement each year but they may well not know how to find you.

Tip: If you’ve moved and they’ve lost you, don’t panic. There is a dedicated government service to help you track down ancient pensions - https://www.pensiontracingservice.com/. You can also approach the pension provider or your old employer if you’re no longer getting statements. It’s worth drafting up a generic letter and sending it to old employers – when did you work at the company and how can you trace your pension?

Once you have waded through the 12 pages of disclaimers and actuarial gobbledygook, there should be an estimate of how much income your pension stash might get you in retirement. Equally, you can go into one of the many online pension calculators to get an idea – try Hargreaves Lansdown, the Money Advice Service or Which.

How generous is your company?

Still working? Most of us now get a pension from the boss by law. The minimum payments this year are 2% from the company and 3% from you. If you work for a bigger company, it's always worth checking if they will match any additional contributions from you - this is money for jam. 

Get an estimate of your state pension

Your state pension is valuable, but you only get it if you’ve made enough National Insurance contributions. A State Pension statement will give you an estimate of how much State Pension you might get, based on your National Insurance contribution records to date.

Tip: The full new State Pension is about £160 a week.  You need to have 35 years of National Insurance payments to get this. Less than 10 years and you get nada. Here’s a rule of thumb – multiply the years you have worked by £4.70 for a rough weekly estimate.

You can also top it up if you don’t feel you’ll have enough. It will also help you understand how any future National Insurance contributions might increase the amounts shown. We can't explain it here as you’ll all lose the will to live (not easy!) but you can check it all here: https://www.gov.uk/check-state-pension

What have you got in any personal pensions or ISAs?

Tip: As another very rough rule of thumb, take the balance you have in any personal pensions and divide this sum by 20. Some say 25. This gives you an indicator of how much you might get each year in retirement. So – for example - £100,000 in a private pension could translate into an annual income from that pension stash of about £5,000.

If the combination of your personal, employer and state pension doesn’t look like it’s going to be enough, acting earlier will help. Up your annual contributions, or put more into your Isa.

Tip: Every time you get a pay rise, set up a direct debit into a pension or ISA and up the monthly amount by a small %. It’s the ‘pay yourself first’ idea. You cant miss what you’ve never had….!?

Stage 2: Sort out the admin

Set aside an hour once a weekend for pensions admin. Yay! With a bottle of wine in the fridge as a reward.

It is tough to work out if you’re invested in the right thing if you don’t have all your pensions in one place. Consolidation can be a good option if you’ve built up a number of pension pots during your working life. You may also get cheaper % fees from pension providers with a larger pot. Combining them is a bit of an administrative hassle, but it’s not super-difficult.

Be warned, your pension provider may charge you, so before you instruct any moves do phone them (boring, sorry) and ask them to walk you through any applicable exit fees. Some larger schemes are now so low cost than frankly it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.

Also if you have an old defined benefit or final salary scheme be very careful about moving this. Anything with the word ‘guarantees’ in the paperwork is probably quite valuable and not worth cashing in without understanding fully what you’re doing.

Tip: You can now consolidate your pensions into one account managed online. These guys want your business and so get them to do all the nasty consolidation paperwork for you. Just send them a note with all your existing pensions and tell them to transfer them over.  Have a look at our Best Buys pages for what we think about pensions providers – and what other customers think.

Stage 3: Check you’re invested in the right investments

The temptation is to think that because it’s for your pension it needs to be in ‘safe’ assets. However, most advisers suggest that those with a way to go before they retire should be prepared to embrace ‘riskier’ investments – such as the stock market - because they have time to recover from any market shocks. They also need to protect themselves against inflation and historically the stock market has been a better way to do this.

Put simply, if you have 20 years to go ‘till retirement then really having most or all of your money in shares makes sense. Of course there are risks involved but there’s also little point in going backwards in cash for 20 years.

Those approaching retirement may also be more interesting in keeping what they’ve got, rather than trying to grow it. At that point, lower risk investments – bonds, cash – make sense.

Tip: There are loads of ‘risk profilers’ online now – look at Nutmeg or Moneyfarm or Scalable Capital for newer digital options. Although these calculators in general can be a bit two-dimensional, they are a useful way to sense-check where you might sit on the spectrum and may force you to challenge your received wisdom!

Stage 4: Check the numbers

Put bluntly, pensions are one of the only legal tax wheezes in town. The appalling explained tax relief should be rephrased FREE MONEY with pink neon signs at bus shelters up and down the land.

Tax payers get £20 for every £100 they stick in and then higher rate taxpayers can claim back another £20 on their tax return.

So it’s a trade- off. What can you sacrifice now and set aside till you are at least 55?

You can pay up to £40,000 a year into pensions and if you come into a lump sum, you can use the previous three years’ allowance. Just watch the annual lifetime allowance which is apporx £1 million. More than that and you’ll get hammered by tax.

Tip: If you have some shares or investments lying around outside an ISA shelter, you could transfer these into a pension online and use these investments as a pension contribution. And get lovely free money for shoving them into a pension. Weirdly called ‘Bed and SIPP’ by product engineers who need to get out more. Google it!

Four Stages

  • Stage 1: How much have you got?
  • Stage 2: Sort out the admin
  • Stage 3: Check you're invested in the right thing
  • Stage 4: Check the numbers!

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