Churchouse Letter
January 2014          by Peter Churchouse

Be Prepared

It’s the time of year for reflection, and for planning for the next 12 months….. But why stop at just 12 months? Long-term planning is essential for managing your money. But for some reason, we all tend to procrastinate when it comes to getting around to it…

It was when the colonel in this tinpot town came into our interrogation room with a pistol on his hip and a flack jacket over his torn vest that I realized it was all going horribly wrong…

What started out as a celebration meal after a long yacht race had turned into an armed confrontation in a place where we were all very far from home. Most of us had little more than the T-shirt on our back and a few dollars for dinner in our shorts.

But fortunately, I had a little more than that. In fact, thanks to my habitual planning ahead, I was able to easily get us bailed out by a good friend of the governor, and given a tour of the town the next day by the mayor, who had just treated us to breakfast.

That little lesson is just one of many examples as to why I still take the message that I learned as a young, young man in the Scouts to heart. And it’s why Baden-Powell’s boys should play a part in managing your money.

“Be Prepared” is the Scout motto. It’s an important one to learn, and to heed. But how prepared are you, really, for whatever the world can throw at you financially?

As the calendar turns over to 2014, we run down a checklist of all the essential preparations you need to make to face the uncertainty of the future. These points are not just about building wealth. They will help you weather even the worst of storms. And they will help you pass down a legacy to future generations.

These are key points that only the foolish would ignore. But all too often, life gets in the way. We don’t do the things we know we should.

I’m not saying I have all the answers to the many questions that the financial world throws our way. But I know how to give myself the best head start – tips and pointers out of my decades of sometimes harsh experience that I’m more than happy to share.

I hope you find the ideas useful, and beneficial. But above all, I wish you a great start to 2014, and a very prosperous New Year.


Financial Preparations

As we prepare for the year ahead, the first Asia Hard Assets report of 2014 picks up on some of the many questions received and conversations had over the past year on the topic of financial planning. The issues generally revolve around being prepared for the inevitable events that life will sling at us along the way. The discussion here is certainly not intended to be comprehensive but rather a checklist, a “note to self” on matters that we all tend to postpone. Most of us procrastinate… so now is as good a time as any…

As a child, I was an avid enthusiast of the Scouting movement. Although originally a British institution, founded back in 1910 by General Robert Baden-Powell, the Scouts spread around the world, including many countries that were not former British colonies. Maybe its legacy is the true British Empire!

I loved the hiking across the countryside armed with map and compass. The camping under canvass was great fun, cooking big pots of stew over burning logs, building bridges over streams, and constructing all manner of things using nothing more than some straight sticks and rope. The Scout movement encouraged a wholesome embrace of independence, self reliance and a set of simple life guidelines.

The main motto of the Scouts is the command to “Be Prepared”. This simple notion has stayed with me for my entire life and has been an essential part of my advance from childhood through adulthood. The principle is applied to all endeavours.

Being prepared guided me in my year-long road trip across Arica in the 1970s that took us through 27 countries, eventually arriving in Europe. Being prepared for whatever might get thrown at us in so many ways ensured our survival at the hands of bureaucracies, police, military brigades, bandits, wildlife, weather. And today, the “Be Prepared” motto guides our sailing adventures, giving us the vital independence to deal with difficult circumstances far from any help.

To this day, I’m prepared in my day to day life, in a very simple way. The little rucksack that accompanies me pretty much everywhere – to the office, on planes, at social and sporting events – is a mini survival kit of sorts. It always contains some cash, often in various currencies, formal identification, credit cards, name cards, bank details, flashlight, a basic medical kit, phone, chargers, plug for different countries, tape, keys, and writing materials. It is surprising how often this stuff gets called upon. This “be prepared” kit has even been a life saver in the past.

Here’s a simple example from a 600-mile yacht race from Hong Kong to the Philippines many years ago.

After the race and the parties and the charity events, a few of us decided to sail 70 miles up the coast to visit a beautiful old town settled by the Spanish in the 16th Century. We anchored at late afternoon a few hundred metres offshore, in a bay about two miles from the town itself. I sent my friends ashore while I made sure the boat was safely tucked in, and discussed our plans with my deck hand, who was going to stay on board and mind the ship. The little rucksack was supplemented with a mobile phone, spare batteries, and a handheld VHF radio to communicate with the boat as necessary.

As I went ashore to meet the rest of the team, I was alarmed to see my five sailing buddies surrounded by a dozen armed soldiers in uniform. It soon became clear that the leader of this band was bent on some kind of inquisition. Who were we? Where were we from? Why were we here? What was our business? Where was our paperwork? Who gave us permission to come here? He was agitated. After about 30 minutes the swaggering little gun-toting leader shoved us into a van. We were taken to some army post to continue his interrogation.

All my friends had was their shorts, T-shirts, sandals and some cash for dinner in town. I had my “Be Prepared” bag. In the van, I called the deckhand on the boat using the VHF radio. I told him what was happening and told him to keep his head down and out of sight.

We were led into a room in the small police post and harangued by our pip-squeak pistol-packing colonel, by now wearing a flak jacket over his torn vest. I asked whether there was a tax to pay that we weren’t aware of – i.e. a bribe – but money wasn’t the problem. In fact, it wasn’t clear what was. At the time, kidnapping and corruption were commonplace, especially in the more remote regions. All I knew was, it didn’t look good.

After an hour or two, we were left alone in a room. I dug through my backpack for the business cards of people we had been involved with the race. And that proved very fruitful. It turned out I had the card of the governor of that province, who had come with us to the orphanage we were sponsoring. A quick quiet call on my mobile phone – thank goodness there was a signal – went through to see if there was anything he could do. An aide answered the phone saying that the governor was at an official dinner. But the aide said he would relay my message, and asked if I could I call back later.

The next call was to the lady who ran the hotel that had served as our base of operations following the race. She again offered to call in some favours with friends in high places. Email was soon on its way to the other organisers of the race.

After an hour or so, we heard a van screech up outside our building, and watched a tall, fierce lady of ample proportions leap from the vehicle and storm into the colonel's room. There followed a loud and impassioned one-way conversation in Tagalog (the main language of the Philippines). We didn’t speak Tagalog, but there was no doubt what she thought of our colonel friend. After a few minutes of this tirade, she burst into our lockup and told us to follow her.

She explained that she was the sister of the mayor of the town, who had in fact received a call from her friend the governor. She had been sent to rescue us. What’s more, she then treated us to dinner at the hotel in the centre of the town. Next morning the mayor hosted us for breakfast and organized a guided tour of the town.

If I hadn’t taken my “Be Prepared" kit ashore, heaven knows what the outcome of that little escapade might have been. Something terrible? Unlikely. But in that part of the world you can take nothing for granted.

Maybe it sounds strange, but I think the Baden-Powell motto applies just as much to our financial affairs.

You might not be at gunpoint in a tinpot town in Southeast Asia, but I encourage you to “Be Prepared” in the financial aspects of life. Many of us do not take a disciplined approach to being prepared for old age, mishaps and accidents.

Ask yourself: What preparations do you have in place?.....

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