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Budget bores for UK wealth managers

Though Chancellor Philip Hammond’s debut Budget statement may’ve surprised some with the dividend allowance cut or the improved GDP forecast, it did not reveal anything groundbreaking for UK wealth managers.

It is doubtful that wealth managers were anxiously awaiting the Spring Budget on March 8, 2017, as no news directly affecting the market had been anticipated. The budget statements in previous years have been much more eventful, featuring pension freedom reforms, changes to inheritance tax, the introduction of new ISAs, or a higher personal allowance for income tax. And while some of these changes will indeed come into force in April 2017, they have been aired for a while and wealth managers are certainly ready for them (those that aren’t will simply lose clients).

Some investment managers may have felt a flutter of excitement when the Chancellor revealed the revised Office for Budget Responsibility’s GDP forecast for 2017: 2%, up from the previous forecast of 1.4%. But this is hardly thrilling news. First of all, the Bank of England had already increased its estimates up to 2% in February 2017. And more importantly, this revision will have a limited impact on wealth managers’ business. Even if a better economic performance means greater wealth generation, UK investors will remain cautious about allocating their assets to risky products. Brexit negotiations will fuel demand for advice, but this is independent of GDP growth.

The hearts of wealth managers may actually have skipped a beat when Hammond announced a cut in the tax-free dividend allowance from £5,000 to £2,000, effective April 2018. Corporate structures and dividend payouts are indeed a way to limit (or optimize) one’s tax obligations. And it is no secret that wealth managers (if not in-house, then through third-party partners) can support their wealthy clients in putting such structures in place. But slashing the allowance by £3,000 equates to just about £1,100 of an additional rate taxpayer’s bill – arguably not a tragic figure for the wealthiest who might have been benefitting from corporate structures. The less affluent (and, in particular, those who don’t use dividend payouts as a workaround to the tax system) will be more disappointed, but this again means higher demand for general advice. Actually, so does the national insurance increase for the self-employed: tax advisors can cash in on that.

In the end, however, the 2017 Spring Budget statement was rather boring for wealth managers and caused little upset. While obviously wealth managers can’t afford to ignore the Budget in their client updates, the biggest disturbance on the horizon is the Brexit negotiation with the EU. This will have a much more significant impact on wealth managers’ day-to-day work.

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