Long reach of the City watchdogStephen Womack, Mail on Sunday
23 October 2005
THE growing army of Britons moving abroad has prompted UK companies to follow them with a financial passport of their own. They now offer the security of British regulation to expatriates.
Under European Union law, financial businesses can be regulated by authorities in one country, but also deal with customers in another.
One of the trailblazers is Go Insure It, a brokerage selling household, motor and medical cover to expatriates in Spain. It plans to launch in Portugal soon.
The company is regulated by Britain's Financial Services Authority, but will do all its business outside the UK.
Chris Barkell, European sales director of Go Insure It, says: 'There have been too many cowboys trying to do business on the costas and we see an opportunity to raise standards. We think our customers will take comfort from knowing that they are dealing with a company that comes under the FSA's umbrella. We want to offer best advice by strict UK standards.'
The FSA will oversee the firm's directors and ensure that Go Insure It is financially solvent. But Spanish rules apply to the way it conducts day-to-day business.
Other firms are joining in --financial adviser Kevin Neal Associates of Old Knebworth, Hertfordshire, has FSA approval to trade in Portugal, France, Spain and Gibraltar. And Blevins Franks, a specialist international financial adviser in the City, uses its FSA backing to operate in Spain, Portugal, France and Malta. Investors can check on any company's authorisation by visiting fsa.gov.uk/register.
Customers of firms based outside the UK are excluded from the Financial Ombudsman Scheme, even if they are FSA-regulated. The Ombudsman will occasionally consider claims from expatriates if their advisers are based in Britain.
The comfort of a familiar name also works in banking. Suzanne Clay, European business development director for Barclays, says: 'You'd be surprised how many people move abroad without knowing a word of the local language. We have an account called Barclays Solutions, which is designed to hold a customer's hand when they move out.'
Barclays has more than 500 branches in Spain with about 50 specialising in expatriate business and a smaller branch network in Italy, Portugal and France. The bank has also developed English-language websites for expatriate customers in these countries and Clay says it has made a big difference.
One couple who opted for Barclays when they moved abroad in July last year are Richard and Catherine Dannreuther. The couple and their children, Lucy, four, and Max, two, left Langstone, Hampshire, to live in Saint-Maigrin between Bordeaux and Cognac in south-west France.
Richard, 38, says: 'I went to Barclays because I knew the name and wanted someone I could work with in English.' He and Catherine, 36, wanted a change and had been researching a move to France because Catherine, who worked as an accounts manager, speaks good French.
They decided to speed up the move when he was made redundant from his job at a travel television channel. 'We wanted to move for the children and have them growing up bilingual,' he says. 'Lucy has already been going to school here for a year and her language of choice is French. Max will start in a year.'
The family sold their home in Langstone when they moved and have been renting while they finalise their next step. The couple are taking over an estate agency at the start of next month. Richard says: 'It is an established business in Chalais, a town near us, and we will be selling to both British and French buyers. We are taking on the existing staff.'