British law firm capitalizes on thirst for global tools, investment advice

by Julian Ryall

Despite Japan’s much-publicized economic problems, independent financial advisers Towry Law are “very pleased” with the performance of their Japan operations, according to John Simmonds, managing director of the Britain-based company.

“Considering the market conditions in Japan, we’re very pleased,” said Simmonds, who was visiting Tokyo recently. “It isn’t the time to be investing heavily, but we’re cautiously optimistic,” he added.

Towry Law opened its Tokyo office, near the British Embassy in Chiyoda Ward, in September 1999, initially targeting expat investors looking to make the most of their excess income rather than simply letting it gather minimal returns in, say, a regular bank account.

“A lot of what we’re about is education,” said Simmonds. “If you educate people, you give them greater choice. In my experience, people are not very experienced about investments and I worry about them making decisions.”

One of Towry Law’s biggest areas of advice is in pre-retirement investments, he said.

“You’d be amazed, but quite senior people who retire in their 50s and see a big lump sum for the first time and a pension simply don’t have a clue what to do with it,” he said. “They’re embarrassed to talk about it and they don’t know that if they do things in a tax-efficient way that could be just as good as getting excess return.”

Which is where Towry Law’s expertise come in.

Set up in 1958, the company now handles more than 138,000 private clients around the world, investing $8 billion on their behalf, and was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1993.

As well as Asia, Towry Law’s operations span Europe, Africa and the Middle East and plans are in motion for an office — the company’s 24th — to be set up in Madrid in the near future, followed by Singapore.

However, in the three years since it has been operating in Japan — where it is one of the few companies to be granted the Finance Ministry’s adviser’s license — there has been a swing away from catering to the needs of expat investors to helping Japanese investors make the most of their funds.

At present, according to Alan Smith, managing director of Towry Law’s Tokyo office, a breakdown of the business shows that approximately 60 percent of the total is now domestic.

Part of the attraction for Japanese is that returns can be in other currencies, which domestic financial institutions cannot always provide, and the investment tools offer far better rates of return than are available here.

As well as the traditional investments in stocks and bonds, Towry Law is for the third time working closely with developers in Britain to offer properties as another form of generating income.

“I think what’s happening is that a lot of our investors are seeking a spread of investments,” Simmonds said.

“We don’t specifically deal in property investment, but we liaise with real estate agents to make them available, holding seminars where we would talk about them as alternative investment opportunities,” he said, adding that despite a slowdown in property prices across Britain, London is still considered a “good bet” for investing.

In the longer term, Simmonds said, “We see Japan as a place where we can go forward. It’s growing and we’re very patient.

“We have been in Hong Kong a long time and in Bahrain and we’re here in Tokyo, which we see as very important,” he added.