Many of us aspire to pack our bags and disappear into the sunset, but worry about how to fund it. Angela South might have the solution.
"I am sorry you’ve had to travel all this way but it was either here in Puerto Banus or at my other home in Monaco,” said the speaker.
“What a pity, we were staying there last week,” said Angela South as she sipped a gin and tonic on the terrace of one of her client’s multi-million euro residences.
Since May, the Warwickshire-based businesswoman has swapped the M5 and M42 for Marbella, Moraira and Monaco after launching the partnership Expat Pensions to provide financial advice to Brits abroad.
The decline in the value of the pound against the euro in the past year has had a dramatic impact on the income of many expats in the EU. Expat Pensions specialises in maximising income and helping plan to minimise tax liabilities.
Of particular benefit to those who have chosen to live abroad is the ability to remove a lifetime’s saving from UK tax, including inheritance tax, after five full financial years living abroad.
The decision to launch Expat Pensions was the culmination of 20 years’ experience in financial services and a chat with an old friend Steve Griffin of Meridian Financial Management over a drink in Spain. They spotted the potential in QROPS – Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pensions Schemes – to help expats in the EU who had seen their income cut as the pound-euro rate declined.
The new business, Expat Pensions LLP, was soon up and running and its success is the fruit of a career that would never have happened if custom and practice in the Welsh Valleys had its way. Angela was born in Bromsgrove and grew up in Redditch, but she can never forget the day she returned to her roots in South Wales in her pride and joy – a new BMW – to be asked by one relative: “What did you do to get that then?”
In previous generations of the Thomas family (her maiden name), men went down the pits and women stayed at home, kept house and made sure supper was on the table every night.
And as a career path for women, that was pretty much it.
But Angela was lucky her father, wise beyond his years, joined the Royal Navy to escape the pits and by the time he was 26 had been round the world twice and seen sights first-hand most South Wales residents would only have seen on Pathe News or the National Geographic.
He was determined no daughter of his would follow the standard path, so the family hit the employment trail and the promise of jobs in the emerging new town of Redditch as it is today.
Angela’s education began at St Stephen’s First School – a regime she recalls as very strict under Miss Lane, the headmistress.
“The teachers seemed ancient as a young tot and it was a great school. I was very aware my cousins went to a certain school in Aberfan and it made me very grateful, even at that age. I moved on to Bridley Moor High School and at both schools we had playing fields and room to run and play.”
A good student, she held her place in the top stream in English, history and geography but confesses to being useless at art.
“I had come from a very small school and all I can remember from my first days is all the pupils there were huge.”
While still a good student, it was at Bridley Moor she teamed up with “renegades” – Kerry Teague, now principal of a college in St Albans, and Lindsey Mills, a psychiatric nurse in New Zealand.
But before they embraced respectability, they were Osmond fans.
And they bunked off school.
A well constructed lie they were staying at each other’s houses for three days went very well, at first, and they arrived in Manchester at the tender age of 15 ready to queue for tickets to see the toothsome siblings. And then a photographer took their picture as they camped in the queue.
“The next day it was on the front page of The Sun and we had to make frantic calls home about how we had only just got here last night on the offer of some last minute tickets and we didn’t know our pictures had been taken. I don’t think we convinced anyone,” she says.
The irony was her staunchly socialist dad was a Daily Mirror reader and would never have let The Sun in the front door.
And how was the concert after all this subterfuge?“Oh, I’ve no idea. We screamed all the way through and we never heard a word.”
The teachers, however, had seen The Sun and the terrible trio found themselves banned from all school trips for the rest of the year. Leaving school with eight O-Levels she took temporary jobs at the Pleasure Beach in Blackpool and at Jennings Continental Foods in Pershore before she spotted an advert for a job at an insurance broker in Redditch.
“In those days, before the Financial Services Act, you could deal with anything and it was only when the FSA came in I had to choose and opted for the life side of the business.”
Her career was going places and she married at 19, had two boys and later a daughter but then came a cataclysmic moment which was to turbo charge her attitude to work. Her husband, a policeman, died, and she was faced with bringing up three children.
“I didn’t know what to do. I discovered that after my husband’s death I was deemed ‘too rich’ for the ‘social’ but I was too poor not to work.
“So I decided to make myself a career. I employed a nanny called Chantelle, who thankfully the kids adored.
“She ran the house and I went for it in the financial services industry.”
A meteoric career ensued.
“I went from managing one Swinton branch in Redditch, and then another in Stratford before moving to work for Scottish Amicable, first in Wolverhampton and then in Birmingham.”
Within a very short period she was a city centre account manager and one of Scottish Amicable’s top producers year after year.“The financial services industry can be very rewarding if you are good at your job and prepared to work hard. From being in despair in 1986 within ten years I was earning £85,000 a year from a basic of £20,000 in 1996, driving that dream BMW and living in a barn conversion.
“The children and I learned to ski and we holidayed in the Caribbean. It was very much the Margaret Thatcher dream and a lot of hard work had paid off.”
Then Scottish Amicable was taken over by the Prudential and she moved to Clerical Medical where she felt she could continue to earn in a similar way.
During all this time she was doing her best to raise a family and also taking a string of financial services exams.
A plum job with GE took her earnings over the £100k mark in the early 2000s and she enjoyed similar success after being headhunted for roles with Scottish Widows and latterly Canada Life before the Expat Pensions idea dropped into her life. “Ironically, the opportunity came at a time when I was professionally as happy as I have ever been. I loved working for Canada Life, which is an excellent employer, and in particular for a fantastic boss called Nicola Weaver.”
But it was her love of the sun that led her to hearing about Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pensions (QROPS) and what they could do for expats and their immediate and long-term income.
With her partner Andy, who works in the media, she had bought a large apartment in the Costa Blanca where they could entertain their growing family, which now contains four grand-daughters on whom she unashamedly dotes.
In the autumn of 2007 the idea of Expat Pensions was born as long time friend Mr Griffin was staying at the house in Spain and noticed how many expats lived there.
He came up with the idea of Expat Pensions, which led to them going into business as equal partners.
“It has always been a dream of mine to retire to Mallorca and here was a business that enabled me to spend long periods in lovely parts of Spain and France – and soon we will be in Cyprus and Portugal. We established Expat Pensions this spring and it was in profit after three months – with an overdraft facility that we have never had to use.”
And as the business continues to grow it seems she may well soon be taking her own advice and becoming a fiscal nomad with the amount of time she is now spending abroad. But one reason will always draw her back to the UK, even in the winter – her fanatical love of rugby, which comes from her Welsh background. She and Andy are season ticket holders at Worcester – he jokes she is “the only bird I have ever met who can recite the tackle law”.
Only one thing takes second place to rugby – her undying admiration for Margaret Thatcher – something which put her at odds with her fiercely socialist father, whom she equally idolised.
“When he was young, my oldest son Jonathan asked me if there could only be lady Prime Ministers.
“Unfortunately not, I had to tell him and in his mum’s opinion we have had nothing but muppets ever since!” concludes this fiercely independent businesswoman.