Tom Zachystal is CEO, President, and Chief Investment Officer of Individual Asset Management (IAM), a U.S. Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) specializing in portfolio management and financial planning services for expatriates. IAM is an official Expat Focus financial services partner and in this interview we learn more about those services and also get to know more about Tom's own background and experience.
Expat Focus: Tom, can you tell us a bit about your background and how IAM came into being?
Tom Zachystal: IAM is a financial services company dedicated to the needs of expatriate clients. I spent ten years as an expat in the oil industry – seven years as an employee for Schlumberger and three years as a consultant. During that time I started investing my own money and found that it was difficult to find a financial advisor who could offer multiple services such as portfolio management, financial planning, insurance, and tax, to expatriate clients. Eventually I became more interested in investments and the financial world than in engineering and the oil industry so, after a number of years with Merrill Lynch and a private firm in the US, I started IAM in September of 2002 to cater specifically to expatriates.Expat Focus: What services does IAM offer?
Tom Zachystal: IAM offers primarily investment management and advisory services for expatriates of all nationalities resident anywhere in the world – either US-based or offshore accounts. We also offer financial planning and insurance services for all expatriates and US taxation services. A relatively new offering is facilitating US permanent resident and Green Card acquisition through investment.
Expat Focus: What is a typical day in your life like?
Tom Zachystal: Busy – most of my clients live outside the US so I spend a lot of time on emails and I’m sometimes on the phone after hours or early in the morning to clients on the opposite side of the world. I spend about 50% of my time on investment research and portfolio management issues – the rest of my time is devoted to the other aspects of the business and to client issues.
Expat Focus: What financial issues do expats typically need professional advice with?
Tom Zachystal: It depends on nationality: US expats mostly need help with managing investments in US-based accounts such as IRAs and 401ks, and with tax and financial planning issues. Many US brokers and financial advisors will not deal with people living outside the United States and many advisors outside the US are not familiar with such accounts. We deal with US citizens almost anywhere in the world – that is our specialty. Also, these days it is especially important where you keep your money in the US as financial institutions crumble and brokerage firms collapse as a result of their own poor investments. We custody all our client accounts at a large independent US brokerage firm whose only purpose is brokerage services – so they do not have any issues with money market accounts losing value or with the company going bust as a result of poor investments in mortgage securities.
British expats living in the US all have the same question: Can I move my UK pension to a US account? The answer has been “no” for many years but we are now able to accomplish this under certain circumstances – so I invite any British citizen living in the US to contact me through this website to find out if we can help them. Brits also seem to get caught up in expensive offshore investments that have long lock-up periods and high surrender charges – they don’t seem to realize that there is a better, more cost-effective, and simpler way to invest because they are constantly bombarded with investment offerings from offshore insurance companies. Finally, anyone living in the US who has investment or bank accounts outside the US has certain tax reporting requirements if the amount held in such accounts is over $10,000. Even though the accounts may not be subject to tax they still need to be reported to the IRS and, if they are not, the penalties are severe – we can help with these issues as well.
Those are specific issues but I receive a lot of financial planning enquiries from people saving for retirement who want to know how much they need to save in order to maintain their lifestyle in the future. Financial planning is a widely accepted discipline in the US but less so outside the US where there aren’t as many Certified Financial Planning practitioners – so many of these enquiries come from US nationals.
Expat Focus: What are your plans for the future, both personally and professionally?
Tom Zachystal: I would like to expand my business to have more international representatives. This is a process that I started two years ago with a representative in Mexico and I’ve received a few enquiries from other people in the industry who would like to represent the firm elsewhere but so far there hasn’t been a good fit.
On a more personal level, when I’m ready to retire and hand the operational reigns over to someone else, I hope to have many happy clients in different parts of the world that I call friends. I hope to spend my retirement traveling and visiting with this worldwide network of client-friends.
Expat Focus: What were the main challenges you yourself faced as an expat and how did you overcome them?
Tom Zachystal: My first assignment as an engineer for Schlumberger was in Nigeria. I literally went from a project in the Canadian arctic to Paris to sign my international contract to Nigeria in one week. One of the challenges was getting where I needed to be, armed with appropriate visa, as quickly as possible – my employer was always in a hurry, especially when I was consulting.
There were always cultural challenges on both a business and a personal level – but these were part of what made the expat experience so interesting. Occasionally there was danger brought about by a lack of understanding of local conditions – like when I found myself in the middle of anti-Suharto riots in Indonesia in 1998.
I also found that it was difficult to speak about my experiences abroad with people back home in Canada. It seemed they thought I was boasting when I spoke of my lifestyle but in fact I just thought they might find it interesting. I guess many expats have this experience with friends they have left behind.
But it was all worth it – the expat experience is fantastic, especially if one has the opportunity to live in various parts of the world.
Expat Focus: What do you do to relax?
Tom Zachystal: I golf and SCUBA and do a fair amount of traveling. I live in the San Francisco Bay area with my English wife and American son (I’m Canadian so my son is actually the only US citizen in the family since he was born here). There is always something going on around here it seems – San Francisco is quite cosmopolitan.
Expat Focus: Tom, many thanks for your time!
Any readers who are interested in IAM's services and would like to contact Tom may do so here.