Your investments: Is your US broker closing your account?

Many big name mutual fund families have set up a blanket rule that if you don’t have a US address, you can’t buy their funds.

money (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Have you received a letter from your US brokerage firm telling you that your account is to be liquidated or closed? I have received numerous calls from individuals who hold investment portfolios with well-known firms who are in a panic about what to do with their money. They said they received a letter from their US investment firm saying that they have until such and such a date to move their account, or it will be liquidated, since they no longer are living in the US.
Keep in mind that these are US citizens who live all over the world. You could be an American living in Singapore, Cyprus or Efrat, it makes no difference. If you don’t have a US address you may be impacted. This is not new. Many firms have sent out similar letters over the last few years, and each time it sends surprised account holders scrambling to find a solution.
It’s not just brokerage firms. Many big name mutual fund families have set up a blanket rule that if you don’t have a US address, you can’t buy their funds. Almost daily this list gets longer. Other firms have created special divisions, and forcibly transferred client accounts to these new divisions, even if they had a long-standing relationship with their broker.
More than once I have heard about investors who had been working with the same adviser for more than 20 years and got the letter that the account must move be moved.
It’s a new world? Since 9/11, US firms have taken a very strict approach to non-US domiciled accounts. With the Patriot Act and other new laws, it has become much harder for these firms to accept accounts from US citizens living abroad, and many firms have just decided that they would rather not put themselves into this situation and have taken the step either not to take any new business, or set up a new division to deal with these accounts. While brokers on these accounts have fought tooth and nail to keep their clients, the compliance departments have won out, and this is their solution.
American or Israeli?
A friend of mine who is a stock broker living in the US has quite a few clients that reside in Israel. He told me that he is being forced to get rid of his Israeli accounts under $250,000, and that most of those accounts belong to children of olim, who were born here and hardly speak any English.
The issue of children having accounts in the US that their parents set up is common. Many of these children don’t even know how to dial the US, let alone handle a conversation about their finances in English. They would have a hard time trying to access the money that has been put aside for them.
Not only that but the adviser in the States doesn’t know them, and he is unfamiliar with their long-term goals and needs.
What to do?
I would recommend going local. I would find an adviser who is licensed both in Israel and in the US, to handle the accounts. Not only would this professional be attuned to life in Israel, but he would also speak their language, and in general make things much easier going forward with the children.
In addition, anyone who is local who has an arrangement with a US firm will not have the same problems vis-à-vis not being able to buy certain investment products. They will have all their compliance in place allowing the client to have access to the wide array of investment choices that she comes to expect.
The information contained in this article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of Portfolio Resources Group, Inc., or its affiliates.
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Aaron Katsman is a licensed financial professional in Israel and the United States who helps people with US investment accounts. He is the author of the book Retirement GPS: How to Navigate Your Way to A Secure Financial Future with Global Investing.