Perspective

What do the wealthy think about tax?

Higher taxes are on the agenda in many countries as governments look to rebuild public finances in the wake of the pandemic. Wealthy individuals and families are being cited as the likeliest targets.

While politicians and media pundits are quick to voice opinions, what about the views of those in the firing line: the very well-off? A report published recently by Cazenove Capital – What’s worrying the wealthiest families? – provides unique insights into what the wealthy perceive as the greatest risks to their assets. Undertaken mainly in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, the report probes attitudes toward tax and the extent to which higher taxes are viewed as a risk.

Many respondents, all of whom had invested assets of £10 million or more, were unfazed by the prospects of higher taxes. Three quarters of those surveyed were either “not concerned” or, if concerned, “unlikely” to act. Only 3% described themselves as “very concerned” to the degree that they had taken action to limit future liabilities.

The spectre of higher taxes: is it really so alarming?

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Of respondents living in the UK, a large majority – 71% – described the current tax regime as “reasonably fair”.

“These findings chime closely with our experience of working with family clients,” says James Gladstone, Head of Wealth Planning at Cazenove Capital. “Tax is a part of wider planning, as it is for everyone, but we see little appetite from wealthier clients for elaborate manoeuvres aimed at reducing liabilities. Clients generally don’t take major decisions motivated by tax considerations alone – which is right and wise.”

Tax is not the greatest danger…

When asked to identify threats to their wealth, tax did not feature in the top five factors identified.

Almost half (49%) believe the biggest dangers to their wealth are posed by failings and fallouts arising among family members, with respondents ranking poor family leadership, family conflict leading to a dispersion of assets and gambling as being greater threats to their wealth than tax.

…and many wealthy families are more concerned about their charitable giving

In the immediate aftermath of Covid, many were concerned with whether their charitable donations were adequate and being put to best possible use. A large number are highly engaged in philanthropy, and the pandemic appears to have strengthened that trend. Half of respondents to this survey said that they place “wanting to help those with less” as their first or second financial priority.

Annual total tax returns don’t give the full picture

Rising stock markets and increases in the value of other assets since the pandemic have given rise to headlines contrasting investors’ wealth with their tax contributions. James Gladstone points out that annual tax contributions do not capture the full picture of tax paid.

“Most countries’ personal tax regimes, like that in the UK, comprise multiple taxes with different rates, reliefs, exemptions and thresholds interacting together to produce complex and sometimes unexpected outcomes,” he says. “Annual tax returns act like a snapshot of income, with tax not likely to become due on assets (such as company shareholdings) unless they are sold or their owner dies,” he explains.

The reputational angle

There has long been unease about tax avoidance measures, whether taken by companies or individuals, and the pandemic may have strengthened attitudes. What is clear is that public opinion matters to the wealthy, and tax is perceived as an area of potential reputational risk.

Top five reputational risks – as seen by wealthy families

  1. Irresponsible behaviour by family members
  2. Misuse of social media
  3. Alcohol or drug abuse
  4. Blackmail and extortion 
  5. association with aggressive tax planning 

James Gladstone says: “Ultimately the law permits and even encourages certain behaviour in relation to tax, for example the granting of tax reliefs to target investment into UK venture capital and social enterprise, or the ability to give away certain assets more tax-efficiently. These are the types of conversations we have with our clients. In my experience the depiction of the wealthy as a homogenous group bent on avoiding tax isn’t accurate. In fact most clients are keen to give back to society, whether that’s through taxation or philanthropy. In a great many cases it’s both.”

This article is issued by Cazenove Capital which is part of the Schroders Group and a trading name of Schroder & Co. Limited, 1 London Wall Place, London EC2Y 5AU. Authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. 

Nothing in this document should be deemed to constitute the provision of financial, investment or other professional advice in any way. Past performance is not a guide to future performance. The value of an investment and the income from it may go down as well as up and investors may not get back the amount originally invested.

This document may include forward-looking statements that are based upon our current opinions, expectations and projections. We undertake no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements. Actual results could differ materially from those anticipated in the forward-looking statements.

All data contained within this document is sourced from Cazenove Capital unless otherwise stated.