February 25, 2015
This is a great example of ‘sovereign risk’:
One of my close friends here in Singapore opened a brokerage account last year with Interactive Brokers.
If you’re not familiar, Interactive Brokers is a leading securities broker based in Greenwich, Connecticut. You can trade stocks, currencies, options… all that stuff.
Now, my friend is not a US resident (he lives here in Singapore), nor is he a US citizen.
He opened his account through their Asian branch in Hong Kong, funded the account from here in Singapore, and then bought some Canadian stocks listed on the Toronto stock exchange.
Nothing about his investments had anything to do with the United States.
So you could imagine his surprise when he received a recent email from Interactive Brokers informing him that his account was about to be “escheated to the state”.
Yeah, I had to look it up too.
It turns out that if you don’t have a specific amount of “qualifying activity” then your account is considered dormant and will be turned over to the state.
Now- my friend had bought his stocks. He was quite comfortable with his positions.
He’s not a day-trader or anything like that—he is happy to simply buy shares of undervalued companies and own for the long-term.
So he bought the shares and walked away from the account for a while—a true ‘buy and hold’ strategy.
He didn’t feel compelled to log in every day to check the price. Besides, there are only a zillion other websites where you can check stock prices.
But it was precisely for this reason—his nature of being a responsible, long-term investor—that he did not have any ‘qualifying activity’.
That’s why he received a notification from his broker saying that his account was “at risk of being classified as abandoned and subject to forfeiture. . .”
Interactive Brokers went on to write: “Based upon a review of your account UXXXX284, there has been no such qualifying activity and it is therefore subject to being classified as abandoned if you do not act quickly.”
“If we fail to hear from you the account will be escheated to the state and closed.”
Needless to say he thought is was a joke. Or spam. But it was the real thing.
Apparently the government is in pretty desperate need of cash.
More importantly, it’s a sad testament to the nature of investing today that any responsible, long-term investor is automatically presumed to be dead.
It’s as if they expect us to be like little lab rats constantly running around the financial maze looking for new crumbs of cheese.
The amazing thing is that they waited so long to send him a warning.
I mean, if he had been on vacation or not checking his email, his account would have been liquidated and turned over to the state.
He was fortunate enough to have caught it. I imagine there are plenty of others who were not so lucky.
Look, we’ve said it over and over again: Sovereign Risk is the biggest risk out there.
You cannot EVER underestimate the desperate tactics and procedures of bankrupt governments.
They’ll come up with every creative way possible to relieve you of your assets, even when it means declaring you dead and ‘escheating’ your funds to the state.
At a minimum, know the rules. (i.e. if you have a US-based brokerage account, log in right away and generate some activity).
More importantly, consider moving at least a portion of your assets abroad to a safe, stable, low-debt jurisdiction that doesn’t have the same desperation.