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December 7, 2007 12:19 pm

Networking forum for rich aims to better their investments

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Discussing your wealth is still considered poor form in many social circles across London. So if you are looking to trade tips about personal holdings, you might want to seek out an affable, middle-aged Dutchman named Francis Claessens.

This Wednesday evening, Claessens will stage the first meeting of “Peers”, a network for the very rich. It will take place at the offices of Bank Jacob Safra on Berkeley Square in Mayfair.

A psychologist by training and an entrepreneur by trade, Claessens retired from corporate life more than a decade ago, after he sold Raadgevend Bureau Claessens, the human resources consulting group he started, to a private equity group.

Since then, he has dedicated himself to high net-worth networking, organising two additional forums – the first in the Antwerp region of Belgium and a second in the Philippines – which aim to persuade people to share information about taxes, visa issues and investments.

By swapping details on fees paid to lawyers and private bankers, offshore holdings, and returns on hedge funds, members of the group may be able to lower costs and boost personal returns on their own portfolios, Claessens claims.

“It was through a group that I found out that one private bank was offering to handle a personal portfolio for £70,000 while another was charging £350,000 for the same service,” he says.

Likely topics to be addressed by the London group are how to handle the pending tax changes for non-domiciled residents, offshore trusts and companies, hedge fund strategies and general and niche investments. He expects a smattering of foreigners and Britons to attend.

“I find these meetings highly valuable in terms of the intelligence you get. When you have an investment problem, you think it’s only your investment problem, but that’s not always the case,” he says. “It’s certainly changed my investment style.”

There are expected to be three sub-groups for the meetings. The first aims to attract those with £5m to £25m in wealth; the second is geared at people with £25m to £50m; and the third at those with over £50m.

By tiering members by net worth, Claessens thinks conversations will be even more fruitful. “Someone with £50m might consider investing $5m with KKR, while someone with £5m in assets shouldn’t dream about it,” he says.

Organising the group is something of a vanity project for Claessens. He believes the exchanges – which are set to take place once a month – are so valuable that he has donated tens of thousands of pounds in start-up money. The group is not-for-profit and no fees are charged. Those working in the financial services industry are barred, however, and the group focuses on how to handle individual wealth.

More information is listed on the group’s website (www.wealthpeergroup.com). Claessens vets prospective members to be sure they have adequate savings.

If you attend, you can choose to remain silent about your personal holdings. “This is England,” Claessens says. “We do not run the group like they run groups in the US where everyone has to stand up as if they were in Alcoholics Anonymous and confess how much money they have in the bank.”

Tiger 21, with headquarters in New York City, and CCC Alliance are two profit-making groups in the US with a similar approach, but with yearly membership fees of as much as £15,000.

Speakers from hedge funds, private banks and private equity groups, are likely to attend to share expertise and discuss various products but Claessens is unwilling to divulge the names of providers who have approached him with offers.

However, while some advisers are bullish on the new group, others are more sceptical. “I don’t understand why someone with £5m in the bank would want to talk about their assets in a public forum,” said Mark Dampier, head of research at Hargreaves Lansdown, the advisory group.

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