A 25th anniversary of any kind, whether wedding, birthday, or the years on a job, is quite a milestone and achievement. Many of our clients and readers know that BFI Capital Group is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. That celebration culminated in a Gala dinner we held on September 28th. Much about our history and the growth of the company was shared, some of which we’ll share with you here. We wish you had been there!
The celebration was held at the Himmapan Lodge, a beautiful restaurant right on the Lake of Zurich. We had glorious late-summer-like weather which allowed us to enjoy the deck around the restaurant. All of us in management were decked out in tuxedos and the women looked gorgeous in their elegant cocktail attire.
BFI Capital Group Management Team
The guest list included all of our current team members from BFI Consulting, BFI Infinity, and Global Gold, as well as a who’s who of partners, spouses, family members, past employees, and business partners that had an impact on the Group’s long history.
We had a wonderful evening that included a quiz and “game show” covering our Group’s history, both the factual and humorous stories that occurred over time. A well-known Swiss magician performed both hand-held tricks prior to and then a show after dinner.
After some excellent appetizers and a coconut-based soup, the main meal consisted
of a variety of curries and wok dishes, while a special crème brûlée was served as the cherry on top of a great dinner.
Frank Suess, our Group’s chairman and CEO, after a heart-felt speech on some of the key people and events of our history, overcoming challenges, and the successes that got us where we are today, shared a 15-minute video that took us down a memory lane of faces, team events, and fun.
Also, yours truly served as MC for the evening, doing my best to intersperse the proceedings with some of the entertaining stories I’ve experienced in my 16 years at BFI.
It wasn’t a school night, so the festivities went on until the early morning hours, but a great time full of fond memories, sentimentality, and laughter was had by all. Here’s a quick version of that trip down memory lane…
The BFI Story – told by Frank Suess
Swiss Annuities – you have to start somewhere…
The BFI story officially started when Frank, Sr., father of our CEO, Frank Suess, incorporated the first company of our group, BFI Consulting AG, on May 21st of 1993. However, BFI actually goes back to the later part of 1991 and our story started with a strange animal called the “Swiss Annuity”. Back in ’91, both of the “Frank’s” had no idea how quickly and successfully the business would launch.
They liked Swiss annuities but could not have envisioned how much they would be liked by others. Hesitating to incorporate a company right off the bat, in early 1992, Frank Sr. had the idea of operating under the title of “BEFI Consulting AG”, an accounting firm owned by his favorite cousin, Franz (yes, there are quite a few Frank’s and Franz’s in their family).
Swiss annuities did become a “hot product”, particularly for American investors. It was an excellent product and easy to sell; the dollar was weakening against the CHF, Switzerland was unblemished, and Swiss insurance rules offered very strong asset protection (which they still do to this day). To top it off, Swiss insurance companies were paying 3 to 4 percent of guaranteed returns on investment, plus dividends, in Swiss francs!
The first rule for building a business: Stay in business!
Frank went back into management consulting with Price Waterhouse in Zurich, but the family business continued on the side. Then, in 1998, Frank took over the lead at BFI Consulting. Instantly buying into the idea of running the family business, he had always
flirted with the idea of being independent and doing something more entrepreneurial.
The first rule for building a business is to stay in business. And occasionally, the best time to play offense is when everyone else is playing defense. As we turned into the 21st Century, Swiss firms and banks were starting to shed and run away from American clients, as the IRS was increasingly aggressive toward Americans who held assets offshore, legally or not.
Seeing a chance to “run the other way”, Frank bravely decided to focus even more on American clients and their needs. BFI specialized in structures allowing a compliant path for American taxpayers to keep their wealth in Switzerland, while still benefitting from a combination of tax efficiency, asset protection and global investment flexibility. The tool used the most for this purpose was private placement life insurance (PPLI) and annuities, also commonly known as “insurance wrappers”.
The concept is quite interesting because it combines the benefits of insurance with those of private banking by “wrapping” a managed account in the legal structure of a life insurance or annuity policy. To this day, BFI still uses PPLI as a key planning tool for international and US taxpayers.
The transition from Swiss annuities to PPLI and wealth management services wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. BFI was able to help a lot of clients keep their wealth overseas in a compliant and convenient structure, and the business grew and diversified.
Fast forward to 2018 – stronger than ever!
Let’s fast forward a bit. The past 10 years have not been the most positive for most investment firms, and certainly not for those in Switzerland. The 2008 financial crisis, combined with the UBS tax scandal and the DOJ’s hunt for “tax evaders”, has completely changed the landscape of our business. Compliance departments, auditors and tax attorneys are having a ball, while financial firms are trying to keep up with all the new procedures and legal requirements.
Change has been the only constant. But it seems to have taken us in the right direction, again and again, as BFI and its subsidiary companies are healthy and profitable. Today, at the group level, BFI is involved and invested in several interesting joint ventures, real estate and private equity, and as you can imagine, quite heavily in gold too.
The core of our business, of course, continues to be at the center of attention and is focused on wealth management, via BFI Consulting, Global Gold and BFI Infinity.
BFI Consulting AG continues to be specialized in jurisdictional diversification strategies and wealth planning for wealthy families.
Global Gold AG, despite the relatively calm precious metals markets is getting ready for the next leg up with continual improvements in technology and client experience, the New Zealand storage option, and other surprises to come.
And BFI Infinity, a boutique wealth management firm and the result of having merged BFI Wealth Management (International) AG with the investment advisory firm of Swiss Infinity Global Investments, has made excellent progress. The decision to move ahead and finally merge took a few years, but after integrating the two teams and operations in 2017, we now wish it would have happened sooner.
In life as in business, it’s all about people and relationships
In hindsight, the old adage rings truer than ever: in life as in business, it’s all about the people and the relationships that we are blessed to have established and privileged to maintain. Family, friends, business partners and the team at BFI Capital Group – they make the difference, every day.