This article was first published in the first-quarter 2014 edition of Personal Finance magazine.
The best, and for many, the only way to become involved in an investment club is to start your own. That way, you get to choose the company you keep and there is a greater chance of harmony.
That’s the received wisdom from a wide range of sources, including the no-nonsense “An introduction to investment clubs”, by Shaun van den Berg, head of client education at PSG Online.
Of course, getting started is easy, but a disciplined approach is the key to success. David Sylvester, a stockbroker with Investec Wealth and Investment and a Personal Finance columnist, says: “The biggest problems are finding your group, ensuring that you are all equally disciplined and ‘enthused’ by your meetings and with the investment result, and keeping up with all the commitments.”
Following strict guidelines will preserve the integrity of the club and make sure that everyone knows what is expected of them and what the club can and can’t do.
1. Limit the number of members, says accountant Eric Salomon, whose club started with nine and is reaching the end stage with seven members. Anything above 15 could be unwieldy and you would need a special meeting place to accommodate the crowd. Eight to 10 can gather in a member’s living room, or in a restaurant, coffee shop or pub. It is big enough to allow for diversity and small enough to give everyone a chance to contribute.
2. Try to involve people with a range of interests who share a common desire to invest, while being committed to long-term goals. A spectrum of experience and interests makes the club more interesting and dynamic and is likely to make debates over share selection more lively.
3. Choose people who are likely to be active participants in every meeting. Beware the member who institutes the debit order and then sits back awaiting his profit, leaving everyone else to do the work. If possible, structure meetings so that they require some input from every member.
If meetings cannot take place more often than, say, quarterly, PSG Online recommends that members give one person, or a sub-committee, the power to make investment decisions between meetings.
4. Decide whether you are going to be a partnership or a company. Thanks to the government’s enthusiasm for small business, setting up a company is relatively easy. You can register a company through organisations such as the Shelf Company Warehouse, which advertises “fast and efficient online company and business registration”. A company must have its financial affairs reviewed annually and must submit annual tax returns.
In a partnership, each individual is responsible for his or her own tax return, although it needs to file a partnership return with the South African Revenue Service (SARS). All you need is a partnership agreement and a copy of the club’s constitution, examples of which can be found in the appendix of PSG’s “An introduction to investment clubs” at www.psgonline.co.za
5. Choose a name and write a constitution, the rules of which every member must agree on and sign. As well as setting out aims and objectives, a code of conduct, subscriptions, joining fees and voting rights (see the example on the etfSA website, www.etfsa.co.za), spell out clearly the exit criteria, which may include members needing to give three months’ notice before they can withdraw their money.
Salomon says his club requires three months’ notice and imposes a three-month waiting period before departing members can take their funds (though that can be waived), to prevent profit-taking.
Some clubs impose an early-withdrawal penalty to reinforce the idea that membership should be a commitment of several years, at least.
6. Determine your strategy in respect of the buying and selling of shares and the aims of the club. Van den Berg suggests the strategy should include the following points:
* A commitment to investing a set amount regularly, regardless of market conditions, because this lowers average costs;
* An agreement to reinvest dividends and capital gains immediately, to harness the power of compounding; and
* Commitment to diversification to spread risk and increase the opportunities for making gains.
7. Have a clearly defined investment style, ideally with some quantifiable rules or limitations on the club’s investment portfolio. For example, a club might limit itself to exchange traded products to start with, or specify a minimum share price or market capitalisation, or it might impose sector restrictions from time to time, to ensure diversity.
It might also be useful to set criteria for the share suggestions that can be brought to each meeting. This will ensure club members increase their knowledge, rather than keep returning to investments that appeal to them. Members can also research and report to the group on investment concepts, market trends and any other dimensions of investing that will improve the club’s overall understanding of the stock market.
8. Choose office bearers. You need, primarily, a chairman to run meetings and hold members to the terms of the constitution, a secretary to organise meetings and record decisions made in meetings, and a treasurer to look after the finances. The club will need to authorise one or more members to transact on behalf of the club and will need an auditor.
9. Determine the amount to be contributed every month. Also, if possible, have a start-up fund that amounts to at least R10 000 (R1 000 from each of 10 members, say), so that you can start buying immediately. The monthly contribution needs to be substantial enough to give the club purchasing power, but not so onerous that members start feeling the pinch a few months down the line and pull out. Sums of between R100 and R1 000 are common. Also set out clearly whether there will be an annual increase in subscriptions.
10. Open a share trading account through a stockbroker or online share-trading platform. Online platforms include etfSA (if your strategy is to focus on ETFs), PSG Online, Sanlam iTrade, or any of the banks. Share trading platforms usually set minimum requirements to open an account and per trade, and these vary widely – for example, Investec Securities requires R100 000 to open an account, while Sanlam iTrade will get you started for just R1 000. The most common per-trade minimum is R5 000. (See details of 11 investment platforms in Personal Finance volume 56, third quarter 2013.)
These services include an interest-paying cash account into which members can pay their subs by debit order, so there is no need to open an ordinary bank account for the club. Quite a bit of documentation is required to open such an account, including copies of the club’s constitution and its register of investors, a letter authorising a club member or members to transact on the account, and Fica documents related to the company or individual partners.
11. Above all, keep meticulous records of all meetings, decisions, purchases, sales and balances.
And one last thing: when meeting, ensure that members have tea or drinks at hand – it stops them fidgeting.