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Why advisors should travel abroad

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There's no denying the increasing importance of the global economy; advisors need a worldly outlook to best serve their clients. International travel can help achieve such a vision meaningfully. An observant financial planner who trots the globe may learn from unlikely sources, making themselves less parochial and more sophisticated about investing globally.

“We didn’t just look at the animals,” Marilyn Plum of Ballou Plum Wealth Advisors in Lafayette, Calif. She’s talking about her photo safari trip this August to Kenya and Tanzania. Although her client’ global investments have grown in recent years, they have not grown enough to justify investment-related due diligence trips overseas, Plum concedes.

But that doesn’t mean Plum doesn’t make a point when she travels to glean as much information as possible to shape herself as a better global investment advisor for her clients.

“It helps you put the U.S. in perspective with the rest of the world,” Plum says about her voyages. One year before her recent Africa trip, she spent a month in India, a stomping ground for Plum before she launched her career as a financial planner.

What did she learn about Kenya during her trip? That although Chinese companies investing in the country have recently agreed to include provisions to hire more Kenyan workers on their in-country projects, they have not included in that ramping up, Kenyan engineers, according to a restaurant waiter, whose brother trained as an engineer. From another Kenyan acquaintance, that the government’s most recent alterations to the nation’s constitution call for no more than two thirds of any appointed or elected government body to be of the same gender. That development means more power in the future for the women of Kenya.

No direct plumb line falls between what she learns on her global adventures and exactly how her clients invest, Plum says. That’s because her firm steers most of its clients into mutual funds and selects those on the basis of managers’ performance. But with her simple acts while traveling—even such moments spent listening to local newscasts in foreign countries—Plum says she sheds ignorance and gets a fix on if a foreign economy deserves a second look. “You learn about a nation’s work ethics, its education system, vacation schedules,” when you spend weeks among its people, she says.

Without her travel, her firm’s clients would probably have increased their global investments because the world has moved irrevocably in that direction given the world wide web’s influence. But the traveling has given Plum more confidence about selecting among those global investments.

Miriam Rozen, a Financial Planning contributing writer, is a staff reporter at Texas Lawyer in Dallas.

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