Health & Wealth
Incorporating preventative healthcare into your financial strategy might be the wisest choice you make, writes Nick Ferguson
It’s certainly true that you can’t put a price on good health—no matter how wealthy you are. Insurance is clearly one part of the mix, and all sensible financial plans incorporate access to the management of health issues into long-term wealth planning discussions.
This is an important element, as the financial costs of serious and long-term health issues can be non-trivial. A US poll conducted by Morgan Stanley Wealth Management in 2013 showed that affording quality healthcare worries even millionaire households, with 68 per cent citing it as a fear.
“Healthcare is a silent concern for many of our clients until it becomes a real issue in their lives and the lives of family members,” according to Robert Seaberg, head of Wealth Advisory Solutions at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.
Even so, the financial cost of a serious illness or debilitating injury is not always as big a concern for high-net-worth individuals as the opportunity cost of a long spell in a hospital bed, which can be extremely damaging for business owners.
This is especially true in Asia, where many wealthy individuals take a hands-on approach to running their businesses. Li Ka-shing, for example, apparently still shows up at his Hong Kong office every day and continues to be the driving force behind his empire. Clearly, he believes that his personal day-to-day contribution to the business is significant. But not everyone is blessed with Li’s remarkable health.
“If you’re a business owner and you get a critical illness and have to be out of work for six months or a year, it can have a devastating impact,” says Kevin Strain, president of Sun Life Financial in Asia.
A Rolls-royce insurance plan is great, but prevention is far better than cure—adopting a healthy lifestyle is the most effective way to reduce potential health risks.
The vast majority of people in Asia recognise this, according to a survey conducted by Sun Life, but too few are doing anything about it. Strain refers to a significant segment of the population in Asia as “Generation O”—people who recognise they are unhealthy and would like to live a healthier lifestyle, but feel constrained by work and family responsibilities. The “O” stands for overworked, overweight and overwhelmed.
Just 42 per cent of Hongkongers say they feel physically healthy—considerably lower than any other country in the region, but more than half do not do any regular exercise and less than half are willing to join a health-related programme.
It is tempting to blame the stress and demands of work, but Strain doesn’t accept such easy excuses.
“I’m pretty busy and I travel a lot, but I still run three or four times a week,” he says. In fact, he recently competed in a half marathon in Indonesia while on his travels.
The biggest health risks for most people in Hong Kong and Asia are actually diabetes and obesity, which are directly related to poor diet and lack of exercise, rather than worrying about work.
Studies also suggest that the next generation could be less healthy than their parents. Kids who do not learn to be healthy and active in their early years may find it much more difficult to adopt such habits later in life.
Indeed, studies show that almost all people who are obese as adults were also overweight as adolescents, so it’s important that parents help their kids to strike the right balance between academic achievement and physical activity.
But it’s never too late to become healthier. The message from health professionals is that small, incremental changes can be beneficial. It is also important to be realistic, focusing at first on just one type of healthy behaviour, such as adopting a better diet or giving up smoking. Don’t try to do everything at once.
Living a healthier lifestyle is not something that private bankers will usually recommend, but the reality is that achieving your wealth goals will be much easier if you are healthy and physically fit. Your mental focus will improve, your insurance will cost less and your medical bills will be smaller.
“Healthcare is a silent concern for many of our clients until it becomes a real issue”