Last night, the Thai authorities were reported to be considering declaring a state of emergency, as more than a week of protests in Bangkok's central business district continued to be marked by violence and severe disruption. One man was killed and 28 people were wounded, some seriously, when grenades were thrown at anti-government protesters on Friday and Sunday, according to reports coming out of the city.
For Chad and Peggy Creveling, who head up Bangkok-based Creveling & Creveling Private Wealth Advisory, the sight of throngs of Thai protesters forcing their way into government buildings and attacking pro-government supporters has, they say, been no less disheartening for them than it has been for other expats and Thais living in the increasingly divided country.
That said, unlike many of their clients or, it might be imagined, any other husband-and-wife advisory team in the world, the Crevelings are both graduates of a US military academy. And not just any military academy, but West Point.
The historic, 211-year-old institution located about 50 miles north of New York City, which only started admitting women cadets in 1977, was the alma mater of two US presidents as well as a virtual army of top US military generals, politicians and even astronauts.
While West Point isn’t generally thought of as a natural training ground for future financial services executives, it could not have been a bad place to have spent a few formative years for those now based in politically unstable modern Thailand.
And it has probably been useful, the Crevelings admit. But not just because, being a military academy, it prepares young men and women to face the world’s danger zones in their future lives, they say.
For Chad, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering, the advantage, as he sees it, was the priority West Point places on professionalism and ethics.
Peggy, who also graduated with an engineering degree, stresses how the institution prepares cadets to face and overcome major challenges, such as those she and Chad have faced in building a fee-only financial planning and investment advisory practice for expatriates in Asia.
As for the current political turmoil, both Crevelings see it as the start of a new chapter in what has been an ongoing transitional period for Thailand.
“We, as much as anyone, would like to see a peaceful resolution as soon as possible, although we realise the complex issues involved may make this difficult,” Chad says.
The partnership that is Creveling & Creveling began 28 years ago at West Point, where Chad, who grew up on a remote island in Lake Champlain in upstate Vermont, met Peggy, a native of Wisconsin and Ohio.
Two years ahead of her, Chad was commissioned as a US Army infantry officer after graduation, while Peggy chose to go into military intelligence.
They trained in separate locations, married, and ended up stationed together in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, home of the 25th Infantry Division, which is the US Army’s stateside outpost for deployments to Asia. (Schofield Barracks is also famous to film buffs as the setting for the 1953 film From Here to Eternity.)
“The annual Team Spirit military exercise in Korea was my first experience with Asia,” Peggy recalls, explaining how she got hooked on the region. “But Chad had already travelled out here as a cadet. He liked to travel everywhere.”
After seven and five years, respectively, with the army, the Crevelings began to tire of having to spend much of their lives apart, and began looking for a career that would suit their skills and interests, while also allowing them to live overseas.
Their first stop – which also turned out to be their last, at least so far – was Bangkok, where they found work in the city’s institutional brokerage sector. Chad initially worked for W I Carr Indosuez, and later Asset Plus Securities, while Peggy’s employers included Paribas Asia Equity and Citigroup/Salomon Smith Barney.
In those days, says Chad, the Southeast Asian stock markets were “booming, with Thailand at the epicentre”.
“In 1993, a certain market strategist said ‘buy Asia’, and everyone did,” adds Peggy.
“Money from all over the world flooded into the region, and the Thai stock market went absolutely crazy. Back then, if you were a fund manager, you couldn’t effectively buy China, Korea or Taiwan, but you could buy Hong Kong, Singapore and the Southeast Asian stock markets. It was a really exciting time.”
Back into service
The private client advisory firm known as Creveling & Creveling emerged a little later, after years of further deliberations, study and licence-getting.
Chad says the idea came to them when they were working in institutional finance in Bangkok, “and were looking around for people who could provide us with good advice about our finances. Not people with products to sell, but someone who could actually answer our expat financial planning questions, as well as helping us to navigate the cross-border tax issues that arise where the US and Thai tax codes meet”.
“We never did find anyone,” he recalls. “And even though we were chartered financial analysts, we didn’t have the specific knowledge, or the time, to research it.”
Their first business model was too broad, Chad says, so they decided “to work with a smaller number of people, kind of like a family office for affluent clients in Southeast Asia”.
“What we try to do is provide an integrated service model that incorporates investment advisory, financial planning, and financial decision-making support,” Chad continues. “We work with our clients on an ongoing, fee-only, no commission basis, like their own personal chief financial officer.”
Adds Peggy: “We partner with our clients. We don’t custody, we don’t trade, we don’t take possession of anyone’s money; what we do is analyse and provide advice on all aspects of household finances, the way we used to look at companies when we did institutional research for our brokerage clients.
“Do they have a long-term plan? Is it likely to work? What are the risks they face, what problems are they likely to run into?”
An American story
Although half of Creveling & Creveling’s clients are not Americans, but expatriates from other mostly-English-speaking countries, Peggy and Chad specialise in understanding the difficulties Americans living abroad are facing these days, in part because they are themselves American. Blog topics on their website include “Eight US Tax-saving Tips for American Expats” and “American Expats: Don’t get caught by US Tax Rules on Foreign Investments”.
While Japanese expats are the largest foreign contingent in Thailand, Americans are also well represented, Chad says, due to its popularity as a manufacturing centre, and the fact that it’s home to the UN’s regional headquarters, which in turn attracts many non-governmental organisations. The US Embassy here is also one of America’s largest.
“And increasingly, we’re also seeing American retirees,” Chad says.
“It’s a growing trend. It’s not huge yet, but it’s definitely growing.”
Americans who have been living abroad for much if not most of their working lives, he notes, are not automatically going to head for Florida, the way their US-based cousins might; and yet, if they’ve been working in Singapore, “they’re not going to retire there or Japan or China or Dubai.
“When they do their research, Thailand often comes out pretty high up the ranking.”
How long that continues, of course, will depend on how the current political turmoil plays out. For now, the Crevelings, like their Thailand-based clients, are hoping for a peaceful resolution that will manage to satisfy all sides, ideally involving some form of elections, and an end to the violence.
"The Thai situation continues to evolve," Peggy said.
"Businesses, tourism, and those located near protest areas have been affected the most by the state of emergency. The longer this continues, the more business confidence and foreign investment will be impacted.
"So far, widespread violence has been avoided, though this could change as we get closer to the scheduled February 2nd elections. [It's] is complicated, but we are hopeful that all parties can move toward a peaceful resolution.
"As you know, this is part of a very long conflict, and the situation has been more critical at other times in recent years. Unfortunately, though, things could devolve quickly from here.
"It’s hard to see what the end game is, but we hope more serious violence or a military coup can be avoided."