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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 16 August 2018

The very big pot of money forever waiting for a home

Mislaid some cash in a long since forgotten bank account? Well it might part of the estimated £77 billion of unclaimed assets sloshing around in the world's financial system.
Illustration by Gary Clement for The National
Illustration by Gary Clement for The National
My heart missed a beat - the letter said I had won. But the anticipation quickly dissipated when I saw that the prize was the princely sum of £25 - or about Dh150.

The unexpected windfall was a payout from Premium Bonds I bought close to 20 years ago in London. I had, for whatever reason, sunk £100 into buying them at the post office (the minimum amount you could start off with) and had not thought anything of it till now.

A Premium Bond is a Lottery Bond that the UK's government promises to buy back, on request, for the original price. The bonds are entered into a regular prize draw.

Whoopee. I can add this cheque to the pile I have accumulated over more than a decade of being an expat. These are tired old pieces of paper with brown curled-up edges. Each is made out to me - but for such small sums that it would cost me more than I was owed to get the money into my account.

This win, along with the other bits of IOUs got me thinking - I'm sure unclaimed money really adds up, and boy does it. There are half a million unclaimed Premium Bond prizes - worth £31 million.

That's just a tiny bit of what's lying around. A quick look through the UK's unclaimed assets register shows £400m in the country's banks and building societies and £15 billion worth of assets - made up of life policies, pensions, shares and dividends, dormant accounts and more.

Sounds like a lot? Not in global terms: The Financial Times came up with a very conservative estimate of £77bn that is making up a "sea of unclaimed assets sloshing around the financial system".

Wow. Who does it belong to? How did this happen? Is any of it mine?

A few days ago the UK's Standard Life announced it would start a tracing scheme to reunite the £113m of unclaimed assets with rightful owners. This is not standard practice. We cannot rely on the goodwill of financial institutions to give what is owed. We need to be proactive and find out for ourselves.

Money can go unclaimed for the simplest of reasons, such as moving home and not reporting a change of address, names changing due to marriage or death, or not leaving updated financial records for heirs. Add the expatriate element to the mix and you have even more chance of things going missing, it seems.

The good news is that if you're from the likes of the UK or the US, you can check - fairly pain-free - and find out if you can lay claim to any of the £77bn sea of sloshing funds.

In the UK, some trading bodies will do free searches for you - such as the Pensions Schemes Registry or the Building Societies Association, and there's the British Bankers' Association, too. An easier, more comprehensive way of going about this would be to use the Unclaimed Assets Register for a small fee.

For money in the US, head to the appropriately named unclaimed.org - another free search engine.

For India I came across fundtracers.com.

Now, with my family background I'm pretty secure in the knowledge that I am not missing any inherited cash in my life.

I do know that I have a couple of hundred pounds in a now dormant offshore account somewhere - this exercise has brought back memories of things I did to manage my money when I first moved here many years ago. I must trace this and either use the account once again or transfer the money.

But there are still unknowns. For example, I am clueless as to whether any of the jobs I had in the UK paid into a pension scheme on my behalf. Anything I received from this would be a very small sum, though, and probably not worth more than the Dh200 my bank would charge me to cash a foreign currency cheque.

The important thing here is to have our financial records simplified, updated and in a place where we, or our heirs, can access them.

Back to my £25 win. With no UK bank account and no plans to go there any time soon, the cheque will probably end up being made into a paper weight of sorts, and added to my little, and the world's very big, pot of money waiting for its forever home.

Nima Abu Wardeh is the founder of the personal finance website cashy.me. You can reach her at nima@cashy.me

Follow us on Twitter @TheNationalPF

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