Tuesday 22 October 2019

Stash the cash: Keep your money and valuables safe

Keeping valuables at home is an open invitation to burglars, so why not keep them in a secure vault. asks Mark Keenan.

Seamus Fahy inside Merrion Vault in Dublin. Photo: Mark Maxwell
Seamus Fahy inside Merrion Vault in Dublin. Photo: Mark Maxwell
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

A wealthy Dublin-based entrepreneur is heading off to see a hypnotist this week – to help him remember where he stashed a wad of tens of thousands of euro he had hidden in a "safe place" in his house.

Having hidden away several stacks of cash for a rainy day, he recently went to retrieve them and discovered he couldn't account for that last hidey hole.

Household stash mishaps are becoming far more common among the super rich.

Last year the gardai recovered more than 200 grand concealed in the former home of developer Tom McFeely on Ailesbury Road in Dublin 4 (Mr McFeely has denied it is his). Whoever put it there, had certainly hidden it away, believing it to be safe.

Then there was the case of the Barnardos curtains in highbrow Dublin 6. Charity shop staff discovered thousands of euro sewn into a pair of curtains donated by a resident in the area. The money was returned to the embarrassed owner after the shop issued an appeal through the gardai.

Unbelievably, the stashing of huge amounts of cash in bathrooms, curtains, socks, plant pots, hidden house recesses and holes in the garden is surprisingly common since the bank crash, says Seamus Fahy, one of whose clients is this week heading to see the hypnotist.

Today, Mr Fahy is making a stash of his own by taking charge of valuables for those who have previously been stung storing their valuables at home.

The owner of Voltaire Diamonds opened Ireland's largest private security vaults in Merrion Square in Dublin city centre last year after experiencing his own safe storage issues for his business's priceless stock. He installed a 3,000sq ft secure vault to Lloyds security standards at Merrion Square, which is also insured by the London firm.

Since opening last year he has seen enquiries triple on the back of a perfect storm of treasure storage panic. From a cold start 10 months ago he now has more than a thousand storage clients.

There are four main reasons behind his success – first, banks have been closing their deposit box facilities, traditionally the safe haven for stashed loot; second, the result has been a surge in the cost of insuring fine art and valuables which must now be kept in the home; third, the amount of "portable" assets being held has hiked up thanks to a general mistrust of banks, government and extra low interest rates, and finally, there has been a surge in the organisation of crime to target domestic hidey hole stashes along with a vast increase in competence among the criminals involved.

"Four years ago the banks began closing off access to their vaults and strongboxes, the traditional safe haven for valuables which are not kept at home," says Mr Fahy. "The banks don't want to be in bricks and mortar any more, they want to move towards online. They don't want to have to deal with people coming in to be admitted to vaults with their valuable paintings."

As the owner of a high-end diamond chain, Mr Fahy was among the first to experience the urgent dilemma of having his treasure exposed.

His solution was to set up Merrion Vaults, a high-security vaults storage enterprise which would not only protect his own diamonds, but would also cater for high net worth individuals nervously stashing valuables in hidden places around their homes.

The most popular items stored are jewellery, cash, gold and krugerrands, family heirlooms, fine art, coins, house deeds, wills and memory sticks.

Among Mr Fahy's clients is rugby pundit Brent Pope, a fine art collector who decided to store his collection in Merrion Vaults after criminals waited until he was live on air to break into his home and make off with his valuables. Mr Pope is now helping the Merrion Vaults promotional awareness campaign and has since taken measures to ensure his home's safety when he's broadcasting.

But while ordinary burglaries have fallen according to the latest crime statistics, aggravated burglaries are on the increase to almost 300 per annum.

"These guys actually want you to be there when they break in and the first thing they do after tying you up is to put the kettle on. They'll threaten to pour it on you unless you tell them where your safe is," said Mr Fahy, who adds that criminals are familiar with all the tricks people use.

"They know about the use of 'dummy' safes, they have been using metal detectors in the back gardens in wealthy areas, they know about storage compartments behind false electric sockets, in false tinned food containers and these days they turn up with blockers to cut the signal on phone-linked alarms."

Meantime, regular burglars have become more organised. A gang nicknamed the 'Embassy Belt Burglars' has recently been making a name for itself hitting the exclusive Nutley, Ailesbury and Shrewsbury roads in D4 and are estimated to have bagged at least €500,000 in cash and valuables in carefully targeted raids.

In October, a series of raids in Ailesbury and Nutley netted €40,000 and the same burglars came back to the area the following month taking €125,000 from just one home. In February the gang got an estimated €250,000 in cash and valuables from the home of one businessman alone.

However, Mr Fahy, who now has clients from these areas paying between €6,000 and €12,000 per annum for larger scale storage for fine art and gold and silver bars.

He says clients aren't only worried about criminals making off with their treasure: "Many high net worth individuals don't trust the Government and fear a Cyprus-style raid taking place. They don't like the fact that their savings over €100,000 are not guaranteed."

Two years ago an international report on 'treasure' held by Barclays said the hoards held by Irish high net worth individuals typically included jewellery (60pc), fine art (35pc) and antiques (19pc). The report published shows that wealthy Irish are likely to carry 10pc of their overall wealth in a treasure stash, compared with 7pc for their British equivalents.

"Irish high net worth individuals are among the world's least showy and buy these items to enjoy rather than resell them or show them off. The fact they lean towards jewellery, paintings and antiques shows that our wealthiest like to have these things in their homes where they can see them," said Pat McCormack, of Barclays' Irish wealth and investment division.

Apart from another operation offering a smaller storage facility at Baggot Street, Merrion Vaults believes it is the only firm offering storage to international bullion standards in Ireland.

"Following research of the market we have invested in the construction of a terrace of secure safe deposit rooms in our vault. They are 9ft high, 4ft wide and 10ft deep and include the same high standards of security associated with Merrion Vault safe deposit boxes," Seamus said.

The demand identified in Ireland, mirrors that in the UK with major vaults including Harrods of London reporting a four-year waiting list for their walk-in strong rooms.

While strongbox facilities are available at the Merrion Vaults from €199 per annum, wealthy clients pay €6,000 to €12,000 for storage rooms. While this sounds expensive, it does actually save them money.

"Someone with a fine art collection worth €150,000 could pay €15,000 to €20,000 to insure them at home. By using our facility, that bill comes down to hundreds." Given the steep rise in D2 rents at €12,000, it might yet prove cheapest to move yourself in there too.

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