Over the past 2 months, it was virtually impossible to pick up any newspaper and not read reports about the money game phenomenon that has taken the media by storm. It is as if Pandora’s Box had been suddenly flung open by the exposé of JJPTR, leading to other similar schemes coming to light.
The victim profile ranges from white-collared professionals and savvy businessmen to senior citizens and housewives. It would appear as if just about anyone from different walks of life could be equally susceptible to these money schemes.
It is easy for observers and bystanders to pin the blame on the investors for getting themselves in a sticky situation. After all, if we apply the caveat emptor (buyer beware) principle to other types of goods and services, the investors should have clearly known the risks of subscribing to these money games and therefore should have been aware of the possibility of losing their investments.
So, what caused groups of people to lose their common sense when it comes to money games?
Scams come in many shapes, sizes and forms but look closely and you will see that they all have many things in common in terms of the modus operandi and the people they seem to attract. From JJPTR and MBI International right at our doorstep to China’s Nanning investment scheme and the most notorious Ponzi scheme of all times – the Madoff scandal, all these scams preyed on innate human weaknesses and appealed to investors’ desire to grow their wealth.
Many would be quick to label these investors as greedy or gullible, but I beg to differ. I see nothing wrong with wanting to achieve financial freedom and get higher investment returns. The people who invested and lost in these scams are not multi-millionaires with ample financial resources. They are average Malaysians who have worked hard and saved their money for a rainy day, only to see their nest egg disappear into thin air. What drove them to place the precious results of their blood, sweat and tears into unregulated investment schemes?
I am convinced that the reason stems from the investors’ poor experience with regulated investment product providers.
The so-called ‘push’ factor
There is a mismatch of what consumers need and what financial institutions are trying to sell. Consumers want guidance on how to use regulated investments as a means to grow their wealth with high certainty and achieve financial freedom.
The general public sees banks as an easy, accessible channel to obtain advice on personal finance and investment matters via wealth management services in Petaling Jaya,Malaysia. There is no issue with legitimacy as the array of financial products and services available through banks are duly approved by the regulatory authorities.
The problem arises when investors are not getting what they need, which is advisory support, from their current wealth management providers. More often than not, investors feel overwhelmed by the choices available in the market. Worse still, investors do not know what action to take when their investments lose money. It is not uncommon to find that the wealth management providers are very attentive and proactive in recommending options; but once the sales is concluded, the investor is basically left to his or her own devices.
As a result of the lack of hand-holding or after sales service, some investors may find that rather than growing money, they end up losing 20-30% of their capital. The sheer irony of it is that because of the experience of losing money, they now perceive regulated investments as highly volatile and uncertain, and ultimately lose faith. I have personally encountered clients who harbour such misgivings about unit trusts, that they would bluntly tell me right from the initial meeting, not to propose such options to them. I realised then the extent to which poor experiences with wealth management providers can lead to misplaced biases against certain investment vehicles even though investors could benefit from the right ones. When disillusioned investors turn their heads elsewhere, this is when they discover “alternative” investment options. And many end up falling for money games because they are sold on the idea of fixed return investments perceived to be low risk, coupled with the promise of better returns.
In this instances, the ‘push’ factor, i.e. the unmet financial needs of consumers, which contributed to investors subscribing to shady schemes, has equal bearing to the ‘pull’ factor (attraction) of these money scams.
“I am like any other man. All I do is supply a demand.” – Al Capone, American mobster
As with most goods and services that are detrimental to our well-being (e.g. junk food, cigarettes, gambling, etc), it is consumers’ demand for them that drives their industry and makes them thrive. Without customers, these shady businesses would naturally die off.
The ability of the money games to proliferate boils down to the “smart” business acumen of the operators to “fill the gap” so to speak. By offering an alternative investment scheme at a time when the market is slow and when many investors are experiencing losses, these money games are seen as a sudden golden ticket towards becoming rich. However, as we have seen, the golden ticket eventually loses its shine and the investors are left holding nothing but a worthless scrap of paper.
Therefore, there would be fewer victims of money games if the wealth management industry as a whole were to step up and reinvent themselves into a genuine one-stop financial centre to help their clients address all financial and investment issues at various points of their lives.
When the grass on one side is always greener, the rest will not matter
In order to ensure that they are seen by clients as the “go-to” person for all financial and investment related concerns, wealth management providers will need to exceed expectations and to a certain degree, over deliver on their current role.
Wealth managers could assist clients to evaluate various investment proposals to determine its suitability and guide clients to use regulated investment vehicles to invest in various asset classes such as equities, bonds, REITs and foreign investments to grow their money effectively. They could also play the role of a financial bodyguard to help investors fend off scams and illegitimate investments.
In an ideal world, wealth managers will set aside sufficient time and effort to understand the client’s financial position in a holistic manner. They will prepare a tailored and dynamic plan with milestones and checkpoints to help monitor and review progress.
To my peers in the wealth management industry, I would say, cut the lip service and let’s get serious about managing and growing wealth for our clients.
When more and more investors realise that they are able to count on their wealth management providers in Petaling Jaya,Malaysia for all the required support they need to achieve their financial end game, then money games will no longer have room to take root.
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