Social media has been blamed for being the cause of many ills over the past decade. The ability to analyse our behaviour and micro-target us with advertising may become the biggest ill of all.
Blatantly telling lies and distorting the truth to a narrow group of people is regarded as a serious problem on social media. There is no strong regulation around the content that gets shared, promoted and targeted on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
It's harder to address than general advertising. If deceptive ads were more widely seen, they would be more likely to be flagged and exposed, but the damage has generally been done by then. Much of the focus to this point has been on political campaigns, but the investment world is quickly catching up.
Rob Everett, CEO of Financial Markets Authority (FMA), says: In New Zealand many people now offer their thoughts and perspectives on financial matters, and some have built strong followings on social media. But sometimes talking about money or investing can cross over into providing financial advice.
FMA released a media statement this week urging consumers to be wary of the advice and commentary from people on social media. The statement emphasised that there are strict rules around providing regulated financial advice in New Zealand that apply to everyone, and it pays to know about them.
Although New Zealanders lose millions of dollars in investment scams every year, we are a bit behind in discovering and reporting online fraudulent investment schemes. So we'll begin in the US, where the world's best grifters are usually found.
In December 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) granted a temporary restraining order against Raging Bull and its co-defendants. Why?
The FTC's complaint alleges that the defendants fraudulently marketed investment-related services that they claimed would enable consumers to make consistent profits and beat the market.
Something we know couldn't and wouldn't happen. What the FTC alleges did happen was a loss of at least $137 million by investors in the past three years. Raging Bull and its co-defendants, a group of course instructors or coaches, claimed they had all the stock market secrets, and they'd already made a fortune. Why not learn their secrets on how to get rich?
Digging into the specifics of the FTC case, it's the section detailing the advertising that is most familiar. Relying on social media platforms, Raging Bull and its co-defendants would show ads to people who were identified as interested in the stock market and investing. The ads showed the instructors with fast cars, private jets and luxury hotels.
Prospective investors were encouraged to download a free ebook. This meant giving up their email address to then be bombarded with emails pushing expensive 'limited time' courses. The courses were taken by the coaches who were marketed as investment gurus, all with rags to riches stock trading tales. They all knew how to identify the winning trades on a weekly basis. All investors had to do was pay up and follow the tips.
The truth is that a substantial number of consumers have lost money attempting to invest based on the "education" provided by defendants or trying to follow the instructors' trade alerts.
And defendants do not tell consumers that the instructor's income is primarily derived from subscription fees consumers pay to Raging Bull and not from stock and options trading.
If you're of a particular demographic in New Zealand, you're being bombarded with similarly themed ads on social media right now, particularly Facebook. Market trading coaches, property investment gurus and business coaches run through a similar playbook to Raging Bull. Pitching themselves, standing in front of a pool, high-end sports car, mansion, or office window with a city vista in the background.
You don't need a lot of time. You don't need much money or experience to start. Big money returns. Learn the system and secrets. Lifestyle. Anyone can do it. I started with nothing. I was seriously in debt, now I'm free. Free ebook. Passive income with as little as $1000.
Those are the claims being thrown around. It's wild west stuff. Some are in New Zealand. Some are offshore. Some are licensed and claiming they're an education service. Some are unlicensed. Some claim to be the recipients of awards you won't find evidence of. Some of the worst are linking back to their social media profiles. There you'll find pictures of alleged stock market trading profits interspersed with sports cars, boats, high-end hotels and travel to exotic destinations.
Investing is not a competition. Investing is not even a skill. It's a discipline. This is revealed with time, not short-term spurts of speculation. Historically (1926-2018), market directions on a daily basis are little better than a coin flip. On a monthly basis, 63 per cent are positive. On a 12-month basis, 75 per cent are positive. On a five-year basis, 88 per cent are positive, 95 per cent of 10-year periods and 100 per cent of 20-year periods.
Staying disciplined with an investing approach is the one thing an investor has in their favour and finding an independent fee-only adviser who is interested in your financial goals will help achieve that level of discipline. An adviser will then devise a financial plan and risk-appropriate portfolio you can stick with, along with a realistic timeframe to be where you want to be.
- Nick Stewart is a Financial Adviser and CEO at Stewart Group, a Hawke's Bay-based CEFEX certified financial planning and advisory firm. Stewart Group provides personal fiduciary services, Wealth Management, Risk Insurance & KiwiSaver solutions.
The information provided, or any opinions expressed in this article, are of a general nature only and should not be construed or relied on as a recommendation to invest in a financial product or class of financial products. You should seek financial advice specific to your circumstances from an Authorised Financial Adviser before making any financial decisions. A disclosure statement can be obtained free of charge by calling 0800 878 961 or visit our website, www.stewartgroup.co.nz