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Financial Oracle to the rescue

May 16th, 2019 at 09:34 pm

My buddy at work has over the years seen my finances and has heard what I do to improve my finances. So as time has gone on he has asked me more and more questions, especially of late. He inherited some money from His father's estate recently. I don't know the amount, but I think it is a hundred thousand or two, something like that. First his questions were where to save, how to invest, somewhat general things. Over this time he has trusted my wisdom on finances more and more. I have become the defacto Financial Oracle. Of course with great power comes great responsibility. [Hmmmmm.... I think I heard that some place before. Well in any case....]

So this week he comes over and starts telling me about a trip he took to the bank and how he was offered investment "counseling". I had to put that in "quotes" because it reminds me of the phrase "With friends like these, who needs enemies?". So he starts to try to explain what they were offering him, and I tell him it sounds like a variable annuity, a very very bad product. He insists that's not what its called, but still he didn't understand what it was and if it was good.

And so starts........

****** Financial Oracle to the Rescue [Play appropriate theme music here] ******

I finally tell him I can't give him any better answer without whatever paperwork they gave him. I told him I don't care what they said, they could say anything. What matters is on the paper. And I was willing to look it over if he liked. So yesterday I got paperwork from him for the two products they were proposing. And an eyeful it was.

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WARNING: Crazy dry financial info follows. Don't say I didn't warn you.
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First thing is these were called "Buffered investment securities". Ok, have to say I didn't know what these things are. I don't know every financial product out there after all [Oops.... don't let him hear that...]. So off to Investopedia for some research. Hmmmmm... some products of a general nature that help you taking on some of the risk when the market, or whatever you are basing it on, goes south. Ok, so what's the catch? Well doesn't say specifically, but each product has its own downside so its up to you to read the fine print and figure it out what do the providers get out of it.

OK, with that out of the way it was time to start reading, or in my case skimming through and finding the parts that are important (there are walls of text in spots, mostly telling you things you should already know. I'll save my eyesight, thank you very much.).

So I start with document #1 and what do I find? First there is 5% commission he must pay up front, though it can be from 2% to 8% so throw that money away to start (apparently you don't know the exact percentage until they print out the final paperwork for you to review and sign). The investment follows the S&P 500 going off of the index values at the start and end dates only (ignores everything in between). It also ignores dividends (which runs about 2%/year right now). So as this is for 5 years, there is another 10% of earnings you lose out on versus investing in an S&P 500 ETF. Add in any compounding of this money and it could easily cost him 20% of his investment in earnings. He will get the growth in the index at the end, but only based on the starting 95% of his investment.

So that was the down side, what the company gains. And what does he get for giving away his money for 5 years? The company will cover his losses if the index goes down, but only down to 26%. After that he is responsible for any further declines. So say the index goes way down, like 45%, how would my friend make out? Well he would lose the 20% I previously mentioned, but the company will cover the losses of 26%. So basically instead of being down 35% (45% loss less the 10% earned in dividends if he invests in an ETF that follows the index) he would now be down 39%( 45% loss + 20% of potential earnings lost {see above} - 26% covered by the company ). So even if the market goes down, you are losing about the same amount of money (ok not exactly - there would be taxes on the dividends, but still...) And your money is locked up for 5 years. Oh, and BTW, there is no collateral, so if the company goes bankrupt, you're out of everything. Oh you do get growth if the index goes up, but you lose out on the earnings in any case, and the 5% haircut up front. After I told him all of this he was basically "OK, I got it, this is terrible. I had no idea." Whew, talk about a lose-lose scenario for investing in this "great package".

PS: I just reviewed the second document. This one is worse, which is hard to believe. It follows the Dow Jones Industrial index value over 3 years. For a 3 year lock in of your money, you are limited to 15% growth (that's it, you cannot earn more!), you pay 3-5% up front (again, decided on the day it is created), lose all your dividends (say 6%), and ignore compounding on that money, and how much do you save if the market tanks? 15% max, but that's after losing the 9-11% previously mentioned. Or a savings of.... 4-6%. And for scenarios that almost never happen. [sarcasm rant starts] Whooo hooo, what a deal!!!! I can save myself 4% of potential losses if I limit my upside to (15% max less loss of money from 9-11% , so therefore a max earnings of 4-6% over 3 years) no matter what happens. If the market goes up 50% over 3 years? Sorry you get 4%, the brokers will keep the other 46%. What a deal. [end of sarcasm rant]

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

If you've read this far, I think they change the names used for these things so they are tough to look up and research, but this seems to cover it: https://www.forbes.com/sites/billconerly/2018/10/26/buffered-return-enhanced-notes-bad-investment-choice-that-sounds-good/#81c90c625378

Final note: to be fair, the second item isn't exactly what I wrote. Weirdly, if the index drops 10-15% you make out great with this security. But if the market drops 16% (one percent greater drop), you actually lose an extra 15%. (WTF???) So I could look at this as a bet on the market dropping from 10 to 15 percent. Anything else and you lose, possibly big time. I had to check it three times to make sure this was right - its one weird financial thing to stay far far away from.

Final final last note: If its not clear, just say no to anything promoted like this. Seriously, if you can't understand it, just stay away. These aren't bad, they're atrocious. You may as well burn your money.

5 Responses to “Financial Oracle to the rescue”

  1. creditcardfree Says:

    Wow! Which company/bank was selling these. These are really, really bad. Thanks for sharing these exist!

  2. Smallsteps Says:

    He was lucky that you can help him many times these "sales" people get the target to sign up before they leave the bank/ company etc.
    I think there are more and more of these out there because many people are hesitant to invest because they are told it is too risky. Everyday I see the sky is falling any day now articles/ commercials that promise NO LOSS if market goes down. Sounds too GOOD to be TRUE …. cause it is a scam.
    They write these up in confusing terms making it look like you are covered if market goes down but often people will not see how they were screwed until after the fact. t
    They keep changing names of these products too so after they are exposed they can say "oh no no it is not that'


  3. Petunia 100 Says:

    There is an easier way to figure out if these are a good deal for the consumer or not. The bank's goal is to make money, not lose it. So if they are offering an "investment" with lots of complicated details, who's interests are those details designed to benefit? You or the bank? The market will give what it gives. How are you going to come out ahead by sharing what the market gives with the bank and keeping the rest for yourself? Obvious answer: you aren't.

    I hope your friend does something prudent with his money, like buying a reasonable mix of low-cost index funds and/or etfs.

  4. rob62521 Says:

    I hope your friend listens to you. Anytime a bank or an "investment" person wants to see someone something, that's trouble for the consumer. You are a good friend and I enjoyed your blog entry. You must be a hoot in real life.

  5. disneysteve Says:

    Good for you for helping him and good for him for listening and not falling for the snake oil salesperson's presentation.

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