The Wizards of Aus – A Caution for Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road
by Richard Boyd, Body Mind Psychotherapist and Organisational Consultant, Perth, Western Australia
At the recent 2011 National Achievers Convention held in Sydney, over 9000 people soaked up the messages of thought leaders’ ideas on business, wealth and success. The presenters were global leaders in their core competency, and were global names such as Anthony Robbins, Harvey Eker, Robert Kiyosaki, and Donald Trump. They were a legitimate line-up of solid speakers in their respective fields.
A comment was made during the event that the passionate and excited audience should be careful of a second wave of spruikers who may follow and capitalise on the energy and on the messages and themes of that legitimate event. Why was this comment made ? Welcome to the Wizards of Aus!!
Our society is at a stage in its evolution where money, wealth, success and lifestyle are constantly used as measures of who a person is. More now than ever we are encouraged to adopt financially literate lifestyles, become pro-active investors, and escape the rat race. All this in itself is not a bad thing and represents a society informing itself of new ideas and opportunities, as more people rise out of survival consciousness.
However we also have a society populated by more than a few “Dorothy’s” who are quite innocent and naive in the ways of finance, wealth, life and how to genuinely look for happiness. Many people do require genuine support and education in such things as wealth dynamics and creating an investment portfolio, or to change their behaviours or lifestyles. Some people understand this and they go searching. They are all on some journey on their “yellow brick roads” which are hopefully paved with gold. The problem is that the unwary often cannot discern real gold from fool’s gold.
The popular modern fairy tale book and film, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is actually a profound psychological mythic story of what can happen to the naive, unaware and unthinking person who happens in life to stumble across a guru promoting a lifestyle, money, success, wealth and happiness via some “special insight” or fantastic system they alone possess. I refer you to my analytical article on the psychological dynamics and truths found in this cautionary tale titled The Wizard of Oz – A Myth for Our Age
The problem of The Wizard is translated into the fact that for every provider of sound lifestyle, financial, wealth and investment seminars, books and coaching, there are even more that are the deceptive wizard types like that portrayed in the Wizard of Oz. Predatory personalities know that there is much wealth to be garnered by offering hyped up programmes to a gullible public, who are desperate to find their pot of gold or happiness at the end of the rainbow.
I reflected on the commentators words of advice from that recent seminar. I thought why not search the internet and look at what recent offerings or presenters have graced our shores, who may appeal to that same audience but where concern may exist that they may not fill the shoes of the A-listers who just left that Sydney event.
In general all these types of events are about wealth creation and the usual marketing hype about insider tips, secrets, and psychology of money. The presenters will typically be touted as thought leaders in this arena of manifesting and wealth and success with money investments. There is often a Barnum and Bailey circus like emotional effect created around such events.
In the Barnum and Bailey circus events of 100 years ago people flocked to the circus to see the amazing midget, the hairy woman, and the Elephant man. Today we are attracted to “circus” ideas such as “3 Days to Cash”, “Make Money While You Sleep”, “The 4 Hour a Week Millionaire”, “Pillars of Success” and so on.
Just like some of the circus freaks, some of these offerings are real and just unusual, whilst some others may be more like a room full of mirrors. At the circus you bought fairy floss and show bags, and at these modern day events one can also buy show bags with books, DVD’s and literature and brochures for more upcoming events. Some offerings are solid and some are more wafer thin or like fairy floss.
The advertising and content for all these events has evolved over the years to expand their offerings to not just wealth factors but also lifestyle factors. The psychology of money, wealth and success is a more recent thread, and promotional words like “break through fear”, “turbo charged”, “discover your life purpose”, “manifest your deepest desires” and “connect to your deepest human needs” sexy up most promotional materials.
I have personally attended a number of these seminars over the years, both here and overseas. The genuine one’s are solid, and the wannabe’s will often be found to reframe and repackage others ideas plus sprinkle in some esoteric Law of Attraction pseudo-logic like that one finds in the very successful book and DVD “The Secret”.
A common thread in attracting the Dorothy, Tin Man, Lion and Scarecrow to these events is eye catching claims that convey the idea that one can become financially and lifestyle free without following the traditional path of hard work, research, having a plan and the discipline of sticking to it. It would surprise you that some of the second rate presenters may own less assets than their audience, yet may want to share their secrets of wealth creation!! Not all can walk their talk.
The solid industry operators do offer financial education and will be seen to have appropriate industry backgrounds in either Accounting, Taxation, Law, Commerce and/or a proven business history. There are some others who have colourful “poor to rich” stories and backgrounds that appeal to an audience that you too can rise up from poverty to success like me. They may or may not have more substance behind the claimed huge enlightenment moment that transformed their lives. Do not blindly swallow all claims placed in front of you.
There are many Dorothy’s in society looking for an “easy way out” of their 8 to 6 employee working lifestyles and will typically spend the hundreds of dollars to attend a multi-day event. The genuine presenters can provide generalised grounded advice and insight to those on the Yellow Brick Road. They may let their substantial careers talk for them instead of needing to make grandiose claims.
One common rort of the wannabe’s is that they make claims of financial breakthrough, recognition, success and achievement from places and times that are neither relevant, nor traceable. Scanning through the online material I notice some hypesters making claims of achievement and success dating from as far back as the 1970’s.
Chances are that no company records nor the witnessing people either still work there or are even still alive!! Hiding behind history is a common camouflage technique. A basic rule of thumb is that if it didn’t happen in the last 10 years then its ancient history and irrelevant. Society and business has moved on paradigm shifting ways over those years and business models, claims, and ideas soon become stale in our information age.
My experience has been that the hypesters typically have a second agenda that means pressure and emotional marketing attendees into more complicated and deeper pocket subsequent programmes, coaching or merchandising. Economically illiterate people may need such ongoing coaching but often these programmes are template and “cookie cutter” one fits all packages that may not work for everyone. The same may be true of the touted formula for success.
When I read the material provided by some of these programmes what I find is that the formulas have a context and a setting where their method or process will be seen to have some application. However some presenters oversell their method as a more generic way to success, economic freedom and so forth. A one size fits all is something to be wary of.
Some of the models I have reviewed require ongoing financial, time, and repeat business, or volumes of business that are not clearly spelt out in the seminar or first presentation. This is what I term the iceberg effect. What is visible is only a small part of what is going to be really needed to make the business model work. Once hooked some people keep following the Yellow Brick Road looking for that illusory pot of gold via some system or business model that may disappoint.
Some touted business models create an ongoing dependency with the promoters support organisation that means profits may need to be reinvested back into the promoters business. This dependency appears to be the real secret of how some presenters get rich and create the lifestyles they then promote. There are a variety of schemes and promoters out there. I suggest to everyone that they have their accountant review any such offering before making a commitment to any of them.
I was curious to see what recent activity had occurred in Australia around such schemes. I did some basic Google and Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) searches to see if there was any history or anything notable in regards to any company or its promoters and presenters. I was surprised with what these searches in the public domain uncovered.
According to various ASIC public website releases there has been a need in Australia for ASIC to warn the public about some facets of this transformation and wealth creation industry. A common problem is that some promoters and presenters are seen to offer both Tax advice and Financial advice to the public and clients in contravention of Australian laws.
In Australia one needs a Tax Agents licence to provide taxation advice, and one needs an Australian Financial Services Licence (AFSL) to give Financial advice. Giving those types of advice without such a licence is an offence under law. ASIC has successfully brought legal proceedings against some entities, specifically in relation “the way they arrange, promote and hold live seminars in Australia”.
ASIC warned in several media releases that “it is important that it is important to check the credentials of people providing financial advice”, and that it is concerned with some elements providing wealth and success seminars in Australia. What may have triggered ASIC’s concern?
An example of the general type of concern that ASIC expressed was highlighted in a 2009 article by Scott Pape, who is a respected financial commentator and columnist, who goes under the moniker of “The Barefoot Investor”. Scott researched and outlined the chaotic and ultimately criminal background of the so-named “Wolf of Wall Street”, one Scott Belfort.
Scott’s article claims that Jordan Belfort once setup a stockbroking operation in Wall Street where he and his team gathered enormous wealth from unwary investors to the tune of hundreds of millions. However a lifestyle of drugs, partying, the purchasing of grandiose objects of wealth such as 70 luxury cars, helicopters and mansions soon saw all the investor cash burned through. His scheme collapsed and he was convicted of a “pump and dump” share manipulation scheme, and served 22 months in a USA jail for fraud, money laundering and trading breaches.
Scott Pape documented Belfort’s lifestyle as involving “a spiralling addiction that saw him take up to 22 different drugs just to get through the day – which at the time included sleeping with hookers, organising workplace dwarf-throwing contests, sinking his 20 metre yacht, and crashing his car while high as a kite”. Based on these claims then perhaps he is not a role model for lifestyle emulation.
Pape notes that whilst in jail Belfort wrote his memoirs “The Wolf of Wall Street” which again gave him success and wealth as a bestselling author. Pape notes that in 2009 he has reinvented himself as a life coach and has a planned self-help guide soon to be published. It did not help his investors who lost their investments in his previous role as the stockbroker.
Scott Belfort came to Australia and presented at a wealth creation event in 2009 which was entitled “Beating the Stock Market”, which he allegedly criminally did well based on his past criminal record. The problem is that many Dorothy’s would have had no idea about the extent of his past, and the prudency of relying on the integrity and advice of someone with such a history. This is what I believe ASIC is concerned about within this unregulated industry in Australia.
Scott Pape warns everyone to be wary and vigilant when signing up for investment seminars. Many of the wizards of AUS wealth creation, life success, and investing, may have been able candidates for a part in the Wizard of Oz movie!! Typically from the hype of such events the promoters then try to capture emotionally aroused public into a tornado of signing up for books, DVD’s, expensive courses, and becoming part of an exclusive and privileged clubs and coaching or therapy!!
UNLEASHING DOROTHY’S DOG!!
In the famous tale, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it was Toto the dog who pulled aside the curtain and exposed the Wizard as a blustering old man, a fraud who was deceiving others with lights, sounds and levers. Psychologically the dog represents Dorothy’s animal instincts and intuition, and was a warning about how to approach spruikers and Wizards with an adult critical thinking mind.
We each need to be the Dog in the way we approach any of these events and offerings that come our way in our lives. Some basic tips from various financial commentators and ASIC which can sharpen our adult critical thinking skills and discernment include:
• Check the ASIC website for any reports or media releases on the promoters or the events or the type of investment under consideration by yourself.
• Check that anyone offering financial advice has a valid Australian Financial Services Licence (AFSL). Beware that some promoters may try to claim to be an associate of a company where such a licence is housed. This implies the person may or may not personally have the training or background to hold such a licence themself. ASIC can assist with such information.
• Check that anyone offering taxation advice has a valid Australian Taxation Licence. It is an offence to provide taxation advice without being registered to do so. Be aware that some promoters may try to claim to be an associate of a company where such a licence is housed. This implies the person may or may not personally have the training or background to hold such a licence themself. The ATO or ASIC can assist with such information.
• What general Accounting, Financial Services Industry, Investment industry background does the promoter have? Remember their resume will be polished to look attractive and may not tell the full story.
• Check that the promoter has formal training in some serious discipline in a business field. Ideally the training reflects the area of promotion and shows a level of gained competence by an accredited training organisation. I have found that it is possible for any person in society to buy their degrees from “internet mill” Universities. Such bodies exist on the basis you pay them a fee plus submit a tokenistic essay or “thesis”. In return they convey a degree of impressive sounding specialist learning. Type into google the name of their university as well as the word “fraud” and see what comes back to you.
• What recognised bodies are the promoters accredited with, or members of. A sign of credibility are formal memberships of key industry bodies and ongoing training in the industry or areas of promotion.
• Do a basic Google search of the promoter’s name, their business name, their promoted package name, their industry category, and their other businesses if you find evidence of their links to other business entities. You may be surprised what shows up.
• Does their business model or promoted package sound too easy, too good, or makes extravagant claims? If they do then beware as they may be a hypester or a con artist?
• Show the promotion or offer to your accountant or Financial Advisor and ask their opinion. Do not rely on testimonials on the website or literature of the promoters. It may be contrived, overblown or made up.
• If you are introduced into such an offer or promotion by your accountant, Financial Advisor, or other professional, ask and obtain in writing a disclosure of any conflicts of interest, any commissions or fees that this person will receive, or stand to receive by introducing you to that promotion or event. If a conflict of interest exists then get independent advice, or decline.
• Step away from your emotional reaction and let that pass. Take a cooling off period away from the person or stimulus that is evoking the excitement in you about the opportunity. Do not be pressured into signing up but instead revisit the information a day later when in a rational space.
• Ignore claims of extreme discounts or only so many seats left at the event which compel you to sign up right now or today. Whatever is the carrot will always be there tomorrow as these promoters and spruikers will not turn away a new client or prospect. Such offers are a known pressure selling technique and so potentially represent unethical conduct and should be a red flag about what else is potentially hype, pressure and misleading in the promotion or offer.
• Check upfront what does this event or promotion compel the attendee or person signing up to commit to in order to reap the benefits or gain the realisations of the business model or the success outcome. Many events and programmes are teaser events and gateways into the person being asked to commit more time, money and attendance at future events where the touted claims can only be gained. This may be in the form of study programmes, coaching, phone linkups, and product purchases for more training etc. It is what is termed the iceberg effect as you only see the 10 percent above the water line when signing up. Understand what commitment you really will need to make to claim the benefits of what is on offer.
• Check that the success of what is on offer is not niche or context specific. What made one person famous and rich may have been just true at that point in time and locality, and it may not replicate easily or at all in Australia, or in our current economic climate. The required time to maturation of the investment may also imply some risk due to what could happen economically, legally or socially over time before the benefit can be realised. Professional advice will help you to understand this risk.
• Check what the “Law of Attraction” or “Psychology of Money” types have attracted into their own lives. On principle one should be expecting that if these people are leaders in the psychology of money industry then they should be in the top 10% percentile of our wealth group in society who control about 90% of the wealth. If they are not in the 10% group as their own outcome from using their own touted principles then be wary. Ask them and yourself do they “walk their talk” or how do they demonstrate how their claims can work if it has failed them in their own life.
• Use a well tried and tested personality profiling tool to first understand yourself at a behavioural and attitudinal level, and from there explore your psychology or wealth identity or profile. This quantifiable approach, using such tools as industry leading Extended DISC personality profiling tool is a grounded and staged approach to looking at life and wealth issues from an evidence based approach which is devoid of the hype of many touted programmes on offer.
The GFC exposed many a turkey of poorly devised or illusory business or wealth creation models that went down with their investors’ monies. There was such Ponzi schemes as that by Bernie Madoff, people caught out with Margin Lending loans from banks, people burnt with Collateral Debt Obligations (CDO’s) on the stock market, to name a few. There are some key lessons there for the gullible Dorothy’s of the world. So Dorothy there is no place like home and best you stay there when the Wizards come into town.
Happy conscious investing!