If Someone Tries to Sell You, Don’t Buy It

Picture Credit: Arturo de Albornoz || "Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you." -- Y'Shua Ha'Mushiach

Picture Credit: Arturo de Albornoz || “Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.”

This is an extension of a recent piece Decline Free Food. Things have gotten worse with the mail situation at the Merkel house as I get older. It’s not enough that AARP keeps sending us offers join. (I keep a pile of AARP cards next to my work area to snip up if I am feeling blue. ? ) Now that I have turned 55, I am getting a flood of invitations from bloodsuckers financial services marketers asking me to come to their free information session.

The three recent ones were:

  • A conference asking “DO YOU HAVE THE COURAGE TO RETIRE RICH?” The answer is real estate speculation. Ah, if it were only that easy. Yes, I know that a tiny amount of flipping has been profitable of late. The only thing more profitable than flipping and speculating is getting others to pay for your advice and services so that they can go out and lose money speculating and flipping. As I said to the guy pitching at a “Rich Dad” seminar, “If there’s that much money lying around in mispriced properties, why not go start a REIT and vacuum up all that money yourself?” His answer, “What’s a REIT?” I said, “If you don’t know that, you don’t know real estate.”
  • The pitch: “In a moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing. — Theodore Roosevelt” A little more classy, but wrong. Often the right thing to do is nothing, particularly if you don’t know the right answer… better to wait, study and learn. Don’t be biased toward action, particularly in investing. Only a salesman wants you biased toward action, and that is for his good, not yours. In this case, the course offered doesn’t look so bad, and the price is cheap — but they don’t care about the cost of the course aside from the fact that it psychologically commits you to the course, and that you will more likely come, and be more likely to purchase further services from them. The biggest thing you would learn from the course is that you don’t know much… so buy their services.
  • The next one advertises a dinner. This one tries to scare you into coming — there’s a crisis around the corner. Boo! But we can keep your retirement safe. Inflation is coming. Boo! But we will get you an income that keeps up with inflation. Then, to aid credibility, it mentions that their firm has been mentioned in a variety of local newspapers that no one pays for that cumulatively have less reach than this blog.

When I recently went and spoke to the Baltimore chapter of the American Association of Individual Investors, I told them, “I’m not going to market anything to you,” and I didn’t. I response to a question, I did show them a page from my blog. Yes, the one that lists all my worst mistakes. And, I took a fairly extensive Q&A where if I didn’t know an answer, or there wasn’t a good answer, I said so.

My credibility is worth more to me than a little business. Beyond that, I never want a client to think that I goaded him into working with me, or, that I went overboard to retain him if he wants to leave. After all, I say to them, “It’s Their Money.”

As I often say:

“Don’t buy what someone else wants to sell you. Buy what you have researched that you want to buy.”

I would say if someone sends you a slick ad on financial services, ignore them. Always. Do your own research. The best firms don’t advertise, because they don’t have to. Talk to intelligent friends, and see what they do. Ask investment managers if they died and their firm went out of business, who would they want their spouse to use?

Don’t respond to retirement, investment management and financial planning ads. Develop your own proposal, and put it out for bid. Let multiple providers tell you what they will do for you. Have smart friends help you review the submissions. Then choose the best one.

Keep the hucksters and charlatans at bay. Ignore them.



About the Author

David Merkel
David J. Merkel, CFA, FSA — 2010-present, I am working on setting up my own equity asset management shop, tentatively called Aleph Investments. It is possible that I might do a joint venture with someone else if we can do more together than separately. From 2008-2010, I was the Chief Economist and Director of Research of Finacorp Securities. I did a many things for Finacorp, mainly research and analysis on a wide variety of fixed income and equity securities, and trading strategies. Until 2007, I was a senior investment analyst at Hovde Capital, responsible for analysis and valuation of investment opportunities for the FIP funds, particularly of companies in the insurance industry. I also managed the internal profit sharing and charitable endowment monies of the firm. From 2003-2007, I was a leading commentator at the investment website RealMoney.com. Back in 2003, after several years of correspondence, James Cramer invited me to write for the site, and I wrote for RealMoney on equity and bond portfolio management, macroeconomics, derivatives, quantitative strategies, insurance issues, corporate governance, etc. My specialty is looking at the interlinkages in the markets in order to understand individual markets better. I no longer contribute to RealMoney; I scaled it back because my work duties have gotten larger, and I began this blog to develop a distinct voice with a wider distribution. After three-plus year of operation, I believe I have achieved that. Prior to joining Hovde in 2003, I managed corporate bonds for Dwight Asset Management. In 1998, I joined the Mount Washington Investment Group as the Mortgage Bond and Asset Liability manager after working with Provident Mutual, AIG and Pacific Standard Life. My background as a life actuary has given me a different perspective on investing. How do you earn money without taking undue risk? How do you convey ideas about investing while showing a proper level of uncertainty on the likelihood of success? How do the various markets fit together, telling us us a broader story than any single piece? These are the themes that I will deal with in this blog. I hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University. In my spare time, I take care of our eight children with my wonderful wife Ruth.