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Where Snakes In Suits Make Money
September 28, 2017

Where Snakes In Suits Make Money

Robert D. Hare has met a few real-life Hannibal Lecters. Lecter was the sophisticated psychopath in the film, Silence of the Lambs. He was a social genius who sometimes ate his victims. Dr. Hare, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia says, "The first one [psychopath] I met at a maximum security prison in Canada stared at me so hard I felt like I was being pushed up against the wall."

In their book, Snakes In Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work, Dr. Hare and co-author Dr. Paul Babiak say psychopaths are, “known for their ability to don many masks, change ‘who they are’ depending on the person whom they are interacting, and make themselves appear likable to their intended victim.”

But psychopaths aren’t just freaks who stuff people in their freezers. The authors suggest one percent of the male population is a psychopath. In contrast, far fewer women fit the criteria.

By definition, a psychopath is someone who lacks empathy. He uses people to get what he wants. He doesn’t feel remorse.

In 2012, CFA Magazine’s Sherree DeCovney referenced Christopher Bayer, a psychologist who provides therapy to Wall Street professionals. He said the percentage of psychopaths in the financial services industry might exceed 10 percent.

That figure wasn’t based on scientific evidence. But I’m guessing that percentage might be much higher in countries with loose, financial regulations. Financial psychopaths likely love such regions.

Between January and June 2017, I spoke about investing in 11 different countries, including Qatar, Egypt, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Thailand. Sadly, I saw a lot of carnage. Financial salespeople–many of whom might be psychopaths–had found clever ways to separate people from their money.

For example, plenty of British public school teachers, nurses and former military personnel have chosen to work abroad in the Middle East, Africa or Southeast Asia. But such regions have fewer financial regulations compared to the United States, Great Britain, or other developed world countries.

One British woman I met worked as a teacher in Abu Dhabi. Incredibly, a silver-tongued salesman convinced her to liquidate her pension. As a result, she gave up retirement income, guaranteed by the British government, to invest in an inflexible, high-cost plan of actively managed mutual funds.

When she had transferred the assets, the salesman earned a big commission. Her assets were initially worth about $500,000. The woman cried as she showed me her investment statement. After two years, it had dwindled to about $300,000.

UK-based financial advisor, Ben Sherwood, is a Certified Financial Planner and Chartered Financial Planner for high net-worth clients. I asked him what he thought. He said, “The idea that most teachers with rights under the UK Teachers Pension Scheme should transfer [their money] is simply scandalous.”

I wish she were an exception. Unfortunately, snakes in suits have convinced plenty of British teachers in the Middle East to cash in their guaranteed retirement pension schemes.

In 2015, The Telegraph’s Katie Morley wrote, Exposed: the rip-off investment ‘advisors’ who cost British expats billions. She profiled a former employee of a large international brokerage. He didn’t have any financial training, beyond that of a week-long course. He said the course included training to “psychologically manipulate customers into handing over their money”. He added, “We were told to prepare clients’ paperwork and put it in blue folders. But after [the customer] had signed on the dotted line we’d slip extra pages into the folders that they hadn’t seen before, which included details of the charges.”

The most common products cost investors annual fees of about 4.5 percent per year. They pay salesmen huge commissions at the expense of the investor. After all, that’s 45 times more expensive than a low-cost index fund. It’s tough to beat inflation with such high investment costs. Such financial salespeople earn high commissions. But their winner-take-all attitude hurts investors.

Benjamin Robertson reported the commissions in his South China Morning Post story, Investment-Linked Insurance Schemes a Trap for Unwary Investors. If somebody commits to invest $1000 a month, the brokerage commission can be as high as $12,600.

Unfortunately, such investors pay penalties to sell before a pre-determined period, often as long as 25 years after they have signed the investment contract. If they try to sell after 18 months, the investor usually loses everything. Investors who try to sell after a period of 5 years might pay redemption penalties totaling 50 percent or more of the total invested proceeds.

Many of the regions’ financial salespeople treat their clients just like enemies. Could this be psychotic? Doug Tucker works for deVere Group, a brokerage that has made a fortune selling such schemes. He offers tips to financial salespeople who search for big commissions.

In his book, Sales Commando: Unleash Your Potential, he wrote, “You have to go into full-frontal attack mode. This means huge, massive action. To do this you need a strategy, a plan of attack, and the absolute certainty you are going to win.”

Before a potential client can object to a product, Tucker says advisors should, “Create a mental picture of each objection as a small monster being born and figuratively popping out of the client's mouth. The minute you pay attention to the fledgling monster you will be feeding it with energy, because this little monster thrives on encouragement. The more you acknowledge its presence, the more it will grow and grow.”

This doesn’t sound good. But financial education can be the enemy of exploitation. Financial psychopaths, be warned.

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