Thursday, October 25, 2007

An Exhibition

Recently I went to an exhibition "Personal Finances", organized by several banks, brokerage firms, insurance companies and publishers. I was interested to see what was meant by "personal finances" in that particular case. I wondered if I could learn something new. I must confess I have never seen people in real life who invests their money. Almost nobody will talk to me about handling money for more than ten minutes. All I know comes from books, magazines and the internet. So, I just wanted to see other people who were interested in pf.

Well, this exhibition turned out to be deadly boring. It was aimed at well-to-do middle class Muscovites and was held in a luxurious hotel in the center of the city. The visitors were mostly middle-aged men, several young men and few women. Somehow nobody would notice me and try to sell something to me. Sales managers probably couldn't perceive me as their client. They focused on more prosperous visitors trying to sell them average mutual funds with exorbitant fees, brokerage accounts (oh, trading is so in vogue here) and, strangely enough, tuition in private schools for their kids.

I went to a random presentation, where some pompous man gave a speech about stock market. The presenter told about disadvantages of mutual funds and encouraged everyone to buy stocks directly. He claimed he can easily get 100% ROI per year. This man hinted that successful people who made lots of money on stock market couldn't wear cheap bad suits. Apparently, we had to trust him, because his outfit did look expensive. Ugh. He obviously was a smart professional. But his speech was inaccurate and misleading, some facts were not true. My own experience and common sense sometimes disagreed with his words. I saw that his only goal was to make people set up a brokerage account with his employer and trade intensely, thus feeding the company with fees. I felt uneasy and wondered why the audience didn't laugh at him or challenge him (two men opposed him a couple of times but that was all). Then I realized that the majority of those sitting in at the presentation were listening intensely and actually believed what the presenter was saying. I remember a man in the audience ask "If I invest my money in stocks, will it be safe there? Will I get everything back?" He probably thought stocks to be some kind of bank deposit with extra high 100% APY. The answer he got was unclear and ambiguous.

What did I learn at this exhibition? Well, I believe that the personal finance industry in Russia is beginning to boom. The business seizes every opportunity to benefit from it. Not always their practices are and will be beneficial for their client. There's still little good advice on money matters and little information. People here need basic knowledge, like what a stock and a bond are. But at these presentations no one will muse on dollar-cost averaging, reducing debt, minding fees, long timeframes, indexing vs. active management and so on. There's a talk about 100% and quick big money. So people get easily impressed and start trading stocks actively, not really understanding how it works. They don't watch fees, they estimate the price of a manager's suit.

I also learned that I know enough to tell when people try to dupe me. I'm literate enough not to believe everything I'm told. I can make my own decisions. Thank you so very much, pf blogosphere :)


matt said...

"This man hinted that successful people who made lots of money on stock market couldn't wear cheap bad suits."

Obviously, he has never seen Warren Buffett.

It's kind of interesting that they don't target young people there. In the United States, they're always trying to nail young people with retirement planning, etc.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the original stock craze in the early 90s... I was pretty young then so all I remember is that everyone lost their money and were pretty damn pissed.