Greg Lowe: How to deal with Bangkok’s illegal financial advisors
It would plain wrong to accuse all so-called “independent financial advisors” operating in Thailand of being low-life, scum-sucking, rip-off merchants; heels who divide their time between skanking people out of their hard-earned cash and selling grannies.
So let’s be fair and accurate: I’m only talking about 90 percent of the IFAs that I’ve had dealings with in Bangkok.
I’m sure there’s at least a handful of decent professional firms out there that offer sound investment advice, operate according to strict ethical standards and, as a result, have a growing list of happy clients who willingly recommend their advisors to friends. But then, they’re not the tossers who keep cold-calling you at work and refuse to take no for an answer, are they?
Almost all English-speakers who have worked in Thailand for more than three days have had run-ins with these telephone stalkers, armed with an uncanny ability to sniff out new prospects like maggots seeking rotting flesh.
The process goes something like this: First, within days of starting a new job you get a load of promotional guff sent to you by post or email that sets out compelling arguments for why you should stop thinking about actually earning a living and instead get rich quick by investing whatever savings you have into a number of “lucrative mechanisms” with “squintillion-percent guaranteed annual returns.”
After all, you’d be mad not to invest in the Footballers With Hemorrhoids GoldDust 17X, Selling Sand to Arabs or Madoff-Ponzi Surefire Fortune funds, right?
Second, after you’ve deftly consigned the catalog of needlessly slaughtered trees to the dustbin, you receive a call from your friendly advisor, checking that you’ve received said information and wanting to set up a face-to-face meeting to discuss your investment and savings plans.
Third, the process of cold calls continues month-in, month-out: like Groundhog Day without the fun of shooting yourself in the head.
For a while I thought the evil geniuses at Mordor Central who run the, ahem, “reputable businesses” that are probably located above some grimy rub shop off Sukhumvit Road, gave their boiler room merchants phones with no earpiece. That was the only logical reason why they couldn’t hear replies, such as “No,” “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?”, “How should I invest my monthly savings of 323 baht?” and “@#?! off.”
But now I know the truth -- most of these people are either desperate backpackers or the result of some heinous experiment to splice bad DNA from estate agents, lawyers and arms dealers and combine it with evil juice extracted from the corpses of Vlad the Impaler and Fu Manchu.
But how do you stop the incessant calls? Is it really possible?
Well, the answer is yes, probably. And if you can’t stop them then you can at least get even.
So stop dreaming of "saving, 5,000 baht, so you can 'invest'” in the local motorbike taxi driver who manages the Kneecapping Cold-Calling IFAs Fund (Bangkok), as there is a much more simple, legal solution.
Just follow these simple steps. I’ve tried them. They work.
1. When they call, say thanks and write down their name, phone number and email.
2. Tell them, “I have a policy or refusing advice from IFAs who cold-call me. If you have to hard-sell your products and services they clearly can’t be any good.”
3. Ask them what the regulations are for IFAs operating in Thailand.
The typical reply is that Thailand is an “open market.” This means they are either lying or misinformed, because the selling and marketing of all financial services is strictly regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In fact, the SEC has one really good regulation that must be followed by all financial firms: no cold-calling.
That’s right. It’s illegal. Point this out to them.
The Nuremberg Trials proved that “I’m just doing my job” doesn’t cut it as a decent excuse. So show no mercy to the snake oil merchant who insists on pestering you by phone.
Making a complaint is really easy. Simply use the SEC’s online form.
The SEC may take time, but follow up they will and if enough of us make the effort, then perhaps we can all make a worthwhile contribution to the next series of Natgeo’s “Banged Up Abroad.” They’ll call it "Bangkok’s Boilerhouse Blues."