Fundamentals of Money Management – Greed

Greed is a basic human failing. It is probably the greatest reason why people who can ill afford it fall victim to financial scams. It is amazing that people are prepared to gamble with their entire life savings when they are offered what can only be termed spectacular returns. Trying to keep up with the Jones and making an impression is so superficial and in the end so unimportant. Never lose touch with reality.

Money is a strange thing. It takes a long to accumulate but it will disappear very quickly when it is forced to make impossible returns. The most classic of these are the so called ‘Ponzi schemes’.  A ‘Ponzi scheme’ is a fraudulent investment scheme which pays extraordinary returns to its investors from their own money or from monies invested by subsequent investors. Once people stop investing the whole scheme comes tumbling down. The owner or operator of such a scheme will usually be vague in what the underlying investment is, describing it as hedged offshore investment or such like.

There are many examples of such scheme with the Masterbond and Barry Tannenbaum schemes probably being the best known ones in South Africa. Other well-known schemes for having duped investors are the Fidentia case and Sharemax. The saddest thing is that these schemes catch pensioners who have no financial literacy training and trust those advisors who are recommending the schemes.

Whilst we have watchdogs in South Africa such as the Financial Services Board as well as various ombudsmen there are still examples of unscrupulous advisors who persuade investors to part with their money by offering unrealistic returns. In a lot of these cases these advisors have been required by the authorities to repay the amounts invested but by then the money has been spent and the chances of recovery are remote.

The Tannenbaum scheme offered such good returns and was so well crafted that many well-known businessmen invested. Sadly, many others got involved and face financial ruin as a result of their actions. Barry Tannenbaum himself is now living somewhere in Australia and seems unlikely to be extradited back to South Africa to face charges.

The saying ‘if it looks too good to be true it probably is” is valid in all these cases.

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