The investor's pet peeves

Andrew Leckey

August 20, 1991|By Andrew Leckey | Andrew Leckey,Tribune Media Services

The annoyances in today's investment world are multiplying. Some can turn an investor modestly crabby, while others can make him madder than a wet hen. Here, as we fight the good fight, are grievances that can try our patience:

The mountains of mail from investment, credit-card and insurance firms are getting bigger. "Personalized" correspondence gives the impression we've been selected by fine financial minds for our sterling qualities, rather than having been spewed from a computer because of a magazine we read or a credit card we hold. There's an attempt to make some of the oldest financial products in the world seem like breakthroughs. You receive the same junk mail each month. At least mail that says "To the folks at" is honest enough to admit that it doesn't know you from Adam.

Paid celebrity spokesmen for financial institutions give the impression that their good names have something to do with the integrity of the institutions. A lot of big institutions have gone down the tubes wrapped in the commercials of sports, film or television stars. Their pronouncements mean nothing, except that the financial institution is willing to pay them big money to bask in their fame. Buy athletic shoes or perfume based on celebrity endorsements, if you wish, not certificates of deposit or partnerships. Only the numbers count.

Invitations to receive "unbiased" professional advice on personal investment strategy in a changing world are another annoyance. Sent in the mail, they neglect the fact that the counseling or seminar is sponsored by a biased firm that sells plenty of products. If it's simply a sales pitch, it should say so clearly.

Department stores keep gouging customers with rates on credit cards as high as 21 percent. This exceeds even bank credit cards, which average an exorbitant 18.5 percent. When the sales clerk asks, "Would you like one of our own cards?" he should really be asking, "Would you like the opportunity to pay through the nose for this merchandise?"

Half-hour paid commercials for investment tapes or seminars get hokier and hokier, despite negative publicity they've received. Positive thinking is great, palm trees are lovely, and spending eternity on a yacht with a dozen bikini-clad Rockettes may be right for some folks, but the viewer should feel a chill from these snow jobs. Anyone with a house for sale may have encountered some "10-steps-to-riches" students, who try to charm owners out of their homes for nothing, reciting information scribbled on note cards about how they're really helping them. Furthermore, buying property doesn't mean you've "made money" on it, as many of these students proclaim in childish testimonials. As far as the courses, remember that cassettes cost next to nothing to produce and you're asked to pay big bucks for them.

Names of mutual funds make virtually no sense anymore, and many investment firms seek to sell them based primarily on those titles. If you fail to fathom the rationale behind the brand-new Ultra High-Income, Growth-Oriented, Tax-Free Fund, that's fine with the company offering it, so long as you invest hoping it will be all things to all people. Take a close look at the prospectus and list of holdings in the fund. Brokers also often present a type of fund, such as a municipal bond or growth fund, to a client without discussing past performance or fee structure vs. competing funds. In such cases, commissions are all they care about.

Bank fees are out of control. There are hefty charges for slipping BTC below minimums, and interest rates on small accounts are incredibly low anyway. Some big banks are proud of having boosted minimums and gotten low-balance "rabble" off their books. Even automated teller machines, supposedly saving banks money because they bypass salaried flesh-and-blood tellers, are moneymakers through transaction fees. The strategy is: It's your money. You like it so much, you'll pay to keep it.

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