The year was 2006. At least I think it was. Do you expect me to remember that far back?
First, a little background about the company in question, World Financial Group. I’m going to abbreviate the name of this company to WFG, since there’s no way I’m typing that out 52 more times for this post. Anyhoo, the company is basically a pyramid scheme masquerading as a financial services company. That blanket statement is a little unfair, but is basically true.
WFG is wholly owned by Aegon, a large Dutch insurance/investment company. The company employs a bunch of independent sales reps, who each operate their own office, if their basement counts as an office. The sales reps are able to sell a bunch of different mutual funds and life insurance products from Aegon. Much like regular mutual fund salespeople, they’re paid one of two ways- either from sales charges (front end loads on mutual funds for new customers) and trailer fees (part of the management fees paid by current customers).
The company’s big push though, is in recruiting new reps, where the pyramid part of the scheme shows up. If an existing rep recruits a new rep, that rep gets a percentage of the new person’s income. If that new person recruits someone underneath them, the pyramid becomes two levels deep, and the original person at the top gets a smaller residual from the newest rep. Obviously, you want as many people underneath you as possible. I’m going to refrain from making a “that’s what she said” joke. Except I didn’t.
Back to my story. I worked with a guy who was quite interested in investments. We would spend break time together discussing various financial topics. It was nice to spend time talking to someone who wasn’t a financial moron. After a while, he quit the grocery store we both worked at, determined to find his future in financial services.
A few months later, he contacted me. He knew I had a couple of bucks to invest, and he had some great stuff that his company offered. I wasn’t really interested, since I have a pretty big hate on for mutual funds. He offered to buy lunch though, knowing my weakness for free food. Combine that with my friendship with the guy, and I was willing to give this a shot.
I show up for lunch, and quickly the meeting turns away from my investments and towards my future plans. He laid on the compliments pretty heavily, even saying I had the greatest financial mind he’d ever met. I responded, telling him he clearly needed to meet more people. I was confused, why was he kissing my ass so aggressively?
Quickly, he dropped the bombshell. He wanted me to come work for WFG. He was making all sorts of money, the job was awesome, blah, blah, blah. He mentioned how I could do it part-time, while keeping my job at the grocery store. At that point, it hit me. WFG was Primerica junior. Besides, who’s gonna trust their investments to some guy still working at a grocery store?
Flashback inside the flashback time: When I was 18, I thought I wanted to become a stockbroker. Somehow, I found out about a Primerica meeting in my area. I went, got excited about the whole concept for about 20 minutes, then quickly saw through it. All Primerica cared about was getting more people in the pyramid. Apparently you were basically fired if you didn’t recruit aggressively. It was obvious, even to 18 year old me, that the reps that worked for Primerica were the bottom of the ladder of the financial services industry.
Back to the lunch meeting. I was intrigued, so I let him finish his spiel. This is where it kind of got weird.
He outlined WFG’s big bold plan for their clients. If you bought into the plan, you’d never pay off your mortgage. You’d get a giant line of credit for a mortgage, just paying the interest on it every month. You’d then take the money that would be going to principle and investing it. Since the stock market traditionally does better than the real estate market, the argument was that you’d be better off, long term, if you funneled all your excess capital into the market.
There’s just a couple of flaws with the plan though. The stock market is prone to the occasional 30% drop. We’ve seen a couple of them over the past decade alone. This would be especially painful for someone who held close to all of their portfolio as stocks. And the other flaw is, how does the mortgage get paid if you’re only paying interest? Most people look forward to paying off their mortgage. They value the freedom that brings.
WFG agents love this plan, and I’m sure the one that came up with it got an extra hearty slap on the back. The more money the client invests in their funds, the more that rep will make in fees. The plan has just enough plausibility to make it believable. The numbers might even make sense. Most people though, will choose to pay down their mortgage, and rightfully so. Besides, most people don’t have the discipline to stick to the plan past the first major stock market correction.
After that, the lunch meeting turned into a pretty hard sell job. He was all about telling me how successful I’d be. I’d be making tons of money in no time. Never was there any mention of the pyramid scheme. Gee, I wonder why that was? I fairly quickly (and politely, cause at least I pretend to be a nice guy) told him that I wasn’t interested. It seemed like a pretty poor way to sell mutual funds, a product that I wouldn’t want to sell in the first place. So saying no was a pretty easy choice.
Yeah, that was kind of an anticlimactic end to that story. Does anyone have an experience with WFG that was a little more exciting?