Bitcoin: Utter pipedream


No intrinsic value: Unlike enterprises, bitcoin has no business, no intrinsic value, no cash flows and no balance sheet. — AFP

I JUST returned from a meeting of the Asian Shadow Financial Regulatory Committee in Bangkok.

The group comprises Asian academic experts on economics and finance. Their role is to monitor the state of the world economy and the workings of its financial markets in the light of existing and prospective policies; and draw lessons and give advice on vital public policy issues of current interest to regulators and market practitioners to make the world a better place.

The group comprises 23 professors from 14 countries, coming from a diverse group of universities and think-tanks, including the universities of Sydney and Monash, and of Fudan, Hong Kong and Sun-Yat-Sen in China, Universitas Indonesia, universities of Tokyo and Hitotsubashi, Yonsei and Korea universities, Sunway University, Massey University in New Zealand, University of the Philippines, Singapore Management University, National Taiwan University, Chulalongkorn University and NIDA Business School, University of Hawaii and University of California at Davis, University of Vietnam, and Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

They examined key issues surrounding the theme: “Cryptocurrencies: Quo Vadis?” focusing on the role and activities of the flavour of the month, bitcoin. At the end of it all, they issued the following statement:

“Cryptocurrencies in general, and bitcoin, in particular, have been receiving considerable press of late, driven mainly by wide swings in value in the cryptocurrency exchanges. There are now in excess of 2,500 products considered to be cryptocurrencies and in the last three weeks alone their combined market value has plummeted from US$830bil to US$545bil as of today, of which US$215bil is attributed to bitcoin and bitcoin cash.

To keep this in perspective, however, Apple Inc has a market value of US$880bil as of today. Market value measures the equity value of a business – or what investors are willing to pay for its future profits. Unlike enterprises, however, bitcoin has no business, no intrinsic value, no cash flows, no profit and loss statement, and no balance sheet. It is a speculative instrument.

Cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, are not considered currency today because they are not a universal means of payment, nor a stable store of value, nor a reliable unit of account. Buyers purchase on the basis that these cryptocurrencies would rise in value. While market value has been the main focus of the current interest, the more important issues are around the role of cryptocurrencies both as financial assets, and the role they can play in transaction settlements, and their implications, if any, on financial stability.

While there is much interest in cryptocurrencies, especially bitcoin, the volume of transactions remains very small currently. For example, total US dollars (cash) in circulation amount to US$1.6 trillion as of today. M3 (broad money) is valued by the Federal Reserve at US$14 trillion. Total US economy assets in 2016 were valued at US$220 trillion. So why the fascination with cryptocurrencies? Supporters of Bitcoin claim it to be a superior store of value to fiat money issued by central banks because its supply is limited by design and therefore cannot be debased. In addition, the technology behind bitcoin, called the Blockchain, provides anonymity to its players. That is why it is a favourite with money launderers, tax evaders, terrorists, drug smuggler, hackers, and anyone who wants to evade the rule of law. Many people who use cryptocurrencies assert that they pay minimal transaction costs mainly because it avoids the cost of financial intermediation.

Still, there is large potential for capital gains because of the wide volatility of its price movement. This is the main driving force behind the popularity of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. However, there are high risks involved including extreme volatility and opaque, unregulated exchanges that are prone to cyberattacks.

Authorities and regulators worry about bitcoin because they fear it is a bubble. In the event of a bust, investors in bitcoin – they are many, spread over various continents and countries – will be hurt; and they exert pressure on governments to regulate this business in order to protect investors.

In addition, they worry about the impact – in the event that cryptocurrency trading becomes a significant element in maintaining financial stability – in terms of the impact on the transmission of monetary policy and on its effects on the banking system, and most of all, on systemic risk, if any.

Authorities have responded in different way. In South Korea, new regulations today require banks and exchanges to identify who their customers are, imposing greater transparency in the conduct of the cryptocurrency business. On the other hand, Japanese authorities are more liberal. They only require the registration of companies engaged in this business at this time.

Many other authorities, including those in the US, are adopting a wait-and-see attitude while studying the issues, recognising that there may be a role for them to introduce some regulatory measures in the event that the volume and price volatility of cryptocurrency transactions become more and more significant.

In the meantime, government and tax authorities feel uneasy about the impact on revenue collection. Other regulators are worried about crowdfunding through ICOs (initial coin offers). Authorities in a number of countries, including the US, have introduced measures to regulate the issue of new ICOs to ensure that investors are provided with the necessary information before making such investments.

At the same time, central banks in many countries are looking into the desirability and possibility of issuing their own digital currencies, including to counter privately-issued cryptocurrencies.

Recommendations:

1. Bitcoin came into prominence because of an apparent lack of confidence in fiat currency. It is imperative that governments and central banks continue to give priority to (i) protecting the integrity of their currencies; (ii) designing policies to contain inflation to prevent it from debasing the currency; and (iii) strengthening their mandate to promote financial stability over financial development, if needed (including ensure fintech development does not undermine confidence). Also, in cases where authorities do not have the power to regulate the cryptocurrency business, they should actively seek such authority where appropriate.

2. Monetary authorities should be open to creating digital currencies rather than confining their money supply to notes, coins and deposits. But they should do so in a transparent manner and only after careful consultation and study.

3. It is the role of government to warn their citizens and investors about the high risk involved, and ensure transparency in bitcoin activity, and not to unduly introduce more and more regulations that will stifle innovative initiatives. Blockchain technology, for example, does have other useful applications apart from the issue of its use in the creation of digital currency.

Investor protection

As we see today, bitcoin and the other cryptocurrencies are not currencies. Mostly, they reflect speculative activity. Hence, investing and transacting in them involve high risks. It is imperative that investors realise this and approach investing in cryptocurrencies with great caution and with as much information as is available to help them manage these risks.

Investors must fully understand that cryptocurrency prices need not necessarily always rise, particularly because they have no intrinsic value, they could just as easily fall. So investors beware: Caveat emptor.”

Update

The following developments are noteworthy:

> Columbia’s Prof N. Roubini (Dr Doom) claims bitcoin is not a currency. Few price anything in bitcoin. Not many retailers accept it (even bitcoin conferences don’t accept it as payment). And it’s a poor store of value because its price can fluctuate 20%-30% a day. Worse, he labelled it “the mother of all bubbles” because its claim of a steady-state supply is “fraudulent”.

It has already created thee similar currencies: Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin and Bitcoin Gold. Together with the hundreds of such other currencies invented daily, this creation of money supply is debasing the currency at a much faster pace than any major central banks ever did. Furthermore, bitcoin’s claimed advantage is also its Achilles’s heel – for, even if it actually did have a steady supply of 21 million units, it is not a viable currency because the supply won’t track potential nominal GDP growth; hence, prices will become deflationary – the kind of phenomenon that economist Irving Fisher believed caused the Great Depression.

Indeed, the head of the European Central Bank had since declared to the European Parliament that cryptocurrencies are unregulated and “very risky assets. Their price is entirely speculative”. That’s not what we want or need. It’s a pity the FOMO (fear of missing out) of many retail investors will end them in a wild goose ride!

> Over its nine-year history, bitcoin has had five-peak-to-trough falls of more than 70% each. The recent decline offers a dose of reality to new investors – bitcoin dropped to a low US$7,850 on Feb 2 for the first time since November 2017 – crashing 60% from the high of nearly US$20,000 in mid-December. Sentiment has shifted dramatically this year.

On Feb 5, it fell another 4% to US$7,524. Also, the fledging market has taken a number of blows: Facebook has since banned advertisements on it (for being misleading); US Securities and Exchange Commission has accused some latest ICOs as “outright scams”; US and UK largest banks have put up “road-blocks” to financing bitcoins; and the recent Japanese hack theft of 523 million crypto-XEM (worth US$500mil) brought back memories of Mt Gox, which collapsed after a similar hack in 2014.

> Arbitrage traders (buying where it’s cheap and reselling where it is dear) have been active – taking advantage of price differentials in multiple places and different times. They call it “capturing the arb”. Hedge funds, high frequency traders and even amateur enthusiasts are giving it a shot. Price divergences can be due to glitches or network traffic jams. In South Korea, exchanges quote abnormally wide prices reflecting high investors’ demand for bitcoin in the face of strict capital controls – giving rise to a “Kimchi premium” (of as high as 50% above US price; now down to 5% as price disparities are swiftly traded away).

> Concern over cryptocurrency activity is spreading beyond China, Japan, South Korea and India. This prompted the governor of the Bank of England, who also chairs the Global Financial Stability Board, to voice his unease over the anonymity embedded in blockchain technology underlying their use, especially for illicit activity (including money laundering). He disclosed that it would be on the agenda at the next G20 meeting. Tax authorities have also expressed concern over the under-reporting of capital gains tax.

> Bitcoin futures trading on Chicago’s CME and CBoE exchanges have been slow to catch fire – at the pace of a “slow walk”.

What then, are we to do

Reality check: Bitcoin is proving that cryptocurrencies can erase wealth as fast as they create it. In January 2018 alone, it wiped off US$45bil from its US$200bil in market value generated in all of 2017 – the biggest one-month loss in US dollar terms in its short history. Since then, more value is being lost. For most economists and finance experts, they don’t represent an investable asset – there are liquidity issues, safety issues, exchange issues; most of all, they have no intrinsic value.

Can’t realistically put a fix on their fair value. They are for speculators who are prepared to lose everything. Of course, its something else for those who use them for illicit activity (home to criminals and terrorists), including money laundering. Anonymity means you are potentially closing a chain, while at somewhere along it had some illicit activity that cannot see the light of day.

Fair enough, these concern regulators. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the huge range of opportunities presented by the underlying technology – a view shared by many in relation to raising the efficiency of payment systems. Regulators are right to want to regulate crypto but also, continue to encourage innovation on blockchain. As I see it, so far in 2018, bitcoin has been a total dud. The list of factors driving its decline is growing, especially rising regulatory clampdown occurring around the world.

So, the cryptocurrency market has fallen on tougher times. For sure, Bitcoin has been highly profitable for many investors. Indeed, there continues to be strong interest among millennials.

Bottom line: the year so far has been terrible for bitcoin. But the fundamental positive story for crypto appears to remain intact. Protecting consumers should make it harder for charlatans to sell digital dust. There is a point where it goes from “buying on the dip” to “catching a falling knife”. Only time will tell. So, beware!

NB: Following global regulatory crackdown, bitcoin’s price has on Feb 6 fallen to a low of US$5,947, wiping out over US$200bil so far this year. Bitcoin’s market cap is now US$109bil, about one-third of the total crypto market (that’s down from 85% this time last year). The Bank for International Settlements (banker to central banks) has now condemned bitcoin as “a combination of a bubble, a Ponzi scheme and an environmental disaster” (refers to huge amounts of electricity used to create it) and warns it can even become a “threat to financial stability”.

By Lin See-yan – what are we to do?

Former banker Tan Sri Lin See-Yan is the author of The Global Economy in Turbulent Times (Wiley, 2015) and Turbulence in Trying Times (Pearson, 2017). Feedback is most welcome.

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Critical trends to watch in 2018


There are many issues on a fast and slow boil and some of them could reach a tipping point in the new year

ANOTHER new year has dawned, and it’s time to preview what to expect in 2018.

The most obvious topic would be to anticipate how Donald Trump, the most unorthodox of American presidents, would continue to upset the world order. But more about that later.

Just as importantly as politics, we are now in the midst of several social trends that have important long-term effects. Some are on the verge of reaching a tipping point, where a trend becomes a critical and sometimes irreversible event. We may see some of that in 2018.

Who would have expected that 2017 would end with such an upsurge of the movement against sexual harassment? Like a tidal wave it swept away Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, film star Kevin Spacey, TV interviewer Charlie Rose and many other icons.

The #MeToo movement took years to gather steam, with the 1991 Anita Hill testimony against then US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas being a trailblazer. It paved the way over many years for other women to speak up until the tipping point was reached. So, in 2018, expect the momentum to continue, and in more countries.

Another issue that has been brewing is the rapid growth and effects of digital technology. Those enjoying the benefits of the smartphone, Google search, WhatsApp, Uber and online shopping usually sing its praises.

But the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It has many benefits but also serious downsides, and the debate is now picking up.

First, automation with artificial intelligence can make many jobs redundant. Uber displaced taxis, and will soon displace its drivers with driver-less cars.

The global alarm over job losses is resonating at home. An International Labour Organisation report warning that 54% of jobs in Malaysia are at high risk of being displaced by technology in the next 20 years was cited by Khazanah Research Institute in its own study last April. TalentCorp has estimated that 43% of jobs in Malaysia may potentially be lost to automation.

Second is a recent chorus of warnings, including by some of digital technology’s creators, that addiction and frequent use of the smartphone are making humans less intelligent and socially deficient.

Third is the loss of privacy as personal data collected from Internet use is collected by tech companies like Facebook and sold to advertisers.

Fourth is the threat of cyber-fraud and cyber-warfare as data from hacked devices can be used to empty bank accounts, steal information from governments and companies, and as part of warfare.

Fifth is the worsening of inequality and the digital divide as those countries and people with little access to digital devices, including small businesses, will be left behind.

The usual response to these points is that people and governments must be prepared to get the benefits and counter the ill effects. For example, laid-off workers should be retrained, companies taught to use e-commerce, and a tax can be imposed on using robots (an idea supported by Bill Gates).

But the technologies are moving ahead faster than policy makers’ capacity to keep track and come up with policies and regulations. Expect this debate to move from conference rooms to the public arena in 2018, as more technologies are introduced and more effects become evident.

On climate change, scientists frustrated by the lack of action will continue to raise the alarm that the situation is far worse than earlier predicted.

In fact, the tipping point may well have been reached already. On Dec 20, the United Nations stated that the Arctic has been forever changed by the rapidly warming climate. The Arctic continued in 2017 to warm at double the rate of the global temperature increase, resulting in the loss of sea ice.

These past three years have been the warmest on record. The target of limiting temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, a benchmark just two years ago by the UN’s top scientific climate panel and the Paris Agreement, seems outdated and a new target of 1.5°C could be adopted in 2018.

But it is much harder to meet this new target. Will political leaders and the public rise to the challenge, or will 2018 see a wider disconnect between what needs to be done, and a lack of the needed urgent response?

Another issue reaching tipping point is the continuing rise of antibiotic resistance, with bacteria mutating to render antibiotics increasingly ineffective to treat many diseases. There are global and national efforts to contain this crisis, but not enough, and there is little time left to act before millions die from once-treatable ailments.

Finally, back to Trump. His style and policies have been disruptive to the domestic and global order, but last year he seemed unconcerned about criticisms on this. So we can expect more of the same or even more shocking measures in 2018.

Opposition to his policies from foreign countries will not count for much. But there are many in the American establishment who consider him a threat to the American system.

Will 2018 see the opposition reach a tipping point to make a significant difference? It looks unlikely. But like many other things in 2018, nothing is reliably predictable.

Global Trends by martin khor

Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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JPMorgan CEO warns he will fire any employee trading Bitcoin for being “stupid.”


 
Tough stand: Dimon has warned that he will fire JPMorgan traders who traded in bitcoin ‘in a second. For two reasons: It’s against our rules, and they’re stupid. And both are dangerous.’ — AFP

NEW YORK: JPMorgan Chase & Co chief executive officer Jamie Dimon said he will fire any employee trading bitcoin for being “stupid.”

The cryptocurrency “won’t end well,” he told an investor conference in New York on Tuesday, predicting it will eventually blow up. “It’s a fraud” and “worse than tulip bulbs.”

If a JPMorgan trader began trading in bitcoin, he said: “I’d fire them in a second. For two reasons: It’s against our rules, and they’re stupid. And both are dangerous.”

Bitcoin has soared in recent months, spurred by greater acceptance of the blockchain technology that underpins the exchange method and optimism that faster transaction times will encourage broader use of the cryptocurrency.

Prices have climbed more than four-fold this year – a run that has drawn debate over whether that’s a bubble.

Bitcoin initially slipped after Dimon’s remarks. It was down as much as 2.7% before recovering.

Last week, it slumped after reports that China plans to ban trading of virtual currencies on domestic exchanges, dealing another blow to the US$150bil cryptocurrency market.

Tulips are a reference to the mania that swept Holland in the 17th century, with speculators driving up prices of virtually worthless tulip bulbs to exorbitant levels.

That didn’t end well.

In bitcoin’s case, Dimon said he’s sceptical authorities will allow a currency to exist without state oversight, especially if something goes wrong.

“Someone’s going to get killed and then the government’s going to come down,” he said.

“You just saw in China, governments like to control their money supply.”

Dimon differentiated between the bitcoin currency and the underlying blockchain technology, which he said can be useful.

Still, he said banks’ application of blockchain “won’t be overnight.”

The bank chief said he wouldn’t short bitcoin because there’s no telling how high it will go before it collapses.

The best argument he’s heard, he said, is that it can be useful to people in places with no other options – so long as the supply of coins doesn’t surge.

“If you were in Venezuela or Ecuador or North Korea or a bunch of parts like that, or if you were a drug dealer, a murderer, stuff like that, you are better off doing it in bitcoin than US dollars,” he said.

“So there may be a market for that, but it’d be a limited market.”— Bloomberg

 

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Hello, Penang police calling … Macau Scammers reap RM2.7mil


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Scammers busted: Penang CCID chief ACP Abdul Ghani Ahmad, flanked by DSP K. Balachandran and DSP Shamsul Farid Abdul Rani, showing seized passports, a photocopy of a MyKad and a letter during a press conference on the Macau Scam syndicate in George Town.
But the ‘officer’ on the other end of the line may well have been a member of a Macau Scam syndicate, which cloned the phone number of the state police headquarters to use in its con game. The operation, believed to have netted RM2.74mil so far, was smash

Syndicate cloned police phone number to trick 82 victims this year.

GEORGE TOWN: A Macau Scam syndicate has duped victims of more than RM2.74mil, using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology to replicate the telephone number of the Penang police headquarters to con victims.

No fewer than 82 people had fallen prey to the scam since February.

The syndicate used a three-storey bungalow as its training centre before the members were deployed to Japan, Cambodia, Thailand and other Asian countries.

On Saturday, the syndicate was crippled by police following the arrest of 50 people, including three women.

Penang Commercial Crime Investigation Department (CCID) chief Asst Comm Abdul Ghani Ahmad said the suspects, aged between 17 and 42, were arrested at the bungalow in Taman Damai Utama in Puchong, Selangor, at about 8am.

“Intelligence gathering was carried out for about a month after we received a police report from a woman in Balik Pulau, who transferred RM5,000 to an account given by the scammers,” he told a press conference at the state police headquarters in Penang Road yesterday.

“She was told that her bank account would be frozen by Bank Negara Malaysia.

“The scammers promised to return the money to her a week later after the ‘investigations’ were over, but she did not get her money back.”

ACP Abdul Ghani said police investigations revealed that one of the suspects would pose as a bank officer and tell the victim that he or she had a loan with a particular bank.

If the victim denied it, the scammer would give them the contact number of a “Bank Negara officer” – another scammer – to check out the claim.

Those who are still not convinced would then receive a call from 04222 1522, which appeared to be the general line of the state police headquarters but had been replicated or cloned using VoIP technology to appear as such.

ACP Abdul Ghani added that another scammer, posing as a CCID officer, would then tell the victim that his or her bank account had been misused for criminal activities and was frozen pending investigation.

“The scammer will then ask the victim to transfer money to a specific account, and that would be the last they see of their money,” he said.

ACP Abdul Ghani added that 82 reports were lodged nationwide on this scam so far this year.

He said police also seized five mobile phones, a laptop, photocopied MyKad, photocopied passports, a set of scripts on what to say when posing as a police officer and bank officer, and 31 Malaysian passports.

In Police Custody: Some of the passports and Mykads seized from the Macau Scam syndicate being displayed at the state police headquarters in Georgetown.

“We are also checking if the mastermind was among the suspects arrested,” he said.

ACP Abdul Ghani added that the suspects were remanded for three days until today and would be brought to the Balik Pulau court for remand extension pending investigations under Section 420 of the Penal Code for cheating.

Nobody knows exactly how the term “Macau Scam” came to be used.

However, former Interpol president Tan Sri Khoo Boon Hui has been quoted as saying that the scam apparently originated from Macau and was operated from other countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.

Another version circulating was that the first victims were in Macau, but the Macau police have declined to comment.

Source: The Star by crystal chiam shiyingandmuhammad nazrul haffiz salim

Remand of Macau Scam suspects extended

BALIK PULAU: Fifty suspects of the Macau Scam syndicate have their remand order extended by another three days by a magistrate’s court here.

Sirens from four police cars blared as two trucks arrived at the courthouse at about 8.40am yesterday.

Dressed in purple lockup T-shirts, the suspects, aged between 17 and 42 who include three women, hid their faces when they saw the press corp.

They are believed to be part of a Macau Scam syndicate which used Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology to swindle 82 victims of more than RM2.74mil since February.

It was reported that the syndicate used VoIP to replicate the hotline number of the Penang police headquarters to trick victims.

They were arrested at a bungalow in Taman Damai Utama in Puchong, Selangor, at about 8am on Saturday after a woman from Balik Pulau lodged a report, claiming she had been duped into transferring RM5,000 to an account.

Police are investigating the case under Section 420 of the Penal Code for cheating. – The Star

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Never-ending money games – from fixed return to split schemes


The allure of money game schemes (or money games) seems not to have diminished despite the collapse of many recently.

Instead, there has been a switch in investors’ focus from fixed-return games to split games, which are deemed “more sustainable”.

Fixed-return schemes generally refer to those that give a consistent percentage of return every month or week. However, most of them have collapsed lately.

Investors’ attention is now centred on split games, even though this means they have to wait for a longer period in order to get back their capital.

Mcoin, which is undertaken through MBI International Sdn Bhd and MFace International Sdn Bhd, is an example of a split game based on units of which the value keeps increasing and then split after a certain time.

However, with the raid of MBI’s flagship mall – M Mall in Penang – by the regulators recently, its days look to be numbered, and the sustainability of such schemes is now a big question.

Another prominent split game – Mama Captain, which has a similar business model to that of Mcoin – has also been red-flagged by Bank Negara last Thursday under the Financial Consumer Alert List. An additional 14 companies have been added to the list, bringing the total number of unapproved and unlicensed companies/schemes to 334 as at June 29.

Besides the local ones, there are several foreign schemes in the market, which investors expect to have more staying power than the fixed-return schemes. Two such schemes from China – Smart Traders Ltd and Centennial Coin of Prosperity – have been in operation in Malaysia since last year. However, it is understood that they have stopped distributing returns to their investors.

This, however, appears not to have deterred those who are lured by the promise of fast money. This is evidenced by the huge crowd seen at an event organised by a split game company a few weeks ago in Shah Alam. It was estimated that over 2,000 participants were present and most of them were Chinese investors.

A number of booths were set up at the venue, and investors were able to redeem a variety of stuff, including vouchers, health products, apparels and many more.

An investor whom SunBiz spoke to at the event said he is unfazed by the collapse of money games and is optimistic about the prospects of the split game that he is involved in.

The investor said he has been in the scheme for more than nine months and now it has started to bear fruit.

“Generally, it takes about two months to split once and we can start generating money after it splits for four times. Now I start to get money from the scheme. While you’ve to wait for some time before getting any return, I think it is still worth to join,” he opined.

It is understood that the scheme has tied up with a few product operators to increase its attractiveness.

Another investor, Alan Mu, said he was amazed by the event. “The gala dinner is so grand and there are so many products that I can redeem by participating in this scheme,” he said.

Another scheme that has caught the market’s attention is SV International (SVI), a company that Yong Tai Bhd has denied having links to. Yong Tai alleged that SVI circulated photos taken during a signing ceremony on SVI’s website as well as the social media, for which there was no official agreement entered into between the two parties thereafter.

Yong Tai also refuted speculation that SVI has a stake in its Impression City and Impression Melaka projects.

By Lee Weng Khuen sunbiz@thesundaily.com

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Money game scourge


Easier option: Poor experience with regulated investment product providers may be the reason for investors to go for ‘alternative’

Poor wealth management experiences fuel money games

OVER the past 2 months, it was virtually impossible to pick up any newspaper and not read reports about the money game phenomenon that has taken the media by storm.

It is as if the Pandora’s Box had been suddenly flung open by the exposé of JJPTR, leading to other similar schemes coming to light.

The victim profile ranges from white-collared professionals and savvy businessmen to senior citizens and housewives. It would appear as if just about anyone from different walks of life could be susceptible to these money schemes.

It is easy for observers and bystanders to pin the blame on the investors for getting themselves in a sticky situation. After all, if we apply the caveat emptor (buyer beware) principle to other types of goods and services, the investors should have clearly known the risks of subscribing to these money games and therefore should have been aware of the possibility of losing their investments.

So, what caused groups of people to lose their common sense when it comes to money games?

Scams come in many shapes, sizes and forms but look closely and you will see that they all have many things in common in terms of the modus operandi and the people they seem to attract. From JJPTR and MBI International right at our doorstep to China’s Nanning investment scheme and the most notorious Ponzi scheme of all times – the Madoff scandal, all these scams preyed on innate human weaknesses and appealed to investors’ desire to grow their wealth.

Many would be quick to label these investors as greedy or gullible, but I beg to differ. I see nothing wrong with wanting to achieve financial freedom and get higher investment returns. The people who invested and lost in these scams are not multi-millionaires with ample financial resources. They are average Malaysians who have worked hard and saved their money for a rainy day, only to see their nest egg disappear into thin air. What drove them to place the precious results of their blood, sweat and tears into unregulated investment schemes?

I am convinced that the reason stems from the investors’ poor experience with regulated investment product providers.

The so-called ‘push’ factor

There is a mismatch of what consumers need and what financial institutions are trying to sell. Consumers want guidance on how to use regulated investments as a means to grow their wealth with high certainty and achieve financial freedom.

The general public sees banks as an easy, accessible channel to obtain advice on personal finance and investment matters via wealth management services. There is no issue with legitimacy as the array of financial products and services available through banks are duly approved by the regulatory authorities.

The problem arises when investors are not getting what they need, which is advisory support, from their current wealth management providers. More often than not, investors feel overwhelmed by the choices available in the market. Worse still, investors do not know what action to take when their investments lose money. It is not uncommon to find that the wealth management providers are very attentive and proactive in recommending options; but once the sales is concluded, the investor is basically left to his or her own devices.

As a result of the lack of hand-holding or after-sales service, some investors may find that rather than growing money, they end up losing 20%-30% of their capital. The sheer irony of it is that because of the experience of losing money, they now perceive regulated investments as highly volatile and uncertain, and ultimately lose faith. I have personally encountered clients who harbour such misgivings about unit trusts, that they would bluntly tell me right from the initial meeting, not to propose such options to them.

I realised then the extent to which poor experiences with wealth management providers can lead to misplaced biases against certain investment vehicles even though investors could benefit from the right ones. When disillusioned investors turn their heads elsewhere, this is when they discover “alternative” investment options. And many end up falling for money games because they are sold on the idea of fixed return investments perceived to be low risk, coupled with the promise of better returns.

In this instance, the “push” factor, i.e. the unmet financial needs of consumers, which contributed to investors subscribing to shady schemes, has equal bearing to the “pull” factor (attraction) of these money scams.

“I am like any other man. All I do is supply a demand.” – Al Capone, American mobster

As with most goods and services that are detrimental to our well-being (e.g. junk food, cigarettes, gambling, etc), it is consumers’ demand for them that drives their industry and makes them thrive. Without customers, these shady businesses would naturally die off.

The ability of the money games to proliferate boils down to the “smart” business acumen of the operators to “fill the gap” so to speak. By offering an alternative investment scheme at a time when the market is slow and when many investors are experiencing losses, these money games are seen as a sudden golden ticket towards becoming rich. However, as we have seen, the golden ticket eventually loses its shine and the investors are left holding nothing but a worthless scrap of paper.

Therefore, there would be fewer victims of money games if the wealth management industry as a whole were to step up and reinvent themselves into a genuine one-stop financial centre to help their clients address all financial and investment issues at various points of their lives.

When the grass on one side is always greener, the rest will not matter

In order to ensure that they are seen by clients as the “go-to” person for all financial and investment related concerns, wealth management providers will need to exceed expectations and to a certain degree, over-deliver on their current role.

Wealth managers could assist clients to evaluate various investment proposals to determine its suitability and guide clients to use regulated investment vehicles to invest in various asset classes such as equities, bonds, REITs and foreign investments to grow their money effectively. They could also play the role of a financial bodyguard to help investors fend off scams and illegitimate investments.

In an ideal world, wealth managers will set aside sufficient time and effort to understand the client’s financial position in a holistic manner. They will prepare a tailored and dynamic plan with milestones and checkpoints to help monitor and review progress.

To my peers in the wealth management industry, I would say, cut the lip service and let’s get serious about managing and growing wealth for our clients.

When more and more investors realise that they are able to count on their wealth management providers for all the required support they need to achieve their financial end game, then money games will no longer have room to take root.

Money & You Yap Ming Hui

Yap Ming Hui (ymh@whitman.com.my) is a bestselling author, TV personality, columnist, coach and host of Yap’s Money Live Show online. He feels that the financial world is getting too complicated for everyone, and initiated a weekly online show to address the issues.For more information, please visit his website at www.whitman.com.my
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Malaysian authorities crack down on virtual money operator, MBI Group International


Smooth operation: Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism Ministry enforcement director Datuk Mohd Roslan Mahayudin (centre) giving a press conference on the raids which yielded luxury vehicles and cash. Despite the crackdown by the authorities, investors continue to patronise M Mall, which is operated by MBI.

 

Dawn raids on MBI

 

Key member of MBI Group International remanded 98 bank accounts containing RM209mil frozen to date Three luxury cars and cash seized

The virtual money scheme operator was hit by three early morning raids in Penang and Kedah as a multi-agency task force acted on intelligence gathered in its ongoing anti-pyramid scheme probe. Investors say they regard this development as a temporary matter, while the public has been urged to come forward and help in the investigation. GEORGE TOWN: After watching the premises closely for a month, the authorities sprang into action and arrested a key person in virtual money scheme operator MBI Group International.

Four bank accounts of a newly- established company that belonged to the suspect’s relative, with deposits totalling RM30mil, were also frozen, while luxury cars and cash were seized in raids on three premises in Penang and Kedah carried out early on Monday morning.

Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism Ministry enforcement chief Datuk Mohd Roslan Mahayudin said the suspect, in his 50s, is believed to be the founder of the group.

“He has been remanded for four days since Monday for investigation under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001,” he said.

Speaking to reporters at the Bank Negara Malaysia office here, Mohd Roslan said the operation, codenamed Ops Token II, was staged because the premises were believed to be involved in a pyramid scheme.

“They were believed to be the cash storage transit before the money is transferred to other accounts for the purpose of the scheme’s activities,” he said.

Two of the premises were in Taman MBI Desaku in Kulim, Kedah, and one in Sungai Dua on mainland Penang.

Ops Token II was a follow-up to Ops Token I, which was carried out against Mface Club in Klang Valley and M Mall, Penang, on May 29.

Ops Token II was conducted by the National Revenue Recovery Enforcement Team, which comprises the ministry, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, police, Customs, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Inland Revenue Board, Bank Negara, Companies Commission of Malaysia and the Immigration Department.

Mohd Roslan said the team had been monitoring the premises with the assistance of police for a month prior to the operation.

Three luxury vehicles – a Jaguar, a Range Rover and a Toyota Vellfire – and cash totalling RM2.235mil were seized during the raids, Mohd Roslan said.

The team confiscated RM280,000 from the site in Sungai Dua, and RM187,612 cash and RM218,000 worth of foreign notes from one of the Kedah locations. Nothing was seized from the third location.

The foreign currencies seized were Singapore dollars, US dollars, Thai baht, Australian dollars, Chinese yuan, New Zealand dollars, Indonesian rupiah, Korean won, Japanese yen, Hong Kong dollars, Taiwan dollars, Laotian kip and Cambodian riel, he added.

Mohd Roslan said with the latest series of raids, the number of local bank accounts frozen over the investigation into the group totalled 98, with combined funds of RM209mil.

The bank accounts included 49 company accounts and 49 individual accounts.

Mohd Roslan stressed that the authorities would continue investigating the group and all its subsidiary companies.

While no investors have lodged reports against the group so far, Mohd Roslan urged investors to step forward to assist in the investigation.

The authorities have not estimated the amount of losses suffered by the investors or the public, he added.

Under the Act, the suspect faces a jail term of up to 15 years and a fine of five times the amount or RM5mil, whichever is higher, upon conviction.

The bank accounts, meanwhile, could be frozen for up to 90 days, while the authorities could investigate the matter for a year, Mohd Roslan added.

Authorities crack down on MBI

Key person held, luxury cars seized and accounts frozen

 

GEORGE TOWN: After watching the premises closely for a month, the authorities sprang into action and arrested a key person in virtual money scheme operator MBI Group International.

Four bank accounts of a newly-established company that belonged to the suspect’s relative, with deposits totalling RM30mil, were also frozen, while luxury cars and cash were seized in raids on three premises in Penang and Kedah carried out early on Monday morning.

Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism Ministry enforcement chief Datuk Mohd Roslan Mahayudin said the suspect, in his 50s, is believed to be the founder of the group.

“He has been remanded for four days since Monday for investigation under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001,” he said.

Speaking to reporters at the Bank Negara Malaysia office here, Mohd Roslan said the operation, codenamed Ops Token II, was staged because the premises were believed to be involved in a pyramid scheme.

“They were believed to be the cash storage transit before the money is transferred to other accounts for the purpose of the scheme’s activities,” he said.

Two of the premises were in Taman MBI Desaku in Kulim, Kedah, and one in Sungai Dua on mainland Penang.

Ops Token II was a follow-up to Ops Token I, which was carried out against Mface Club in Klang Valley and M Mall, Penang, on May 29.

Ops Token II was conducted by the National Revenue Recovery Enforcement Team, which comprises the ministry, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, police, Cus­toms, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Inland Revenue Board, Bank Negara, Companies Commission of Malaysia and the Immigration Department.

Mohd Roslan said the team had been monitoring the premises with the assistance of police for a month prior to the operation.

Three luxury vehicles – a Jaguar, a Range Rover and a Toyota Vellfire – and cash totalling RM2.235mil were seized during the raids, Mohd Roslan said.

The team confiscated RM280,000 from the site in Sungai Dua, and RM187,612 cash and RM218,000 worth of foreign notes from one of the Kedah locations. Nothing was seized from the third location.

The foreign currencies seized were Singapore dollars, US dollars, Thai baht, Australian dollars, Chinese yuan, New Zealand dollars, Indonesian rupiah, Korean won, Japanese yen, Hong Kong dollars, Taiwan dollars, Laotian kip and Cambodian riel, he added.

Mohd Roslan said with the latest series of raids, the number of local bank accounts frozen over the investigation into the group totalled 98, with combined funds of RM209mil.

The bank accounts included 49 company accounts and 49 individual accounts.

Mohd Roslan stressed that the authorities would continue investigating the group and all its subsidiary companies.

While no investors have lodged reports against the group so far, Mohd Roslan urged investors to step forward to assist in the investigation.

The authorities have not estimated the amount of losses suffered by the investors or the public, he added.

Under the Act, the suspect faces a jail term of up to 15 years and a fine of five times the amount or RM5mil, whichever is higher, upon conviction.

The bank accounts, meanwhile, could be frozen for up to 90 days, while the authorities could investigate the matter for a year, Mohd Roslan added.

Source: The Star by christopher tanandarnold loh

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