If you want to get an investment professional’s heart to skip a beat, refer to the investment choices they make as “bets.” Advisers and money managers are fastidious about making clear they are absolutely, positively not gambling with people’s precious, hard-earned money.
But why? Let’s think about this rationally. Nobody entrusts their investable assets with a wealth adviser without knowing there is some risk of some monetary loss, and virtually zero risk of losing the full sum of their investment. By contrast, there are millions of Americas who wager billions of dollars per year at casinos, online gambling sites, and legal and illegal sports-betting syndicates, all of whom know financial losses are virtually a given. H2 Gambling Capital, a market data firm, estimates that U.S. citizens lost $117 billion on gambling in 2016, and that results in an additional annual cost of $17 billion in gambling-associated problems such as crime, addiction and bankruptcy. Yes, addiction. Compulsive gambling is a form of addiction that becomes worse over time, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling.
Imagine if the private wealth industry could appeal to those millions of gamblers around the nation by offering them “bets” whose odds were slanted far more in their favor and could produce infinitely more rewarding outcomes?
I have argued for many years that investing is the thinking person’s gambling casino. It makes so much more sense than throwing money away at, say, a casino that is literally rigged in the house’s favor. Take, for example, the Las Vegas Sands, listed as the world’s largest casino after sweeping $12.9 billion off its tables in 2017. What incentive does the Sands — or any other casino or online gambling site — have in tilting the odds in its customers’ favor? Zero. And, yet, casino customers return again and again to have their pockets emptied.
Meanwhile, where is the allure for the gambling-addicted legion for moving their chips over to the private wealth industry? Imagine having clients obsessed with placing bets on stocks and bonds, on real estate and farmland plays, on fossil fuel and cryptocurrency gambits — people who keep calling or visiting the office to insist on getting a piece of a new interval or debt fund, or a new cannabis or blockchain opportunity. Alas, when terms such as “betting” and “gambling” are forbidden among private wealth professionals, what chance does an RIA or broker/dealer have for creating the kind of excitement required to attract these high-adrenalin spenders with a tolerance for high-risk bets.
I get that the private wealth industry, which deals with trillions of dollars in AUM, might sniff at forecasts that gambling will grow to $495 billion worldwide in 2019, but when you take those dollars, invest them, compound them and so on, those dollars become vastly magnified over time, something all good advisers understand. What’s more, the private wealth business is in the right place geographically. Though gambling is spanning the globe, the United States is still by far the largest gambling market in the world, with China a distant second.
There is no need for the private wealth business to build the equivalent of casino hotels (investment hotels just doesn’t have the same ring) or offer free nights in high-end suites to high rollers, but it might behoove RIAs to make themselves more exciting to people whose spending obviously runs on adrenalin. One can imagine a targeted marketing campaign aimed at the 15 percent of Americans who gamble at least once per week, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling, and the 6 million people whose habits qualify them as having a gambling problem.
If that cohort could be converted from gambling to opportunistic investing, how much better off would they be? When have you ever heard someone having an “investment problem”? In that context, one begins to realize this is not just about the private wealth business hitting the jackpot by pilfering business away from the gambling industry, it’s about doing good by people and society — especially when you consider the array of harmful effects that arise from gambling, including that about 50 percent of problem gamblers commit crimes, and about two-thirds of those crimes are directly related to the gambling.
Maybe some rogue would rob a liquor store or knock over a bank and hustle those ill-gotten gains to their wealth adviser to underwrite the next exciting investment they are hell-bent on adding to their portfolio. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
Mike Consol (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.