Sunday, September 29, 2019

Building better Personal Finance online communities.

So here are some of the changes in the way I do my blog articles.

This blog, which has a small and dedicated readership will become more "meta", focusing on thoughts on my evolution as a trainer as well as snippets on my personal life. For the folks who want to read about my politically incorrect theories about dating, that's going to remain here.

For the more advanced investing articles, I will be posting on Dr Wealth.  The reason is that Dr Wealth has a much wider reach and have the SEO chops that brings more exposure for folks who wish to come for my workshop previews.

My free workshops are rapidly evolving into an actual free public lecture that anyone can attend without making a substantial financial commitment for my courses. I've reached a stage in financial independence where I can evolve to do more pro bono work and the feedback on my workshop content is actually fairly good at the moment. We've also had two successful runs without email blasting so I can safely say that I've stopped spamming your mailboxes for quite a while. While I can't write direct mailing off totally because it's still a good strategy for others, I'm doing everything commercially possible to avoid spamming members of the public.

Moving forward, I have a new challenge -  I'd like to think of ways to improve how finance communities are run.

All my students ( now close to 300 in size )  are placed in a closed FB group where they receive future course updates for no additional membership fee with the caveat that updates will last only up till the point I decide to stop being a trainer.

So I am now in the privileged position of administering a walled garden, much like the Apple iOS ecosystem compared to other personal finance forums which look more the like Android ecosystem. These are fairly serious investors and I got investing heavy-weights in the community. 

On my part, I'm using the community size to drive a hard bargain to see whether I can get better deals for my community. Right now, I got a better deal for Stocks Cafe and made some friends with non-commissioned FAs to help my students out. Recently, I just helped out a friend using my contacts who told me that he can't seem to convince an FA to sell him term life insurance. I have also cultivated a broker ally that can provide promotional rates for margin financing.

Right now I'm on the lookout for a trustworthy law firm (it has to be small and ferociously customer oriented) to direct my students if they need help with legal matters. In all these engagement, with the exception of Stocks Cafe where I do get paid, I do not seek a commission - I want to win the best deals for my community.

I just want my students to be winners in life.

Beyond developing superior bargaining power, I am also looking for a better way to run a finance community and the Philosophy of Science has something to say about that. It was Robert Merton who came up with the CUDOS framework that govern how scientific communities work.

I believe this can be translated into the management of an online Finance community :

a) Communal

This condition cannot be met in full but communal sharing of information can happen within a walled garden community and with paying customers, it does not make sense to share the best data with outsiders. Otherwise, I try to practice full transparency with portfolios created by all batches of students in private domain.

Some attempts to co-create material with some alumnis have materialised but died down in the past. I hope to do more of this in the future.

b) Universal

This is basically about non-discrimination. Beyond race and gender, I believe in the wisdom of crowds and it does not really matter what a person's education is.

If this person votes on asset allocation or market cycle, a class of 30 students and a trainer is light-years smarter than one trainer working it out on his own. To reinforce this aspect of community building, if I decide to sell a component of portfolio, i normally give the community a chance to vote for its replacement.

c) Disinterestedness

This is really hard to achieve in an online community and is the reason why public forums attract so much animosity when FAs provide a teaser to a person's query and then ask for a personal PM if the person wishes to carry on further. In this case, the FAs are not disinterested. They have potential money to make for every answer they give.

In a walled garden, it is a lot easier to be disinterested and give the best answer to benefit the entire community because folks already paid to get there.

d) Originality

We're slowly inching towards more originality, but we are not there yet. To achieve this milestone, my course has to win over and enroll the thought leaders in investing - that's a super difficult task.

I have a strategy to deal with this and it's inspired by Chan Brothers that my family is quite loyal to. Chan Brothers is not known as the cheapest travel agency. I think Chan Brother's longevity is that prices are high because they are not interested in the "fish market" crowd as told to me by my tour guide. They also provide better hotel rooms and want classier customers.

With higher prices, you are forced to create material to be worthy of the higher price point. The reward is not just more revenue but also higher quality of students that end up creating better portfolios for your trainer fees.

Ultimately if you want a better community, your course offering has to crack the barrier of serious investors who are confident of reading up on their own and making their decisions autonomously. The course has to seriously shorten the learning curve and bring auxiliary deals that justify the course fee.

In that I have an advantage, I was totally self taught using the CFA texts and never had a sifu in my life.

e) Skepticism

I think this is the most important trait that a Finance community need to cultivate. I'm glad the current membership has a few "grumpy" guys who will question every deal that is shared by a newbie. This is important that we don't make things personal and question everything that we read about.

Science advances by falsification of ideas and replacing it with a better hypothesis. A good community has to be like this. Ideally, a revelation has to have the power to make me want to make a U Turn and change my slides. For example, The latest Keppel DC and MINT rights issue raised their traded price ! I had to revise my lecture slides after that because I previously taught that rights issues are often punished by the financial markets.

So, over time, what is my wish a a trainer ?

Perversely, I want my offering to be less about my course and the knowledge that can be gained from it even though I am working on my materials everyday. I want my final product to be the student itself. People buy the course because it speaks to their personal values and they want a network of folks who think like themselves.

Signing up should say something about their own personal identities.

Because of commercial realities, I am a long way from this goal, but at least it's something I can work towards as some means of personal actualisation.

1 comment:

  1. Sir, what would be your response to skeptics who claim that trainers get rich not from the strategies they teach but rather from the classes they run?

    If you had a winning secret, why would you not spend your time accumulating massive wealth instead of sharing it and reducing your own edge as the strategy eventually becomes widespread?