I was taught the insight of Enablers in the Gaming World. When we were growing up in the gaming world, we don't have many choices when it came to making friends. Whoever was willing to be the Dungeon master can basically psychologically leech off the gaming community because few have the time to be willing to plan a TRPG session. So in the 1980s and 1990s, we basically had a lot of jerks running D&D games that were basically 4 hours of killing monsters and then bullying the younger players because of the mistakes they made in-game and making them feel worthless.
My position was that these DMs were assholes but as I reflected on gaming history, a more guilty party were the enablers.
The DMs needed the players as punching bags. But to make the group viable are other RPG players who are older who tolerated the DMs, but brought a lot of goodwill and wonderful snacks so that the group would stay together. Consequently, the punching bags tolerated the group because there were nice guys who made the game happen. So the D&D group became a fertile ground for psychological bullies and losers who can extend their dominance by volunteering to become the dungeon masters.
Even today, we see instances of Enablers in modern groups, like the mensch who paid and bought the board games all the way the gaming venue. Everyone who loves the enablers was willing to tolerate the jerks they enabled.
This insight on Enablers can be transplanted into the Financial Wu Lin.
A lot of drama happened today and it led to a popular forum banning a very vocal blogger who is also a commissioned sales agent.
To me, creating a forum that focuses on personal finance content is hard and requires some trade-offs.
- If a forum makes a claim to provide unbiased content, it generates a lot of traffic and can grow very fast.
- A fast-growing forum then attracts hordes of commissioned based advisors who use the forum as a location to generate leads.
- These FAs then use "half-fuck" responses to "help" potential customers. The responses are "half-fucked" because it sort of answers the question, but invites the person to PM privately for more details. Do this to 10-20 forum participants and you are likely to land a sale eventually.
- Many FAs figure this out and start doing this on the forum to generate commissions
- Forum develops a reputation as being overrun by FAs.
Here's the deal - The original forum does not make a single cent from the commissions earned by the FAs.
I really like the management team behind this forum and all my projects with them have been immensely profitable to me, but this bothered me for many months because I think that the forum has become an enabler to the commissioned sales industry without any consideration for their community-building efforts.
Actually, I might even venture to say that I run an even more successful finance community myself. My students have a closed FB group and we are small enough (400+ in size) to be totally unprofitable to commission salespeople. Our engagements are personal, and I do not need funds from members as training fees earned a long time ago still fetch some dividend income to support me so that I can basically work for free. My students do not really participate without giving something in return, they update each other on news and vaccine developments, they also share their insights with others.
Bigscribe, which I administer as a shareholder, also does not have that problem because it is non-profit and extremely small. Regular members seem to be converting it into some kind of relationship discussion website!
Here's what I think the larger forum should do :
a) Understand that bias cannot be removed. But best effort is enough.
If you understand the pattern behind the lobbying by FAs. What they are trying to do is to force you to set hard rules so that universal standards can be applied to all participants. This is fatal to any forum.
Ultimately, You have to be biased towards your own business model and survival. If you feel that FAs can poison your well, then you need to apply your banhammer more aggressively against FAs, the same standards should not apply to anti-FAs who do not hurt your business model.
b) Find a profitable alliance with the insurance/banking industry that does not compromise your standards
One way to independently research the cheapest term life insurance available, approach the company that sells it and ask whether you can work together to launch a campaign for a fee through a non-commissioned arrangement to cut off the commissioned FAs. Rinse and repeat for H&S, Disability and accident policies.
If anyone suggests a competing product in your forum, you can ban them because it affects the economic interests of your ally. The loss to their earnings is colossal!
Yes, you can do the same with training providers and even ban me!
( I do divert my students to a non-commissioned outfit like MoneyOwl for no consideration. I too am an Enabler )
c) Know your value which is immense
Lastly, a big forum that provides tips in personal finance is a powerful force in Singapore. You have a bargaining chip that many other businesses, including mine, would envy. As of today, I can't summon 3000 Millenials to attend my webinars. I will listen very carefully if you pitch me something that can make that happen. I know the exact value of such an alliance.
I have challenged the commissioned FAs to create their forum on Facebook so that they can prey on forum participants without anyone stopping them. They are even backed by the billions of dollars from agencies.
But no one got the balls to get it done.
In short, I think the FAs need you more than you need then and your latest actions have gotten many FAs quaking in their boots.
I cannot believe that a profitable scheme cannot arise from this piece of knowledge.