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Financial advice, with a few insults, could lead to a better bottom line

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By Todd Babiak, The Edmonton Journal

In the run-up to the last federal election, Stephen Harper was attacked by his opponents and critics for telling the truth — or what he saw as the truth.

As the stock market plummeted, he said, “I think there’s probably some great buying opportunities emerging in the stock market as a consequence of all this panic.”

Sophisticated political strategists recognized a way to demonstrate, poignantly, that Harper spends most of his time with rich people. The vast majority of Canadians are not rich, and most modern intelligence suggests that vast majorities — not elite minorities — decide the outcome of elections.

In fact, most of us are not only not rich: We’re a paycheque or two away from a financial crisis and all the desperation and humiliation that entails. If we have children, the fear of not paying those bills at the end of the month is magnified. In the midst of a recession that economists compare to the Great Depression, we lose sleep thinking about our families in grey-scale clothing, charcoal-faced and anemic, riding boxcars and begging the owners of car dealerships and rental properties for gruel and coffee. This “fear and ignorance” around money is the guiding theme of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, an anecdotal financial guidebook by Robert Kiyosaki, first published in 2000, that has since sold millions of copies around the world.

Kiyosaki recommends financial literacy, which few of us get from the education system. He recommends thinking about our assets in a new way and setting up personal financial corporations. Poor people, at best, study hard, find good jobs, and work diligently until they retire. They work for their money. Rich people acquire assets, usually with someone else’s money, and allow that money to work for them.

If simply reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad ensured financial fabulousness, we would be surrounded by millions of millionaires. Enter Darren Weeks, the “Canadian Rich Dad,” a boy who grew up in middle-class Hazeldean and now lives in St. Albert.

He started buying mutual funds in Grade 6. By Grade 9, he knew they were a ripoff. Weeks says he started buying properties in university and now owns scores of them. When he read Rich Dad, Poor Dad, in 2001, he immediately flew down to Phoenix to meet Kiyosaki. They struck an agreement so that Weeks would be the northern point-man for Rich Dad concerns, Canadianizing the wisdom in Kiyosaki’s books.

This week, Weeks has appeared in conference rooms across Greater Edmonton, pitching the Rich Dad philosophy and, of course, offering a financial opportunity for would-be investors. “He who raises the most money,” says Weeks, “wins.”

Of course, this is not the best time in world economic history to raise money. Credit markets are tight and we’re all a bit haunted by Bernard Madoff, the cultural heir of Charles Ponzi. Every day, I receive between five and 10 e-mails from strangers, offering risk-free get-rich-quick schemes, usually with a number of misspelled words. There was a tentative air in Conference Room 6 of the Fantasyland Ballroom on Tuesday, Budget Day, as Weeks prepared to address a crowd of approximately 100 people.

Like Kiyosaki, Weeks uses the mild shock tactic of insult. Mere minutes into his presentation, I felt like an idiot for having a job, for investing in mutual funds, for not leveraging the equity in my house, for not wearing a tie, for not carrying a business card that identified me as an investor or a businessman, for my banking habits, for working hard and — mea culpa — for knowing precisely nothing about money. I also felt a little guilty for having read Rich Dad, Poor Dad and for condemning myself to a life of poor-daddery anyway (sorry, kids, so sorry). It was a stirring, educational and profoundly unsettling three hours that felt like an hour-and-a-half, tops. Afterward, I spoke to Weeks, a much calmer figure when he isn’t on stage. “I do that same presentation 100 times a year,” he said, “and I love it every time. Is there risk in what I’m saying to these people? Of course there is. Anything can fail. But I do, sincerely, want every person who comes to my presentations to become rich. It’s very fulfilling for me.”

There was a long lineup of attendees at the back of the conference room, signing up for opportunities to invest in Fast Track Capital, a real estate investment firm Weeks and his partners have set up. It was a delicious prospect, to stop paying enormous management fees for mutual funds that consistently lose money, and to invest in something that seemed, well, perfect.

One bearded gentleman, a skeptic, complained in the back of the room that it had to be a sham. One of Weeks’s employees quietly subdued him and the man walked away, fuming. Another attendee wandered about in a suit, beaming.

“I’ve been following Darren’s career for at least four years,” said Larry Yakiwczuk, a derivatives trader who runs what he calls “a small online business.” He is actually one of the largest eBay retailers in Canada. “For people who don’t know much, investing with Darren is a great idea. The only reason I wouldn’t do it is I wouldn’t like to take a pay cut.”

Yakiwczuk and Weeks suggested the best possible route to financial literacy is to take a rich person for lunch. “The recession,” he said, “I love it! For people who know what they’re doing, it’s a phenomenal opportunity.”

I asked Yakiwczuk when he might be available for lunch. Indian? Greek? Italian?

tbabiak@thejournal.canwest.com

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Financial advice, with a few insults, could lead to a better bottom line

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