What Bernie Madoff taught every investor

You didn’t need to lose money because of the convicted felon’s schemes in order to learn valuable lessons.
The post What Bernie Madoff taught every investor appeared first on The Motley Fool Australia. –

This article was originally published on All figures quoted in US dollars unless otherwise stated.

wall st sign with a building in the background

This article was originally published on All figures quoted in US dollars unless otherwise stated.

Bernie Madoff has died at the age of 82. Convicted of fraud against a massive group of investors in a Ponzi scheme involving tens of billions of dollars, Madoff remained in prison until his death.

Madoff’s story involves a professional investor who had had a successful career before taking things one step too far. Unable to live up to the commitments he had made to the many investors who turned to him for help, Madoff successfully covered up his activities for years. It was only when the financial crisis brought things to a head that the full extent of Madoff’s fraud became evident, leading to his arrest, trial, conviction, and 150-year sentence.

As painful as the Madoff episode was for the many investors snared by his scheme, it holds some valuable lessons that every investor can learn from. Perhaps the most important is that even after Madoff’s death, the risk of securities fraud remains alive and well.

1. It’s easy to follow the bandwagon over the cliff

One reason why Madoff was able to sustain his Ponzi scheme as long as he did was that it was easy for new investors to think that they were getting in on a great investment. Early on, Madoff attracted high-profile investors, including prominent charitable institutions. He didn’t advertise his business, instead relying on word of mouth from existing clients to bring in new money. By cultivating an air of exclusivity and success, Madoff could largely just sit back and wait for customers to come to him.

Investors need to do their own due diligence to decide if an investment is suitable for them. Relying on friends or business associates for help is common, but it’s only the start. If the only reason you invested in something is because somebody else made the same investment, you won’t know what to do when things go wrong — and you risk jeopardizing your relationships as well as losing money.

2. Know what you’re investing in

Most investors in Madoff’s investment scheme had little or no idea how his purported investment strategy was supposed to work. Few cared. As long as the returns seemed to be coming in — at least on paper — many investors were satisfied at what they saw as a job well done. It therefore came as a total shock when they found out exactly what Madoff was doing with their money and why it went wrong.

There are still many investments that are crafted with complex provisions that aren’t easy to understand. Even with simple stocks, the businesses that companies are engaged in can be almost impossible for someone outside the field to grasp. You don’t necessarily have to become an expert in every industry in which you invest, but you do need to know how you’ll make money and what risks there are. Only then can you accurately assess whether you’re making a smart calculated risk with that investment.

3. Diversify

When you have a great investment idea, it’s tempting to put all your money into it. That’s exactly what many of Madoff’s clients did, feeling that they’d never be able to match the performance that his investments were generating. That proved to be catastrophic in many instances, as institutions found themselves with huge losses that endangered their entire operations.

No matter whether you’re talking about a fraudulent scheme like Madoff’s or a completely legitimate yet misguided investment strategy like the doomed Long Term Capital Management experiment, no investment is free of risk. Unless losing everything is an option you’re willing to accept, it’s always worth it to find a second-best, third-best, and even tenth-best investment idea to go along with your top investment. That way, if things go catastrophically wrong, your losses won’t be quite as severe.

A road paved with good intentions

Madoff’s death will feel like justice for what many have seen as evil deeds motivated by greed. Yet as Diana Henriques, author of The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust, told the Fool’s Mac Greer in 2017, neither Madoff nor his clients were as greedy as some believed. In the video clip below, Henriques argues that clients wanted security for their money, while Madoff wanted the adulation and fame of helping prominent charities and other institutions.

Unfortunately, even after Madoff’s death, there are still plenty of people out there seeking to take advantage of investors, both through fraud and by more legitimate means. No one can protect your money as effectively as you can, and the Madoff scheme is a good reminder that you have to be constantly vigilant to avoid investments that end up being too good to be true.

This article was originally published on All figures quoted in US dollars unless otherwise stated.

Where to invest $1,000 right now

When investing expert Scott Phillips has a stock tip, it can pay to listen. After all, the flagship Motley Fool Share Advisor newsletter he has run for more than eight years has provided thousands of paying members with stock picks that have doubled, tripled or even more.*

Scott just revealed what he believes are the five best ASX stocks for investors to buy right now. These stocks are trading at dirt-cheap prices and Scott thinks they are great buys right now.

See The 5 Stocks

*Returns as of February 15th 2021

More reading

The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

The post What Bernie Madoff taught every investor appeared first on The Motley Fool Australia.

This article was originally published on All figures quoted in US dollars unless otherwise stated.

Trade The World Anywhere & Anytime!

Mobile app platform with over 50,000 global listed securities across 12 markets (over 70% global market capitalisation), right from your Android or iOS device.

Integrated with exclusive trading idea and investment analysis tools to help you find actionable insight on virtually every financial instrument across our 12 global markets, to help you optimise your trading strategies.

Refer Your Friends

Tell your friends about Monex and gift them FREE access to our trading tools.

We respect your privacy and will only send this one email notification to your friends. 

Share With Your Friends

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Monex Trading Tools Access and Usage Terms

The Monex Trading Tools (referred to as ‘tools’ hereafter) are available to you inside your client portal;

To activate access to the tools, you must have a verified and approved trading account and have made a deposit of at least AUD $1000.

An active and funded account with a positive trading balance is required to continue to have access to the tools;

Although the tools are available to you indefinitely, Monex Securities may at it’s discretion disable access to the tools in the future;

Monex securities reserves the right to change these terms and conditions from time to time, as it sees fit, without notice.

Important Notice
iOS & Android App - 12 International Markets & Over 70% Global Market Cap. $0 Brokerage On US Trades. Click Here!