Britain’s new cult: wealth creation seminars

Wealth creation seminars prey on the vulnerable in times of economic hardship – and most are just sales pitches for buy-to-let property. Why isn't this sort of advice regulated?

I don't watch television very often on the basis that it usually either shocks or depresses me. Last night I watched BBC2's Money. It was no exception. The programme followed the fortunes of a few of the thousands of people who regularly buy the books and attend the seminars of the world's wealth creation coaches.

They pay thousands and thousands of pounds to buy products from and listen to highly skilled presenters explaining to them how they can make themselves "financially free". The answer? It usually involves some very odd exercises (standing in front of a mirror repeating core phrases such as "I am a good money manager" over and over again for example) in a process called wealth conditioning and then using the "skills" learnt from the conditioning to create "multiple streams of income".

What kind of streams? Mostly the answers as far as I can figure come down to buy-to-let property. "Wealth creation" is simply the US name for borrowing a whole pile of money and using it to buy houses you can let out to other people. And wealth creation seminars are buy-to-let seminars, just with a bit more glitz and finesse than you used to get from the scamsters the UK was plagued with during the property bubble.

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The problems with all this are obvious. Most people never go into buy-to-let. They just go to a lot of seminars and end up deeply in debt (as was the case with most of the participants in the programme). And of course, most wealth coaches don't make their money from property themselves. No. Their own multiple streams of income come from seminars, DVDs, books and for those just starting out in the confidence business, one-to-one coaching sessions.

But there is one more problem. In times of recession, the vulnerable are even more open to this kind of thing than usual. Add that to the cult-like atmosphere of the events and wealth creation is on the way to creating a new world of misery. The BBC programme followed one woman who had spent £50,000 on seminars and so on. Has it made her rich? It has not.

Instead it has taken her to the verge of bankruptcy. The same goes for Janice Geddes, one of the sweetest women I have ever seen on TV. She has spent all she has and owes £4000 on her credit card. Indeed, so infatuated is she with the wealth management gurus that at one point, we even saw her volunteering to work free at one of Robert Kiyosaki's seminars (Kiyosaki is the author of the Rich Dad Poor Dad series). Her money is gone but she is so drawn in that she's now willing to hand over her time as well. So much for her millions.

We saw Kiyosaki speaking towards the end of the programme. He told his audience that he knew this crisis was coming but that it made no difference to him he could make money on the way up and money on the way down. I very much doubt the first bit. I interviewed him in the spring of 2007 and I don't remember him mentioning either his forecast of a crisis or even his recognition that one was kicking off. I asked him if he really thought that people buying a whole load of property right then could really get rich. "Absolutely," he said. I can't imagine that worked out too well.

However I am certain he is right on the second bit. Why? In the good times people think they can make it on their own. In the bad they'll throw all they have at buying hope. That's why Kiyosaki is having a great crisis and why UK-based wealth creation coaches are now popping up all over the place. It isn't a good thing. At all. I have never quite understood why most forms of financial advice are somehow regulated while property advice of this kind is not. I still don't.

If you want to talk about this or anything else with me, why don't we do it over lunch? Bid here

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.