Japan diary: What investors can learn from Disney about hidden extras

Tokyo Disneyland © Getty Images
Make sure you get what you pay for

I went to Tokyo Disneyland last week. It was pretty awful. We liked some rides (Jungle Cruise was good) and we thought the caramel popcorn was pretty good. But otherwise, it was disappointing.

The problem wasn’t so much the crowds (although they were awful) or the cost (the basic price isn’t that high) but the fact that in order to get value from the price, you had to know an awful lot about what you were entitled to. And no one really told you what you were entitled to.

There is a ‘fast pass’ system that you can use to bypass queues on a few big rides (worthwhile when some of them are 2.5 hours long); lotteries for tickets to the big shows (which you can’t get into otherwise); and guided tours that can get you seats for the bit where pictures are projected on to the Disney castle (if you like that kind of thing).

I wasn’t in the know on all this, and I hadn’t done loads of research before we went, on the basis that we were going on a children’s day out, not a precision expedition*. The result was that we didn’t know about the hidden extras that are included in the price; we didn’t ask for them; we didn’t get them; and we ended up mildly irritated.

This is an oddly common business model. Look to the recent scandal with HSBC. (You can read the Telegraph’s take on it here.) A ‘Mr J’ had arranged his pension income drawdown via the bank. It charged him built-in commissions that should have paid for the portfolio to be monitored and reviewed over the years. That didn’t happen, and the Financial Ombudsman has recently ordered that HSBC return all the commissions, plus interest and an extra £350 for good measure.

Mr J at least at some point noticed that he was paying for interesting extras that he wasn’t getting and was able to get the relevant part of his money back. Others won’t know.

RDR banned trail commission payments on new products, but allowed them to keep being taken from holders of products already in operation, but in many cases people have no idea that they are paying commissions. If you have any investment products (funds, drawdown pension arrangements and the like) now might be a good time to check what you are paying for – and whether you are getting it. If you aren’t, the recent ruling suggests you might be able to reclaim some cash. No chance of that with Disneyland.

*Turns out some people don’t see Disneyland as a fun kids’ day out, but as an exciting and important expedition for adults that requires many days’ planning. This account is particularly horrifying… as is this one (they spent “literally months” preparing for the visit).