Finance is a strange industry. The way we think about fees, the way it’s discussed in the media, how laypeople use it, and the way it’s taught in school is like no other field. Maybe the best way to get this across is to imagine – hypothetically and absurdly – if other industries got away with stuff that the finance industry does. If we thought of school results like we do corporate accounting: Robert gets an F on a test but says he actually got an A if you strip out one-time bad answers on a pro…
Finance is a strange industry. The way we think about fees, the way it’s discussed in the media, how laypeople use it, and the way it’s taught in school is like no other field.
Maybe the best way to get this across is to imagine – hypothetically and absurdly – if other industries got away with stuff that the finance industry does.
If we thought of school results like we do corporate accounting: Robert gets an F on a test but says he actually got an A if you strip out one-time bad answers on a pro forma, pre-mistake basis. His teachers buy it.
If we held weathermen to the same standard as stock pundits: Peter, a local weatherman, has been predicting since the 1970s that a snow-dumping blizzard will hit Singapore imminently. Singapore’s temperature has never gone below 15 degrees at all, but Peter is inducted to the Meteorology Hall of Fame for his “spot-on, dead-accurate forecasts of the Singapore climate.”
If we were as impatient about planting trees as we are investing: Your town council plants some seeds in your neighbourhood park. They check back four hours later. Nothing. They dig them up and replant them. Four hours. Still nothing. A week later they are dismayed that they have no Angasana trees in the park. They call Angsana trees a scam.
If we thought of farming like we do global finance: Joe and Ronald each own a cow in a farm in Malaysia. Instead of milking the cows and selling dairy, they use each other’s cow as collateral for a structured note sold to an Icelandic pension fund, use the funds to buy credit default swaps on their neighbour’s farm, start a rumor that causes a run on its assets and sends the farm into bankruptcy, collect the payout, funnel the proceeds through a Luxembourg shell company, and sell hypothetical milk futures to an elderly widow in Toa Payoh. The cows just stand in a field and moo across the Causeway. Joe and Ronald make $34.9 million a year.
If we checked our physical health as much as we check our portfolios: Ryan wakes up in the morning and checks his blood pressure. He checks it again before breakfast, during breakfast, after breakfast, and before leaving for work. When he gets to work he checks his cholesterol, again before lunch, and twice before bedtime. During one of the four times he weighs himself during the day the notices he lost a quarter of a kilogram. He calls his doctor to find out what the hell is going on.
If we thought of wine like we do triple-A rated subprime mortgage bonds: Roger takes some grape juice, leaves it outside for a few hours and calls it Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1945. It takes a decade for wine experts to figure out what’s going on. They’re still arguing about notes and finish.
If we thought of mobile phone fees like we do unit trust fees: Betty has a mobile phone. She has no idea what it costs, since the fees are deducted automatically from her bank without her receiving a bill. She never even sees the money leave the bank – it’s quietly siphoned off every quarter. She learns her cell phone costs 1% of her annual assets. Quick math shows she’s paying $20,000 a year for a cell phone that only works some of the time. She had no idea, and the cell phone company prefers it that way.
If we thought of private businesses like public businesses: Sally owns a popular laksa stall. One year she sells 10,052 bowls of laksa. The next year she sells 10,051 bowls of it. A finance guy stands in front of her store yelling profanities and calling her incompetent.
If medical advice were given as universally and indiscriminately as financial advice: A doctor goes on TV talking about the benefits of a new cancer drug. He doesn’t mention that unless you have cancer his advice is irrelevant to you. Unaware, half of viewers start using the new cancer drug despite not having cancer.
If we thought of property prices like we do stock market fluctuations: A programmer for a website listing property prices gets in a bad mood and adjusts the site’s algorithm so every home in Singapore looks 10% less valuable than it was the day before. He’s fired, and a new programmer adjusts the algorithm again so homes go back to the old prices. The volatility sends Singapore into a collective meltdown. The evening news brings on a series of experts who call owning a home a scam, a gamble, and a fraud. Ten percent of homeowners sell their homes the next day. “It doesn’t matter if I loved my home, could afford my mortgage, and planned on living here for 20 years,” one says, “this just seems too risky.” He decides to go camping at East Coast Park, permanently.
If everyday people had got away with Wall Street crimes: Brad assaults a guy. The whole thing is caught on tape. There’s no question about what he did. Anyone else would go to jail. But Brad is allowed to settle without admitting or denying wrongdoing. For a penalty, Brad’s children are forced to pay a $25 billion fine. Brad gets a bonus.
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The information provided is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be personalised investment or financial advice. This article was written by Morgan Housel and first published on fool.com. It has been edited for fool.sg.