We recently received a cracking email from D.T. at the Fortune & Freedom mailbox ([email protected]dfreedom.com).

It deserves a response. One that affects all of you reading this. But first, let’s look at the questions posed in the email:

Nickolai,

Good evening to you…

You asked to hear our voices… so here is my initial ‘reach out’ as a hardened sceptic… but an opened minded pragmatist…

– What’s the difference between F&F and any other new start? You’re still a middleman?

– If F&F have clear resolve to do better… then why would the system not see you as a threat and just lock you out?

I have umpteen ‘layman’ questions around investing. I’m a working man, intelligent (although say so myself) but not a studying academic. When I need ‘qualifications’ I just do the course, pass it and get what I need. The closest I come to ‘trading’ was to follow ‘The Naked Trader’….

I don’t listen to any mogul run bias news (especially BBC) or read ANY papers…

However, I realise over my life so far I have not invested as efficaciously as I could or really should have… I just abhor and distrust the system…

So my question is… As Nigel and yourself (plus others) represent F&F…. Really, how are you any different?

In a healthy distrust…

D.T.

This is precisely the sort of reader we want at Fortune & Freedom. A sceptical one. Because the whole premise is that you deserve financial thinking and ideas of superior quality than you’re getting. And part of that means we need to stay on our toes and respond to your challenges, not just discuss what we think is important.

You keeping us honest… keeps us honest.

But let me start with an indirect response to D.T., before we get to the specific questions…

I just abhor and distrust the system too

Until I recently set up an ISA account, I didn’t invest in any mainstream financial assets like shares on the stock market. For two reasons.

The first is that the internal dealing rules of our publishing company are intense. And complying with them is intense too. All this is to ensure there is no funny business behind the scenes. And to make sure there’s no perceived conflict of interest, let alone an actual one.

Because I work for our Aussie colleagues too, I have double the compliance burden when I buy any investment. Twice the paperwork and approvals. And twice the constraints – we can’t buy certain stocks, for example and have restrictions over others.

All this was so much of a drama that I simply decided not to bother. Doing my job was quite enough of investing, thank you very much. I didn’t want to have to deal with the compliance burden of having brokerage accounts and clearing everything I did via the right channels.

But the second reason I avoided investing in mainstream assets like stocks is that I share D.T.’s scepticism of just about all financial schemes, providers and companies out there. A scepticism born out of plenty of experience.

Let’s consider a recent example. When the Covid-19 crisis struck, I sensed the opportunity to buy stocks on the cheap. And decided to open stocks and shares ISAs for myself, my wife and my newborn daughter. As well as relearning the ins and outs of navigating our internal dealing rules.

Let’s just say that my scepticism about the financial industry was confirmed by my attempt to set up the ISA. My May case with the Financial Ombudsman Service is still dead in the water. Despite the fact that it’s about a scenario which it claims to help everyday investors with on its website.

But, by ignoring my original complaints, the ISA provider has cleverly put a spanner in the works. You see, the Ombudsman tells me I must send them proof that I complained to the ISA provider, and give the provider a chance to rectify things. But I have no such proof because it never acknowledges the complaint when it’s made via its website. There is no confirmation of any kind. And so I’m in regulatory purgatory…

My point is that I’m a hardened sceptic too, D.T. To some extent, anyway. So I keenly appreciate D.T.’s attitude. And the hurdles he set in his question.

Anyway, let’s get to D.T.’s actual questions…

1. We’re not middlemen

Although we at Southbank Investment Research are very much part of it, being covered by the same regulations and consumer protections, we stand apart from the other parts of the financial industry in several ways. We don’t manage money, take commissions, give personal advice, or deal directly with clients’ investments. We just publish ideas and charge subscriptions for some of our publications. That’s it. The rest is up to you.

This means we empower readers instead of patronising them or doing things for them.

It also means we have no implicit incentive to direct customers anywhere. Not to any financial products or firms. We’re independent, without misaligned or hidden incentives.

On another note, I’m a huge fan of middlemen in many contexts. They play a crucial role in many industries. But that’s another story.

2. The industry does see us as a threat

I don’t know about trying to block us. How can the financial industry block the publishing of information?

But I don’t think the entire industry is happy with everything we have to say in Fortune & Freedom.

Other parts of the industry try to align with us and benefit from our customer base. But we remain independent because, otherwise, the whole premise of doing what we do falls apart.

There are some other interesting ideas D.T. raised…

The ivory tower is poached

My colleague Boaz Shoshan shares D.T.’s scepticism of academia. I wish I had done so earlier. When my PhD uncovered systemic mortgage fraud in Australia in 2012, my supervisors suddenly pulled out just months before I had been approved for finalising the thesis…

It was corporate sponsored academia that had its eyes glued shut by money, not the newsletter publishing company which had originally aired my claims and reports years before in a report sent to subscribers.

There’s something else I want to mention, because we get plenty of emails about it.

Independence and honesty means disagreement

Because there is no company line and no common incentive in the company, we often disagree with each other. There are huge gaps between our editors’ opinions. Some of my closest friends in the company are the ones I disagree with most. But our publisher publishes all of us. And by having our own publications, we keep our visions and ideas separate.

This confuses many people. They often want one view from our group. But how is that possible if we’re to be independent?

We believe it raises the quality of our work to have competition. I believe disagreements also make things much more interesting and entertaining for you.

Anyway, my answer to D.T. can be summed up like this: don’t believe or agree with us. Continue to be a sceptic. But consider what we have to say without glasses tinted by any colour, except for the healthy distrust you mention, D.T.

And then judge for yourself if you find it valuable. If not, that’s completely fine. I don’t read everything we publish. But I have found plenty I look forward to reading each day.

And, right now, despite my partially dysfunctional ISA, The Great British Wealth Revival is top of that list.

Nick Hubble
Editor, Fortune & Freedom