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How Bernie Madoff Made Smart Folks Look Dumb

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question everything Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Dec-15-08 05:03 PM
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How Bernie Madoff Made Smart Folks Look Dumb
DECEMBER 13, 2008

How Bernie Madoff Made Smart Folks Look Dumb

What do George Carlin and Bernard Madoff have in common? The late comedian immortalized oxymorons, those absurd word pairs like "jumbo shrimp" and "military intelligence." Mr. Madoff just put the silliest of all financial oxymorons into the spotlight: "sophisticated investor." The accounts managed by Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC reported gains of roughly 1% a month like clockwork, with nary a loss, for two decades. Why did that freakishly smooth return not set off alarms among current and prospective investors? Of all people, sophisticated investors like Mr. Madoff's clients should know that if something sounds too good to be true, then it's not. But they believed it anyway. Why?

Mr. Madoff emphasized secrecy, lending his investment accounts a mysterious allure and sense of exclusivity. The initial marketing often was in the hands of what one source described as "a macher" (the Yiddish term for a big shot). At the country club or another exclusive rendezvous, the macher would brag, "I've got my money invested with Madoff and he's doing really well." When his listener expressed interest, the macher would reply, "You can't get in unless you're invited...but I can probably get you in."


If you did get invited in, then you were anointed a member of this particular club of "sophisticated investors." Once someone you respect went out of his way to grant you access, says Prof. Cialdini, it would seem almost an "insult" to do any further investigation. Mr. Madoff also was known to throw investors out of his funds for asking too many questions, so no one wanted to rock the boat. This members-only feeling blinded many buyers of Mr. Madoff's funds to the numerous red flags fluttering around his operation. When you are in an exclusive private club, you do not go rummaging around in the kitchen to make sure that the health code is being followed.


Last year, the Greenwich Roundtable, a nonprofit that researches alternative investments, conducted a survey of consultants, pension plans, "family offices," funds of funds and other large investors who shop for hedge funds. It's hard to imagine a more sophisticated crowd. Yet one out of five investors in the survey reported that they "always follow" not a formal checklist or analytical procedure, but rather "an informal process" of due diligence. That's for sure. One out of four investors surveyed will write a check without having studied the financial statements of the fund. Nearly one in three will not always run a background check on fund managers; 6% may not even read the prospectus before ever committing money.


If you invest with anyone who claims never to lose money, reports amazingly smooth returns, will not explain his strategy, refuses to disclose basic information or discuss potential risks, you're not sophisticated. You're an oxymoron. (subscription)

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question everything Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Dec-15-08 08:39 PM
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1. "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is"
never fails.
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Honeycombe8 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Dec-15-08 08:42 PM
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2. Mort Zukerman got taken!!!!! I was flabbergasted to hear that! He's ultra-rich....
VERY sophisticated investor. He appears on The McLaughlin Group occasionally. He was even savvy enough to move his money BEFORE the economy went south this year...that's how smart HE is! And HE gets taken by Madoff?

It is unbelievable! (I'm not happy about it, mind you. Not at all. It is horrible when anyone is swindled. I'm just shocked by how many of these very sophisticated investors, people AND companies, got taken. How in the world did it happen?)
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