John Oliver Exposes the Retirement Scam: Even Wall Street's Financial Advisers Agree They Shouldn't Manage Your Money


Everyone likes to think they’re good with money—even the totally oblivious callers on the Suze Orman show.

“No one should be spending $4,000 to get an elf-spotting qualification,” "Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver pointed out Sunday night. He was referencing an actual purchase Orman denied one caller from making. “In fact, if you go to right now you can print out a free, official elf-spotting certificate, which I promise you is every bit as valid as the most expensive elf-spotting education,” Oliver continued.

But even when you’re trying desperately to save money, you’re probably being scammed anyway.

“One of the big reasons that Suze Orman 'denied' so many people is because she thinks we should all be saving for our retirement,” announced Oliver. And while systemic reasons prevent many Americans from saving at all, others are getting swindled by the 1 percent, and only recently has the government begun to intervene.

The Investment Company Institute reported “total U.S. retirement assets were $24 trillion,” a figure that “doesn’t even include the wealth we have in stockpiled beanie babies,” joked Oliver. However, a lot of that money is in illegitimate financial services companies. Because financial advisers aren’t required to hold any specific credentials, their titles are as meaningless as “the John Oliver Effect,” joked the British comic.

“Even many well-credentialed financial advisers are paid on commission, so if they recommend something for you, it may be because they stand to make money. In fact, sometimes they’re actively incentivized not to act in your best interest," Oliver explained. And that’s actually legal—unless the adviser is what's called "a fiduciary."

And unfortunately, "while your money adds up, your fees can really add up too," said Oliver. This could rob you of valuable returns. As a 2013 Frontline documentary pointed out, you could end up losing as much as two-thirds of what you had.

And the professionals charging those fees? They're totally aware you're getting swindled. As Jason Zweig of the Wall Street Journal told Frontline: “One of the ultimate dirty secrets of the fund industry is that a lot of people who own run other fund companies own index funds in their own accounts and don’t talk about it.”

“Between financial advisers, high fees and underperforming active management, the entire retirement plan industry is a potential minefield,” Oliver revealed. And the "Last Week Tonight" team actually found out about these frustrations firsthand when they decided to set up a 401(k) for employees.

So beware, if you’re not paying attention, you could get less help from retirement planners than from a stock-picking cat.


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