why beating A Shell-Game may be easier than Finding safe Investment Advice

why beating A Shell-Game may be easier than Finding safe Investment Advice
Posted on February 1, 2018 | Larry Elford | Written on February 1, 2018
Letter type:

Author's Note:

Author's Note:

In a nutshell, there are only three basic types of investment "advice givers" in Canada or the US.

Type ONE is the "creme de la creme" (the best person or thing of a particular kind), and this person is the registered fiduciary investment adviser.  Less than 5% of retail investors will ever meet such a person, but they must be mentioned, since EVERY investor I have met in 3 decades is CERTAIN that this is the person they have. Absolutely certain.  (plus they are wrong)

Type TWO is something which used to be called a sales "broker", and is still called this in the US.  

This role goes under any number of names in Canada but in general a broker is a salesperson, earning commissions, or fees and commissions, and owing an agency duty to the dealer that employs them.  Like a car salesperson works for and owes a duty to the car dealership...not first and foremost to the client.  Virtually all retail investors have this type of "advice giver", and yet virtually all retail investors are CERTAIN that they have Type ONE, the fiduciary specialist.  It is just not so.

Type THREE is something that does not exist in law or regulation (to my knowledge), and it is called an “advisor”.

Wait..why? How?    

This investment industry trick, which arose in the late '80's, was to 'invent' a new and non-regulated term, something called an "advisor".  An advisor is as legally valid in the US and Canada, as a Docter, and if you have not yet noticed the "vowel movement" or have brushed it aside as meaningless, then POOF!  You are among those who are CERTAIN that they know something for which it is not safe to hold that certainty.

It is this investment industry trick, to introduce something which "looks genuine", combined with the confidence of, well,...a confidence man, which triggers the "certainty" trigger in your brain, which causes you to complete the con.  Thus it is your confidence in your own inability to be conned, which makes certain that you are easily conned....

(see more: Maria Konnikova is the author of "The Confidence Game," a book about con artists and why we fall for their deception)







In the shell game, three or more identical containers (which may be cups, shells, bottle caps, or anything else) are placed face-down on a surface. A small ball is placed beneath one of these containers so that it cannot be seen, and they are then shuffled by the operator in plain view. One or more players are invited to bet on which container holds the ball – typically, the operator offers to double the player's stake if they guess right. Where the game is played honestly, the operator can win if he shuffles the containers in a way which the player cannot follow.

In practice, however, the shell game is notorious for its use by confidence tricksters who will typically rig the game using sleight of hand to move or hide the ball during play and replace it as required. Fraudulent shell games are also known for the use of psychological tricks to convince potential players of the legitimacy of the game – for example, by using shills or by allowing a player to win a few times before beginning the scam.


If we take the shell game off the street and put it into a bank branch, it looks like this:

Under shell #1 is the legally registered, fiduciary professional, SEC (or state or province) registered investment "adviser". (technically called an "advising representative" in Canada, but don't lose sight of the pea.  Canadian regulators regularly change the names of these so that Canadian investors can be more easily confused.  The US has kept their Securities Acts unchanged since 1935 Act and Investment Advisers Act 1940.


Under shell #2 is the sales "broker". (technically now called a "Dealing Representative" in Canada, but again, keep your eye on the pea, not the con artists) The broker is the sales guy or gal who acts as a sales agent for the dealer, is on a commission and is as different from a registered fiduciary adviser, as a pharma-sales rep is different from a Doctor...


Under shell #3 is something called an "Advisor" in both Canada and the USA, which is a newly 'made-up' marketing term, which is actually the term that any salesperson, broker, life insurance seller or mutual fund seller wants to use to pretend to the public that they are the same professional, as the registered fiduciary Adviser.  It aint so, but our brains will tell us it is, as fast as the banks tell us that it is...the "advisor" is as different to your financial health as a medical Doctor is different from a "docter".


When you and your husband walk into the offices of any insurance, fund or investment salesperson in North America, the game begins with the introduction to your new investment "advisor"...shell #3.

You will be seated in lush surroundings and told so much, for an hour or two, about how safe and secure your relationship is, that you will start to feel like you are at a State of the Union address.  You may even clap, you are so relieved, to be relieved, of the worry about your money.  The trouble is that you have not yet found shell #1.  Or had you forgotten what that choice was?

Recall that beneath shell #1 is the true, legally registered  professional "adviser".  The one with a legal fiduciary duty to act in your interests and in none other.  The one who is not legally allowed to use his knowledge to profit at your expense.  The one with the "do no harm" duty.  This is the 'pea', the result that you will never get...in most offices. (note below about dual-licensed individuals)

THIS is the con.  That person does not exist at this office.  That person does not exist in most  investment, insurance and mutual fund offices in North America.  Certainly in Canada. 


No matter how many times you visit, and how many sales offices you contact, you will (nine out of ten times) be told that you are dealing with a "Registered Investment Advisor", and that registration DOES NOT EXIST.  See below the comments from FINRA the broker self regulatory organization, and something found through NASAA.

Investment Advisers

Although most people would use an "o," we purposely spell adviser with an "e" when we talk about investment advisers. That’s because the laws that govern this type of investment professional spell the title this way.

Many investment advisers are also brokers—but these two types of investment professional aren’t the same. So as you choose among different professionals, here’s what you need to know about investment advisers.

  • What they are: An investment adviser is an individual or company who is paid for providing advice about securities to their clients. Although the terms sound similar, investment advisers are not the same as financial advisors and should not be confused. The term financial advisor is a generic term that usually refers to a broker (or, to use the technical term, a registered representative). By contrast, the term investment adviser is a legal term that refers to an individual or company that is registered as such with either the Securities and Exchange Commission or a state securities regulator. Common names for investment advisers include asset managers, investment counselors, investment managers, portfolio managers, and wealth managers. Investment adviser representatives are individuals who work for and give advice on behalf of registered investment advisers.

You are most often in a shell game, where no matter what you ask for, you will be promised the reward of what is under shell #1, and delivered the risk of what is under shell #2.  Shell #3 is a pure con, a non-legal, finctional fabrication which is there to make you think that you have arrived, have won the game and found your professional....nope.



NASAA was organized in Kansas in 1919. The association operated a small business office in Topeka, Kansas, and hired its first executive director in 1983. NASAA moved its Corporate Office to Washington, D.C. in 1987.

NASAA is the oldest international investor protection organization. Today, NASAA membership consists of 67 state, provincial, and territorial securities administrators in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico.



Here, in my view is how that game plays out in the retirement plans of about 90% of people in the developed world.


This letter is a work in progress....thank you for your patience while I assemble thoughts and links.


I am in the process of gathering the proper links to demonstrate how something that nearly every investor knows as a CERTAINTY, is actually a ruse, a cleverly designed "shell game", or perhaps even a combination of a shell game on one level, a confidence game on another level and so on...please stay tuned, and please pick anything apart that is not perfectly clear.  


About The Author

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Investment Misconduct and Malpractice Analyst

Larry Elford is acclaimed as a qualified expert on the subject of White Collar Crime as it relates to the investment selling industry. He... More