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10 Unforgettable Financial Lessons From The Most Entertaining Wall-Street Movies

10 Unforgettable Financial Lessons From The Most Entertaining Wall-Street Movies

Stories of America’s financial hub never fail to captivate audiences. The New York Stock Exchange is crammed into four rooms, and Wall Street itself is less than a mile long. However, this hive is the center of the world’s financial activity, resulting in an average of 5.7 billion shares traded each day, according to recent numbers published by the Wall Street Journal. Margin Call, Arbitrage, and the recent Wolf of Wall Street thoroughly examine the fast paced decisions, complexities, and even savagery of life in this iconic financial hub. Business leaders have to consider how they’ll react under immense pressure to keep their organizations afloat and customers happy. The protagonists in the following movies must face high-risk decisions and ethical issues on a constant basis. Decisions that can significantly impact their personal and professional lives. Here are 10 takeaway lessons we can gain from these films.

1

    Lesson #1: Be Prepared to Face Significant Risks

    The film Margin Call highlights some of the extremely sobering potential risks faced by traders working for Wall Street firms. In this sink or swim drama, the decision makers at the firm discover that they have to sell off extremely toxic securities, or their organization will sink. However, offloading these securities will only push the crisis onto their partners and clients, severing trusting relationships that the firm has been developing for years. It is a harrowing study of what traders will do when faced with situations of immense risk. Employees watch as their peers are laid off left and right, as the surviving firm representatives accumulate mass amounts of wealth, as the crisis affects everyone around them. Margin Call serves as a strong reminder that large gains are often made at the severe expense of others.

    “I want you to hit every bit you can find. Dealers, brokers, clients, your mother, if she’s buying….The ground is shifting below our feet, and apparently, there’s no other way out.” – Sam Rogers, Margin Call

    2

      Lesson #2: Don’t Cook the Books

      Arbitrage attracted critical attention and acclaim in 2012 with its list of stars, including Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Roth. Gere’s character, Robert Miller, is an unsavory magnate whose history of fraud remains unknown to his family. He’s altered his company’s financial data to keep his criminal acts concealed. Miller is involved in a car accident that results in a fatality, and tries to minimize his involvement. The ensuing investigation brings several questions to the surface for his family members, who catch onto the fraudulent activity. While Miller never has to legally answer for his crimes, his relationships with his family members have been irrevocably damaged. Arbitrage serves as a stark reminder that unethical business practices can come back to bite you. They can negatively impact your personal life and relationships as well.

      “Nothing is beyond money for you, Robert. We both know that.” – Jimmy Grant, Arbitrage

      3

        Lesson #3: Don’t Let Success Get To Your Head

        The Wolf of Wall Street is the epitome of a financial cautionary tale, demonstrating the new lows people can sink to when they amass their own fortunes quickly on Wall Street. Stockbroker Jordan Belfort can’t handle the quick success, and he spirals out of control with drug use, sex, insane purchases, and scams. This film teaches us that the fast accumulation of wealth doesn’t work out for everyone – in fact, it can lead people down paths of destruction. This adaptation is based on the real life experiences of Jordan Belfort, detailed in his 2007 memoir.

        “On a daily basis I consume enough drugs to sedate Manhattan.” – Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street

        4

          Lesson #4: Those Who Rise the Highest Might Fall the Furthest

          The 1993 TV movie, Barbarians at The Gate, tells the story of F. Ross Johnson, a prestigious CEO who has risen to wealth and fame after working as a paperboy. This rags to riches tale initially seems like the perfect capitalist success story. However, things become sour as Johnson strives to save a company from doom by purchasing it. The ensuing drama demonstrates that millions of dollars are at stake. Quite often, CEOs betting on Wall Street are putting their fortunes on the line.

          “It’s not the company. It’s the credibility. My credibility. I can’t just sit on the bench and let other people play the game. Not my game. Not with their rules.” – Henry Kravis, Barbarians at the Gate

          If you’re looking for a completely different type of film that emphasizes this point, check out Assault on Wall Street. This over-the-top Hollywood action shootout shows what one murderous and vengeful broker will do during an economic recession.

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          “They should all know that I am out there, a soldier of the people.” – Jim Baxford, Assault on Wall Street

          5

            Lesson #5: Don’t Let Brokers Gamble with Institutional Funds

            Rogue Trader is a fictional adaptation of a real-life story, which illustrates one of the most catastrophic cautionary tales for banking institutions. Nick Leeson, portrayed by Ewan McGregor, gambles with illegal trades as a bank employee. His employers never think to monitor these trades, and the situation quickly derails.

            “I, Nick Leeson, have lost 50 million quid in one day!” – Nick Leeson, Rogue Trader

            6

              Lesson #6: Stop Trying to Impress Others

              Seth Davis (played by Giovanni Ribisi) is the hapless protagonist of Boiler Room, which also stars Vin Diesel. Seth drops out of college and seeks to regain the approval of his father, who is a really strict federal judge. To impress his dad, he begins to explore the world of stock brokerage. However, his quest to win over his father unwinds when Seth is confronted with extremely unethical business dilemmas.

              “I have a very strong work ethic. The problem was my ethics in work.” – Seth Davis, Boiler Room

              7

                Lesson #7: The Press Will Dig Up Your Dirt

                Investor Sherman McCoy, played by Tom Hanks, learned this the hard way in The Bonfire of the Vanities. He becomes the center of a media scandal as journalists and politicians warp a criminal investigation to suit their needs. McCoy’s life is completely picked apart by lawyers and journalists, who publicly reveal his infidelity, along with other dirty secrets.

                “You see, Sherman, who started with so much, lost everything. But he gained his soul. Whereas I, you see, who started with so little, gained everything.” – Peter Fallow, The Bonfire of the Vanities

                8

                  Lesson #8: It’s All a Big Gamble

                  Michael Moore’s eye-opening Capitalism: A Love Story documentary shows just how ill-informed Wall Street influencers are when it comes to where American funds are going. When Moore grills Elizabeth Warren about the location and status of federal bailout money, he was met with an “I don’t know” response. Moore spends the remainder of the film being met with red tape and closed doors as he tries to chase down answers on Wall Street.

                  “Don’t make any more movies.” – A Wall Street Businessman, Capitalism: A Love Story

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                  9

                    Lesson #9: Put Your Eggs in More than One Basket

                    The HBO film, Too Big To Fail, illustrates the false confidence and extremely risky deals made by American financial institutions in 2008, which lead to the financial crisis and recession. Unfortunately, a pattern of mergers led to a very small group of institutions accountable for massive amounts of U.S. wealth. With few accountability measures in place, these banking giants were slid downhill along with the country’s funds.

                    “AIG can’t pay. AIG goes under. Every bank they insure books massive losses on the same day. And then they all go under. It all comes down.” – Neel Kashkari, Too Big to Fail

                    10

                      Lesson #10: The Stress Can Be Really Bad for Your Health

                      American Psycho is an extremely memorable film adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel. Institutions aren’t just at risk of meltdowns – the human psyche can suffer a breakdown due to the immense stress of life on Wall Street. Christian Bale horrifies us with his portrayal of serial killer Patrick Bateman, who has become completely warped by the kill-or-be-killed mentality of the New York investment world.

                      “I think my mask of sanity is about to slip.” – Patrick Bateman, American Psycho

                      Institutions rise and fall because of the decisions made on Wall Street. This very crucial location is the setting for countless real life and fictional drama that unfold as quickly as stock prices fluctuate. It’s no surprise that there have been dozens of films capturing the culture and figure of influence on Wall Street. Check out a few of these cinematic gems and see what financial lessons you walk away with.

                      Featured photo credit: Hernan Seoane via flickr.com

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                      Larry Alton

                      Business Consultant

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                      Published on May 7, 2019

                      How to Invest for Retirement (The Smart and Stress-Free Way)

                      How to Invest for Retirement (The Smart and Stress-Free Way)

                      When it comes to stocks, I bet you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing.

                      Everyone who’s not a financial expert has been there. I’ve been there. But, time is passing and you need to be crystal clear with how you’re investing for your retirement.

                      Otherwise, it’s back to work until you can afford not to. So, how can you invest for retirement when you’re not a financial expert?

                      You take the time to learn the fundamentals well. If you do, you can grow your wealth and retire happy. The best part is that you don’t need to be a financial expert to make smart investment decisions.

                      Here’s how to invest for retirement the smart and stress-free way:

                      1. Know Clearly Why You Invest

                      Odds are you already know why should invest for retirement.

                      But, maybe you know the wrong reasons. It’s time you get clear on why you’d like to retire. Here are some questions to help you get started:

                      • Will you spend more time with your family?
                      • What does retirement mean to you?
                      • Are you looking to launch that business you’ve been holding off for years?

                      Everyone wants to retire but not for the same reasons. Once you’re clear for why retirement is important for you, you’ll focus on making it happen.

                      Investing in the stock market allows you to take advantage of compound interest.[1] All this means is that your money earns money on top of its interest. A reason why investment in the stock market is one of the best ways to plan for retirement.

                      2. Figure out When to Invest

                      “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”– Chinese Proverb

                      It’s true if you’d had started investing when you were 10 years old, you’d have a lot more money than you do today.

                      The reality is that most people don’t start investing until it’s too late. So, if you’re currently waiting for the perfect time to start an investment, it would be today. Open your calendar and block out 2 to 3 hours to choose how you’ll invest for retirement.

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                      A quick way to get a snapshot of where you stand is to use Personal Capital. Input all your personal information and spend some time setting your retirement goals. Once completed, you’ll know where you stand with your retirement.

                      Having a savings account for retirement isn’t planning for retirement. Why? Your money loses value when you factor in US inflation.[2]

                      3. Evaluate Your Risk Tolerance to Create the Perfect Portfolio

                      Investing your money well depends on your emotions.

                      Why?

                      Because when the market drops most people panic and withdraw their money. On average, the US stock market yields an annual 6% to 7% ROI (return on your investment.) But, this won’t happen if you’re worried about short-term loses.

                      Before you invest your next dollar, know your risk tolerance.[3] Your risk tolerance determines the number of risky and safe investments you’d have.

                      Regardless of your investing style, you need to view investing for retirement as a long term game. Know that some years you’ll lose money but recoup this in the long-term.

                      Avoid watching market-related new. Also, create a double authentication to log in your investment account. This way you’re less likely to withdraw your money.

                      4. Open a Reliable Retirement Account

                      Depending on your circumstance, you may need to open a new brokerage account. This is the account is where you’ll invest your money.

                      If you’re currently working for a company, odds are that they offer a 410K investing account. If so, here’s where you’ll invest most of your money. The only problem with this is that you’re limited to the stock options that are available.

                      You do have the option to open a separate IRA (individual retirement account.) Here are some of the best brokers:

                      1. Vanguard
                      2. TD Ameritrade
                      3. Charles Schwab

                      5. Challenge Yourself to Invest Consistently

                      Committing to invest for retirement is hard, but continuing to do so is harder.

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                      Once you’ve started investment for your retirement, you run at risk from stopping. Often you’ll want to contribute less, so you’d have more money in your pocket.

                      That’s why it’s important that you create a budget that allows you to invest each month. If you’re working for a company, you can set a percentage for the amount you’d like to contribute each month. Most people by default contribute 1% but aim to contribute 10% to 15%.

                      Be the judge for how much you can afford to contribute after covering important expenses. To stay motivated, use Personal Capital to view your net worth.

                      A benefit to contributing money to your retirement account is not taxed. For example, if you earn $100 and invest 10%, you’d contribute $10, then get taxed on the remaining $90. As of 2019, the most you’re able to contribute towards your 401K is 19K but this can change.

                      6. Consider Where to Invest Your Money

                      The most common way to invest your money is in stocks, but it’s not the only way. Here are other ways to invest:

                      Robo Advisors

                      Robo-advisors[4] are fancy algorithms that’ll choose the best investments for you. Sites like Wealthfront make it easy for first-time investors to invest their money. You’d input information about yourself and set your risk tolerance.

                      Then, set your monthly contribution amount and your robo-advisor would do the rest. Robo-advisors charge a fee to manage your money, but less than regular advisors.

                      Bonds

                      Think of bonds as “IOUs” to whomever you buy them from.

                      Essentially, you’re lending money and charging interest. Like stocks, not all bonds are equal. Some will be riskier than others depending on their rating.

                      Here are the different types of bond categories:[5]

                      1. Treasury bonds
                      2. Government bonds
                      3. Corporate bonds
                      4. Foreign bonds
                      5. Mortgage-backed bonds
                      6. Municipal bonds

                      Mutual Funds

                      Picture a group of people dumping all their money in a jar that’s managed by a professional. This is how mutual funds work. The fund manager manages the money looking to earn capital gains (interest.)

                      One of the best types of mutual funds is index funds. Since these funds don’t try to beat the market and instead follow it, they need less research. Because of this they often charge the lowest fees and yield the best long-term results.

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                      Real Estate

                      Yes, buying a home is an investment when done correctly.

                      Imagine buying a home and using it as a rental property. After repairing it, you receive a monthly surplus check of $100 to $200.

                      This may not sound like a lot, but repeat this process enough times and you’d earn a large amount of passive income. That’s why real estate is one of the best investments to not only retire but become wealthy.

                      But, it requires a lot of money to start and you should expect losing money along the way as you learn the process.

                      Savings Accounts

                      Your money can still grow in a savings account. Nowadays most online banks offer a 2% annual return. Although the average inflation is higher your money will be available when you need it.

                      7. Master Disincline to Dodge Short Success

                      Investing for retirement is a long-term strategy. That’s why you need to master delayed gratification. All this means is delaying short-term pleasure for something bigger in the future. Research shows that those who have delayed gratification are more successful.[6]

                      So how can you master delayed gratification?

                      By building your discipline.

                      Think back to what retirement means to you. A clear purpose will help you avoid withdrawing your money during a market downturn. It’ll help you contribute more towards retirement when you’d want to waste it instead.

                      Your journey towards retirement will be long, so reward yourself along the way. Choose a reward that’s relevant and meaningful, so that you reinforce positive behavior. For example, after contributing more towards retirement, treat yourself to dinner.

                      8. Aggressively Invest on This One Investment

                      I’ve mentioned several types of investments but haven’t covered the most important one.

                      It sounds cliche but here’s why you’re your best investment towards retirement. The more you know, the more money you’ll be able to make. The more good habits you adopt, the more secure your retirement will be.

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                      More importantly, investing in yourself is an investment that no one can take away. There’s no market downturn nor tragic circumstance that’ll wipe your knowledge and experience.

                      But, how can you invest yourself?

                      Reading books, blogs, and anything that’ll help you learn new topics daily. Listen to podcasts and audiobooks on your commute to/from work.

                      Save money to buy courses and hire coaches. I used to believe hiring coaches was a waste of money when I could learn the subject alone.

                      But, coaches see your blind spots and hold you accountable. Hiring the right coach will help you achieve your goals faster than you would’ve alone.

                      Retire Happy with Excess Money

                      The key to a secure financial future doesn’t only belong to financial experts.

                      It’s possible for you and I. What if you were able to retire earlier than most people and weren’t a financial planner? What if you were able to focus on what you enjoy doing the most while your money was working hard for you?

                      I know this sounds impossible now, but the truth is you’re capable of taking charge of your retirement. I’m not a financial expert but I’ve learned how to invest my money by reading books and learning from others.

                      Investing your money is scary. So start small and invest a small amount of your money with a robo-advisor. Feel your money drop and rise for a month or two. Then, invest more and keep this up until you’re aggressively saving for retirement.

                      One day, you’ll wake up with a net worth you’re proud of – confident about your retirement. You now know a few strategies you can use to invest in your retirement. Will you take action to retire happy?

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                      Featured photo credit: Matthew Bennett via unsplash.com

                      Reference

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