Actor and corporate pitchman Ben Stein charges more than $50,000 for a single speech, according to his page at the Keppler Speakers Bureau.
If that’s the case, I would love to know how much he charges San Diego money manager Ray “Buckets of Money” Lucia for making numerous appearances each year at Lucia’s free seminars and lauding him in The New York Times as a “guru.”
Update: Lucia in 2020 settled SEC charges that he misrepresented his “Buckets of Money” investing strategy; Stein was not charged with wrongdoing.
Let’s face it: it’s Stein, not Lucia, who was the big draw at the “Buckets of Money” seminars. Stein has made a career out of being a bow-tied smartypants ever since he famously played a dull economics teacher in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. He even sued over his signature look in this lawsuit in which he describes himself as “the most famous economics teacher in the world.” In the public’s mind, Ben Stein is what an economist looks like.
The public doesn’t know or care that Stein is a securities lawyer by trade whose credentials as an economist amount to having a famous economist for a father and a bachelor’s degree in economics. Never mind that to the folks I know in the finance world think Lucia and his “buckets” are a joke. Never mind that anyone at Goldman Sachs who starts blabbing about buckets of money will be shot at dawn.
I doubt that Stein truly believes that the “genius” of Ray Lucia is his bucket strategy. His genius such as it is lies in his salesmanship. Lucia understands that regular people don’t want to read financial reports and SEC filings. They want to see a man who plays an economist on TV. They want to hear jokes get some free advice about what to do with their retirement nest eggs. They want a show.
So they come for a show and they leave with a new money manager, Lucia’s son, Ray Jr. It will take a while before these unsuspecting investors realize that Lucia Jr. has drilled holes in their buckets of money with his company’s high fees and questionable investments such as non-tradeable REITs that earn Lucia huge commissions.
Stein provides his pal Lucia an additional, equally valuable service — repeatedly dropping Lucia’s name in his business columns in The New York Times and elsewhere. Stein’s shilling got him canned from the Times, so now he name drops Lucia in his American Spectator diary.
Stein will say almost anything if you pay him. He served as an expert witness for lawyers at Milberg Weiss until the firm went down under federal indictment for bribery and fraud. He has pitched Comcast, eye drops, cars, office equipment. So it’s no surprise that Stein praises Lucia as a “guru” or a “genius” in the same breath as Warren Buffet.
But this is a particularly insidious form of advertising. If you repeat something enough times, goes the old saw, it becomes truth. Especially when you can repeat it in The New York Times.
I happened to be sitting at Morton’s restaurant in Beverly Hills a few days ago with Mr. [Phil] DeMuth and with another financial adviser for whom I have high esteem, Raymond J. Lucia (for whom – full disclosure – I am about to give a speech or two urging people to save for retirement).
Ray and Phil said something like this to me: “You know there are not a lot of shows on TV that actually teach the viewer how to be a better investor. There is a lot of stock picking and predicting what can’t be predicted, but there is not a lot that tells the ordinary Joe or Jane how to save for retirement.”
Ray and Phil were right. And they will keep being right.
~ The New York Times, Feb. 27, 2005
I was recently on a panel with the stock guru Ray Lucia, who offered overwhelming data about how impossible it was to pick stocks, trade in and out of them and fare as well as the market. His data was terrifying.
~ The New York Times, Oct. 14, 2007
I checked with my investment gurus, Phil DeMuth, Raymond J. Lucia and Kevin Hanley. None of us could see how Mr. Madoff could do what his friends said he could do.
~ The New York Times, Dec. 26, 2008
I am to give a speech at a huge gathering hosted by my pal Ray Lucia. It is about investing. He has an immense crowd of well over 1,000 people today and my job is not really to sell them anything, but to give them a general overview of the economy.
~The American Spectator, May 2010.
Now, to pack and prepare to go see my pal Ray Lucia. Ray is simply the best wealth manager I know of. He knows more about personal finance than any other person I have ever met. His advice — lots of liquidity and very wide diversification — is so sensible it has saved me from suicide many a night. This guy is a lifesaver where managing money is concerned. We are colleagues, so I am not disinterested, but even before we were colleagues, I was learning from him and being guided by him.
~The American Spectator, June 1, 2010.
I have done the best I can, with the help of some true geniuses of finance like Phil DeMuth, Chris DeMuth, Ray Lucia, Anil Vazirani, J.W. Roth and, supreme above all of them, John Bogle and Warren Buffett, to invest wisely.
~The American Spectator, Aug. 12, 2011
Ray “Buckets of Money” Lucia, the host of an investment radio talk show, has been going around the country hosting retirement seminars with actor Ben Stein.
The seminars are free to attend, but they’re not free. Someone is paying for them. If you’re considering investing with Lucia, it’s important to understand that the person who may wind up paying is you.
Money for the “Buckets of Money” seminars comes out of the pockets investors in RJL Wealth Management, according to Lucia’s own client disclosure.
In addition to being the main sponsor of Lucia’s seminars, RJL Wealth Management advertises on his radio show. It pays Lucia a fee for referring potential clients. It also pays him hourly consulting fees. The amount of this compensation is not disclosed.
RJL manages more than $300 million in assets in 4,880 accounts, according to its filing with federal regulators.
As I noted in an earlier post on Lucia’s fees, the RJL Wealth Management Program charges staggeringly high fees of as much as 2.9 percent annually.
Lucia’s SEC disclosure states that for his solicitation and consulting, he receives a portion of the fees collected by RJL Wealth Management that “shall not exceed 1 percent” annually. One percent of $300 million is $3 million a year.
You would be forgiven that Lucia is essentially paying himself. In fact, Lucia is being paid by his son, Ray Junior, who runs RJL Wealth Management. Dad is listed as a consultant and member of the advisory board (along with Ben Stein).
The arrangement between the Lucias leads inexorably to a conflict of interest.
Both Lucia junior and senior are SEC registered investment advisers. Registered investment advisers are considered fiduciaries, which means they have a legal duty to put their clients’ interests first. So whose interests come first clients or Lucia father and son?
I think the answer can be found in a complaint against Lucia Senior that was filed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority in December.
An unnamed client accused Lucia of breach of fiduciary duty for failure to execute stop loss orders in between June and December 2008 when markets plummeted in the depths of the financial crisis.
The client claimed $24,631 in damages. Lucia settled for $18,000 for “business considerations in order to avoid the cost of arbitration,” according to FINRA.
According to FINRA’s summary of the case:
Mr. Lucia was listed as a joint representative on the account for administrative purposes, but did not interact with the client and made no recommendations or representations, as those alleged or otherwise.
In other words, Lucia really had nothing to do with the account or the client. His name was on the account only “for administrative purposes.”