In many parts of the world, commission-driven sellers of dodgy insurance policies and investment funds euphemistically describe themselves as “financial advisers”. Some stretch the truth even further, calling themselves “independent” financial advisers.
This misleading sales tactic has now been outlawed in the UK, but British insurance salesmen who expatriate to poorly regulated foreign countries continue to abuse the English language, as well as the gullibility of inexperienced investors.
Neil Robbirt, CEO of Global Investments, is one of these British salesmen.
Reckless Disregard for Thai Law
Global Investments has been headquartered in Thailand since 1994. The company’s website states that it has sold financial products to over 3,000 people, and that it is “proud to be one of the most reputable and well-established names in the financial services industry”.
An official from the Thai Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has confirmed by email that Global Investments and Neil Robbirt are not licensed to sell investment products in Thailand, a fact which can be verified by checking here on the SEC’s website.
The penalty for selling investment products in Thailand without a license is between two and five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 200,000 baht to 500,000 baht.
An official from the Thai Insurance Commission confirmed by phone that Global Investments is also not licensed to sell life insurance policies.
The penalty for selling insurance policies in Thailand without a license is up to 6 months imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 baht.
Ponzi Scheme Promoter
Global Investments has left a trail of evidence on the internet showing how it misleadingly and negligently promoted the LM Managed Performance Fund (MPF), an unregulated collective investment scheme which is now known to have been a Ponzi scheme. The South China Morning Post has reported that the fund paid upfront commissions as high as 15%. The commission levels were so far above normal that it immediately sent up red flags to numerous industry insiders, such as Martyn Terpilowski, who identified the fund as a Ponzi scheme 4 years before it collapsed.
Below is an advertisement which Global Investments apparently paid for, in its attempt to boost sales and cash in on LM’s juicy commissions:
The ad claims there were “no fees”, even though the fund manager (LMIM) collected 5-10% per year in fees and paid salesmen up to 9% upfront commissions at the time. The ad also emphasizes that LM was regulated by ASIC, while neglecting to mention that the MPF was not.
The ad appears to target the general public, despite the fact that the MPF was a “professional investor” fund, not intended or suitable for ordinary retail investors.
“Poacher Turned Gamekeeper”
One ex-client alleges that Global Investments sold the LM MPF to over 100 people.
An LM victims group leader says that the company “topped the league table of all unlicensed Thailand-based ‘financial advisers’—both in number of clients trapped in MPF and total value of losses caused.”
After the MPF collapsed, CEO Neil Robbirt joined hands with several other “advisers” who had been flogging the fund. Together, they formed the executive committee of the “Advisers Committee for Investors” (ACI), a group of salesmen purporting to be fighting for the best interests of the people they had screwed. (See here.)
One LM victim cynically describes the ACI as “poachers turned gamekeepers”. Many believe that one of the main objectives of the ACI is to deflect attention away from the executive committee’s own greedy, reckless, and in some cases illegal behavior.
Luring Retirees into High Risk Funds
In an article originally published in the Bangkok Post, Neil Robbirt claimed that most of his clients were retirees and that he convinced them to put their money in funds that were allegedly earning returns of 12-14%.
In the same article, he also plugged the LM MPF’s “fixed rate of return” of 8.32%, which was itself so high that it was too good to be true.
On his company’s website, Mr. Robbirt is quoted as saying, “discretion is guaranteed in the interests of each and every Global client, and we believe we have developed a renowned reputation based on integrity, professionalism and the provision of expert advice.”
A legitimate “expert” financial adviser should know that high rates of return are obtained by taking high risks. An expert adviser should also know that it is reckless for retirees to allocate large portions of their portfolio to high risk assets, as retirees cannot afford to lose a lot of money. Most retirees are too old to reenter the workforce and rebuild a lifetime of savings.
It is therefore hard to understand how funds allegedly earning 12-14%, or even 8%, could be construed as in the best interests of retirees.
A 100% Return Becomes a 100% Loss
In the same Bangkok Post article mentioned above, Mr. Robbirt boasted about a property fund he was recommending. He said he expected investors to double their money.
This particular property fund invested in a “luxury development outside Pattaya called Ocean’s Edge, [consisting] of 32 exclusive penthouse-style apartments with infinity pools developed by an Australian Team.”
After being introduced by a “friend”, one of Global Investments’ ex-clients says Mr. Robbirt convinced him to invest 2.5 million baht in the Ocean’s Edge fund in 2007. He was told he’d get his money back plus 100% profit within three years. He was also promised an additional 15% interest for each year that the money was not repaid on time.
As of 2015, no money has been repaid. The apartments remain empty, as no buyers have materialized.
The ex-client is not optimistic that he will ever see his money again.
Making matters worse, he says Mr. Robbirt also convinced him to sink tens of thousands of pounds in the LM MPF Ponzi scheme, and tens of thousands more in a Zurich policy which he eventually cashed in at a 60% loss.
Below is a promotional video for the unsold Ocean’s Edge apartments:
The ex-client claims that Mr. Robbirt put a deposit on one of the Ocean’s Edge apartments himself. He says Mr. Robbirt used this fact to underline his confidence in the inevitable success of the fund he was promoting. When he was finished promoting the fund, Mr. Robbirt withdrew from the venture and recouped his deposit back.
Mr. Robbirt now claims he never earned a penny promoting the fund, and he takes no responsibility for his clients’ losses or the fund’s failure.
How a “Financial Adviser” Earns His Pay
Another former Global Investments client, who was also introduced by a friend, says Mr. Robbirt convinced him to put over half a million pounds in the LM MPF. The victim describes his experience with Mr. Robbirt as follows:
“Our last meeting was in February 2013. The agenda contained an item expressing reservation over my [relatively high] exposure to the LM MPF. At the meeting the item was met with what could almost be described as a rebuke for suggesting I should decrease my exposure to LM MPF. In no uncertain terms was I assured of the depth, quality and strength of the fund and consistency of performance and he saw no reason to adjust my position.
Less than a month later 2/3 of my life savings had gone.
I raised every aspect of my complaint with him over email and I have asked that at the very least all the LM commission he earnt is returned to me. He would not reveal his earnings but in my estimation it is over £80,000. He has point blank refused to consider any return.”
Dishonest as Ever
Currently, the “About Us” page of Global Investments’ website says:
“Our philosophy is based on service through best advice. That means placing our client’s best interests at the heart of everything we do. As an independent company we are not tied to any one product or service provider. This translates into unbiased advice, fair and transparent terms and conditions, highly competitive fees and charges and a range of solutions from global financial institutions in highly regulated jurisdictions with routes of recourse and government backed investor protection schemes.”
Before trying to determine how many lies and half-truths are in the above paragraph, consider the following facts:
- LM victims have had no “routes of recourse” in any jurisdiction, let alone a “highly regulated” one.
- An “independent” financial adviser, as defined by British law, is one who has no conflicts of interest, i.e., one who does not accept commissions from product issuers and is licensed to give investment advice on all products available in the market. An “independent” financial adviser only receives payment directly from his/her client.
- Global Investments once paid for advertising in a Thai magazine, but rather than try to sell unbiased advice, it attempted to sell a high commission investment fund (the LM MPF), acting as the de facto marketing division for the fund manager. Global Investments’ website features prominent information about high commission, ripoff insurance wrappers (portfolio bonds), but the website does not mention low-cost, no-commission investment products, such as ETF index funds.
- Global Investments has withheld information from clients about the commissions it has received. In some cases, Global Investments has claimed that there were “no fees”. News reports indicate that the commissions received by Global Investments were exorbitant.
Global Investments Expands Into Hong Kong—Without a License
Recently, Global Investments upgraded its website, globalinvestments.net. The company purports to have an office in Hong Kong, situated in the famous and very expensive Two IFC Tower. Former clients say they were previously unaware that Global Investments had an office in Hong Kong.
Global Investment’s main website links to an affiliated website, qropdirect.com, which contains information that aims to convince former British residents to transfer their life savings into high commission investment and insurance products.
There are no records that Global Investments, QROPS Direct, or Neil Robbirt are licensed to sell insurance and investment products in Hong Kong. Searches on the SFC, CIB, and PIBA websites come up empty.
The penalty for selling investment funds in Hong Kong without a license is up to 7 year imprisonment and a fine of $5 million HKD.
Selling insurance policies without a license is punishable by up to two years imprisonment and a fine of $1 million HKD.
Global Investments’ Hong Kong Office Is Merely “Virtual”
Global Investments’ Hong Kong address is listed as the 19th floor of Two IFC. A Google search for this address brings up links to a company called ServCorp, which offers a cheap service known as the “virtual office”.
Below are some ads excerpted from ServCorp’s website:
“A Business of Any Size Can Sound Like a Fortune 500 Company”
ServCorp openly admits that it helps small financial services companies dupe potential clients into believing that those companies are more well-established than they really are. The service is a godsend for fly-by-night operators like Global Investments, who do not have a license to operate legally.
“Your Calls Will Find You No Matter Where You Are”
ServCorp offers companies based in one country (such as one with a weak legal and regulatory system) the opportunity to appear to be based in another. Global Investments apparently found this service to be appealing and potentially lucrative.
A Phone Call with a “Global Investments” Receptionist
I made a few calls to the phone number listed under Global Investment’s Hong Kong address. I recorded those phone calls and have uploaded them below.
In the first call, the receptionist answered the phone saying, “Global Investments Hong Kong Limited. How may I help you?”
When I told her that her company appeared to be unlicensed, she tried to transfer me to “Mr. Neil”, the company’s CEO. I told her I did not want to talk to Mr. Neil, and that I instead wanted to talk to her. When I asked her whether she worked for ServCorp, she admitted that she did.
She then transferred me to Mr. Neil, so I hung up.
When I called again, I asked if ServCorp had a policy of checking whether its clients were licensed to do the businesses they were purporting to be doing. The receptionist said there was no such policy. She then transferred me to another receptionist who pretended that she did not work for ServCorp but instead worked for Global Investments.
At one point, she said she could not hear me and hung up. I am not sure if she was lying.
When I called again, the receptionist continued to pretend that she worked for Global Investments and not ServCorp, so I asked how long Global Investments had been selling investment products in Hong Kong. She said, “Since 2003”.
I repeated that the company appeared to be unlicensed. I asked her if she could tell me whether Global Investments was a “legitimate company”.
She said, “I cannot provide the information for you at this moment.”
I told her that information on the internet indicated that Global Investments had historically been based in Thailand. I asked whether Mr. Neil was currently in Hong Kong or Thailand. She said she didn’t know.
I was eventually transferred to Mr. Neil again, so I hung up.
When I called again, I pointed out that both Global Investments and ServCorp had exactly the same address. I asked the receptionist whether she worked for both companies. She said no. I told her I thought she was lying.
I pointed out again that Global Investments was not licensed to sell investment products, and I explained to her that selling investment products without a license was a criminal offense in Hong Kong.
I told her I wanted to know ServCorp’s policy regarding clients who were breaking the law. I asked whether ServCorp would continue to facilitate illegal activity, or whether it would terminate its business relationship and report illegal activity to authorities.
Before she could answer, we were cut off by a bad connection.
When I called back, the receptionist would not tell me anything about ServCorp’s policy regarding clients who were breaking the law. I concluded by telling her I thought ServCorp should stop doing business with Global Investments and report “Mr. Neil” to the authorities.
Ex-Clients Seek Justice
Many ex-clients of Global Investments have lost significant portions of their retirement savings. They have spent more than two years trying to recover their money, but so far, they have had no success.
Earlier this week, both the Thai and Hong Kong regulators were informed of Global Investments’ unlicensed business operations.
To date, the company has been allowed to operate outside the law for over twenty years without being held accountable.
Indignant ex-clients are hoping that regulators will finally bring Neil Robbirt and his company to justice.