Question: What do personal finance writers owe their audience?
My answer: we owe the audience the truth.
By that I mean that a blogger owes the audience as much honesty as is possible within the constraints of privacy and practicality in real life.
I genuinely believe that I owe readers an ethical duty of reasonable accuracy and no significant conflicts of interest (hence no advertising model for me).
Most obviously, this relates to investing. It would be wrong of me to bang on about the stock market and global equity index funds unless I genuinely believe (which I do) that they are a great foundation on which to build financial independence.
But there is much more to the world of investing than just index trackers. So I try to explain where I stand on all the main asset classes including equities, property, bonds, cash and cash equivalents, gold, commodities, venture capital and, more recently, crypto.
I tweeted about this recently saying:
“I could be wrong but I bet a lot of personal finance writers are still “in the closet” on crypto…i.e. they’ve bought it for themselves but haven’t written about it…probably because they’re nervous about getting shouted at for “encouraging gambling”…I wouldn’t blame them for keeping schtum…it’s quite rational tbh”
I wasn’t trying to be controversial…my point was to encourage the debate around crypto. Kudos here to Doc G of The Earn and Invest Podcast who recently hosted a FIREworld crypto debate.
It only became clear to me earlier this year that crypto will radically change the landscape of money. But once you’ve seen the implications of crypto, they can not be unseen. Crypto has the potential to disrupt index funds, all personal finance and other areas of life over the next few years.
Crypto allows new forms of money and new digital stores of value. That is not nothing. Money was the breakthrough technology that enabled trade. When you improve money, you improve trade and prosperity for everyone. This is not to say that Bitcoin is perfect (the energy consumption is a real issue). But crypto had to start somewhere and you don’t usually achieve perfection at the first attempt.
Ethereum started the next generation of crypto. Ethereum can be seen as a venture capital style bet on software innovation. It’s a new fintech platform on which the world of decentralised finance is being built. Software has value and Ethereum and other smart-contract protocols are the new value layer of the internet.
A thousand new applications can then be built on that. What if everything is going to get tokenized? What if all assets get put on the blockchain?…from real estate to bonds to Starbucks customer rewards programme and airline airmiles.
If you are a financial blogger or a financial adviser (or indeed anyone working in fintech, banking or software development) it is basically negligence at this point not to understand crypto and what it could mean for you and your clients / audience (or career).
As soon as I realised how far-reaching crypto would be, I felt an obligation to write about it, even though I knew I’d get some flak. It’s always tempting to keep quiet and not rock the boat but I think that would have been a mistake.
There are limits though. If you talk about specific cryptocurrencies on Twitter, people shout at you for “shilling your bagz”. And if you don’t, people will ask you for tips. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t!
I don’t have an obligation to trolls, chancers or copytraders to disclose exactly which tokens / funds I own or to provide them with free advice. Rightly or wrongly, where I chose to draw the line is to disclose my crypto research and % holdings to subscribers by posting them on The Escape Manual.
This post is not just about crypto though (and I’m aware that a lot of people don’t want to hear any more about that!).
My main point is actually a bigger one. My point is that the truth matters even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable. The truth is elusive and no one gets it right every time. It may take some work to change your mind. But only the truth can set you free.
I regret to inform you that most people only have limited interest in the truth…they are more interested in feeling good about themselves. Just look at the whole Feelz Before Reals industry that has sprung up in recent years…from Windchimes to Wokery.
The News Media are not there to help you find the truth. They’re far more interested in viewing figures, noisy dramas and political soap operas. The News is mostly built on fear. Advertising is mostly a scam.
Mainstream culture encourages weakness. It encourages consumption, it encourages compliance and it encourages conformity to the prevailing dogmas of the day. This is a big part of why financial independence is hard: you have to swim against the tide.
I write a blog about how to escape to financial freedom. The truth is that it’s not quick or easy so I owe it to my readers to address ALL the key elements involved. This means covering:
1) earning more;
2) spending less;
3) investing wisely; and
4) knowing how much is enough
There are writers that sell “success porn” (e.g CEO and billionaire autobiographies)…this is
bullshit incomplete because we all need to be frugal in the early stages when we’re young…especially when struggling to get traction in our careers. Frugality is necessary but not sufficient.
Then there are some that major on frugality but gloss over the fact that you need to earn more than average. In the past, people accused me of this and they may have had a point. Like Dr Frasier Crane, I was listening and this prompted me to look again at the balance on my blog and “level up” the content for balance between offense (earning more) and defence (spending less).
Then there are bloggers that just write about investing…this is fine but it’s massively incomplete…you can’t just invest your way to financial independence. You have to get your stake money together before you can invest.
My real point is this…The Escape Artist is about THE WHOLE JOURNEY.
Because I do coaching in the real world, I keep coming back to what works in the real world. This reflects a holistic approach to personal finance, health, wellness, ethics, relationships, success and happiness. All the elements of The Good Life…whatever that might mean for you. It may not contain all the answers to Life, The Universe And Everything…but if it could, it would.
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