Is currency trading a get-rich-quick fantasy, or a legitimate path to quitting your day job? In the first of a three-part series, Richard Meadows attends a seminar promising a world of riches - but only to those who are willing to open their wallets.
Greg Secker says he has a $50 million "slush fund". He gave his working-class dad a shiny new Aston Martin for his birthday; "straight out of Casino Royale". He hasn't truly worked in the past 15 years, much less ironed a shirt or washed the dishes. He's often pictured riding in a helicopter, or standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson.
Sound like the good life? You, too, can have it all:
"If I want you to become a millionaire, it's very easy," Secker says, with absolute conviction. "It's a cakewalk."
Rewind two hours. I'm standing in a hotel lobby in Auckland, milling around a crowd of about 50 other hopefuls. They come from all ages and backgrounds, wearing everything from three-piece suits to jandals and boardshorts.
All are here to listen to Secker, who's on a whirlwind tour of Australia and New Zealand to drum up business for his UK-based company, Knowledge to Action, which claims to be one of the largest international companies providing education on foreign exchange trading.
For the first time, he's bringing the secret behind his forex success to New Zealand.
With staff running most of the seminars, the man himself doesn't speak much these days.
The warm-up guy tells us we're in for a real treat seeing Secker in the flesh - and he's right.
The charismatic Englishman weaves a spell so enchanting that by the time two hours is over, I'm half-convinced that I'm going to throw in the whole journalism gig and make my fortune on the forex markets too.
The seminar starts with a run-through of the Secker back-story. After learning how to trade from a colleague at a investment bank, he threw in his day job and started full-time currency trading.
"Within nine months I'd turned £5000 into £55,000," he tells the audience.
Soon he had 19 people camped out in his lounge at home, drinking cups of coffee and watching him trade. The rest is history. Within the space of three years, Secker went from a self-described "little rat" earning £15,000 a year, to a claimed multi-millionaire.
For the spellbound audience, it's an intoxicating introduction to the world of forex.
How many have traded currencies before, he asks? A couple of tentative hands rise.
Now, how many want to be multi-millionaires? Suddenly, almost every arm is straining for the ceiling. It would sound cheesy if it weren't so effective.
Secker is a master salesman. He punctuates his pitch with swearwords, anecdotes, and self-deprecating humour. He's just a regular bloke; no economics background, "pretty crap at maths". Despite the jetlag he's highly animated and energetic, and cuts a dashing figure in his tailored suit.
The content of the seminar is mostly a curious blend of wealth porn and self-help pop psychology - including little gems like "power and love is exactly the same thing", and: "Fear is owning your life."
There's scant explanation of how the programme works, but we watch a video of Secker apparently making £19,000 in four minutes.
He says the strategies aren't based on trying to analyse news events, but watching for specific patterns that happen consistently at particular times.
"There's nothing more liquid and income-producing than foreign exchange," he says.
Pros can pull in $5000 per week, and even after six months of trading you'd expect to be clearing $1000 a week, he claims.
It's those sorts of statements that could bring down the wrath of the regulators should anyone find the course doesn't deliver as claimed and lay formal complaints.
A spokesman for the Commerce Commission, which fields Fair Trading Act gripes, says it has received complaints about similar companies over the years. Knowledge To Action has not yet crossed its radar.
Several forex-related companies crop up in the Financial Markets Authority's latest warnings and alerts, along with its list of firms and individuals to be wary of. Training programmes such as Knowledge to Action runs are unlikely to fall under its jurisdiction.
FMA spokesman Tony Reid says forex complaints usually fall into two categories - regulation or licensing queries, and people who've invested money with forex companies and are having trouble recovering it.
"Our message to potential investors, in any product, is to do your homework before you invest your money," he says. "Ask questions, make sure you understand what you are investing in, and seek financial advice."
But that's more or less impossible when you're under pressure to sign up on the spot. As the seminar comes to an end, at least a dozen or so punters hand over their credit cards.
They've been given the opportunity to sign up for a $12,000 two-day training course, reduced to a special price of just $5,995.
With a roughly 10 per cent conversion rate from attendees, some have suggested Secker's real talent lies in sales.
After the seminar, I ask why someone who supposedly makes my annual salary in four minutes would bother running training programmes.
"If you look at how much we actually make as an educational business, we kind of break even," Secker says. "We might make a million profit around the world. If you think of the thousands of courses and programmes we run, that's nothing."
What Secker's also doing is effectively recruiting an army of affiliated traders and that helps him and the company to boost the fortunes of his charity, the Knowledge to Action Foundation.
During designated trading fundraisers, the charity clips the ticket on traders' broker commissions.
"The thousands and thousands and thousands of clients that every year we pull through our programmes…every single time they trade through our Foundation, I get all of the commission," Secker says.
The cash goes toward a range of causes, including helping build schools in Africa in conjunction with Branson's Virgin Unite.
Even so, surely selling his secret strategies to all and sundry will quickly ensure that they no longer actually work?
"No - it's just too big a market," he says. "It's US$5.25 to US$5.5 trillion dollars every day."
"We would need hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of traders with pretty significant accounts to move that market around."
Secker's explanations stack up, but I'm still far from convinced.
Overseas media have reported that Knowledge for Action has attracted controversy in the UK and investigations in its operating proceedings and the claims made within its marketing materials.
There are hundreds of gushing testimonials available from the company, but that's almost a statistical certainty given that more than 100,000 clients are said to have done the course. There are also a large number of critical reviews posted online by those who say they have done the course and failed to make the profits they were promised.
Secker says he can get hard proof of traders' performances but in my view what the company sends to me falls short. It ends up saying it can't divulge clients' personal financial information for privacy reasons and because the information is held by the brokers.
The Knowledge to Action live trading floor in Australia does publicly publish its performance, which worked out to about a 30 per cent annual return in 2012, and just over 50 per cent in 11 months last year.
It sounds impressive although hardly the fast-track to riches unless you start with a massive trading fund.
While I'm not ready to write the programme off, I tell Secker I'm sceptical of the claims I've just heard. So he offers me a free place on the training programme. In a few weeks, I'll report back on exactly what sort of training $5995 buys you.
I'll also put my own money on the line by opening a trading account, and promise to use the strategies taught faithfully and diligently. Perhaps I'm wrong, and the get-rich-quick route to early retirement awaits. We'll soon find out.
- Sunday Star Times