How come articles like this are so boring?

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How to Avoid Investing Mistakes. Everything on this web page by Fidelity is correct and important. And yet, every day I see hundreds of pages like this by Schwab, Fidelity, ETrade, Vanguard, and every other financial company–pages that make me yawn and want to ignore my personal finances. Why don’t they resonate with us? And why don’t companies pick up on this?

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  1. Finance is, at its heart, pretty boring stuff and most efforts to liven it up appear crass. Imagine a guy in a suit drinking Mountain Dew. Some things are just plain boring, but the rewards are there for people who listen.

    Kiyosaki (author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad) is about the closest I’ve seen to someone who can express finance in an engaging way. Unfortunately, his writing is short on detail and all the things which inevitably get boring.

    So pick your poison. Personally, I get suspicious if my financial reading is a bit dry.

  2. I agree with Duane. Part of the reason that you, Ramit, are good at being less boring is that you spice things up with the occasional bout of profanity ;)

    Finance is one of those things that isn’t exciting or fun unless you’re in the small minority of people. It’s a grit-and-bear-it sort of thing.

  3. I agree. Majority of these articles are very in depth and can be pretty dry at times but they have lots of crediable information which the average investor can defintly used if they take on the informaiton correctly. I do agree “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” was a great book and lacked the details but there were also many facts in the book which were incorrect and cause problems if they are taken the wrong way.

  4. Ramit,

    You ask “why don’t companies pick up on this?” To which I must point out that there are loads of companies that do pick up on this–unfortunately those companies are the ones that make money either off of churn or off of selling magazines and TV shows that are “sexy”. And, of course, that sexy advice is predominantly bad advice.

    The advice that confirms what you know, that it’s a long slow road and that there are no tricks, doesn’t grab your atttention. The advice that goes counter to what your gut knows and that promises an easy way out, that’s sexy.

  5. One reason that companies might not have picked up on this yet is that there is an incentive to keep the masses from investing. Think about it. If good investment advice permeates society and literally everyone and their grandma starts investing properly, then interest rates will be pressed downward. If educatig others equals fewer returns, then it becomes less of a surprise that no one has done this yet.

  6. I just think people do not how to grad younger viewer’s attention. Perso. Finance is like everything else, you make it look attractive and people will come.

  7. Probabaly because they are just “doing their job”. Isn’t investing and finances more emotion than logic anyways?

    Logically we should all be saving, but how come so few do?

    - Bryan
    http://www.BryanCFleming.com

  8. I am certainly a newbie in the financial world (just opened up my market account in June, and Roth IRA Last week – mainly ’cause of Ramit’s IRA article, haha) – I’m only 20 years old, but I think it would be fun to take boring-ass articles like that and “young it up” for my meathead, pot smoking, sorority-girl-esque, keg stand doing friends

    - Tommy

  9. I think that the main difference between IWTYTBR and the mentioned ‘big box’ investment sites is that, because their ultimate goal is to market & sell investment products, they are generally reluctant to give specific advice. This results in the dry, general, “generic” investment advice that we’re talking about. Ramit- your website is A) NOT selling any product, so is B) NOT concerned with excluding viewers outside your niche. (in fact you go out of your way to focus your commentary to a very narrow audience, something I greatly appreciate).

    Lets face it- the only way to ‘liven up’ personal finances is to use real-dollar examples, these types of illustrations (by their nature) will only really interest a certain group- the people who are working within said example range. The big websites know this, and avoid telling a lot of personal stories, or providing really good examples. Instead they provide vague ‘advice that everyone can use’…because they want to be able to sell products to everyone.

    (moral of the story- don’t live off financial advice given by someone who is trying to sell you something)

    If these companies were really smart, they’d create actual seperate sites for their different investor types, the way Dell does with their customers. This would allow them to focus information to a narrow group and provide great illustrations & examples.

  10. Why are article list these so boring? Easy, they have no emotion. Who really want to read something that is void of emotion? Not I. That’s what makes you’re site so great Ramit, you fill it in with emotion.

    Why don’t more companies pick up on this? I think they do, but they’re too scared to add emotion because that can create conflict. Adding emotion forces people to draw a line, take a stance, and hold a position someone probably won’t agree with. Where is the conflict in the article from Fidelity? Where is the vision? That page is about as safe as a corporate page could be, and that’s why it’s utterly boring.

  11. The big-box sites are truly discount brokerages, that is, they cannot give specific investing advice (like a Merrill Lynch).

    Why are they so boring? Because the content has to go through multiple levels of their legal, writing, business and management departments and in some cases be vetted by the SEC before publishing.

    Yes, investing advice/stories can be dry and not everyone can be like Fool.com or even Fortune.com. There was a time at Fidelity.com years ago when they wanted to make investing sexy (think 1998-2000) and wrote some non-traditional information pieces, but we all know where that good vibe went.

    On the whole people want sound, easy to understand and relevant investing information that doesn’t sound like it fell out of a financial seminar presentation. Big box sites have no incentive to do this.

  12. Everything that is good for us is either tasteless, bitter or boring.

  13. No offense, but, hello– it’s finance. Barriers to entry breed finance fanatics. These companies probably love it when you don’t understand what they say and you check your stuff every other second to make sure you haven’t taken a wrong turn. The more you log on to their site, the more likely you are to purchase something from them.

  14. It’s boring because it’s not what most people want to hear. They want to know how to get on the next Google or how to make a killing at buying foreclosures. The late night TV ads for seminars that tell “the secret” are sure not boring but they are wrong. Everybody wants to take a shortcut so they don’t have to save extra money and still be able to retire at age 50. When you tell them that there is no magic formula, things become boring.

  15. I didn’t actually read it, since it’s basically the same article we’ve seen a gazillion times. I’ve a personal aversion to this format because the basic message in telling me 10 major things I’m screwing up on is intended to make me humbly seek their wisdom as a client. It works on people as long as we believe that the ‘experts’ saying it are so much smarter and more knowledgeable than we are.

    Vera

  16. Ramit,

    It’s not like your page is the most exciting in the world. I think most people don’t go to finance websites because they are pretty. They go there for the information. That page may be simple, but it contains tons of useful information and it just works. You need to be careful not to criticize…just because you cannot read through an entire “boring” web page does not mean that it’s not exciting for others…

  17. Finance is a dry subject. Remember, finance articles cater to the elite, learned ppl.

    Institutions are the biggest buyers of stocks, bonds, mutual funds and not individuals.

  18. Ramit,

    For your masters thesis, is it something that is enjoyable to read? Did you put it out on your coffee table for casual visitors to read?

    The point I am trying to make is that certain topics or the way one writes is industry specific. Would your professor accept your thesis if it was hip and funny even though the message was still the same?

  19. You should ask: Why is the advice so dumb in addition to being boring. Don’t they have anything better than “Understand the fees you’re paying” or “Try to buy low instead of high”.

    I’m surprised they don’t also advise “Make sure your banker speaks English if you do” Or “Be sure to put on a pair of pants before you go to the bank and invest.”

    You are dissatisfied because you waste 5 minutes reading a bunch of text yet find neither content nor entertainment.

  20. I’ve learned that the majority of people that have commented don’t trust investment companies. Even if they made it more exciting, we’d probably say, “Look at them, trying to act cool to lure me in, but I see right through it!”. Simplicity (Keep It Simple Stupid) helps get the point across, which is probably a major goal of those articles (not trying to trick you into giving them money). They want to show you that they provide valid advice. If you went to a site and the only investment advice they had was, “Give us your money and you will be rich!!!!!1111″, you’d probably pass.

  21. Point taken, Ramit …I read it through, but am still no fan of negative motivation, however subtle.

    There’s a big difference between a marketing publication and a personal blog experiment that is a sort of diary. The writing I’ve done in business, which is designed to communicate, motivate, etc. requires lots of critical thinking and discipline, unlike a personal diary.

    imo, the language, vocab and style of targeted writing belongs rightfully and proudly to the reader (as much as to the writer), like a gift you’re making for them, and I believe it’s hard to do a great job of it unless you have a true liking and respect for that reader. I understand that the style and approach of this article is a standard one that works, but still personally prefer to be offered information and/or empowerment without the fence-sitting negative motivation.

    For example, I’d rather read either:
    10 Really Dumb Things Investors Do or
    10 Briliant Things Investors Should Do

    This is my personal opinion. I’m always interested in hearing argument, such as why this style is preferred by others?

    Vera

  22. I think it’s mostly boring to us because we’ve read this advice 50,000 times. How many more “start an index fund” articles do I need to see on a daily basis?

  23. Everyone pretty much agrees it’s boring, but define boring and who determines the degree to which it matches that definition. Boring is an opinion and while we all agree this article is BORING – perhaps the intended reader was not us.

    Also – This article reminds me of my college text books. Very educational, very boring. Why must text books be as boring as this article? I think because fun and entertaining doesn’t give credibility. Becase we’ve all read this type of article 50000 times as Jonathan suggested, perhaps credibility is the purpose of this article so it is intentionally boring.

    Or maybe the guy who wrote it had a lobotomy last month

  24. Okay, I understand about big corporate entities writing boring finance text but what is up with most personal finance books?
    Most are written to suck all interest out of the subject.
    I especially detest financial books geared towards women that are almost identical to the books geared towards men. Hello! Two very different ways of learning!!
    Enough ranting…

  25. I believe that the reason much of this financial stuff is so dry is that it doesn’t produce fabulous and excessive wealth, it produces a solid financial base on which to build the rest of your life. Many people don’t want a solid financial base. They want fabulous and excessive wealth or they don’t want to bother.

    There’s nothing new or exciting about how to save for retirement or make sound investments. To many people, even the stuff here is going to be dull as bones and not worth lingering over. The average visitor here cares more about their finances and wants to know more about how things really work, I suspect. The same with many of the financial advice blogs. So what’s written here can be for those people.

    What major websites write about money is usually tailored to the people who need it most and want to read it least. It keeps to the basics, and therefore is uninteresting to those who already know and follow the basics. It’s not impossible to spice up the fundamentals, but it doesn’t seem to happen much.

  26. I’m an old guy here– way out of the dominant demographic of this site. I used to work in the securities industry. Here’s what goes down with publicly distributed advice:

    A. NASD compliance regulations and securities laws basically strip creativity from marketing material. Even if it’s “educational,” it’s marketing material. Early on I had the experience of writing some copy and it was rejected, leaving me to gasp something like, “Whadya mean I can’t say that?!” Everything must be hypothetical, sometimes even the data! Since Kiyosaki doesn’t fall under securities laws, he can say whatever he likes.

    B. Being a retail investor (that’s you) should actually be boring in the same way you want your flight from SFO to Heathrow to be uneventful. If you want excitement, go to a casino.

    C. Most people can’t or won’t balance their checkbook, do an annual net worth statement, or consciously select a competitive credit card product, and are just so caught up in the bizarre bazaar of daily life. Investing requires some forethought as to goals and strategies—a game plan. Then you have to work the plan. It’s like a small business. Damn boring unless you really love it.

    D. stratamarr on oct 3, got pretty close to the heart of the matter.

    E. Each person’s circumstances are individual. Ever notice those full-page, small print drug ads with all the possible side effects and risks? Maybe mutual funds ought to have those.

    F. Deep down, most people think they’re entitled to getting rich quick,and that there’s some secret to it. There ain’t no secret kids. Statistically, the odds are long for sudden wealth. But each new generation thinks, “There must be a way, and I think I can discover it.” That’s what I thought in 1965, too.

    G. Even if they could, investment companies don’t want to be controversial, at the margin, or near the edge because the price of failure is high. Thus, you, as a consumer, are doomed to mediocre guidance. And by mediocrity, I mean investment performance that fails to match benchmark indexes.

    But most of you don’t believe– or don’t want to believe– any of this, so forge on ahead and best of luck to you.

  27. Maybe it is not that the subject is boring, but people don’t really realize how important it is! People are very good at protecting themselves against immediate dangers, but not so good at precipitating danger.

    Personal finance is important because it gives you the freedom to live your life as you choose to live. When you borrow and accrue debt, you start having to live your life as someone else dictates. If people understood this simple fact, personal finance would not look so boring any more!

    The other issue is that the results of handling or not handling money well is not immediate either. If you could see the impact of what you’ve done immediately instead of 3-5 years down the road, you’d (mostly) behave differently…