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Beware Those Free Steak Dinners!

Category: Financial and taxes in retirement

December 3, 2018 — One of the intriguing lines that came up during the interviews for our “Should You Hire a Financial Advisor, Or Do It Yourself” article of a few months ago was this one: “Beware those free dinners”. Lewis, the author of that quote, was referring to those invites you get in the mail for a free dinner at some nice restaurant; in exchange all you have to do is listen to some financial expert tell you how you can make a ton of money. Recently Ron Lieber, a columnist from the New York Times, took up that invitation, using one that came in for his 80 year aunt. The pitch was: “Tired of the stock market roller coaster ride? Want to protect your principal and lock in interest earnings?” The answer was to be found during a free steak dinner at a gourmet restaurant.

Lieber went to the dinner to find out what really goes on at one of these gatherings. We bet you have already received invitations to similar events in your mailbox. The columnist had some suspicions about how the evening would go, and he was not disappointed. For starters, the host was an insurance salesman, Arif M. Halaby. Lieber discovered Halaby had earlier been the subject of a state cease-and-refrain order from a judge concerning the selling of certain financial products.

The AARP did a study a while back and found that almost 2/3rds of older Americans had received invitations to an event like this. Most of them had received multiple invites. The problem that can come from these events is revealed in a study done by the Securities Exchange Commission and other organizations – they found that in 57% of the cases, the presenters at these events used misleading information or claims.

In the case of Mr. Halaby’s presentation, Lieber’s biggest problem came from a misleading chart. The graphic made it look like the return from his product, a sophisticated equity based annuity, was much better than the S&P 500 index over a similar 18 year period. The issue came in the small print, which mentioned that reinvested dividends had not been included – if they had, the S&P 500 index performed better.

If you are tempted
Not all such free dinners involve someone with a questionable past or misleading information – some are probably fine. But Lieber offered some excellent advice for anyone considering attending such an event:
– Do a quick look up on the Internet of the organization and individual doing the hosting. Make sure there isn’t a past to be wary of. This link will help you check out the broker.
– Don’t do anything quickly with your money. If you are intrigued, get a second or third opinion from an expert who doesn’t charge commissions.
– Read all the fine print, and ask lots of questions.

Have you received invitations to a free event – or attended one? Please share your experiences in the Comments below.

For further reading
We Went to a Free Steak Dinner. The Salesman Wasn’t Pleased (Ron Lieber, NY Times)

Posted by Admin on December 2nd, 2018


  1. I have received tons of these invitations, over the years, but never attended any of them.

    by Louise — December 3, 2018

  2. I have gone to several, but I am very good at saying no.

    by Pat R — December 3, 2018

  3. We went to one over 10 yrs ago. Still our advisor. Got us ready for my husband’s retirement in 4 yrs.

    by Tomi Huntley — December 3, 2018

  4. Really? I can live without a free steak dinner that will just try to pressure me into buying goods and services I may not want. Those who accept those invitations surely must know that there will be high pressure tactics used to lure them in. Not worth a free meal to me.

    by Jennifer — December 4, 2018

  5. This is one of the biggest “scams” against aging folks. Frankly, beware ANY group or mass offering of financial services. They may be valid and ethical, but in addition to the pressure and high promises there are often (always?) other hidden dangers. Years back, our university alumni association offered such a dinner and, naturally, we were interested in such a “reputable” offering. Just like this article, the presenter was an insurance salesman more interested in his pockets than our benefit (leave your kids a huge insurance payoff). Even my then employer, IBM, perhaps inadvertently participated by offering free private financial advice from AMEX. Fortunately, having researched on our own, we recognized that the only offerings made to us were AMEX funds with exorbitant fees — up to 8%! None of the offerings were less than 2% annual. And all I had to do was sign over my full lump sum retirement benefit to them to take advantage (or be taken advantage of!). More recently we followed up after hearing a radio financial advisor who had provided sound basic advice over the air. But the only offering made in person was for a long-term commitment of more than $100K for a “guaranteed” annuity with “promises” of greater than benchmark returns. All of these on the surface were “legitimate”, all came with great promises, but all came with more or less hidden pitfalls. Your best defense is to educate yourself related to financial investments and think two or three times before buying into any financial service.

    by RichPB — December 4, 2018

  6. This is very much like the Timeshare selling techniques. After you attend their torture session they will send you on your way with a few tee shirts and a dinner voucher. So not worth it and I have attended many of them!

    by Louise — December 5, 2018

  7. I’ve spent 35 years on Wall Street and I can assure you that an investment dinner seminar has nothing to do with “investment” but is all about “selling”.

    by Troutbum 52 — December 5, 2018

  8. I receive several of these a month. My wife and I go to them about once a year but never sign up for “advice.” They are ALWAYS pushing annuities. Sorry. Not interested.

    by Jeff — December 6, 2018

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