In his KYW radio ads, Dean Vagnozzi describes happy investors who buy the small business loan backed notes he sells through his own business, A Better Financial Plan:
“Every single one of those investors earns a 10% annual return, with their interest check deposited into their bank account on the same day every month, and all of their principal is returned to them after just one year.” Emphasis added.
Vagnozzi tells me he’s been selling $1.5 million worth of these “merchant cash advance” financing investments each week.
In an email circulated to investors, he writes “you will earn 10% on your money” with those cash advance investments. Or you can choose to “get an 8% annual return” on his real estate fund. Or consider his “litigation funding” offer, a “recession proof investment” that “will deliver you a 9% annual return.”
Ten percent! That’s a lot better than your bank pays on deposits — especially since the Fed cut rates last week. It’s better than the negative returns of Vanguard Group’s S&P 500 Index fund and other mutual and exchange-traded funds last year, and the flat yields that Pennsylvania state pension plans posted last year, after the stock market tanked in December. It’s better, I bet, than your boss’ 401(k) plan.
But several readers of my recent column called and wrote to complain that they found his ad claims unconvincing after reading about the record cash settlements that Pennsylvania securities cops extracted from King of Prussia-based Vagnozzi and the notes’ issuers, Philadelphia-based Par Funding (Complete Business Solutions Group Inc.), for selling securities without proper registration.
Financial sales people are supposed to avoid making promises they can’t know they will be able to deliver. I reminded Vagnozzi about earlier Philadelphia-area companies that offered investors attractive returns in exchange for money that they lent to small businesses. Advanta Corp. went bankrupt and left investors without payments for six years before they got their principal back. American Business Financial Services also went bankrupt — and left investors with just 4 cents of principal return for every dollar invested, a major loss.
Sounds to me as if you are offering a 10% guaranteed annual return, I told Vagnozzi.
“You heard the commercial. Did you hear the word ‘guarantee’?" Vagnozzi shot back. “We have a lot of clients that can vouch for the payments every month and the rate of return,” he added. "That’s not a guarantee.”
Well, what is it? It’s not past tense. You’re saying they are currently earning 10%. This year.
“People don’t invest based on what they hear on my commercials," Vagnozzi told me.
“They choose to come in because of my commercials. When they come into my office, they hear about all the pros and cons of the investment. I go home and they think about things and they only come back if they want to work with us."
He added, “We give everybody the pros and cons." He said, “There’s no wool pulled over their eyes. People come in with a million bucks to invest and they give us 100 grand. We do the right thing by people. We are ethical. We are not overexposing people" to risk.
The appeal is straightforward, and maybe timely: Vagnozzi knows a lot of people think the stock market, after rising steadily through Obama’s presidency and the first few years of Trump, “is due for a pullback." And the market has lately been tumbling, amid President Donald Trump’s import-tax hikes and the China trade war.
It’s natural, adds Vagnozzi, who also runs an insurance agency, that people are asking, “Where can I put my money?”
He offers alternatives that might pay better, said Vagnozzi. Such as the investments he says have worked so well for his clients, so far.
Alternatives, he said. “Not guarantees.”
He added: “These people are getting double-digit returns. I don’t guarantee it. There is risk.”
Got it? That “10% annual return” isn’t a promise you will earn a 10% annual return.
It’s a come-on-in-let’s-talk appeal, according to the man who says it in his radio ads.