Friends, if you’re internet-dependent like me, chances are you have been exposed to Forex advertisements. Maybe from Google, maybe from Facebook, maybe even from websites and blogs (like this one).
I mean, you ignore ads, of course. You’re already used to being bombarded, courted by many companies who want you to try their products and services. It’s likely that by now, your eyes sorta glaze over those ads, barely even registering it.
But once in a while, they caught your attention.
And you, with your tight budget, suddenly wondered, what if this is the solution to my financial problems?
As someone who felt the exact same thing and kinda dabbled in it, without committed any of my own money (and didn’t profit from it either), let me give you the lowdown in Forex, including that time I unknowingly worked in a Forex company.
(Warning: This is a long post)
What is Forex
Forex. Foreign exchange market. It’s the world’s largest liquid market.
(Liquid means that the value is ready to be spent, to be transacted. RM1 million in cash is highly liquid. RM1 million in property have to be sold in order to be spent, so it’s not as liquid)
Financial institutions and individuals trade currencies in this market, based on the simple principle of supply and demand – if a lot of people are buying currency X, the prices will go up. If a lot of people are selling currency Y, the prices will go down.
The foreign exchange market opens Monday-Friday, 24 hours a day. They close during weekends. Literally any currency from a sound government can be traded against each other.
If you guys travel, it’s likely that you used the services of the currency exchange booth, either at the mall or bank. Currency exchange booths get their rates from the Forex market.
How to trade currencies
How do you trade currencies, you ask? Two main ways.
One way is to speculate. To ‘guess’ that a currency will be worth more in the future.
Let’s use USD/MY as an example. It’s been on the news a LOT lately, you should be familiar with the depressing ‘Ringgit trades lower against USD’ headlines.
The chart above shows USD/MY in 2015. Look at the red circle – Ringgit was as low as RM3.47 to the greenback (USD), and as high as RM4.45.
If you bought at RM3.50 and sold at RM4.45, that’s a whopping RM0.95 profit, or 27% profit in less than a year. In investment terms, this is highly, highly profitable (anything over 10% a year in profit is considered good to me). If you bought USD1000 (a mere RM3500 back in the good old days), you would have profited an easy RM950.
This is a highly simplified real-life example. It doesn’t come very often. It’s actually very hard to predict – most currencies don’t swing that wild over the course of a year.
Another way to trade currencies is called Forex trading. You trade online, just you and the computer. The money is in digital form, and the value changes every second. Forex trading is super fast-paced, and usually uses technical analysis as a trading methodology.
What is technical analysis
The example that I gave with the USD/RM is NOT forex trading. That is purely speculative. You predict whether the currency will rise or fall, depending on geopolitical and economical factors. It’s long-term, over the course of months and years.
Technical analysis is all about maths, patterns and trends. The currency does not matter. The earning potential does.
Like stocks, currencies rise and fall throughout the day. Speculating will only allow you to make a profit if you buy low and sell high.
Technical analysis, on the other hand, allows you to make a profit even if the currency price goes down. Something like you ‘buy’ the low currency in advance and sell at current time when the price is high.
(Analogy: say you are contracted to sell 10,000 TVs at USD100 each, but you don’t actually have the TVs yet. Once you secured the contract and get the money, you buy the TVs for cheap, say USD50. You pocket the USD50 difference as pure profit)
So I mentioned maths, patterns and trends. I won’t go too much into details right now, that’s literally a whole book, a whole course.
Basically, there are indicators that a trader can use to predict whether the market will go up or down. This sounds simple in theory, but because the market is so wildly unpredictable, and indicators can be read wrongly, many inexperienced traders will lose money.
Forex is a high risk, high return type of investment. You can lose your money, all of it. But when you win, you can profit a lot.
How do you buy and sell currencies using technical analysis?
This is where the forex brokers come in. Those are the ads you’ve been seeing.
Forex brokers essentially make money by offering you a platform to buy and sell the currencies online. Most, if not all brokers offer a service related to technical analysis, whether its webinars, seminars, classes, or its own software.
Technical analysis allows you to make an educated guess based on the charts and its pattern. People who do it calculate a bunch of numbers, put lines here and there, and look for head and shoulders. Lol I’m aware I don’t make much sense here but basically they try to predict if the market go up or down, and by how much.
Technical analysis is a skill that can be learned. Some people will learn it easier, some harder.
Forex brokers will usually try to make technical analysis sound super simple.
How Forex brokers work
Forex brokers charge you fees to enter a trade. That is their earning. I believe they charge for other services (like tutoring) as well, but I can’t comment much as I haven’t actually let a broker charge me.
It is in their best interest to encourage you to enter as many trades as possible in the shortest time frame. They prefer short term trade, as short as a few hours, or a few days.
This is why forex advertisements always emphasis how fast you can make money. That is their appeal. Their ads might look like this:
Forex brokers also allow you to buy more currency than you can afford. If you have USD1000 in your account, they might allow you to trade 10, 20, 100 times that value.
The upside is that you can magnify your earning 10, 20, 100 times. This is how you can make A LOT of money.
The downside is that you will also magnify your losses, too. 10, 20, 100 times.
It’s not uncommon for inexperienced traders to wipe out their whole account in a single trade. On top of that, they owe debt.
There’s no hard data (that I can find), but this article says that 95% of traders lose money in Forex. In the comments, someone said that he is still losing money despite being 3 years in.
Ways Forex brokers try to lure you in
I can only imagine how profitable forex brokers can be, charging you those fees to enter trades. Before trading, you have to deposit money into their accounts. Maybe that’s why competition between Forex brokers are so stiff.
The result? Ads galore.
Some forex brokers are more honest than others. They have the reputation for offering good customer service, transferring your earnings quickly, and have easy to use trading platforms.
Some forex brokers use the ‘Free to start. Free to try. Free bonus money.’ approach. Understandable, a lot of companies use this tactic too.
Some forex brokers are a bit more… shady… in their recruitment process.
One, the type that appeal solely to your emotional, desperate side. This isn’t hard to find. Get shitload of cash in a few days! It’s easy money! If you are financially tight, this would be very dangerous. Emotions make a shit trader.
Two, the type that dangle the ‘potential’. Some forex broker websites are so blinged-up, they’ll make your eyes hurt. They might have famous names endorsing them, they might have fancy cars. They might have a huge Facebook group with pictures of (presumably rich) people having fancy dinners. This is not bad, per se – but they conveniently ignore people who lose all their money.
Three is something I need to warn you guys about. They are the sneakiest.
That time I unknowingly worked in a Forex company
When I was in my early twenties, I applied to a lot of jobs in KL. One of them interviewed and selected me for training immediately. I think the post was for executive-something, I can’t really remember. This company has (had? I don’t know what happened to them) a really fancy office with KLCC view. For the life of me I can’t remember the name of the company, let’s call them XYZ Company. Their office space took a whole floor in a shiny office tower, the fixtures were swanky, and the staff looked professional.
I was told that I have to undergo a week-long training, starting Monday, before they can sign me on. Monday came, I was really excited, although I didn’t really know what the job really entailed. I was a Shah Alam kid and this was a job in KL – whatever it was, I was eager to learn.
I was put in a small group of about 4 people. We were all in training together. We were mentored by an elder woman who asked us to call her Madam. From the start, she was really nice, and encouraged us to bond.
The training was actually a crash course in technical trading, although during that time I didn’t know it. She printed out charts, showed us how to spot indicators, and asked us to practice calculating potential profits from the example trades. We were making hypothetical thousands of ringgit in just a few hours. She showered us with praises when we correctly spotted trends, and her manager told me that she foresee me doing really well, at the rate that I’m learning.
By mid Day 2, I figured that the job was to manage funds for other people. The thought didn’t scare me. I was high from all the praises – I even thought I was naturally talented at it.
About Day 3, Madam told me that I should continue working there, but she said, and here I quote, ‘it would be really hard for people to view you as respectable fund manager if you are not managing an account‘.
How do I get an account, I asked.
Madam told me she managed her husband’s account, and how it turned out to be more profitable than they thought and their retirement is all but guaranteed. ‘You should get your family members to join,’ she said, ‘so your family will be richer, instead of random people’.
She pointed to the large screen which showed a bunch of live currency charts. ‘I get all the support system for trading here, we colleagues help each other so our accounts get bigger’
She pointed to some staff members and told me the accounts they managed. That staff also managed her family account. That one over there managed two accounts for friends and family.
All it takes to open an account, she said, is RM500,000.
I’m ashamed to admit that I was so brainwashed with the idea that I asked my dad if he could open an account. I might have freaked him out. He said no real fast.
When I told that to Madam, she said that she was disappointed for my father’s ‘lost opportunity’. She then suggested that I should find some family friends to ‘pool together the RM500,000.’
By this time the alarm bells rung. The next day, I didn’t even bother turning up.
I don’t know if XYZ Company was a scam. The paperwork, the establishment screamed legit.
I think that this is just the way XYZ Company recruited clients. Other forex brokers use ads. They used the job vacancy section. They turned their employees into clients.
That was a bullet dodged. Thank goodness we didn’t have RM500,000 lying around, like normal people.
Conclusion about Forex
Forex trading is a legit investment. High risk, but high returns. To counter those risks, you must learn about the analysis part.
Forex brokers, though, can be questionable, so conduct your search properly.
When I enlisted myself in a 12-week technical trading webinar (it was on sale in Groupon), the quality of the material was good, but they kept dangling the ‘pro classes’ where they promised to teach me how to make money while I traded live. So the classes were a front for a forex broker, after all. After the webinar ended, the staff followed up via email and phone calls relentlessly, for months in an effort to sign me up.
When I went to free ‘learn ways to make extra income’ seminars (it was advertised in The Star), the employees dangled ‘special methods’ which were only available if I took the full coaching course. The special method uses Chinese astrology shit, I kid you not. Honestly I can’t imagine how they even use dragons and sheep in technical analysis.
Even when I browsed Lowyat Forum for recommendations, it lead me to forex brokers which emphasized their clients’ large fortunes, to the point of excessive. It’s too… go big or go home.
Maybe I haven’t found the right broker for me. I don’t do impulse buying. I’m extra sensitive to the psychology of limited-time offers. The moment when someone says that something (expensive) is only available during a time period, it is likely that I will say no to it. The moment some coach is like, ‘IS FEAR HOLDING YOU BACK FROM RICHES’, I’m like, STFU YES SO WHAT.
I’m a slow investor. I like to have time to research, and have a healthy sense of fear. Perhaps it’s not making me fast money, but I’m not losing money either.
Remember, No 1 Rule of making money: Don’t Lose Money.
My qualifications with Forex
Reading this far, you might wonder about my qualifications, talking about Forex. True, I don’t have a financial background. What I do have is experience after perused tens of books, hundreds of articles, lurked online forums, attended seminars and webinars, and somehow almost worked for a Forex broker company.
Forex is highly appealing, no doubt about it – look at all those promises of easy money. But it’s not for me, not yet. My personality is not suitable for Forex trading. I can be impulsive – exactly why I stopped myself from Forex trading.
If you are the type to double, triple, quadruple check everything before finalising your decision, Forex trading through technical analysis might be better suited for you. I suggest you take classes and learn all you can about it before putting your money in. Unlike the ads, 4 days is NOT enough to learn everything. Go to forums, get familiar with the lingo. Learn what are pips, ticks and spreads. Open demo accounts to practice your technical skills.
You don’t drive a car after a theoretical course. You practice first in some empty parking space.
After all this, are you interested in Forex?
I have no Forex brokers to recommend, so you have to do own research on deciding which one to go with.
It’s not hard to look for brokers. There’s no shortage in ads, so click on them to know more.
As I explained at length, just be aware of the tactics they use to make you their client. I think you should check out as many forex brokers as possible to find out how good they are in teaching you technical trading. You should also check out classes, now that you are aware that at some point, they will try to convert you into a client. They will try very hard.
Ironically, I learn the most about technical trading from Madam of XYZ Company, during those short few days, than the 12-week webinar. Maybe it’s the personal tutor aspect. That said, it really depends on you – maybe you are the type to learn better online?
There’s likely to be other types of brokers out there. I have not exhausted my research. If you think I exaggerated my stories, try some out and see what type of brokers you get. Just know that they will try to pull you in and might even put a special offer or time limit to encourage you to go with them.
I am obligated to put a huge disclaimer here:
I am not a financial expert, just a personal finance enthusiast. I promote safe trading, driven by education over greed. I am not responsible for any financial losses you may have.
If any of the information above is wrong, please let me know in the comments, and I’ll edit.
If you have your own experience to share, please put in comments as well for the rest of us to learn.
The reason why I write all this is to inform Gen Y about Forex investments. 2016 will drive you nuts financially. You will be tempted.
I just hope that you can make educated decisions during those time.
Please share this if you find it helpful. Peace out.