A high-profile workshop series that purports to teach Canadians how to invest in real estate and stocks uses deceptive tactics, gives questionable advice and focuses more on getting participants to pay for more seminars, according to CBC-TV's Marketplace.
The workshops, called "Learn to get rich," are held regularly across Canada and are connected to financial guru Robert Kiyosaki, who licensed his name to Whitney International, which runs the series. Whitney recently changed its name to Tigrent Learning Inc.
The U.S. -based Kiyosaki exploded onto the self-help scene 12 years ago with his book Rich Dad, Poor Dad and has since become one of the best-selling personal finance authors on the planet.
But even Kiyosaki says he isn't pleased with how the licensee runs the seminars.
Courses cost up to $45,000
The seminars range from free one-day introductions to three-day seminars that cost $500 to longer courses priced between $12,000 and $45,000. Critics say the marketing of the series is aimed at upselling participants on the more expensive next level.
At a $500 seminar in Kitchener, Ont., Marketplace found participants who felt pressured into raising their credit-card limits right on the spot. They were even given scripts instructing them on how to ask for limits of $100,000.
Others at the Kitchener session said they were bullied into keeping silent if they had doubts. Those who persevered in their questioning would be ejected from the seminar.
And always, there was a push to buy into the next level.
"There is no way you’re going to learn everything you need to know about real estate in three days," trainer Marc Mousseau told the Kitchener group. "Do we agree?"
He then described the "advanced training curriculum," adding: "If you think it’s too expensive, come and tell me, and I’ll ask you to leave."
Mousseau told participants they had to get higher credit-card limits if they expected financial success. He challenged the audience to go big.
"Ask for $100,000," he said. "Who’s willing to ask for $100,000?"
Suki Deol thought the organizers tried to intimidate the audience.
"It’s a three-day sales pitch, basically," Deol said. "You’re not going to learn anything. But I think most people were a little afraid to say anything. It was very intimidating. The organizers would come up to you and stand behind you, over you and there was no talking allowed."
When one woman voiced concerns about the high credit limit, Mousseau replied: "Do what I tell you to do. Do it."
After the seminar, participant Danuta Skrzypinski said she wanted nothing more to do with Robert Kiyosaki.
"I would like to have my money back," she said.
Marketplace also discovered that claims by at least one trainer were exaggerated. The trainer said he made millions on a mobile home park in Saskatchewan — a park that turned out to be non-existent.
Bob Aaron, a Toronto real estate lawyer, said workshops like these are not only a waste of people's money, they're also teaching people techniques that normally don't work.
For instance, Mousseau told people who are interested in buying real estate to simply start knocking on doors and asking homeowners if they want to sell.
Aaron, who's handled thousands of real estate files, said some of Mousseau's claims were just plain unusual, including his advice that if you buy 10 condos, a developer will give you two for free.
"They’re not going to give you two for free," Aaron said. "I’ve never seen that happen.
"I’m very angry that somebody like this is pawning off this as advice, that he’s getting paid for, to the Canadian public."
The company now known as Tigrent Learning has been offering get-rich workshops for more than 10 years, and has a history of run-ins with regulators and unhappy customers.
Guru not pleased
Marketplace caught up with Kiyosaki at a public talk in Vancouver. He said he is disturbed by the growing criticism of the workshops and intially tried to deflect questions from Marketplace.
"There’s lots of these events all over the country," he said. "I have had some complaints from a few instructors, about some instructors. It costs money to go through those programs. So there’s people that do go through our programs and are very happy. There’s always going to be dissatisfied customers."
But when Marketplace presented him with examples of the bullying tactics, he confessed his own frustrations, saying for years he's been asking the licensee to improve its strategy.
"I am more upset than you are. I really am," he said. "I, look, I agree with you that that’s not good professional training. I will look into it, that’s all I’m saying."
Marketplace is broadcast at 8:30 p.m. Friday, 9 p.m. in Newfoundland.