Two former salespeople for the companies selling Optimal Market Systems software have told Moneyweb that they now realise that they duped prospective share traders out of hundreds of thousands of rands. Michael Rathbone and Warren Wood approached Moneyweb independently of each other to come clean about their role in selling a package that they claim offered none of the benefits they were told to promote.
Moneyweb first raised questions around the companies selling the software when it investigated a number of complaints it had received towards the end of 2015. The companies selling Optimal Market Systems all operate in the same manner, are all run out of an office in Hatfield in Pretoria, and are all owned by either Lucas or Lourien van der Merwe.
The companies include Cursu Taurorum, Tenacity Capital, VDM Capital, Pro Equity Management, CT Capital Management, Aeromax Trading, Voltic Direct and Quantico Trading. The Van der Merwe husband-and-wife team have serially registered new companies over the last number of years, but all of them do the same thing.
Both Rathbone and Wood told Moneyweb that they were given intensive training on the sales pitch that they took to clients. This included promising 24-hour a day support, regular sms notifications to guide trading, that clients could never lose more than 2% of their money, and that they were guaranteed 40% growth within six months.
These selling points are also included in the official company training manual that Moneyweb has seen. The manual includes a very detailed pitch which Rathbone said the sales consultants had to learn and be able to repeat exactly.
Neither Rathbone nor Wood, however, ever used the product themselves or were given a chance to test the services they were selling. They also told Moneyweb that they were never aware of whether clients actually received what they were promised because they were not allowed to have any contact with them after making a sale.
“I never knew if my clients were getting the services they were paying for,” Rathbone said. “I couldn’t provide my cell number for them to call me. We were told this was to protect us and keep us focussing on our new clients.”
This confirms what many clients have told Moneyweb. They complained that they were never able to get hold of the person who had sold them the product.
Wood also related the same thing. “Once the client signs up, that is the last we see of them,” he said. “We were told numerous times not to give our contact details to clients. I found that funny because if you sell a product, the client is more than entitled to be in contact with the sales person to question the technique they used or their knowledge of the product.”
Rathbone starting working for the Van der Merwes in August 2013, and left in September 2016. Soon after he joined he was promoted to the position of senior consultant and was himself involved in training new recruits, including Wood.
He said that while he was employed, there were always between six and 12 sales consultants, and they were each expected to sign up a minimum of 10 clients every month. During his tenure he estimates that he sold the product to at least 700 people.
“We were taught how to give a sales presentation, but we never knew what was actually happening,” said Rathbone. “We were not allowed to have any interaction with the rest of the company.”
However, when he was personally named in Moneyweb articles, he says that he began to question what he was being asked to do. He decided to sign up his own parents to see what service they received.
“When my parents signed up, they gave them the training, but it was pathetic. It was literally half an hour over Team Viewer, over the phone,” he added. “They told them what to press and what to look at, and that was it. They didn’t send any sms notifications or anything we promised.”
This was clearly inadequate to understand the sophisticated technical analysis software.
Due to their concerns, both Rathbone and Wood began to give their contact details to clients, despite this being against company policy. Both of them said that every person they did this for got in touch to complain.
“Every client that I gave my number to called me back,” Rathbone said. “They told me they weren’t happy. They weren’t getting services, they weren’t getting their trading account, they weren’t getting smses. They received nothing that we as the sales consultants were telling them about. I realised we were being forced to give them this awesome presentation, but it was all lies.”
Wood had the same experience. “I started following up with our clients and they told me that everything I had promised them did not happen,” he said. “I personally signed up 19 clients in 50 days, and I’ve taken close on R290 000 from those clients. I know some of them put down the last money they had.
“I was unaware of what this company was doing until recently when I did my own investigation,” he added. “And I realised that I’ve stolen so many people’s money without being aware of it.”
Rathbone has since presented the Financial Services Board with detailed information on his experiences.
Moneyweb requested a response from Rathbone and Wood’s former employers, but received only a two line reply from their lawyers, Van der Merwe Inc: “Our instructions are not to respond to the content of your article. Our clients’ rights remain strictly reserved herein. Our client is of the opinion that the employees are disgruntled employees, bad mouthing our client.”
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