A post aimed at my friends across the pond -
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there is currently a huge push on Financial Spread Betting (FSB). Just about everywhere you look, it seems, there is a bright and shiny offer to take the plunge and enjoy the thrills, spills and rewards of riding the market. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed.
Now, there is plenty to be said about FSB, but no-one seems to be saying anything very much about this all-too visible marketing trend. So let’s do just that; exactly what is going on with FSB right now?
Clearly the main players are competing for clients – those of each other as well as new market entrants – but that only moves the question up a level: why are they competing quite so competitively right now?
The evidence of that heightened competitive marketing is there for all to see – not only in the form of banner ads all over the financial press, but in terms of some eye-catching introductory offers – for example, in the UK, Tradefair are offering a 10 per cent top-up to new accounts up to the value of £1,000 plus a referral scheme that values new referrals at £50 a time.
That one example neatly sums up an unresolved issue when it comes to the FSB industry as a whole. Anyone prepared to commit £10,000 to an account that trades in open ended exposures is going to count as a big hitter. Not many of us are going to be willing or able to put that sort of money down, irrespective of that £1,000 boost. But conversely, no one trading at that sort of level is going to go out of their way for a mere £50.
It points to an industry that has reached the limits of its natural market – professional traders and industry insiders looking to play on the periphery of their working lives – and is now plateauing. Indeed, the first nine months of 2013 actually saw an 8% contraction in the overall industry in the UK.
The market-trading conclusion is that recent market stabilisation is bad news for FSB providers as it has reduced the short-term market volatility which is their stock-in trade. The more substantive benefits of holding dividend-paying stock is offered as a reason for traders turning away from FSB as an investment vehicle.
The marketing assessment, in contrast, is that there is only a limited constituency of punters who would rather gamble on relatively complex financial indices rather than more traditional, recreational gambling outlets – especially sport and casino-based bets. Notably, the gambling industry as a whole continues to see a near universal healthy growth.
Neither reading of the situation is good news for FSB providers.
There is an inevitable irony in the FSB industry figures running counter to the prevailing trend. However, it is hard to escape the conclusion that all the current noise surrounding FSB is not so much the heralding of a brave new world of investment, so much as the noisy hunger pangs of an industry that has run out of new clients. FSB will be an interesting area to keep tabs on in the months ahead – but maybe not for the reasons those involved might hope.