Financial Planning

Films you should watch about finance and investment

1st April 2020

The Author: Nygel Harriman

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Nygel is both client adviser and regional manager of our Geneva office. He loves the longer term relationships with clients working consistently to achieve their goals.

Given that we are all spending more time at home and inevitably more time in front of the TV, we have updated our top finance and investment film recommendations. We’ve also included TV series in this updated edition and broadened the range a little.

We hope you enjoy our top picks including the good, the bad and the provocative on the world of finance and investment.

If we’ve missed your favourite, please let us know!

1. The Wolf of Wall Street

Heavy on entertainment and light on financial education, Wolf on Wall Street is the perfect finance movie to start with.

Wolf of Wall Street covers the memoir of crooked broker Jordan Belfort and shows the profitable, yet ugly, side of Wall Street. Not a film to watch with your kids!

Belfort goes from broke to mega-rich at the expense of his clients (and has a serious amount of fun while doing it). Not a film that inspires trust in Wall Street or financial system but highly entertaining.

2. Wall Street

No list is complete without including Wall Street.

This film is an opportunity to see Charlie Sheen deliver a stellar performance alongside Michael Douglas, who plays an unscrupulous Wall Street trader that benefits from the advantages of insider trading.

Watch the film to learn why these men believe “greed is good”.

3. Rogue Trader

A cautionary tale from the banking industry, Rogue Trader explains how Nick Leeson single-handedly caused the downfall of Barings Bank.

Barings was a renowned financial institution in the UK and Leeson quickly moved up its ranks to become a top trader.

His high-risk strategy didn’t pay off, however, and Rogue Trader tells of Leeson’s decision to hide his £800 million losses and run.

The film offers a key lesson about how greed can blur judgement.

4. Working Girl

Don’t let the title fool you. Working Girl is about a stockbroker’s secretary who manoeuvres her way to a top Mergers & Acquisitions job at an investment bank.

Working Girl is a welcome break from other finance films that tend to be heavy on the negatives of an investment environment. The film even has some good advice on how to treat employees and rewards honesty.

5. Enron: The Smartest Guy in the Room

This documentary film, based on the 2003 book of the same name, centres on the 2001 collapse of the Enron Company.

Enron covers the history of the company, from its conception in 1985 to its collapse in 2001. During the film, you learn that, shockingly, Enron was involved in dubious trading from the first few years of operation.

Enron also examines the corporate culture, and ethics of decisions made at the top of the company. This is a great film to watch to see the real consequences of personal greed within a corporate environment.

6. It’s a Wonderful Life

“You’re right when you say my father was no businessman. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante building and loan, I’ll never know. But neither you nor anyone else can say anything against his character, because his whole life . . . he never once thought of himself. . . . People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well, in my book, my father died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!”

George Bailey: From his ‘Address to the Board of Directors.’ 

It’s a wonderful life is a welcome contrast from the greed and unethical activity at the heart of most financial films.

While it’s not smooth sailing for the main protagonist, George Bailey, it is incredibly enjoyable watching an honest and lovable guy hard at work.

Our quote comes from a heated conversation with George’s main business rival, Henry Potter, and clearly, demonstrates that Bailey has a very different vision of the ‘right’ way to do business.

7. The Big Short

If you are new to the world of investment, then The Big Short is an entertaining way to begin to understand how financial markets operate.

The film brings together the main characters who have independently worked out that the banks were heading blindly towards a financial crash in 2008, and decide to bet on the eventuality.

The big banks, having no idea of their future demise, are only too eager to accept the wager.

The film follows the main characters as they discover the depth of financial over-valuation within sub-prime mortgages.

The film uses some great cameo roles to help explain various financial terms such as CDOs and subprime mortgages. Watch Margot Robbie on subprime mortgages here:

8. 99 Homes

This film shows the impact the sub-prime mortgage crisis had on Americans and the ‘creative’ businesses that rose on the back of their misery.

If you’ve already watched The Big Short, this is the perfect follow-up film.

99 Homes follows Dennis Nash as he is evicted from his home for failure to pay his mortgage. In a bid get his home back, Dennis begins working for Rick Caver, the man who originally evicted him from his home. Nash is quickly sucked into the world of evictions and the financial advantages that come with it.

Don’t watch this one if you are looking for an uplifting film.

9. Trading Places

In the interests of balance it’s important we feature at least one comedy; Trading Places tells the story of two brothers who run a commodity futures brokerage.

They decide to run a social experiment by switching the roles, and lives, of a corporate executive and an unsuspecting street hustler.

Unsurprisingly, the executive crumbles when he is given a new life on the streets while the hustler flourishes. Watch as Billy Ray Valentine, the lovable street hustler, gets a lesson on commodities and commission:

The hustler and the executive eventually get their revenge on the brothers by beating them at their own game; futures trading, betting short on orange juice while the brothers go long.

The film, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, prompted the ‘Eddie Murphy Rule’, banning the use of misappropriated government information to trade in the commodity markets.

10. Pump

Given that OPEC is currently controlling the supply of oil and trying to improve barrel prices, Pump seems like a good documentary film choice.

Oil has a significant impact on US economic and foreign policy, and Pump takes the viewer on an oil history lesson.

Pump will teach you how OPEC works, how prices are set and America’s role in oil.

This film has become even more relevant given the recent drop in oil prices.

11. Moneyball

How can you make smarter financial decisions, at least in baseball? By following the needs of your team, rather than the market value of players. But this doesn’t apply only to baseball, which is the premise of Moneyball.

This film is even more powerful when you realise that it’s based on a true story and completely changed how players were selected. It also serves as a reminder that visionaries are often mocked at the beginning but quickly followed at the end.

Moneyball is now available on Netflix, along with The Big Short, so it’s a great addition to this list.

12. The Company Men

We’ve included this film because, unfortunately, redundancy is about to become a reality for many people across the globe. Corporations everywhere are going to be tested when it comes to making decisions about laying off employees and decisions about investments.

The Company Men reminds us that the future always contains an amount of uncertainty and that we may be forced to dramatically re-adjust our lifestyles to accommodate the changes.

13. Dirty Money

Dirty Money is a deep dive into corporate corruption and greed. Season 1 was released in 2018 and covered a range of issues that many of us are familiar with: falsified carbon emissions and payday loans. The surprise episode of the first season is The Maple Syrup Heist. Who knew there was a bitter syrup feud?!

Season 2 was released this year and covers Wells Fargo and Gold coming into the US. The series can be pretty depressing, so we recommend avoiding a binge session.

14. Explained: Diamonds

The Explained series is well worth a watch. Each episode is around 20 minutes long, so are perfect for a solo coffee break. Diamonds are considered a luxury as well as an investment, hence our reason for including this episode.

Learn why we favour diamonds, why they maintain their value and how one company (DeBeers) shaped how we see a carbon configuration forever.

15. Living on One Dollar

This documentary follows four friends who try to live on a dollar a day. We aren’t recommending this as strategy to save towards your retirement, but we are all currently living with less than we used to, because of either food shortages, job losses or accessibility issues. Many of us have already started to reconsider what we need, what we want and what we can actually do without.

This is an extreme version of budgeting and perhaps provides a welcome reminder that confinement isn’t as bad when you have enough to eat.

16. Goldman Sachs: The bank that rules the world

This 2012 documentary was directed by Marc Roche and is just over an hour long. It details the charges faced by Goldman Sachs, their role in the subprime crisis and in helping Greece hide the true value of their deficit and influencing the consumer price index.

If you can’t find the full-length documentary, the CNBC documentary which covers many of the same topics is available here:

 

 

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