5 documentaries you might want to watch to help you gain valuable financial lessons

As thrilling as it can be to enjoy the latest action movie or dive into a gritty drama series, sometimes it’s nice to sit back and watch something more grounded in reality, like a documentary.

Documentaries can be moving and informative. They can offer insights into new subject areas and help you better understand topics you lacked knowledge of previously.

Streaming services have popped up left and right over recent years — Netflix, Disney+, Paramount+, Amazon Prime, and many more — and they all have their own selection of compelling documentaries to add to your watchlist.

The 21st century has provided plenty of gripping stories about financial mishaps and the rise of whole new industries such as cryptocurrency and social media. So, it’s no surprise that there has also been a wave of fascinating documentaries into financial subject matter.

Read on to discover five brilliant documentary films and series that could just provide you with a valuable financial lesson to take away.

1. Inside Job (2010)

The 2010 American documentary film, Inside Job, focuses on the late-2000s financial crisis and its causes. The film delves into the state of the US banking and mortgage sectors in the build up to the 2008 crash. It chronicles how negligence and outright criminality contributed to huge losses for millions of investors and caused a global recession on a scale not seen since the Great Depression.

The film is divided into five parts focusing on deregulation, the ensuing bubble, the global crisis, the lack of accountability, and what the future might hold.

Getting sucked into market bubbles and opting to pursue short-term investing trends can be detrimental to investors’ portfolios. The 2008 crash taught many people this harsh lesson.

It is important that you don’t “follow the herd” and consider opting for a patient, long-term outlook with the added protection of significant diversification.

2. Sour Grapes (2016)

The 2016 documentary, Sour Grapes, focuses on enigmatic conman Rudy Kurniawan and the large-scale scam he pulled on the luxury wine trade — an industry worth billions of pounds each year.

Rudy was a rich Indonesian wine collector, known for his obsession with Burgundy, who built a reputation for buying millions of dollars’ worth of high-end wine. Rudy’s image was based on a web of lies and he generated the income for his purchases through selling off counterfeits of sought-after exclusive bottles to wealthy collectors.

Rudy managed to defraud investors of millions before he was raided by the FBI and his production line of rebranding and selling cheap, store-bought wine as vintage bottles was uncovered.

Many prominent wine aficionados and major collectors – such as the Koch brothers — were fooled by Rudy’s scheme and were left with worthless additions to their collections.

Fraudsters are constantly coming up with new and ingenious ways of tricking people out of their hard-earned money. Sour Grapes teaches one such lesson — don’t be fooled by “too good to be true” opportunities and make sure to do your research before parting with your money.

3. Betting on Zero (2016)

The 2016 documentary follows billionaire hedge fund investor, Bill Ackman, and his “war” on Herbalife, which Bill claimed was a pyramid scheme destined to collapse.

In December 2012, Ackman issued a research report that was highly critical of Herbalife’s multi-level marketing business model, referring to it as a pyramid scheme. Ackman disclosed that he had shorted the company’s shares, which prompted Herbalife’s stock price to drop.

This led to an investigation into Herbalife, as well as Ackman’s own business practices, as he locked heads with Herbalife CEO Michael O. Johnson and key investor Carl Icahn over the truth of the matter.

The documentary delves into what a pyramid scheme is and warning signs you can look out for, as well as understanding how powerful investors can work to manipulate markets to their own benefit.

It provides valuable lessons for investors in why being patient and properly researching your investments is crucial.

4. Becoming Warren Buffett (2017)

The 2017 documentary covers the life, career, and successes of American investment magnate, Warren Buffett, who is widely regarded as one of the most powerful and influential investors of the 20th and 21st centuries.

The film delves into Buffett’s upbringing, his interest in mathematics, his move into investing, and his tutelage under Benjamin Graham.

Many investors and advisers can likely reel off a variety of memorable quotes from Buffett that teach simple but effective lessons on how to approach saving and investing.

The documentary gives key insights into the man and the mindset behind his major decisions over the years.

If you’re looking to invest in the near future, learning a few key lessons from one of the most successful investors of all time might be a good place to begin.

5. Dirty Money (2018)

The 2018 Netflix documentary series, Dirty Money, tells stories of corporate corruption across six hour-long episodes. A second series was released in 2020.

The series investigates some major instances of corporate malpractice, fraud, and “creative” accounting, such as:

  • Volkswagen’s emissions scandal
  • Unethical payday loan schemes in the US
  • HSBC’s money laundering for cartels
  • Systemic corruption at Wells Fargo
  • Misuse of the Malaysian Sovereign Investment Fund
  • Illegal mining and environmental destruction in the gold industry
  • Abuse of retirees using guardianship laws
  • Chemical pollution into a town’s water supply by Formosa Plastics.

The revelations can be eye-opening and for those who want to align their investments with their own set of ethics and beliefs, might prompt you to look into the benefits of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) funds.

It is possible to make a profit, while not abandoning your closely held sense of morality.

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