I am a former customer of Menzgold and this is an account of why I got in, what I observed about the company and its operations while I was there, why I got out, and who I think is to blame for the locked up investments. It is a very lengthy article. Like very very lengthy – but I hope it helps to satisfy some curiosity out there about the company.
HOW I GOT MYSELF INVOLVED
When I first heard about Menzgold (then Menzbanc), early 2016, I knew the returns they were offering on investments (10% per month) was outrageous but I also knew it was possible for some investments like online stock, forex and cryptocurrency trading which was gaining popularity in Ghana at the time so I did not immediately dismiss it as a scam. My initial thought was to do a general assessment of the company, find out how they invest funds and then, if all seemed well, I’ll invest.
So I checked – the company had been around for a while, was duly registered and well established in 3 regions (Accra, Ashanti and Central), and their Gold Vault Market which offered the said returns on investments was simply an initiative under a bigger business model around gold trade. This investment program wasn’t the sole business of Menzbanc and that was quite reassuring to me. However, there was still that important question – how are funds in the Gold Vault Market invested? “It is invested in gold which is traded internationally” my assigned contact person at the company told me when I visited them to find out.
I found that statement very vague but my belief in the prospects of online trading led me to assume that they were probably capitalizing on a new creative way of trading online to be raking in the huge amounts they claimed to be making through the program. Besides, I had already brought my money with me, ready to make some more money so I said what the heck – let’s ball. I’ll ask more questions later. So in July, 2016, I started my first investment at Menzbanc for a period of 9 months.
MY 6 RED FLAGS
Soon after I started my investment there, my subsequent trips to their office brought a few things to my attention. The first was a bold and conspicuous display of one company, Swissgold Global, at their premises as an international gold trader to whom they were affiliated. This was one month after I started investing there and I was there for my first pay (which they called dividends). I was keen on getting a definite answer to my question on how funds from the Gold Vault Market were invested. “We trade the gold internationally” my contact person maintained. “And as you know, we are affiliated to Swissgold Global” he added (as if to say that is who they trade with) in order to satisfy my curiosity for specificity.
When I got home that day, I researched on Swissgold Global and found my first red flag. This company had such a poor online presence that I found it difficult even locating their website. I browsed through the site to see their products and services and everything about that company screamed ponzi. Basically, they were operating a pyramid/multi level marketing scheme around gold, with no real products or services of their own. The funny thing is, one of their offers was strikingly similar to what Menzbanc was offering with the Gold Vault Market. I also found a list of membership rank titles (like most pyramid schemes have) where an “Affiliate” was one of the titles/ranks for its members. At that moment, all I could think was “What the hell?”. Is that what Menzbanc meant by they are affiliated to Swissgold Global?? Could this be where funds from their Gold Vault Market were “traded”?? In some ponzi?? I knew this was bad so I bookmarked the site for later reference. You should know however that as at this time that I have written this article, Swissgold Global has updated its site with new information and a different business model around cryptocurrency trading. You will therefore not find the same information that I saw there back in 2016 but I do have a link to another site that co-published that original information about Swissgold Global’s earlier business model (which I also have screenshots of in case that also gets deleted).
Click here to read about Swissgold Globals original business model
Next stop, I visited Menzbanc’s website to find out more about the company. There, I chanced on the name of the CEO, one Nana Appiah Mensah (now popularly known as NAM 1). I googled him and found one interesting article on him. At the time, that article was probably the only one on him and it focused more on other aspects of his life than Menzgold. The article described him as a go-getter businessman who got into gold trade early in life thanks to his parents. He was described as one of the richest men in Ghana with another company, Zylofon Media (which I had noticed years earlier at East Legon) to his name. The article then went on to add that this man was once arrested and charged for fraud. It did not say if he was ever convicted but this was nevertheless my second red flag. Today, I’m unable to locate that article. It is possible his current popularity which has seen him headline many websites for the past two years is what has made it hard to find but, personally, I think he had it deleted for obvious reasons when the Bank of Ghana (BoG) first attracted attention to his name, late 2017.
By this time, I was very suspicious of the company due to the owner’s alleged criminal past and the thing they had going with that company, Swissgold Global (which I found to be a ponzi). Later on, I hit up my contact person at Menzbanc to press him on to confess how exactly the funds from the Gold Vault Market were invested. Honestly, I think he wasn’t sure himself but during our conversation, I brought up BoG somewhere and he pointed out to me that they were not under BoG. He explained that due to the nature of their business (gold trade) they were only registered under the Minerals Commission. Boom! My third big red flag. Their whole setup operated like a financial institution (with “deposit” slips, tellers and all that) and yet their staff was telling me they were not being regulated or audited by the central bank. Who was then ensuring that their books were adding up? Who was positioned to warn us if things weren’t right with the company? Certainly not the Minerals Commission!
It now made sense to me why they chose to refer to their pay outs as dividends instead of interest. They were being smart about the law because calling it dividends meant they did not acknowledge incoming funds as deposits or credits but rather investments by clients in the company’s operations – thus taking them out of the scope or jurisdiction of the central bank (while they take deposits). This was also convenient for them since they claimed funds from clients weren’t kept (deposited) with them but used to buy gold to trade with. This was clearly stated in customers’ contracts anyway (and that is why BoG couldn’t interfere the way some expected them to later on). At the end of the day, Menzbanc was merely retailing gold, and per their contracts, customers were purchasing the gold and leaving it with them to trade with, while they the customers receive monthly dividends from the company’s trades.
Now since it was quite clear to me that their claim of “international gold trade” was meant literally and not in the sense of some creative online trade, I decided to read a little on the potential earnings of gold trade and it was obviously far from what Menzbanc was offering. Quite frankly, I already knew that wasn’t how gold works else we would have a lot more “Menzbancs” out there. Besides, I already had my suspicions of how the funds were being invested (explained in my first red flag). Does it mean Menzbanc was lying to customers/clients? Obviously! It’s one thing to be smart about the law, and another to be lying to clients you are supposedly doing business with. Why would any company that is out to do legitimate business be playing smart with the law, and lying to customers/investors at the same time about how their money is being invested. Fourth dirty red flag right there!
By this time, despite being fully convinced that this was a scam, I knew they weren’t going to go belly up soon and I had 3 more months till the maturity of my initial investment. So what did I do? You’re damn right! I pumped in more money (including all the dividends I had since collected). I started a second investment for 6 more months to make the best of them while they lasted. At this point I was fully aware of the risk I was taking and I surely wouldn’t blame anyone if I lost my money.
A couple of months later they sent text messages to customers informing us that they had changed their name from Menzbanc to Menzgold to conform with laws on deposit taking institutions. This was around April, 2017. From then, I knew BoG had taken an interest in their activities and was clearly trying to dissociate itself and rectify any misrepresentation that the name “Menzbanc” may have as being a financial institution under their watch. Shortly after, the banking/teller setup at the now Menzgold offices were dismantled and staff were now dealing with customers over table tops. They also started routing funds through a third party, Brew Marketing (a company I now understand also belongs to NAM 1), where customers were to, first, buy their gold, then take it to Menzgold to register it in the Gold Vault Market. All these, I believed, were most likely instructions from BoG to clear up any ambiguity in how they operated – to make sure it looked nothing like a financial institution. I was now more scared than ever. My last investment was just 3 months to maturity and even though BoG had still not come out to say anything yet, this was clearly one big red flag (my fifth) which meant that the Government will soon come for Menzgold’s ass!
All I prayed for now was for my investment to mature for me to carry my money and run before BoG or anyone who had also identified some red flags about Menzgold starts a panic with a public statement. While I waited, I knew I still had the chance to rake in a few more cedis with the 3 months remaining. “I can add the 3 months one” by which time my second investment too would be ready, then I’ll take it all and say adios! Yess, Yess, call me greedy but I had a lot in there and knowing fully the risk I had already taken, I had to go all in and make as much as I can, while I could. Funny enough, their rates had reduced to 7% a month. This was still very good but my greedy ass complained regardless. It was then that my contact person revealed to me that the 10% was still available to people who started a new investment of at least GHC20,000, or this other “undergee move” – those who could come and register 3 more people. Register 3 more people?? As if I hadn’t seen enough red flags, these people just had to add a sixth one (which I didn’t need anyway) to confirm my conspiracies. What else screams ponzi than a business model where clients are rewarded merely for recruiting/registering new people? Were they now running their own scheme and no longer sending the funds to Swissgold Global like I thought? I was really confused now.
Thankfully my prayers were answered. All my investments matured in June, 2017, and no public scrutiny about Menzgold yet . I took out my money at a time when business for them was now even booming. A lot more people had heard about them over the past few months than the past year. Huge billboards with celebrity endorsements were all over the place as the CEO engaged in many more publicity stunts to boost the company’s image/brand and to gain public trust. To be honest, even for someone who had seen all the red flags I had seen, I was still very tempted to bite a little more. I can therefore only imagine how it must have looked to people who were new to all of it. They saw a better image of the company, saw a sister company, Zylofon Media, blow up in the entertainment industry, heard many success stories from friends and family who had safely enjoyed the initiative, and heard about the company’s moves to open branches in other countries, and so on.
Why didn’t I publish my findings then and possibly save others from getting mixed up in it? Well, I even joked with a friend about presenting the company with my findings to blackmail them into paying me so I don’t publish an article that will bring them real heat at a time when they had absolutely no dirt in the public’s eye. Or I could simply publish it, save some people, and get a hit article anyway. But naa, I wasn’t going to do that. I knew people were probably also praying like I did a few months earlier to get out in peace after noticing some red flags too. My earlier trips to their office had shown me how people were literally investing their lives in the company. I met all kinds of people there; Very rich, poor, educated, uneducated, bankers, doctors, students, petty traders, you name it. Some people were risking everything they had, and even money they did not exactly have (own). I wasn’t going to be the one to cause any panic in this mess.
Alas, BoG themselves issued their first warning/caution around July 2017. I thought that was it. Investors are finished! But guess what? Many laughed and accused BoG of witch hunting – that BoG was jealous of the fact that Menzgold was taking many customers away from the selfish banks. NAM 1’s public stunts were paying off. The public was ready to fight for him. People Needed the System to work. People couldn’t afford for the system to fail. Besides, BoG wasn’t exactly discrediting Menzgold’s business. They weren’t exactly saying Menzgold was a scam. But could they? Did they want to? They simply maintained that they do not endorse Menzgold’s activities because Menzgold did not have a license from them. They were only cautioning customers that they invest there at their own risk – A warning that sounds subtle but dangerous enough to anyone who appreciates how deep the voice of such a powerful institution is. Nevertheless, many people rallied behind NAM 1 as he publicly ridiculed and called the bluff of the state institutions that were coming at him, subconsciously boosting the public’s trust in him even more at a rather trying time for he and his company.
This public tussle between Menzgold and the state lasted for approximately a year before the state finally cracked the whip in full on them, late 2018, forcing them to suspend operations. I’m sure I don’t need to describe how the situation has escalated since. However, Menzgold, like most financial institutions, run their investment packages for a maximum of 1 year. Therefore, even if a customer had just started a new investment with the company right before BoG’s first warning, that investment would have matured before the state finally cracked the whip in full on them. Any investment that was still locked up in Menzgold after they were forced to halt operations was therefore most likely started after BoG cautioned the public not to invest there.
WHO DO WE BLAME NOW
Certainly not the state institutions in my opinion. NAM 1’s company played their cards well. He was smart about the system. And I see the 1 year gap between BoG’s first warning and the state’s final crack down on Menzgold as a grace period for people caught up in the system to leave. Along the way, Menzgold was even made to issue a statement saying they are no longer running the Gold Vault Market but people were still going there to get registered anyway. NAM 1 planned a lot from start. I can’t even say if he planned it all like it happened as most people now feel, or if he probably even played himself by also investing in a company that he didn’t know was a ponzi (Swissgold Global).
I don’t think we should blame all their customers either nor tag them all as greedy and foolish like many are doing. The reason being that formal education helped me and many others see Menzgold for what it was. At least I know how to surf the net for information. I know what their misleading finance terms mean. I understand the risk it poses for a company that is conveniently taking cash deposits not to be regulated by the central bank. I know what rates of returns are realistic or not in one financial market or the other. How about those without formal education who were drawn to this great opportunity. The uneducated ones who rely solely on the public image/branding of a company to decide whether or not to trust it? How are they supposed to know what interest rates are realistic or not. How can they know what exactly to make of the contract being read to them by the same company eager to make a sale to them? Can they google stuff like some of us? Can they research about how gold trade works? What do they know about ponzies and how to ID them. Yes, BoG warned them against saving with Menzgold because “they don’t have a license from them”. Can an uneducated person appreciate the gravity of such a caution from the central bank the way that a person with proper basic education would?
The truth is, some of their customers who lack formal education were simply (and unfortunately) handicapped or disadvantaged here. Not stupid or foolish. Many of those calling them greedy and foolish would also make the same mistake, were they presented with the same opportunity, but lacked formal education. The only solace for many of such customers was the public image of the company and boy did Menzgold do an amazing job with their branding. You may find it stupid for a person to trust a company just because the CEO has a picture with the president but this person probably knows no other things to look out for. For such a person, the confidence he/she has in the president and the fact that the president and his state institutions will not associate with a fraudulent person is a major reason to trust the company. It is an extension of the trust they have for the president. It is not that stupid of a reason if you think about it. Then there was the celebrity endorsements. It isn’t really about trusting these celebrities to know a good business from a bad one. It is more about the confidence that these celebrities are big people, surrounded by smart teams/management who will do some due diligence before allowing their clients to associate with bad brands.
I will therefore blame the celebrities and public figures who could have done some due diligence before associating with the brand. I think they need to apologize for breaking the trust that people have for them in such a careless manner. I will also admit that those who are apparently educated and yet still got themselves caught up in this mess have themselves to blame. They need to take responsibility of their negligence and stop crying foul. The lawyers, soldiers, policemen, bankers, accountants, doctors, and tertiary students who got caught up in the scam – and yes, there were many of such people there. I do not feel bad for such educated people who ought to be able to do their own due diligence about a company they are investing in. These are the real greedy bastards. Those who ought to be knowledgeable enough to appreciate what a BoG warning means and yet chose to call it a witch hunt. I argued with a few of such people on Facebook. Those of them who foolishly started knew investments there even after BoG issued public statements against it. They deserve losing every penny they have lost.