The long read: Their hero is Jordan Belfort, their social media feeds display super-rich lifestyles. But what are these self-styled traders really selling? By Symeon Brown
The original Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort, was a rogue trader convicted of fraudulently selling worthless penny stocks to naive investors. His biopic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the ostentatious, money-obsessed huckster, was a box-office hit in 2013. Although it may have been intended as a cautionary tale, to thousands of young millennials from humble backgrounds, Belforts story became a blueprint for how to escape an unremarkable life on low pay.
Within months of the Wolf of Wall Streets UK premiere in January 2014, a stocky 21-year-old named Elijah Oyefeso from a south London housing estate, began broadcasting on social media how much money he was making as a stock-market whizzkid. His thousands of young followers were desperate to do the same. As Oyefesos online fame grew, he caught the attention of TV producers. In January 2016, Oyefeso was featured in the Channel 4 show Rich Kids Go Shopping, in which he bought expensive jumpers to give to homeless people and showed viewers how easy it was to make stock trades online.
Even before Oyefesos appearance on mainstream TV, his story had already gone viral. British tabloids, including the Daily Mail, the Evening Standard and the Mirror, as well as a host of online magazines targeted at young men, all ran pieces about his success. The Mail headline described him as a university dropout who supposedly used his student loan to start trading financial products online and now claims he earns 30,000 on a BAD month by working just ONE HOUR a day.
Its an image of self-made wealth and ridiculous luxury, and one that Oyefeso has intensively cultivated online. The videos on his almost comedic YouTube channel, which have hundreds of thousands of views, feature him buying 250,000 cars and boarding private jets as nonchalantly as others his age might hail an Uber. His Instagram, which regularly shows him posing next to a blue and silver Rolls-Royce, describes him as the founder of DCT, his trading firm. DCT stands for Dreams Come True.
Im never going to work for someone, Oyefeso says in one of his videos, in a somewhat cartoonish, nasal voice, while he drives his Rolls dressed in a bathrobe. Look what Ive built: a foundation. A brand.
For many young people from areas such as the poorer part of Camberwell in south London where Oyefeso grew up, or those who have come across him on social media, Oyefesos portrayal as a self-made millionaire has given him the heroic status of a footballer or rapper.
Im just a normal guy and most people who come from where Im from, they see if I can do it, they can do it, Oyefeso told me. He has described DCT Trading as a future Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan except, unlike those mammoth financial institutions, which tend to recruit from a narrow pool of elite graduates from prestigious universities, Oyefeso appeared to be opening a closed door to young people who might otherwise be excluded from the trading floor.
Oyefeso has sent out thousands of invitations with the message join my team. The problem is, his company does not have a trading floor. It does not have an office. Dreams Come True isnt registered at Companies House. It does not exist as anything more than a website and some social media accounts. (Oyefeso claims the parent company, Gabs Fossard Ltd, is registered, although it was dissolved without posting any income.)
Although there has been intense activity on Oyefesos public social media pages since September, for some of this time the south Londoner was in jail, after ploughing his car into a friend to whom he owed money, a claim he disputes. In the course of his trial last autumn for dangerous driving and possession of a weapon, the judge remarked: [you] portrayed yourself as a very successful trader within the financial market. Clearly this is not the case. His own lawyer told the court that Oyefeso makes a number of claims about his wealth but I have seen no evidence of this clearly if he had this money he could have written a cheque to the victim. He was released last month after, he claims, a successful appeal.
Oyefeso is one of the most high-profile figures of an internet subculture that reveres Jordan Belfort and has taken his Wolf of Wall Street persona to social media. Posing as ultra-wealthy kids and posting internet memes taken from the movie, its followers aggressively sign up young people to what looks like an international pyramid scheme that has helped to generate billions of pounds for large companies selling highly risky financial trading products.
They are the wolves of Instagram.
The financial sector has a genius for creating new products that brush against the law. A former UBS trader told me that the sector had taken advantage of the grey area between what they know they cant do and what they believe they can get away with. In 2008, as the economy reeled under the weight of trillions of dollars of bad debt in financial products called collateralised debt obligations, another risky and obscure proposition was being designed for the public: the binary option.
The concept is simple: you sign up with a minimum deposit of 250 from a debit or credit card, click a button that says you are over 18, then bet on whether the price of a stock, currency or other financial security will go up or down and by how much. The binary option is part of a family of similar financial products such as spread betting and contracts for difference. If you have ever heard a rookie investor declare that they trade currency, these are probably what they are talking about.
These products became popular alongside a proliferation of online trading software and mobile betting platforms. The craze was largely driven by two countries Israel and Cyprus in the late 2000s. Their regulatory frameworks meant that firms could access European markets without the heavy hand of European regulators, and new binary options companies spread like chain letters. After the financial crash, in Israel alone an estimated 100 firms popped up in the space of a few years.
Over the past 18 months, these financial products have taken great leaps into public life with expensive marketing campaigns. Plus500, which is to online trading what McDonalds is to fast food, is the main sponsor of European football giant Atltico Madrid, and 24Option have sponsored the renowned MMA fighter Conor McGregor and Italian football team Juventus.