|Investing clubs used to be found in cities and towns everywhere, and in some places they still thrive. With the growth of the Internet, part of the need for in-person discussion with other like-minded pursuers of profit has been taken up by online forums and online communities. But live meetings can fill a need (they can be a source of motivation, offer continuity, and introduce you to others), while online groups offer convenience; today, investors may even have a choice.
Whether you like to hang out online or meet face-to-face (or accomplish both with the assistance of web cams), you can participate in practical, nitty-gritty discussions on what works and doesn't in trading and investing by joining a group.
• Local investing clubs
Investing clubs may pool their money to invest and vote on what to invest in, or they may exist simply as informal study groups or meetings in which to toss around ideas, debate the worthiness of a particular stock, or mentor others. The former kind of club may need to be formally organized as legal partnerships, while the latter are loose groups with no legal structure and no financial pooling. Depending on the type of group, meeting spaces could be conference rooms of hotels; meeting rooms of public libraries; restaurants or coffee houses; community centers or rentable neighborhood spaces; or even members' living rooms for small, informal groups. Where the groups meet will likely influence the fee charged or amount of donation suggested per meeting.
For investing clubs that actually pool their money to invest, contracts and agreements will be needed, since you're dealing with real money here - a pool of money that members certainly hope will grow. For help with establishing your club as a legal entity and getting the appropriate contracts in place, some resources that may help include the National Association of Investors Corp. (NAIC ) at www.betterinvesting.org and Motley Fool at www.fool.com. The Motley Fool website also hosts a discussion forum on investing clubs at http://boards.fool.com/investment-clubs-100097.aspx.
In some cases, investment clubs (usually larger ones) may be required to register with the SEC given certain criteria, such as the size of the club (say, over 100 members); the nature of a membership in the club; and the amount of money in the pool (say, over $25 million). In addition, if someone acts as an advisor to the group's fund, that person may need to be registered with the SEC as an advisor, as opposed to a case where all club members actively vote on the investments to make. Moreover, some state securities laws, which differ from federal securities laws, may affect investment clubs in some circumstances; learn more about your state's regulations from your local securities regulator with your state government.
But how do you find a local club that's already in existence? That's not always easy. A group that is most open to new members may be more well-publicized or findable through an Internet search. You might be able to locate an investing club through www.Meetup.com, a site that specializes in helping people get together for a particular purpose. At Meetup.com, input your zip code and use the keywords that suit you, such as "stock market" or "technical analysis" or "forex," and peruse the results.
Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and StockTwits (a feed of financial or stock-related tweets) may also provide leads or help you to reach out to your "friends" or "followers" to ask around about possible groups to join. You may find leads through local publications or newspapers, either through the occasional feature story or through calendar and event listings.
One of the easier ways to track down local meetings is through a national organization under whose umbrella a local chapter operates.
|• Local chapters of national organizations
National organizations with a mission geared toward investing or trading education will likely have a prominent website that is easy to find. In turn, the site may offer a list of chapters as well as links to local chapters' websites (if the organization is structured to have local chapters). Local chapters often have periodic meetings, which can serve as informative sessions or seminars. This type of group is not going to be the sort of investment club that pools and invests money together, but rather a resource for continuing education in investing and trading with informational meetings, the possibility of guest speakers, and question & answer sessions. These types of meetings are excellent places to learn more about investing topics, gather information, and meet other investors.
Here are a few national organizations with central websites and links to local chapters. Depending on whether you're a trader or investor and how you approach the markets, one may be right for you.
Looking to one of these (or other) national organizations may be a good place to start if you are having trouble locating a local group to join. Considering the additional benefits and structure these groups provide, your membership dues can go a long way. While at a local chapter meeting, you may even happen upon leads from other members, speakers, or group leaders about other events, resources, or local clubs. Of course, joining a local chapter could meet your needs on its own without your having to look any further.
• Software-based user groups
While most of the in-person versions of these groups dissolved as they moved online - since an online forum is a natural fit for software that runs on the Internet, and because sometimes, online forums are an extension of the product's support center - there are still a few opportunities for live user groups. Try checking with the developer of the software you use to find out whether they have any information about local user groups based on their software.
If there don't seem to be any local groups, look for online forums at sites dedicated to the software you use, which are usually found in the support area of the site. Most software developers host message-boards (electronic bulletin boards) at their website, but not all are widely used. Here are a few software companies that host robust message-boards at their site for users: TradeStation, Wealth-Lab, Wave59 (including a chatroom), ShareScope, Trade2Win. Online forums offer opportunities to interact with other users, either about the software itself, about trading strategies, or how to use the software to implement those trading strategies.
Some online forums related to specific software may not be affiliated with the software developer but may be independent. To track down forums, try an Internet search for the term "user group" or "SIG" plus the software you use. Or visit the software site's online message-board to look for user-group announcements or post to an inquiry about live user groups.
|• Other online discussion forums
Online forums have long been a feature of the Internet. In fact, back when Yahoo! and AOL were new, newsgroups and chatrooms and online bulletin boards were mainstays. Today, the investor or trader may go online to "meet up" virtually with other investors and traders. The trick is finding a forum that has a high level of participation; quality contributors; and one that is targeted to your interests. While such online forums can come and go over the years and vary in their popularity, a few to mention include EliteTrader.com, Collective2.net, traddr.com, and even Wilmott.com for all those interested in quantitative finance out there. Our own Message-Boards at Traders.com is an additional place to post comments and read posts from others. Trading chatrooms (as opposed to leaving messages on message-boards) also exist, offered by commercial services or proprietary trading firms, sometimes for a membership fee.
Online forums can be a convenient place (with merely a login required) to seek answers to questions; discover leads to other resources; get user opinions; discuss strategies and approaches; and share your experiences with other users. Depending on the rules at any given forum, posts to message-boards can be accepted or rejected, and the forums are usually moderated by the company hosting the forum.
Advantages to joining an online forum are that they are easy to find and easy to access; most anyone can join (although forums hosted by software companies may require an account login or require you to be a registered user of the software); you can participate remotely; you can remain anonymous (to other users); and you can partake at any convenient time, even while you trade.
Yahoo hosts a list of a few finance- and investment-related clubs, chatrooms, and online message-boards at http://dir.yahoo.com/Business_and_Economy/Finance_and_Investment/Chats_and_Forums/.
• Brokerage-sponsored seminars & webinars
For example, Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade, and E*Trade all offer educational webinars and some local, in-person seminar or events that are free or free to account holders. Here is a look at tracking down some of the event listings through these three large brokerage firms:
Webinars may not provide the custom-agenda feel that local club meetings can offer, but they can be a way to keep up to date in the investing world, further your interest in investing, and even ask questions to presenters or benefit from questions asked by other participants. So while seminars certainly aren't clubs or member-based organizations, they are one way of getting together with other traders and investors for trading support and continuing education.
|A LOOK FROM THE INSIDE
Since it may be helpful to hear directly from some active clubs on what they do locally, here is a look at a few clubs, ranging from local chapters of national organizations to independent clubs.
If you are unable to locate a group to join and think you would like to start your own locally, check out some of the national organizations mentioned in this article for guidelines on starting and running a local chapter, or see Barbara Star's article from the archives of STOCKS & COMMODITIES magazine called "Starting A Technical Analysis Group" for some pointers on forming groups and running successful meetings. If you try searching the Internet for existing groups in your area, keep in mind some of the alternative terms for these types of groups: user(s) group, SIG or special interest group, society, organization, association, and club.
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