Power Loan

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The last few years have seen a huge surge in the number of lenders in the mortgage industry who, for attractive commissions, find loans for almost anyone who wants them. But what sort skills and qualifications should they have?

Well, we've taken a look at one of Adelaide's largest mortgage brokers only to find a boss with a shady past, and a long list of unhappy clients and franchisees.

In 2006 we told you some of the tragic stories, of people losing their homes and life savings and blaming the reckless advice and guarantees they received from some Power Loan staff and franchisees like Barry Collins-McBride, who no longer works for them.

Since then Power Loan has been busy re-inventing itself. They no longer flog risky investments. Instead they're fishing for people to re-finance the equity in their homes and put that into real estate, or try to sell them $25,000 dollar franchises to write up new loans.

Their mantra now is creating wealth and it's done through courses like the "money power game",which they say should cost you $550.

Over the last four years, Mr McArdle and his co director Craig Holm have expanded Power Loan rapidly around the country, through so-called franchises being sold to people who often have little or no experience in the finance industry, but who are attracted by golden promises like this:

"We have an opportunity here to earn three to four times the average income. The average income is $40,000 so we are looking at three to four times that. You will be glad to know that 95% of people who come on board here don't have any financial experience, okay?" claims one of their salespeople.

And here, one of the Power Loan coaches claims: "We are financial coaches, we are not advisors. We are coaches. There's a lot of difference and that's why we can actually put people out as consultants fairly quickly once they are trained."

They might be glad, but try telling that to Tony Chaina who's now on the verge of losing his home, after reckless advice from one of Power Loans franchisees, who didn't have a financial planner's licence at the time.

Power Loan pushed Tony and more than 85 other novice investors, like Merry Edwards, into Westpoint, whose development projects crashed in late 2005 with losses of more than $300 million dollars.

Finance and property crusader Neil Jenman hasn't found anyone who's actually paid to attend one of their money game promotion seminars, and we were given two tickets for free.

"With the money game promotion, I asked them how many have paid? None. So its false advertising. It's lying to attract business. I am sorry but if someone tells me a lie designed to get me to do something in a business capacity, I don't want to do business with them again," says Jenman.

"Its a semi-cult like organisation where 'ra ra' is what they sell. They sell hype and middle American self-esteem courses. It's all on a wing and a prayer," claims Allan Matchoss, a former franchisee.

Joe Di Pietro and Allan Matchoss are suing Power Loan after directors Craig Holm and Steve McArdle abruptly terminated their franchises. They've also taken over the trailing commissions they'd earned on loans they'd already sold.

"You are told you are being negative by asking practical questions. I couldn't believe it in the end," says Joe.

Allan says: "The company brainwashed people into believing that they have the best product. However there are many more products out there that are more competitive and come with real back up and real service."

Joe and Allan weren't alone. We've spoken to several other ex-franchisees with similar stories.

Neil Jenman exclaimed: "I would not like to do business with thieves but people do business with McArdle because they don't know he's a thief."

That brings us to Steve McArdle (aka Steve McCardle) and the secret he's managed to hide from Power Loans own staff, franchisees, and the customers who trusted them.

In 1993 McArdle was convicted and given a suspended 2 1/2 year jail term for stealing more than $131,000 from a previous employer, a petroleum company. He was required to make full restitution, but the company told us it is still waiting.

"So what we've got here is a person with a criminal record for financial matters for stealing money and he's advising people how they are going to look after their finances," says Jenman.

He's also conveniently altered the spelling of his surname, dropping the capital c, leaving it as McArdle, which appears on company documents, but more disturbing, he didn't disclose his criminal activity in disclosure documents as is required by law.

Mr McArdle also didn't tell the MFAA, the body which regulates mortgage brokers, when he was given membership in 2003. They are now investigating and here's what they're telling people at their power game seminars:

"The guys that established it were originally brokers and saw there was a real need to bring something different to the market place. They just couldn't handle the whole industry and wanted something ethical, something that was going to actually help people."

Well, that doesn't appear in their own documents, which tells us they once worked for a barter card company, not as brokers.

We made several attempts to contact Mr McArdle via email exchanges, but he hasn't responded to questions about his criminal record. His PR man, Mike O'Reilly, however, tells us the reason for the name change was that he gets mail addressed that way and he adopted it at school as a child, which still doesn't explain why it's used on formal company documents.

"They refer to themselves as the McDonald's of the finance industry. They think they are going to be as big as McDonalds. That's their goal, with a crook at the helm? Absolutely, it's bullshit Frank," says Allan Matchoss.

In the meantime, Power Loan is facing law suits from several fronts. From ex franchisees like Joe and Allan, and customers like Merri Edwards. Hers is the first arising out of the West Point collapse, and others are likely to follow.

As for Tony Chaina, his life has been totally shattered. We filmed his interview days before his wife passed away from cancer. Tony believes the stress of their financial plight hastened her death. Power Loan has at least given some money back to Tony, Merri and others who appeared on our program, but its far from enough to save them.

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