This is a public warning to the Barter/Trade Exchange industry regarding Bartercard’s international development plans. In this post I analyse an email I have received from an ex-Bartercard insider who is now ready and willing to speak out, one of many who has missed out badly from dealing with a company whose principals have an incredibly long track-record of exercising substantial aggression and deception for their own benefit. Read here . . . “Warning, Bartercard, red alert!”
Bartercard is one of the more aggressive companies in the Trade Echange/Barter business and has a stated intention of growth through acquisition. This spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E for the uninitiated or less-well informed in the reciprocal trade industry considering engagement with them. The phrase “beware sleeping with an elephant in case he rolls over” comes to mind!
Background to Bartercard
In the last few years Bartercard has undergone several changes as they have had ownership changes and struggled to reinvent themselves on the international scene in the face of falling profits, serious downturn in membership numbers, satisfaction and turnover (trade volume).
In my substantial investigation and blogging analysis/commentary of the Bartercard business during 2014, I revealed that:
- Bartercard’s prospectus* for their 2014 IPO contained much deception and mis-representation – it was designed as an asset strip – the enrichment of a few at the expense of many;
- Bartercard secured IRTA’s exclusive endorsement of their future-promised technological solution through a backroom deal that was deliberately hidden from their members and engineered Bartercard into a “super-member” relationship with the main industry association contrary to natural justice and in conflict with IRTA’s initial mission and stated purpose; and
- Their business model has always been an effective Ponzi Scheme with high levels of deliberate deception – succinctly exemplified in the phrase used by their USA representative Paul Bolte – “We have creative ways of dealing with debt”.
Questioning My Credibility
During this period of extensive blogging, Bartercard issued an extraordinary communication to the industry lamblasting my credibility and advising the industry directly that they would be suing me. IRTA too reverted their previous opinion that I was a highly credible and thorough investigative blogger when I started to reveal the dishonesty within their executive. An IRTA Board Member too turned from a supporter into a detractor when I exposed his own business (Tradeqoin) as a fraud.
To date, not one piece of evidence has been produced to counter my claims; not one word in many tens of thousands has been proven out of place and I have had a steady stream of people approach me variously congratulating me on the accuracy of my analysis, most of them victims of previous dealings with Bartercard, some at very high levels of interaction (ex-staff, ex-management, ex-shareholders, ex-subcontractors and ex-franchisees).
I make several observations on my credibility that I consider relevant:
- Sadly, despite their general willingness to litigate against others Bartercard, has not undertaken legal action against me over the contents of my blogging. There are two good reasons for this of course – first it will increase exposure of their shonky conduct and secondly they have no case for I speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth [so help me God!].
- My detractors are ALL entities who have previously endorsed me as highly professional, thorough and “straight” and/or ones whom I have exposed for immoral conduct. Integrity costs of course. Most seek truth only secondary to listening to gossip and the ones who think and deal with fact tend to be a little less vocal.
- Unless founded on fact and intelligently applied logic, all attacks on anyone’s credibility are ad hominem and do not deal with the central issues that (for example) I raise and discuss . . . attacking the credibility of a knowledgeable, persistent, and fearless investigative blogger who is exposing one’s immoral or illegal conduct is the only approach available to detractors.
- The support and endorsement that I have received from sources who are or were on the inside has been consistently at very high levels. Conversations via my Tipline such as, “Dennis you are spot-on in what you say about XXX. I know because XXX.” have been frequent since I have blogged about Bartercard. In one notable interaction with a very longterm high-level Bartercard insider I challenged the writer of one such glowing endorsement to specifically address any aspect of my writing that he would change, or thought that I might have slightly off-kilter. His response was simple, “No! Not one word. You are totally correct in EVERYTHING you say and I learned things from your writing that I never knew. I have no idea how you have gotten the information and understanding that you have but you clearly have good sources and have spent an enormous amount of time investigating them”.
This last point is vital. What I write is based on quality information from a vast range of informants mixed with quality thought and decades of experience. Add in an almost psychotic focus on truthseeking by way of asking a multitude of perceptive questions and then speaking the truth, to a fearless attitude means that my words have stood the test of time.
There are two areas in all of my blogging about Bartercard in 2014 that may fit outside of this fastidiousness straight analysis – first, my one piece of satire relating to the IRTACARD deal and secondly, my prediction that Bartercard’s share price would fall to Penny Stocks. In retrospect I would have made it much clearer on my initial IRTACARD post that this was satire (some of the Americans missed the British-style humour and actually took it literally).
While the Bartercard stock price has fallen to less than 70c in the dollar in less than a year and the trend is definitely downward, any prediction is guesswork. Stock prices can also be managed and manipulated too so while I can state that an asset strip is clearly underway; that there is massive undisclosed trade debt; that the business model is unsound and that projections are unrealistic; and this is all true and provable, predictions coming true (or otherwise) do not impact the credibility of the rest of my writing and analysis – for or against. Of course I will crow that I predicted it if it continues downward and explain it away if it ever gains or makes par again, but that is a different type of credibility to the credibility that comes from asking people critical questions, stitching it all together and then publishing my take and hammering crooks for their immoral conduct when I know what they are doing and have done.
The bottom line is that I have credibility in the quarters that matter to me and are known as a thinker, indeed even a thought-leader in this industry by increasing numbers of professionals.
And opinionated verbosity? Guilty!
So . . .
John Attridge Is Going Public
A recent email received from a minor Bartercard shareholder is an extraordinary step forward from an experienced industry player.
John Attridge had a Barter business which he sold a while back to Bartercard. It’s his story so I’ll just summarise it briefly for the moment before analysing his recent email. He sold his business to Bartercard and was given shares in the Bartercard company as [as I understand it] the primary form of payment. Bartercard then took his asset; diluted his investment (shares); paid out diddly-squat in dividends and is [as I see it] now currently in the process of stripping out the assets and leaving the minor shareholders with nothing. Nice eh?
But this is Bartercard’s MO**. It is what they do. It is who they are. It is in their genetic makeup to acquire, promise then deliver nothing or certainly something perceived but unreal. They do this with their currency (the Bartercard Dollar, or the Bartercard Pound which is grossly inflated with massive hidden liabilities accumulated from decades of deception over their massive multi-hundred-million dollar internal house accounts deficit). They do it with their staff, sub-contractors, members and franchisees – call me for details if you want to know who, how when and to what extent this occurs. At this stage I do not want to place real evidence into the public domain more than I have, for I have considered that for the moment it is best left to others to take action, and for me to fulfill an analysis, coordinating and publication role.
Bartercard have not only done this for years, they have done it many times, continue to do it and I believe WILL continue to do this into the future . . . thus the warning here for others intending to associate themselves with Bartercard and associated entities.
I haven’t spent a lot of time talking with John but I have previously discussed his past dealings with Bartercard. I knew that he was a minor (and disgruntled shareholder) but he had always asked me to keep a lid on his story as he didn’t want to “cause a scene”. Apparently he must consider the time is right now to share his experiences. Good on him.
This is a brave call. He now has BBX in the UK and could be accused of various commercial conflicts of interest. He’s potentially an IRTA big-shot – he’s got a good brain on his head (from what I can tell) and has told all that he is going to the IRTA conference this year, and he was at last year’s conference in his first year with BBX-UK. IRTA and Bartercard are bed-mates so there is real potential for tension with IRTA promoting Bartercard over other members.
In some ways I guess it always had to happen. The time is clearly now with Bartercard having global domination on its agenda; the extraordinary secret sweetheart deal with IRTA to push their barter platform solution (Web Turtle) over other IRTA members’ offerings and a two year window in the principals of the new Bartercard companies stand-down period before they get their millions of [ill-gotten] gains from the smaller investors and get away Scott-free with the shonky BPS IPO.
This email of John’s has been received recently by industry players. I intersperse my commentary.
Hi all – you are receiving this communication as I believe you have an interest in the Complimentary currency business
I don’t know how many people John sent this too but I received it (via the Tipline) from more than one source, so he’s obviously sent it to more than just me.
If you have no interest in selling your platform changing your software or collaborating with any other party in any way – the rest of this email will bore you so please delete !
If you get an approach by Bartercard or any of the subject entities then the rest of this email may be useful so please read on – this is intended to give you information to help you decide if an association will be of benefit to you
My take on this is that this is just a nice way of saying that he’s p*ssed off at being ripped off by a bunch of crooks in the name of the “Big B”.
They will be wanting to talk to you either to sell you their white label software and / or to do some sort of deal to enable your current entity to become part of their International entity
There are two subjects that John refers to here that are both huge in their own right:
- White-labelled software (selling their trading/mambership platform); and
- Acquisition (becoming part of the Bartercard name/brand, by way of franchising, outright sale/purchase etc).
Bartercard has ‘growth through acquisition‘ as one of their strategies. Historically they approach an existing barter/trade exchange operator and talk up their company (their ‘Web Turtle’ technology is now their pride and joy). They will offer them great things with the acquisition, then end up doing deals with stocks/shares/trade. One thing that is VERY rare is to see actual CASH going from Bartercard to others. They avoid that scenario like the plague, but in the acquisition process this is typically not openly discussed and the pre-purchase disclosure process is the time that the rubber hits the road, and intending vendors’ excitement turns into dread as reality kicks in. The lucky ones back out before they lose all. Others cough up businesses and assets in return for stock, trade or other dubious valued returns.
I sold my business Trade Limited to Bartercard in 2001 taking part stock as payment – this has turned out to be a very bad decision on my part as I have only ever received one dividend payment in all those years and I have seen the capital value my original investment depreciate by over 95% over this time
I don’t know the details of John’s deal when he sold out to Bartercard in 2001 but I do know the details of others who have similarly sold their businesses to Bartercard, and some who have purchased Bartercard Franchises only to regret it. It is my assessment based on repeating pattern of disillusionment that not only are the losses substantial but they are widespread and that this is a deliberate, well-proven historical MO going back multiple decades. This is why I talk about the genetic makeup of the company, and how I can and why I predict that this immoral predatory conduct will continue into the future.
I have 13 years of first hand accounts on this operation and am prepared to interact with anyone wanting FACTS that can be followed up by them in a due diligence process to determine what path best suits them
Now let me put words into John’s mouth here and tell you what he’s actually saying, without saying it . . . “I was on the inside and know exactly what they do, how they do it and I have the proof. If you want that insight, I’m happy to share it!”
For the record [and because I know what the IRTA/Bartercard people are likely to think and peddle] I have not conspired with John nor worked with him even through third parties to get at IRTA, IRTACARD or BARTERCARD in any way shape or form. I have simply recently (in the last few days at time of writing) received this information via the Tipline. I emailed John on the 29 August 2015 (Samoa time) and asked him. “Can I go public with this please?” to which he replied approximately 24 hours later, “Absolutely – cheers”. That’s a sum total of nine words! Period.
I however can shoot straight because I have no vested interest. What John will be able to tell people is that ANYONE, which probably means EVERYONE who engages with Bartercard to sell their exchange has an ultra-high probability of getting their fingers burned and could easily (like him) lose all and be unable to recover their investment.
There are various aspects to this warning. John is professional enough not to want to convince people NOT to join up and install Bartercard’s Web Turtle software solution – that would most likely be ‘tort’ and is arguably illegal. It would also expose his current business but he can share FACTS (as he says and it’s his emphasis and capitalisation, not mine) over what happened to him. I could imagine though that over a beer and if he trusted you he might stretch out a bit and let it be known that you’re going to lose the shirt off your back!
I though am free from such constraints. As an investigative blogger I can share my opinion directly that the company has serious credibility issues – based on their track record of skulduggery; which is also currently clearly in the process of more skulduggery; which has a stated intention to muscle their way into the industry and be the central point of reference in the global industry (remember that they secured IRTA’s exclusive endorsement to promote their new and as-yet not even built Web Turtle software as the formal IRTA recommendation as the “best in the world”***) and the extensive evidence that I have gathered from real people who have lost real assets to Bartercard in its various iterations over the years.
As examples I can tell you why
If there’s anybody on the planet who could, it is John.
n People who bought licences paying millions of dollars in 19 countries are no longer operating
Bartercard’s history is an incredible story of disaster after disaster (for the people they deal with) at all levels, and this is a systemic issue. It’s difficult to use the word integrity in the same sentence as Bartercard, unless there is a negative included.
n In the UK there have been over 30 franchises sold since 2002 and all but 4 are no longer operating [ I have current contacts of these former franchisees should you wish to contact them directly to verify anything I say ]
I too have had some of these talk to me and have blogged about the experiences of one (which resulted in an Ethics Complaint to IRTA which was upheld) and the conduct of Bartercard in the UK mirrors that of the USA and Australia. New Zealand is and has always been a little different because NZ is their shining star and top performer but EVERY other country, and virtually all people who have touched the brand have lost, most badly and most have lost all.
I am available on the below contact details and will be attending the forthcoming IRTA convention should that also provide an opportunity for dialog
John would be better to do his dialogue before and outside the convention. Detractors will find ways to label him, and detract from his message. He will likely be presented as just a disgruntled competitor who is angling for his own commercial opportunity.
Remember that the influence that Bartercard has over the IRTA lot has not come through conferences or formal meetings but through backroom deals and decisions made long before and outside the formal channels!
I warn anyone engaging with Bartercard to expect a continuation of their past conduct which is decades of less than honourable business practices. The past is the past, and a restructure or buy/sell event COULD affect change for the future, but, and this is the key point, the character of the principals – their nature, values and decision-making processes – determines the nature of FUTURE events.
Knowing what I know, as a trade exchange wanting to grow and/or sell out, I would engage with Bartercard in only the most casual of ways and expect difficulties, probably serious difficulties if you do.
Warning and background over with for the moment, I now drill down into the specifics of my concerns, addressing this (as is the rest of this post) to trade exchanges considering the possibility of working with Bartercard.
BPS Technology IPO
Bartercard’s recent IPO* was predicated upon purchase of the assets of previous Bartercard entities and launch of new untested software into new areas of business and into a difficult contested market. Web Turtle will NEVER become the Microsoft Windows® of the Barter industry. Misrepresentation has occurred – fact. In my opinion, it is highly likely that any investigation from the authorities will reveal substantial undisclosed debt, thus rendering the new operation liable or certainly exposed to shenanigans from the past. An asset strip, where minor stakeholders are sidelined in the interests of a few elite is an activity that could expose the new company legally, even forgetting the morality of their conduct. The initial funding for example in a large part came from pension funds in which one of the directors of the new company was involved in both sides. It was in my opinion a pre-arranged deal – clues available from the documentation of the primary initial investors and BPS’ own documents [look for other office holders than the three primary players]. At some point the Bartercard company will be likely facing music. Who, when, how and to what extent this will affect the Bartercard operations is anybody’s guess, but investments into BPS have lost substantially without any meaningful legal or criminal challenge. The conduct of a publicly listed company will come under far greater scrutiny than a private company and from what I can see, the new Bartercard iteration under BPS Technology is a smoking bomb, fuse lit, ready to blow up.
Poor Market Reputation
Bartercard views its brand as an asset. In days gone by this may have been the case but with Internet use now ubiquitous and Google brand searching prior to business deal closure the Bartercard brand is severely damaged as people talk. To date there has been no centralised ‘hate website’ nor any concerted effort to reveal their conduct – just a string of individuals who find it too hard to take on an aggressive litigious company. This situation will not continue the same and increasing numbers of people are approaching me to coordinate efforts to “DO something”. Eventually this bitterness and hatred must eventually burst its bubble.
Many people out there ‘hate them’ for a plethora of reasons. This has built up in the Southern Hemisphere to chronic levels (hence their strategy to focus their attention on growth to the north). I’ve mentioned previously that it is possible to turn some things like a bad brand around but the prerequisite to this is acknowledgement of reality today and activating a better more ethical way of doing things. The current Directors were the ones that got them into the poo, so there is no way in a month of Sundays that they’ll ever be able to turn their ship around.
From what I’ve been able to glean, Australia is a dead-duck with serious fall-off in every measurement factor. New Zealand is an example where there is an ultra high awareness of the concept of commercial barter in the businessworld there – the envy of many in the States – but the elephant in this room is that awareness does NOT correlate to endorsement or support. Many have experienced less than satisfaction from that countries market leader, Bartercard, and will never touch commercial barter again as a direct result of their experiences with them. Abandoning or ignoring this poor reputation is all fine in a small demographic, but when this becomes widespread knowledge internationally then anyone associated with Bartercard will be tarred with the same brush. Hugging a dead corpse is fatal.
You won’t hear this story from Bartercard of course.
Code of Ethics
Bartercard’s conduct over many years has exposed them (and their brand) to multiple ethics complaints with IRTA. Potential partners will be associating themselves (and their businesses and memberships) with an ethical toxicity at the upper levels. IRTA has and will continue to do everything they can to protect their business partner Bartercard but this cannot continue for ever and cover all sins.
The industry is wary of Bartercard. Sure, the industry is wary of EVERY other trade exchange, and for good reason but particularly Bartercard.
Again, Bartercard is a toxic name out there amongst the informed.
Bartercard is exposed to litigation. It would only take one determined person to say, “Enough is enough!” and the Bartercard operation would be exposed, legally.
I have watched as the Australian Stock Exchange has ‘dealt’ with complaints about BPS Technology in an interesting way. I have watched as the Directors and their professionals have side-stepped key issues, developed a Prospectus that is clearly misleading and managed to secure pension funds in a dodgy IPO. I have already assessed their conduct to be an asset-strip. I am aware of and have blogged about their inflated currency with massive trade debts totally hidden from members, shareholders and the public.
This all adds up to one huge risk of potential litigation. It would not take much for somebody, somewhere to take action. All business has some element of risk but associating with a company in this position is high risk.
One of the striking eye-openers for those new to the concept of predatory acquisitions is the story of Scott Kennedy whom I blogged about in 2014.
While there are variations on the theme, potential vendors of trade exchanges can expect the same treatment as Scott and Satachi.
- Bartercard will enter into negotiations with an existing trade exchange business with the intent to purchase or partner with them – after all growth through acquisition is their stated goal, and it’s a perfectly natural, common business event.
- During the courting phase, talk is of course big and positive. Talk though is cheap. True context and intent is never revealed.
- Once disclosure occurs (the necessary sharing of turnover, membership etc) the hook is set.
- Inevitably Bartercard will make an offer in THEIR best interests. Potential vendors will be unlikely to be offered cash, or certainly any substantial cash and valuations will be
And the reason that I predict this sort of thing is simple – it’s happened time and time again from the boys at the Big “B”. One is delusional if one believes that it won’t happen again, or that it won’t happen to them.
While Bartercard’s cosy relationship with IRTA is clearly an asset, this is short-term thinking for should IRTA’s Executive change and the organisation reverts to looking after its members, Bartercard could suffer. This could have negative consequences for all associated with the brand.
Bartercard Members, particularly their top traders can choose to use less expensive currencies in many trades. As I have blogged about many times, traditional Barter Exchanges need to be preparing for the world of multiple currencies. Bartercard’s income streams are highly exposed by basing a large part of their income on their own currency. Watch this space!
I’ve blogged extensively about Bartercard’s phenomenal undisclosed [aka hidden] debt. Aside from the ethical concerns in general I consider this THE greatest problem and weakness of the Bartercard operations. A true valuation of their currency will be an 80% devaluation possibly as high as a 98% or 99% devaluation. Anyone using the Bartercard Trade Dollar must understand that they are risking loss should the market react to this knowledge.
A major concern for Bartercard should be potential exposure, particularly intelligent, knowledgeable, coordinated, international intelligence with commentary. If I were the directors of Bartercard, or anyone thinking of associating with the Bartercard brand I would be praying that this would never occur.
The Bartercard Series
* BPS Technology (AU)
** Modus operandii
*** It was christened “Web Turtle” by Bartercard’s own staff and franchisees who had to use it and it STILL has teething problems by the way even after long-delayed delivery!