At the beginning of 2019, a smart broker made a big promise to his customers: Online trading should be “cheaper and clearer for private individuals than ever before.” For Thomas K., who was looking for a new online broker, a “charming offer.” He regretted his decision to use Smartbroker: “The registration process was easy and the prices are already very good,” says Thomas K.
Smartbroker had over 60,000 users and has managed over a billion euros since August. For Wallstreet Online AG, which has a stake in Wallstreet Online Capital AG, which in turn operates Smartbroker, the online broker is a real bearer of hope. With great determination, it strives to assert itself in the growing market despite strong competitors such as Trade Republic.
Thomas K. says he usually didn’t pay much attention to the emails he received from the smart broker. However, when he took a closer look at the e-mail, he was amazed: The smart broker provides his customers with a monthly issue of “Smart Investor” magazine in PDF format. It is advertised as a “critical investor magazine”.
Numerous texts in the magazine will make you sit down and notice. There, for example, Peter Boehringer, chairman of the Committee on Budgets and a member of the AfD Bundestag, wrote a guest contribution against the ECB’s monetary policy. However, it is not clear from the text or its editorial framework which party Boehringer belongs to. It is also unusual to have a short reader comment printed below the article: “My respect, dear Mr. Boehringer!”
Cooperation is not transparent
In the next issue, the editor-in-chief of the magazine, Ralf Flierl, doubts the dangers of coronavirus. He concludes: “So we don’t take people for spruce, but Mr. Drosten, Mr. Wieler including RKI and of course Merkel, Spahn & Co.” Flierl is a critical way of advertising the magazine against any state event.
“You don’t expect anything like that if you only want to register with an online broker,” says Thomas K. He works in the financial sector himself and describes himself as well-informed. However, when he signed up for Smartbroker, he knew nothing about the connection to the magazine. The collaboration is also not transparent on the Smartbroker website.
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However, links to the collaboration can be found at Wallstreet Online AG. Last year, the company not only founded Smartbroker, but also took over 90 percent of the publisher, which includes “Smart Investor”. At the time, the magazine was not very far-reaching with a circulation of around 5,600.
Stefan Zmojda, CEO of Wallstreet Online AG, said on request: “We decided to participate in the” Smart Investor “program because the magazine is known for its well-researched and attractively presented content.” He also hoped for financial gain from ” a magazine that has been successful for years ”.
The mission is based on the Austrian school
The collaboration between the broker and the magazine then began in the spring of 2020. Smartbroker board member Thomas Soltau said the model was a “win-win situation.” When asked, he announced that the free spending was intended as a temporary “goodness” for customers who had to wait a long time to open their account because of Corona. Soltau says that it is therefore unlikely that he will have to provide the intermediary with transparency in the registration process.
Examples from the latest issues of the magazine fit into its mission, which is openly communicated. Flierl and his co-authors follow the economic theory of the Austrian school, which was helped to shape Friedrich Friedrich von Hayek. There are repeated references to it and theory in the texts. Flierl thinks that the “Austrian world” would be fairer than the current one.
Economic journalist Till Düppe, who conducts research at the Université du Québec in Montreal, is not surprised by the direction of the magazine. The Austrian school and its radical supporters, as well as many New Right leaders, would be subject to the same conditions in terms of market and state: “The market always” knows “better than the state. That is why supporters of the Austrian school criticize government regulation. Not just economic regulation, but political in general. “Crises are therefore always caused by state failure, not market failure.
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According to Düppe, moreover, social chauvinism can be derived from the Austrian school, which fascinates many rights. A non-transparent procedure is also typical for trailers. Followers of the Austrian school are often seen as a kind of “secret society” that is well connected and tends to act in the background. “The idea of influencing prevailing opinion and economic policy through journalists, scientists and other social actors goes back to Hayek and is reflected in many liberal think tanks,” explains Düppe.
The Flierl network goes even further
In Germany, one of the most famous of these think tanks is the company of Friedrich A. von Hayek. In 2015, then-Chair Karen Horn resigned because she feared that the association was increasingly turning to democracy and pluralism as an enemy. As a result, FDP chief Christian Lindner and Lars Feld also left the company. AfD politicians such as Beatrix von Storch and Peter Boehringer, who published a guest article in The Smart Investor, remained. Editor-in-Chief Ralf Flierl is in contact with members and supporters of Hayek’s company and has also been a guest at club nights.
Flierl’s network goes even further: Among other things, he writes for the magazine “Eigenümlich frei”, which the Austrian political scientist Natascha Strobl assigns to the New Right. An expert on right-wing extremism writes in his expert article that the magazines of this ideological trend have in common that they are based on a negative image of a person “who is characterized by inequality and inequality.”
Among other things, Flierl, along with Jürgen Elsässer, editor-in-chief of Compact magazine, made his way to then-Iranian President Mahmuth Ahmadinejad, a well-known Holocaust denier. This year, Flierl wrote a guest article for “Compact” magazine. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution classified it as a suspicious case in March because, according to the head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Thomas Haldenwang, it served “revisionist, conspiracy-theoretical and xenophobic motives.”
When asked by Tagesspiegel, Flierl did not want to comment on the content of the magazine or its contacts. Flierl builds a “smart investor” according to his own political views. So is it plausible that no one from Wallstreet Online AG doubted the magazine or editor-in-chief before taking over the company?
Stefan Zmojda, CEO of the company, communicates this as follows: He has no overview of this network and also believes that he dares to “deduce the political proximity of certain groups” from the work of Flierl. Zmojda says his company is committed to investors, not to a theory like the Austrian school. Neither he nor Smartbroker CEO Thomas Soltau clearly distances himself from Flierl’s political views.