June 30, 2012


debt?You can repay a financial debt with money. What about nonfinancial debts?

When someone helps you in a powerful way, a debt of sorts has been created. That doesn't mean you can or must repay it.

Suppose you got an idea or an a-ha moment that changes your life. There's no possible way to repay the giver, even if they're “doing their job”  (e.g., your grade two teacher).

Maybe you got free publicity or an award nomination. An attempt to repay whoever referred or nominated you may look like a bribe and cheapen the gift.

You might never have met the source of the inspiration, which might be:
  • a song ("Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?" --- Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd)
  • a quote (e.g., "I am not bound to succeed but I am bound to live up to the light I have" --- Abraham Lincoln)
  • a movie scene (e.g., this time lapse at the end of Gangs Of New York, which is even more poignant with the loss of the twin towers)

Was the goal of your benefactor to create a debt you're meant to repay or were you given a no-strings-attached gift?

Here are two ways to (try to) repay
  1. Help others
  2. Shine your spotlight

Help Others

This is perhaps the best way. Do unto others. Pay it forward.

We know how other people can fix up their live ... but don't tell them how. How selfish of us. How unfortunate for them.

Are we afraid to give our opinions?

I have a habit of giving unsolicited feedback (blog post). This polarizes the recipients. In most cases they are appreciative. In rare cases, they are not interested in feedback. Either way, you get a better understanding of how that person is. To quote someone anonymous, a closed mind, like a closed room gathers only dust.

If they agree with your suggestions, do they actually change? If not, maybe they don't care enough to improve. At least you offered help.
Please don't say the first thing that comes to your lips or mind. Think. If you don't know how to give feedback, visit Toastmaster clubs. You can go for free with no obligation to join. You'll see how feedback is given to speakers and members with major roles. If you  join, you'll get to practice giving feedback in a safe environment.

Your feedback is simply your opinion. It's neither right nor wrong. The recipient needn't act upon it. You still benefit by having the courage to give it.

Shine The Spotlight

You can pay your benefactors with more attention. You become part of their tribe or group. You look out for them. Maybe you find opportunities for them. Perhaps you support their causes.

You can thank in public. In this way, you go on the record with your views. If they're on LinkedIn, write testimonials. I often occasionally get thanks, usually in person. That’s nice but of limited value since no one else knows. If you repeat the nice things said about you, you risk looking like you’re you’re praising yourself (and perhaps exaggerating).

Maybe you thank someone who goes bad later. That doesn't take away from the help they’ve given you. That does not mean that thanking them was a mistake.


In my case, Seth Godin has been especially influential. If he sent me a bill, I'd have trouble paying it. Instead, I read his blog, buy his books, support his initiatives (e.g. Triiibes.com), attend his events (e.g., The Linchpin Session) and share his ideas. Most recently, I helped fund the Kickstarter campaign for his next book, The Icarus Deception. Nothing I've done is major but it's sincere. It's better than silence.

How do you thank when you can't repay?


Podcast 175

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes
PS The summer holidays are now underway. Be mindful of the most dangerous part of driving.

June 23, 2012


Understanding the financial basics is important but boring. There’s also the risk of getting biased advice.

As a result, we may not know our 1-2-3s as well as our A-B-Cs (see the key to numeracy). Even if you think you do, a refresher can't hurt.

Where can we go for information we can trust? Bloggers and journalists are excellent sources. Reading isn’t always enough. There’s room for live events too.

Have you heard of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC)? This independent agency of the federal government was established in 2001 to educate and protect us. The FCAC developed the Financial Basics Workshop with the nonprofit Investor Education  Fund. Ryerson University hosted a session this week. We got refreshments and a helpful 50-page workbook with the unfriendly title "Participants' Handbook" (online version).

A boring topic requires an excellent speaker. We were lucky. We got Ellen Roseman.

Ellen Roseman

Ellen is an ideal choice. She's a consumer advocate backed by the clout of  The Toronto Star. I've read her articles and blog posts for years. This was the first time we met in person.

I was surprised that Ellen had so much energy. We needed that. The four hour seminar started at 5:30 PM --- my fourth and final event of a long day. Ellen had plenty of real world examples to supplement the workbook. She also encouraged and got lots of audience participation. We needed that too.


Lots of content got covered. Here are three highlights.
Barriers To Financial Goals
Longevity is an easy-to-overlook hurdle on the path to our financial goals: There are challenges with
We can't count on stable, secure, well-paying jobs with generous defined benefit plans for our retirement income. We're not helpless but do face big challenges.
Be Proactive
Companies make mistakes but the onus is on us to get corrections made. For example, you might get billed for an extra service you didn't want or thought you'd cancelled. If months or years pass, the vendor is less likely to correct their mistake.
Companies may introduce better deals but don’t wait for them to tell you how to save. The onus is on us to ask.
Loyalty/Retention Incentives
You may have supported some brands for years. You're making them profitable and they want to keep you. Yet special offers tend to target new customers. How do you monetize your loyalty? By negotiating a better deal. When calling, be firm, be polite and have copies of competitors’ offers. Ask for compensation for your time on hold (e.g., for the horror of Rogers “Ultimate” Internet).

Ellen noted that bankers are now like used car dealers: willing to negotiate.

Who Attended?

The room was full. There seemed to be 100-150 attendees. That's excellent, especially on a hot, humid evening. Hooray for air conditioning.

The audience was diverse, ranging from university students and older. Knowledge levels would have varied. They seemed to know of Ellen primarily from her Toronto Star column.

Measures Of Success

Does the workshop make a difference in the lives of attendees? I asked an FCAC representative. There isn't a good way of telling. There's a plan to ask attendees in the future.

Good intentions are easy to forget. Ongoing motivation takes effort. Perhaps attendees can get a newsletter with ongoing tips and reminders. There may be apps that help too. Peer support is probably the best. A 12-week program like Pick Four may be ideal if you have weekly check-ins.

Ultimately, what you get depends on your commitment and discipline.


The summer is a great time to build good habits. You can save money and improve your life by
  • walking or biking more
  • eating healthy, locally-grown fresh food (perhaps from your own garden)
  • finding ways to reduce or larger expenditures
You might want to attend a financial basics workshop the next time one’s offered near you.


Podcast 174

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes

PS Here’s a surprise: the FCAC YouTube channel has 3,116 views while mine has 3,790 views.

June 16, 2012


road to nowhereCompanies change in undesirable ways. These articles are from this week:


Earlier, we learned that
This week, there have been important changes in the Canadian life and health insurance business


We've looked at the challenges in the insurance world before: low investment returns, tough capital requirements.

Increasing rates is easy since competitors are now quick to follow. Exiting a market is a much tougher decision.


No company has announced major reductions in advisor compensation to dampen the price hikes. That’s tough for one company to implement. Since most advisors are independent, they'd simply start selling products from other companies.


What proactive advice has your advisor given you?

If you have term life insurance, maybe now's the time to exercise your option to convert to permanent protection without underwriting.

If you have savings in your permanent policy, when's the last time you got an updated projection to show how your policy is performing? You may need to add more money or adjust your investment choices or both.

You may want to add more coverage or more types of coverage while you can. Newer products tend to have higher prices and fewer guarantees. Newer products may have more tough-to-evaluate gimmicks to increase the perceived value.

The Future

Permanent life insurance has attractive tax advantages. The rules haven't changed since 1982. The 2012 federal budget is making changes that reduce the benefits.
A detailed discussion of the proposals is … better explained by an  actuary. --- FORUM (Jun/Jul 2012)
Please don’t ask me.

Permanent insurance helps you plan for the future decades in advance. However, insurers can't predict the future. When changes occur, they take corrective action.


You can't see the future no matter how much financial planning your advisor does for you. Maybe it's time to make your own hard decisions.

In times of turmoil, you see how well your advisor is serving you. This doesn't mean trying to sell you something new and shiny. This means contacting you to ensure you remain well protected.

You buy insurance for peace of mind ... or did.


Podcast 173

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes

PS Don’t panic. Take action instead.

June 9, 2012


dream jobWhat do you want to be when you grow up?

When we're kids, we have big dreams. We might want to become actor, athlete, astronaut, dancer, detective, doctor, garbage collector, judge, life guard, painter, police person, singer, spy, ticket collector, time traveller, train conductor, truck driver, vet, writer, zookeeper. Maybe with a generous dollop of rich and famous.

I wanted to be a firefighter. You race around in a red truck, blast the siren, save lives and spray water from a hydrant. You're allowed to play with matches and eat lots of pizza. What's not to like?

In this video, children describe their dreams.


The question for children is "what do you want to be" not "what do you want to do". What we do becomes what we are. The opinions of others also matter.

Did you ever meet a child who wanted to become an advisor?

The financial sector lies in the low trust world. As a child, you'd lose friends if you said you wanted to help people borrow more money than they could afford and kick them out of their homes when they couldn't pay. Or to get paid well for investment advice even when your clients lost money and sleep.

Plan B

Reality often intervenes and dampens dreams.

Becoming an advisor is rarely Plan A (or Plan B). The reason might be
  • Plan N
  • Relocation
  • Parents

Plan N

Plan N comes from Necessity. Maybe you got laid off in a tough job market.

The barriers to entering the world of commissioned sales are low and the potential rewards are high. Maybe becoming an advisor may look enticing.


Maybe you're a dentist or engineer from overseas. That won't buy you a coffee here. You may find that you can't get work in your field. There are still bills to pay. You may have considered yourself above commissioned sales but now you're willing to try.

Besides, you're better educated than most of the advisors you've met. They're making money without even understanding the products thoroughly. Why wouldn't you do at least as well?


Maybe your parents are advisors and close to retirement. You might want to take over. You'll get training from people you (probably) trust and preserve the family legacy.

Maybe you tried something else first but don't get the success you expected. The family business may be a good option.


Do advisors exude real passion in their work?

Maybe that’s because they didn’t aspire to become advisors. Their passion might lie elsewhere in things like vacations, hobbies and family. Does that affect the quality of the work they do and their commitment to improve to serve you better?

Why did your advisor become an advisor? Ask them.


Podcast 172

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes

PS Not many children aspire to become actuaries. We can’t all become firefighters.

June 2, 2012


French sculptor Victor Nicolas (1950)
There's a joy in meeting people who have a calling. They exude passion which spreads and inspires. In recent weeks, I’ve seen two excellent examples: Guillermo del Toro and Neil Hetherington.


Guillermo Del Toro conducted four Hitchcock Master Classes at TIFF. He spoke before and after each film. Guillermo has directed films like Pan's Labyrinth, The Devil's Backbone and Hellboy. He was to direct the long-awaited prequel to The Lord Of The Rings but left after two years (see How the Wall Street crisis hit The Hobbit, LA Times). He’s been in Toronto filming Pacific Rim (2013).

Guillermo taught a film class for five years and loves teaching. He said he said he'd be happy to teach every day of his life. This is easy to believe. His passion showed as he shared insights about Hitchcock. He's even written a book in Spanish about Hitchcock and may be updating it (English this time?).

Here's part of the Master Class on Shadow Of A Doubt (TIFF link).

This format isn’t the best for showing passion.


Neil Hetherington has been the CEO of Habitat For Humanity Toronto (website) since age 26 --- and he’s hardly old now. He spoke at the final event in the Alumni Western lecture series.

Habitat For Humanity helps low income families build and buy affordable homes with help from volunteers. Neil described what he does as his calling. That's easy to believe. He probably wields a hammer in his limited "spare" time.

I saw Neil at TEDxToronto in 2010, the only year I could get a ticket. Here's the teaser video.

Here is the full talk.


Passion shows when speakers answer questions. Not just a few and "I'm outta here" but many and with thoughtful responses.

Guillermo was gracious even when answering ignorant questions. He'd probe to find a real question to help the asker escape with grace. He took responsibility for not understanding rather than chiding the questioner. It's easy to imagine someone with an ego giving a curt, dismissive or flippant answer.

Neil also answered many questions and stayed behind for more. There was no sense of feeling rushed or that we were wasting his time. The number and quality of questions is a measure of how engaging the speaker was. Neil excelled.

There was no pressure to buy anything or a today-only, one-time-only special offer or plea. You can thank Guillermo by buying tickets to his movies (which is hardly punishment). You can thank Neil by donating time or money to Habitat For Humanity wherever you live in the world.

Fake Passion

In the world of sales, you may sense more passion in the selling than serving clients.
Multilevel Marketers
I’ve seen too many multilevel marketers this year (hence this post on the perils | podcast 160). They are enthusiastic ... but how passionate can they really get about the stuff they sell? Can pushing cheaper phone service or better detergent really be a calling?

The passion seems to be about making money for themselves. Isn't that closer to greed? It's interesting to watch them try to hook new recruits using money as the primary lure and measure of success. There really is more to life than what you own.
Some people with billions (or maybe just millions) want to share their secrets with you ... for a price. Take Donald Trump for example (see Too Good To Be True). How much must they have before they're willing to share for free? That's the way to make a real difference.
The financial world has zealots too. You're more likely to find them in the world of living benefits (income replacement insurance or critical illness insurance). They often have had personal experience with disability or a dread disease like cancer. You know the ending: insurance provided the money which made the difference. Otherwise the afflicted might have needed a home from Habitat For Humanity.

Now the speakers are evangelists spreading the word. That sounds great but there's a common flaw: a close-to-invisible digital tapestry. Where are their YouTube videos? Where are their ongoing blog posts or tweets? If the real goal is to educate, that's easy to do freely or for free.

There may be a conflict of interest if  they sell the solutions they promote or get paid by a vendor. There's nothing wrong with earning money but the source of revenue influences what’s said and --- more important --- what’s omitted.

For life insurance, we have the tales of Leslie Bibb and Lamar Odom. We also know how Steve Jobs "buttoned up" in his final years.

Your Passions

The real passion of the twentieth century is servitude.
--- Albert Camus
Let’s hope that’s not true. What are you passionate about? What do you do about your passions?


Podcast 171

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes

PS Do you surround yourself with passionate people?