June 29, 2013


Yesterday, I heard that Rogers offers Internet plans with unlimited data. Could this be true? Here’s what Google shows.


The Content Disappeared

I clicked and found the page was empty. The link isn’t broken but the content is gone.
missing content (click to enlarge)

Google To The Rescue

Now I was curious. Luckily, Google saved a copy of the page eight days earlier. The unlimited option is “Now Available until June 30th”. Does this mean the bandwidth caps return on July 1st? Probably not. The offer probably means you must get the option before the deadline but can keep it “forever”.
Google saved a copy of the missing page (click to enlarge)
The offer looks real and with no sneaky  fine print. The price isn’t too crazy either (an extra $30 per month). I thought there might be daily limits, restrictions during busy periods or bandwidth throttling. There’s no mention but maybe those things happen. Years ago, my Bell mobile plan had “unlimited” data [don’t ask the price] but I was told that meant 5 GB.

Your Call Is Important To Us

I phoned Rogers to get the unlimited data. Since my call is important to them, I got put on hold for minutes. Finally, I spoke to a rep. He confirmed the $30 offer was available and that unlimited meant unlimited. Why wasn’t I told about the option? He said the plan was unadvertised: you must phone in to ask. How is that fair?

The Shock

In passing, I asked for confirmation that we’re really on the 150 Mbps plan. He checked and said … no. We’re on a 75 Mbps plan. This came as a shock but explains things.

Some months ago, I asked about upgrading from 75 Mbps to 150 Mbps. I was told the new Ultimate plan cost $123 per month but we were grandfathered at our current rate of $103 per month. We just needed to upgrade our modem to get the higher speeds. This cost an extra $1 per month (an increase from $7 to $8). That seemed fair but why hadn’t Rogers told us proactively?

Less Than Expected

From our bill, we thought we had been upgraded because we were paying for the better modem. However, our Internet service deteriorated.
Rogers bill doesn't show the plan speed (click to expand)
We weren’t getting double the old speed. Even worse, we had intermittent problems. We’d lose our Internet connection or get painfully slow speeds at times (even when using our our wireless router). I called for technical support several times. They couldn’t find a problem. I was never told that we weren’t getting 150 Mbps because we on the same 75 Mbps plan.


Thanks to SamKnows, we can now see our actual Internet speeds. We’re shown as being on the 75 Mbps plan but we’re getting a faster speed consistently (perhaps due to the modem or improved service from Rogers). That’s terrific … except we thought we were on the 150 Mbps plan.
SamKnows reports on real performance (click to enlarge)
How could we tell we were getting fooled?

The Misleading Account information

unable to access account (click to enlarge)
Our account was inaccessible after the switch to unlimited data. Perhaps that’s because the changes were being made. When I got through, I couldn’t find any indication that we were on an 75 Mbps plan.
no mention of speed (click to enlarge)
How could you possibly tell that you’re on the less-than-Ultimate plan? The plan options do not show the 75 Mbps plan.
all the Rogers plans (click to enlarge)While we’re here, notice the jump in price from
  • 45 Mbps (Extreme Plus): $75
  • 150 Mbps (Ultimate): $123
There is definitely room for 75 Mbps plan and a 100 Mbps plan. Yet none are offered.


What are you really getting from your Internet provider? Don’t trust what you’re told verbally. Find out what speed your plan actually offers. Ask about an unlimited option since that’s very useful if you backup data online or watch Netflix in HD. You also get peace of mind.
We’ve been fooled by Rogers in at least three ways:
  1. We thought we had been upgraded to a faster Internet plan.
  2. We had performance problems for months after the “upgrade”.
  3. We didn’t know we could get unlimited data.
We’ve been paying the full price that Rogers intended but didn’t get what (we thought) Rogers promised. Buyer beware … again.


Podcast 226

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes

PS Would you rather have faster Internet access or unlimited data?

June 22, 2013


bad chocolate
I like chocolate.
I don't like price-fixing.
I hate salmonella poisoning.

The quest for money leads to bad behaviour.

After a five year investigation, three major chocolate makers got charged with price-fixing this month (Toronto Star, Jun 6, 2013):
  • Hershey (Kisses, Oh Henry, Reese. Skor)
  • Mars (Bounty, Mars, M&M, Snickers)
  • Nestle (Aero, After Eight, Kit Kat, Smarties)
A national distributor, ITWAL is charged too.

What About Cadbury?

Cadbury (Caramilk, Crunchie, Dairy Milk, Wunderbar) is noticeably absent from the price-fixing charges. They got immunity by reporting the problem to Competition Bureau in 2007.


Yesterday, Hershey pleaded guilty and has been fined $4 million (CBC News, Toronto Star, Jun 21, 2013). This is lenient because Hershey informed the Competition Bureau in 2007, cooperated with the investigation, didn’t implement the price increases and fired the people involved.

Class Actions

The companies already paid $23.2 million to settle class action lawsuits:
  • Cadbury: $5.7 million (seems odd since they weren’t charged with price-fixing)
  • Hershey: $5.3 million
  • Mars: $3.2 million
  • Nestle: $9 million
They didn’t admit any wrongdoing, but since when do companies spend millions without a reason?

Making More Money

There are various ways to make more money such as increasing efficiency (e.g., Walmart), using cheaper ingredients and making more desirable products (e.g., Apple).

How do you charge higher-than-market prices when what you sell is much like a commodity? If you try, your competitors might grab market share and force you to drop your price unless buyers must have your brand. For many products, price affects demand. You may be willing to pay more for Coke than Pepsi. As the gap grows, you'll likely decide that Pepsi is a suitable substitute.

There are other games that companies can play. Different chocolate bars have different weight and ingredients. You can boost profits by using cheaper ingredients with names that people can't pronounce. You can reduce the package size. Rather, you can keep the package the same size but reduce the weight and volume of the contents. You'll likely be caught by a blogger somewhere but may not get enough publicity to affect sales.

Another way to boost profits is to get competitors to raise their prices too. If there's no cheaper option, buyers can't save by switching. This is price-fixing and illegal. There are numerous examples. Here is a small sampling from around the world:
  • British Airways: $547 million fine for fuel surcharges (CNN, Aug 2007), cut in half last year (The Telegraph, Apr 2012)
  • Cathay Pacific Airways: fined $1.5 million (The Standard, Jun 21, 2013)
  • De Beers: $295 million (Star Tribune, May 2013)
  • Electronics makers (LG, Panasonic, Phillips, Technicolor, Toshiba): fined $1.92 billion (New York Times, Dec 2012)
  • LCD makers: fined $585 million (New York Times, Nov 2008)
  • Mastercard and Visa: $7.25 billion for interchange fees (Bloomberg, May 25, 2013)
  • North Face: $4.62 million (Korea Times, Apr 2012)
  • Penguin: fined $75 million for ebooks (Apple Insider, May 2013)
  • Samsung ($22.6M) and Hynix ($15.6M) for DRAM prices (newswire.ca, May 31, 2013)
Since competitors tend to match price points, it's difficult to tell whether collusion is taking place. Sometimes we find out thanks to insiders.

Tainted Chocolate

While price-fixing is bad enough, you wouldn't want to get salmonella poisoning too.
November 2006
Back in November 2006, Hershey recalled 25 products for possible contamination before anyone got sick (CBC News). The ingredient and cause were known but the public was never informed (Food Production Daily). At least the company acted appropriately. They now leave our story and the real culprits enter.
June 2007 (7 months later)
The recalled chocolate was to be destroyed but pallets were stolen from a recycling depot. The chocolate was sold in convenience stores in southern Ontario (CBC News).

Thieves are in the business of stealing but don’t vendors care about their customers? The stores probably bought the tainted chocolate at a discount and figured that no one would know since you can't tell by looking at the label or the chocolate. Why would you even check when you trust the store to sell fresh product? If you did get sick, how would you know the cause? You might even forget you bought the chocolate.
Oct 2008 (2 years later)
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency found that tainted chocolate was still on sale in Toronto two years later (CBC News). They found 640 bad chocolate bars in five stores. Who knows what they missed.

Chocolate doesn't stay fresh that long. Maybe the bars don't have Best Before dates. Imagine how much chocolate was stolen for some to remain available two years later.
Who’s on the side of your sweet tooth?


Podcast 225

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes

PS Let's see what happens when Mars and Nestle go on trial in October

June 15, 2013


Tom Hanks in The Green Mile posterSurvey says … the most trusted public person in the US is Tom Hanks. That’s according to Readers Digest this month.

Why Tom?

How would the public know if Tom is trustworthy?

It’s not as if they know him personally. Still, they perceive him as trustworthy and that becomes their reality. Tom seems likeable and usually plays a “good guy” in movies.

What Happened?

from the court documentsHow did Tom think he got cheated? His insurance advisor (Jerry B Goldman) charged more than list price for coverage for 13 years (1998 to 2011).

This was not obvious  the invoices — inflated by up to 600% — were on the advisor’s letterhead. For some unexplained  reason payments were made to the advisor instead of directly to the insurers. The advisor remitted the correct premiums and kept the rest.

Tom and his wife Rita Wilson claimed a loss of over $316,000. Other clients were also tricked leading to total alleged losses of $800,000.

SNAGHTML46586cWouldn’t you want copies of your insurance policies? The advisor provided copies of the real policies but blacked out (redacted) the premiums. Why didn’t that raise questions?

The Detective

The discrepancies were uncovered by Tom’s new insurance advisor who was concerned that the premiums looked too high.
Why weren’t the problems discovered earlier?

The accountant — often the most trusted financial advisor — might have recommended an independent review of the coverage and premiums. Or questioned why premiums were not going directly to the insurers. Or asked to see the insurance policies without redaction.


The advisor agreed to plead guilty. Unfortunately, the details are behind the law360 paywall.


As we know, the untrustworthy take advantage of others. However, being trustworthy doesn’t help you detect the untrustworthy. You might even be easier to fool if you treat others as innocent until proven guilty.

Advisors are actors too. You’re seeing a performance they’ve perfected over the years. That doesn’t mean they are the character they portray. Unless you see them again and again with different clients in different situations, how could you possible know?

The characteristics of a trustworthy face (click to read article on rd.com)Tom Hanks has facial characteristics give the appearance of trustworthiness (click on the photo to read the article for explanations). Looks deceive. I can’t find photos of Tom’s advisor online. Maybe he also had the right look?
Assuming someone is trustworthy because you like them is risky.

Chemistry easily fools people. Divorce is evidence. So much for “till death do us part”.

Don’t follow others because they can be fooled too. It’s easy to fool some of the people some of the time. In that state, they may fool others unintentionally. We still fall for magic tricks even though we know they’re tricks. The advisor also fooled
  • Andy Summers, guitarist for The Police
  • Sam Raimi, director of Spider-Man 3
Insurance comes from an insurer not an intermediary like an advisor. Get statements directly from the insurer. Make payments directly to the insurer.

The World’s A Stage

Not all actors are on the stage or screen. You meet some in person and you can’t always tell they’re performing — and for their benefit.


Podcast 224

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes

PS  Readers Digest removed the three most trusted from the list: your own doctor, your own spiritual advisor and your own child’s current teacher.

June 8, 2013


fenced in
When you move, your advisor will likely want to keep you as a revenue stream. Is this really to your advantage? Long distance relationships face challenges.

Why Stay?

It's easy to stay with your old advisor since you don't need to do much beside provide a change of address. You can then spend your time on bigger decisions. You can get service over the phone or by email. You probably don't see your advisor often anyway. Perhaps your advisor will come to visit his/her clients in your new city on occasion. Maybe you go to the old city on occasion anyway and could meet then.

If your advisor spends money on client appreciation events, how do you attend? That’s probably not a big deal. Maybe service is.
Limited Choices
Suppose your advisor lives hours away and prepares a proposal for you to buy from Company A. If you want changes which make Company W a better choice, what happens if the advisor doesn’t have the proper paperwork? Will you be encouraged to buy from A or have to reschedule?
Suppose your advisor-from-afar returns home and then discovers that you missed a signature. What happens now? For 10 years, two advisors forged signatures “for their clients’ convenience to avoid clients having to attend to paperwork” (Toronto Star, Apr 2012). They were fired, paid $300,000 in fines and remain in business. Maybe you’d rather do without that “convenience”. In case you’re curious, WikiHow explains how to forge a signature.
When you buy life or health insurance, the coverage does not go into effect the day you’re approved. You must wait until you pay the first premium and sign the delivery receipt, which confirms that nothing material has changed (e.g., in your health). When your advisor is out of town, could your delivery be delayed?

Why Switch?

Your new local advisor will give you more attention in the beginning. Partially, that's an attempt to sell you something else. You don't need to agree but you may benefit from getting new options.

If you were observant, you'll have a sense of what bothered you about your old advisor. You can find a new one without those flaws.
I had a distant investment advisor send one of my blog posts to clients under his own name. I knew I had to switch then. You can't trust a plagiarist. We still haven't seen the resurrection of Jonah Lehrer or Chris Spence.
When you "buy local", you get better service and help the local economy thrive. You’ll likely pay the same or less.


Maybe you keep what you've got with the old advisor and get a new advisor for additional purchases. Now you can compare. That can help you switch to one later. In the meantime, won’t both try harder?

You'll get reasons to bundle your business with one advisor. That's clearly better for the advisor but how do you benefit. If you're using a true fee-only financial planner, where you have your financial products doesn't matter.

Advisors talk about "building a fence" around a client. That's done by selling you multiple products. The thinking is that inconvenience of switching makes you more docile.


When you move away, you’re older and wiser. You have an excellent chance to escape. Just say you'd rather deal with a local advisor. That's plausible and likely beneficial.


Podcast 223

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes

PS You'll probably want to find a local plumber and babysitter too.

June 1, 2013


bad to worse?Here’s a recent email conversation with minor editing, names changed and personal information removed. Prudence is helping her parents switch investment advisors.
Prudence: Incidentally, I interviewed a guy from (NEW FIRM) who is fee-only. He was ethical and his investment philosophy matches my own. 

This was for my parents as they are not happy with the (CURRENT FIRM) guy. We will test him out (this was his suggestion) with some money to see how he does. The rest will be managed on the discount brokerage side.
Me: I doubt that you'll find anyone at a bank who is true fee-only. The model isn't profitable enough. You probably are dealing with a fee-based advisor who charges a flat percentage of the assets managed (e.g., 1% to 2%). That's essentially an annuity for the seller. Advisors tend to switch to this model as their portfolios grow because it's even more profitable that getting commissions/bonuses on trades. The optics look good — a semblance of transparency. There's now a perverse incentive. The advisors make the most money when they do the least work for the client. Yet clients don't seem to notice or mind that the advisor is spending more time prospecting than serving their needs.

How can you tell if the advisor is ethical, rather than a great salesperson?
Prudence: I put everything on the table at the meeting with the planner and my parents at their home. It was transparent from the beginning. 

(NEW ADVISOR) is fee-only planner my parents are dealing with at (NEW FIRM). He was great and I put him through the ringer with questions about fees (1% to 1.5% of assets), due diligence, educating the investor,  investment vehicles and how he selects investments to buy. He answered all my questions and disclosed things I did not ask about.  We also discussed the methods and models he used to select stocks, ETFs and other non-MER investments. I agree with them. 

He suggested we not give him the full lump sum and test him to see if he can deliver based on the risk tolerance of my parents. They are targeting 5% to 7% annual returns. 

Do you recommend I take steps to check that (NEW GUY) is in good standing? Any direction would be welcome. My parents currently have a guy at (OLD PLACE) (I was upset they went here), who is pretty lousy. 

The (OLD ADVISOR) put $5,000 of my mom's TFSA money into a high risk investment, which violates her risk tolerance and assessment. We are in the process of getting that money back before we sever ties with the planner and his firm due to unethical practices. 

(NEW ADVISOR) said financial investment firms often pay the investor their money back if the planner acted against the investor's risk assessment, which seems to be the case. We will be drafting a letter for the Ombudsman and then meet with the planner’s boss or director. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Me: What you got looks like the standard sales job from a polished advisor.

You are NOT dealing with a fee-only advisor (gets paid an hourly rate and does not do the investing). You are dealing with a fee-based advisor (gets paid based on the size of the portfolio not the actual work). Do you write cheques to this advisor or to the bank? If the cheques are going to the bank, the advisor is getting paid by the bank. The advisor is not working for you unless you — and only you — pay them.

You know what the advisor charges but not what the advisor gets paid. You don't know if there are other incentives behinds the scenes or what performance criteria are demanded. For instance, there can be incentives/quotas to encourage sales of insurance or other products. If you're buying ETFs, paying 1%+ seems pricey. You're paying extra for the overheads and profit margins of the bank. 

You might want to ask if the advisor is a fiduciary with a legal responsibility to put your best interests first. The financial sector is fighting against a move from the much weaker suitability standard. Here's an article from this week supporting the industry. Here's one from Rob Carrick supporting the public.

You'll have trouble getting objective independent advice unless you go to a true fee-only financial planner (I thought I sent you some names). You seem to be dealing with an experienced salesman, which is fine unless you think you're getting something different.
Prudence: Based on your comments, there is no rush to make a quick decision. This is a good month to interview other financial planners. I will start with the list you gave me. If you have anyone else to add, please let me know. Much appreciated.


I looked up the potential advisor online. Despite his years of experience, I found no signs of visible expertise. No articles. No interviews. No video. No endorsements or testimonials on LinkedIn. The corporate website allows advisors to show their designations, photos and have some personalization. This advisor hasn’t bothered. How does silence, inattention and  invisibility build trust?

Prudence is investing time to help her parents make a wise decision. Not everyone is as patient. Imagine the mistakes that get made every day. Buyer beware.


Podcast 222

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes

PS How carefully do you select your advisors?