June 28, 2014


Rogers certified Internet speeds
Internet service isn’t cheap. How do you know if you’re getting the speeds you’re promised (and paying for)? You can’t tell unless you monitor regularly. You then have a baseline for comparison.
Your Own Tests
You can run your own tests with Ookla SpeedTest from your browser or as an app on your mobile device. For better results
  • measure via a wired Internet connection (Plan B: use a wireless device close to your WiFi source)
  • disconnect all other devices accessing the Internet (Plan B: accept lower results)
Note: The speed over WiFi is lower, fluctuates and varies by room. One reason to get a faster plan is to accommodate these drops. (Related: How to get your wireless Internet working)

If the results are far from what you expect, call your provider to find out what’s wrong.
Detailed Monitoring
Rogers is the only Internet provider in Canada with certified speeds. We’re part of the independent monitoring via SamKnows. Our service is monitored 24/7 and we can see the detailed reports ourselves. That’s how we find out and verify problems.

Speed Today

Our Rogers Ultimate unlimited plan promises 150 Mbps downloads and 10 Mbps uploads. We routinely get faster downloads (about 190 Mbps) and slightly faster uploads (about 11 Mbps). Since our service is reliable and stable, we don’t routinely check the performance.

Our speed today is much lower than usual — about 100 Mbps (blue line in graph below) instead of 150 (the red line). That’s too big difference to ignore.
speed today

Speed This Month

This month, our service started deteriorating on the 10th. That’s when the blue line dropped below the red line below. We noticed but didn’t notice because our service was still fast. That’s another reason to get a faster plan.
speed this month
Anomalies happen and are usually fixed quickly. I called Rogers. They said our Internet signal strength has dropped to marginal levels. They’re sending a technician tomorrow.

Speed This Year

Overall, Rogers is excellent at delivering consistent fast speeds. This graph of speed year-to-date shows this. The last slowdown was minor, months ago and quickly fixed. At that time, there was apparently a problem affecting the neighborhood, perhaps caused by the polar vortex.speed this year


Just because speeds are independently certified doesn’t mean you’re getting them or will keep getting them.

Without monitoring, we might not have called Rogers. It’s easy to think that slowdowns are caused by other users, including family members. If we checked the monitoring more regularly, we would have had a fix earlier.


PS We upgraded our unlimited plan from 150/10 plan to 250/20. Is Hybrid Fibre better? I’ll share details once our service is fully functional.

June 22, 2014


dog with questionsIf you're looking for an insurance advisor, you’ve got lots of choices. Before picking one, interview several and ask questions, including these six.

1. How Did You Get Into The Insurance Business?

This is an indirect way of asking why they decided to sell insurance. Who grows up aspiring to get into commissioned sales? Are they part of a family business? Couldn’t they find another job?

One advisor may look much like another. When you start with why (see Simon Sinek’s TED Talk), you often find big differences.

2. What Products Are You Licensed To Sell?

Many advisors are reluctant to "leave money on the table". They may sell a range of products like life insurance, health insurance, employee benefits, mutual funds, segregated funds, annuities and mortgages. You'll often see what they provide on their business cards and websites.

Did you buy your last TV at a department store?

One-stop shopping may look appealing but can an advisor really master everything? You could hire specialists instead. A plumber, electrician and painter each have much more practical experience than a handyman.

3. Which Companies Do You Have Contracts With?

A captive advisor is like a commissioned employee and only allowed to sell what that company permits — which may be less competitive and less flexible. The advisor’s business card often has the name of the company, rather than their own brand.

An independent advisor can have a contract with most insurance companies. To get business, the insurers must be competitive. Since products and procedures differ, an advisor cannot realistically know them all well. Advisors often do most of their business with several insurers.

Variants: which companies’ products do you not sell? Why?

4. What Designations Do You Have (And What Do They Mean)?

The world of life insurance is especially complicated because you're dealing with risk, accounting, investing and law. Assessing your needs and developing optimal solutions takes skill. Yet selling insurance requires little more than passing a multiple choice exam.

The better advisors take the time to earn designations that require some effort. Look for a CFP (Certified Financial Planner), or — better still --- a CLU (Chartered Life Underwriter). These designations impose additional standards of conduct on their members. For instance, there are requirements for continuing education.

Ask advisors what their designations mean, how much continuing education is required and why they matter.

5. What Associations Do You Belong To?

There's no self-regulating association to which insurance advisors must belong. There are for accountants, actuaries, doctors, engineers and lawyers. The associations can investigate and discipline members for misconduct. The processes may not be perfect, but they're well intentioned.

Insurance advisors aren't required to belong to any association. In Canada, the main association for advisors is called Advocis. It’s reasonable to expect advisors to belong, though some prefer the Independent Financial Brokers (IFB). Advocis has an sister organization for top advisors called Conference for Advanced Life Underwriting (CALU). There’s also the Million Dollar Roundtable (MDRT).

Associations promote the interests of their members. Yet some advisors won't join. They get the benefits from the lobbying the associations do without spending a penny. What moochers! If they'll take shortcuts like this, be wary.

6. Where Is Your Blog?

Advisors often acknowledge they should have a blog but they don’t have time, they don’t know how, they aren’t convinced of the ROI, …

Advisors can create and publish their original content through a blog (or podcast or video). LinkedIn is an excellent, easy-to-use platform. How often do they publish? How much do they publish? When did they last publish?

There are many advisors but only one you. Why not take the time to find the right advisor for you?


PS For fun, ask “are you a fiduciary with a legal obligation to put my best interests first”?

June 15, 2014


The magic of levitation
Insurance advisors love referrals but why would you bother giving them? They sell the same products from the same insurance companies at the same prices. What really sets an advisor apart?

The potential advisor must show they are significantly better or different to overcome the client's inertia. As with other consumer goods, packaging helps.

A common approach among insurance advisors is claiming to offer “exclusive” financial strategies. There’s a risk with financial innovation but there’s an allure too. The advisor might sell something different, but at least they got to meet the prospect. The “10-8” insured leveraging strategies were often used as door-openers, though the 2013 federal budget reduced their appeal.

Before giving a referral, consider these questions.

Do you understand the strategy?

If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.
— Albert Einstein
Just because you don’t understand a magic trick like levitation doesn’t mean you can believe your eyes. Insurance strategies are designed to look appealing and plausible. Advisors are trained to look knowledgeable and sincere.

Results which look too-good-to-be-true, might be. Assumptions and interpretations affect the results in ways that may not be obvious.

What if the advisor is wrong?

You likely aren't an expert in what the advisor is selling. You might not be especially interested in the details. If the advisor is wrong, what's the worst that could happen?

You're a steward with an obligation to protect your connections. What happens to your relationships and credibility if you make a bad referral because you didn’t do enough checking?

What makes the new advisor a better choice?

Unless the new advisor seems better, why go through the hassle of switching? The new advisor might appear more innovative, more knowledgeable and better at providing ongoing service. That doesn't mean you get what you see. Advisors are trained at prospecting. The successful ones get very good at building rapport and getting business.

What makes the advisor a true expert?

The only source of knowledge is experience.
— Albert Einstein
Advisors get rewarded for selling. Success requires being good at that. Once they've found a prospect, they can bring in other people to help them. I was a resource for them when I worked for insurance companies.

It's unrealistic to expect an advisor to be an expert in the technical details, the substance. They are rewarded for creating the sizzle that marks the start of the sales process and the closing at the end. They get help in the middle.

Think of buying a car. You start with the salesperson, talk to a service advisor for maintenance, have the work done by a technician and pay the service reception desk. This division of roles is more efficient and provides you with better service.

To get more than sizzle. Who taught the advisor? Who supports the advisor?

Does the advisor claim to have unique strategies?

The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.
— Albert Einstein
If an advisor claims to have have something unique, you may not be getting the whole story. The only difference may be in the packaging. Ultimately, you get the same product from the same insurance company at their normal price.

When I was the product actuary at National Life, we created white label products like MD Life Plan (sold to doctors) and TD Universal Life (sold to bank clients). These products performed better than our normal products because the compensation was lower. Other advisors who sold our products were not pleased that we were helping their competition. Sales suffered. Lesson learned. Future white label products had our normal street pricing and differed only in packaging (e.g., exclusive investment choices in UL).

What are the potential side effects?

A fiduciary like a doctor, lawyer or accountant has a legal responsibility to tell you about side effects from a recommendation. Salespeople need not unless you ask.

For instance, when I got my first SUV, I wasn't told the tires only lasted 40,000 km and that replacements cost $500-$700 each! I wasn’t told how pricey the scheduled maintenance was either. Caveat emptor in action.

Who is the supporting the advisor working?

Advisors need help with complex strategies. Asking for help creates obligations to
  • sell higher compensation options to "feed" the extra mouths
  • sell products from a specific insurer if getting help from them
  • close sales to get the revenue
If an advisor claims to be working alone, be wary. That’s unlikely. Life insurance combines the specialized worlds of risk, accounting, investment and law. How well could one person know all of them?

How forthright is the advisor?

"It's the words that we don't say that scare me so."
— Elvis Costello, Accidents Will Happen
A forthright advisor tells you what you ought to know before you ask.

Have you been given adequate information about the advisor's hidden incentives (e.g., commissions, bonuses, conventions), the downsides, the reasonability of the assumptions used or the alternatives? You may have difficulty figuring out what's left out, which makes it tougher to ask the right questions and gauge the responses.

What does Google say?

Experts publish and get interviewed. Is the advisor an expert?

Do a web search for the advisor’s original content. In particular, look at their LinkedIn profiles. What have they published there? How recently? How many readers do they have?

Nothing stops advisors from creating and publishing quality content continually — except themselves. Their digital tapestry shows the past and may predict future performance.

Why does the advisor need your help?

If you bought what the advisor wants to sell to your connections, you have a reason to tell the ones who might benefit.

If you didn't buy, you don't have direct experience with the advisor’s full process. That’s a reason to be more cautious. The post-sale service might not meet your pre-sale expectations.

Who backs the promises?

Things can go wrong. What then? What is the advisor guaranteeing? The fineprint often tells you to get independent advice, which is a way to transfer responsibility from your advisor.

If you're using standard strategies backed by mega-insurance companies with solid corporate governance, they have incentives to fight on your behalf. For 10-8 insured leveraging, insurers fought all the way to the Supreme Court. If you're buying an “exclusive” for-your-eyes-only strategy, who can you count on?

What’s your reward?

Advisors might pay you a referral fee if a sale occurs. This is illegal in Ontario but still happens. If you're getting rewarded for giving referrals, your objectivity may suffer --- even if you think you're unbiased. It's tempting to believe what makes us money. It's not as if people are forced to work for tobacco companies or today's equivalents like processed foods.

Would you make a referral for free? If not, should you for money?


PS Buyer beware. Referrer beware too.

June 8, 2014


Jack Bauer 24
We can learn valuable lessons about money from Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) and others in the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) . Here are five.

1. Communicate Clearly

When time is tight, every word and second matters. In 24, you know what’s said and what’s meant. Simple questions get asked if there’s a need for clarification or confirmation.

Does your advisor have a clear understanding of what you want? Your goals and priorities may have changed since your last meeting. Advisors are not mind readers and may not be proactive. Tell them.

Conversely, your advisor also has an obligation to communicate clearly with you. If you don’t understand, ask. Since you’re paying, you’re in charge. Get your money’s worth.

2. Trust With Caution

The world of 24 is filled with mistrust. You can't tell who’s telling the truth or how long the honest will stay truthful. The stakes are very high and human motivation is complicated. There are conflicting interests. The losers don't accept defeat willingly.

Defiance harms trust. When people think they're doing right, they may bend rules, violate direct orders and tell blatant lies. The bad people have an advantage because they aren't constrained by rules of law.

Building relationships is a key strategy for advisors. Relationships help retain you as a client and make you more receptive to advice. As the years pass, you can become more vulnerable. For instance, Tom Hanks got cheated by his insurance advisor but the process took years. In 24, the process is much faster.

3. Each Moment Is Unpredictable

The world of 24 is filled with twists and shocks. We don't know what’ll happen in the next moment or next hour. That’s true in real life too.

On 24, we know Jack will overcome setbacks and achieve the key goal. Our lives have drama but don't come with the same assurances. Unpredictable events like injury, sickness or death are rare in our working lives (low probability) but can cause serious financial hardship (high severity). Insurance is a cost-effective way to transfer the risks.

4. We All Need Help

Jack is the main character but he relies on help from many others. Sometimes he asks the wrong person but things eventually work out. Diligence is important. Keep inspecting what you're expecting.

Since each organization has different strengths and limitations, Jack gets help from different places (CTU, FBI, the NSA, the President). If you rely on advisors from the same firm, you get convenience but risk unknown compromises. You get more options with independent outside advisors.

Sometimes Jack can’t get the help he needs because the providers havce conflicting interests. The good of the many can take precedence over one life. That makes sense unless you’re the one. That’s when you need to look out for yourself.

5. Be Flexible

Events don’t happen as expected. When a plan fails in 24, Jack and team make instant changes with minimal discussions based on the little information they have.

Our own lives often lack the excitement a viewing audience demands. That's good. Precautions like insurance reduce the drama further.

After all, Jack Bauer and CTU are forms of insurance — well worth the premiums.


PS We never watch 24 before. Thanks to Netflix, we’re well into the third season.

June 1, 2014


The Global Change Initiative
The first-ever Global Change Initiative (@CSLCsummit) took place from Friday evening until Sunday evening at Toronto City Hall (May 30-Jun 1, 2014). The location makes a big difference. We were in the Council Chambers. The acoustics are terrific — even for music. The tireless organizer is Dev Ramsumair  I spoke about Right is Might: Social Justice and Corporate Profits. I’ll let you know when the recording gets released.

I’ve never been to an event like this. I’m picky about exchanging business cards and this was the first time I ran out.

Extreme Variety

You can see speakers on different topics at TEDx events and elsewhere. The Global Change Initiative did too, plus extras like Livegreen Toronto 2014 awards

A Standout Presentation

One presentation which wasn’t recorded won’t leave my head. Kelly Drennan of Fashion Takes Action talked about sustainability. Did you know that
  • unsold clothing often ends up in landfill rather than getting donated
  • you’ll spot the new ‘in’ colours by looking at the dyed waterways near the factories
  • 2/3 of the environmental harm from fashion occurs once we have bought the clothing
Carol Roberts (speaker) and Dev Ramsumair (organizer)Sometimes you don’t recognize the calibre of the people you already know. I was delighted by the interactive presentation by Carol Roberts of Stellar By Choice (@CarolLeads) who helped close the conference. She’s been a peer mentor for years but I never saw her speak before.

Extended Length

Many events last one day and leave you numb. There’s something magical about meeting new acquaintances for 2-3 days in a row. You get time to build a relationship and follow up on conversations. Podcamp Toronto runs two days but all eight TEDx events I’ve attended end in a day (unless you go to the after-party).

The Global Change Initiative took place over a weekend. That reduced time away from work and made the conference feel more relaxing.

Live streaming

Supporters and endorsersI’m not a big fan of live video streaming. Unless you’re attending in person, you won’t get the same experience but you’re still committing time. I’d rather watch the videos afterwards when I can pause, fast forward and skip selections.

The Global Change Initiative was recorded using the many cameras built into the Council Chambers. The recordings are to be released during the year with promotion by reddit. That’s different, easier to consume and builds interest in next year’s event.

You Are Not Alone

In the 4-Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferriss reminds us that there are many causes and there’s no value in a my-cause-is-better-than-your-cause argument. Luckily, different causes attract different people. I talked to supporters of initiatives like patient advocacy (@Piroska_Bata), educating children in Vietnam (HelpKidsToSchool.org) and seals of approval for health care products (@CleanCareSeal). As you likely know, my cause is financial education through Money 50/50, this blog and Taxevity.

I was surprised at the similarity in the challenges and techniques advocates can use. In hindsight, this is now “obvious”. Whatever you do, you’re bound to find help in unexpected places.

Overall, The Global Change Initiative created a wonderful feeling that continues to linger.


PS A highlight for some was sitting in Rob Ford’s chair.

PPS Here's my slide deck