October 25, 2008

Annoying Pest Or Welcome Guest? The Do Not Call List

Cold prospecting is like coal mining. It’s dirty, filthy, ugly, smelly, sweaty work best left to people who earn minimum wage with brawn, not maximum wage with brain. --- Dan Kennedy, Magnetic Marketing

There's lots of talk about the new National Do Not Call List (DNC) in Canada. As a consumer, you're probably happy. What about advisors trying to make a living? Some are concerned. Others aren't. 

Annoying Pest

You don't want to ignore a phone call at night because it could be important. We'd get calls from fax machines calling our fax machine. We didn't have one. So they'd call back again and again thinking our machine ran out of paper.  

Office fax machines still spew garbage faxes. You pay for the paper and ink. How annoying. There was no easy way to opt out until now. On a random day, I saw 27 wasted pages.

Email spam is annoying but it's easier to filter out --- 33 messages correctly tagged today. 

Telemarketing is the second worst pest. Calls at inconvenient times. Products and services you don't want or need.

Those days are now gone (with some exceptions).

The Most Annoying Remains

There's no relief for the most annoying pest: door-to-door solicitors. Two cute kids rang our doorbell and asked us to buy popcorn to support a cause we never hear about. I took the catalog. How can you refuse? The prices were $45-$55 on the open page. Yikes! Saying no then became easy.

Welcome Guest

You can easily joing the National Do Not Call registry. Online, you enter your phone number and confirm you're a human by typing an onscreen code. Here's the surprise. You don't even need to prove the phone number is yours. If you're not getting enough telemarketing, maybe someone opted you out. An act of random kindness. 

Unintended Side Effects

Before you choose your wish
You better think first.
With every wish there comes a curse.
--- Bruce Springsteen,
With Every Wish

Old techniques like cold calling may be dead. Advisors are generally told that they cannot call on behalf of a company and if they do, they'll pay the entire fine of $16,500 per incident. Ouch! 

Suppose you're my advisor and I give you a referral. If you phone, you're telemarketing and you don't have permission. I'd have to call on your behalf or you could send them a letter. 

Businesses seek ways to encourage you to contact them. We're already smothered by advertising but expect more. From those willing to spend. 


October 19, 2008

Losing Your Livelihood: Insuring Against The Risk

But there's things that'll knock you down you don't even see coming. And send you crawling like a baby back home. --- Bruce Springsteen - When You're Alone

Insurance reduces risk and provides peace of mind. We insure our lives, our cars, our homes. What about insuring our livelihood/income/job? Companies disappear and you could be in the wrong spot. What can you do? You can make yourself more employable by improving yourself. This doesn't guarantee success but certainly improves the probabilities.

In the Harvard Business Review, Janet Banks and Diane Coutu write about How To Protect Your Job In A Recession (September 2008). They have three recommendations
  1. Act like a survivor
  2. Give your leaders hope
  3. Be a team player
Act Like A Survivor
Over the years, I had staff seeking promotions or raises because they wanted more money. Or thought they did great work. Or thought they were indispensable. Those aren't good reasons. To earn more, do more than you're paid for. This applies whether times are good or bad.

Since we see better than we think, impressions can mean more than facts. If we act like winners, we get seen as winners and can become winners. Acting like a survivor helps you survive and become a survivor. Overcoming impressions takes time, during which we can improve our skills.

The Best Tactic
Survivors look forward to the future. The best way is by focusing on your customers, anticipating their needs and then satisfying them. Your customers can be inside or outside your organization. By proving your worth, you build your future at your company --- or another.
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. --- Viktor Frankl
How versatile are you? If you've built and maintained portable skills, you're valuable wherever you go. You might even find the courage or opportunity to do something fresh and more rewarding. For years, I developed/launched/marketed life and health insurance products. After "harmonization" into our much larger parent company in 2005, my role became redundant. Although I had no experience outside the "ivory tower", I eagerly switched to working with advisors and clients in the field. This new role is much more satisfying because I'm helping people directly and quickly. 

Give Your Leaders Hope
"The better your relationship with your manager, the less likely you are to be cut, all things being equal. Your ability to empathize can demonstrate a maturity that is invaluable to the company, not least because it models good behavior for others." --- Harvard Business Review, Sept 2008
How true. Leaders are people too. Chopping staff is not easy. As a head office actuary, I had to cut five from my team of ten during integration with the parent. Fortunately, their strong skills helped them land new positions.

Be A Team Player
"While everyone prefers working with a personable superstar to an incompetent jerk, when people need help getting a job done, they'll choose a congenial colleague over one who is more capable but less lovable." --- Sousa Lobo, Harvard Business Review
Likable trumps capable? That's tough to accept. But true. I learned this at The University of Western Ontario in 1984. Of the seventeen graduates in actuarial science, only four of us got job offers. What a shock since grads usually got multiple job offers. Three of us were the top students and got the best offers. The fourth was average but the most likable, which grads with higher grades found "unfair". 

I just checked the actuarial directory and don't see #4 listed. He probably failed the exams that lead to an actuarial designation and quit. Being capable also matters.


October 13, 2008

The Friendly Way: Remember The Milk And Everything Else

[Sep 12, 2009 update: see why Toodledo does more than Remember The Milk]

I can't forget but I don't remember what,
Leonard Cohen

I don't remember, I don't recall.
I got no memory of anything at all.
Peter Gabriel

Life gets complicated and sometimes you forget basics like getting milk. You need a system.

How To Remember Everything
In How To Never Forget Anything Again (4-Hour Workweek blog), you'll find the four essential habits for following a system
  1. Make a note immediately
  2. Use your lists and tools consistently
  3. Make usage quick and painless
  4. Archive and search instead of filing
That post lists various tools, including my favourite task manager.

The Ideal Task Manager
The ideal system for To Do lists must be
  1. inviting (i.e., easy to use)
  2. searchable
  3. accessible anywhere (online/offline, with/without a computer)
  4. automatically backed up for security
  5. sending reminders by email or text messages
  6. creating printable lists
  7. inexpensive
I've used different tools over the years. Paper is certainly available offline but where's your backup and how to you search for items? Microsoft Outlook looks ideal but has limited features and feels cumbersome. Google provides a virtual office with email, a calendar, and shared documents. But no task manager !?!

What can we use?

Remember The Milk (RTM)
Through Lifehacker, I discovered a nifty Australian website called Remember The Milk. With that name and the drawing of a cow, you know you're going to have a nice experience. You're right. Even the font feels friendly.

Other task managers feel daunting and judgemental. When you fall behind, you feel like you're being scolded. As the unfinished tasks pile up, it's easy to get overwhelmed and give up. Not with RTM. The cow is so inviting and nonjudgemental that you feel like coming back and getting on track.

Getting Things Done
There are many other sites that explain how to use Remember The Milk. I wanted to follow the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology. That means transferring all current and future tasks from my head into a trusted system. RTM "supports the five GTD workflow phases (Collect, Process, Organize, Review, and Do) in a seamless, automatic way" and this article from an expert user explains how.

Key Benefits
You can access Remember The Milk in many ways. I use the website, iGoogle, Google Calendar, Blackberry and offline with Google Gears. When I think of a new task --- even if years away --- I send an email to my RTM Inbox for later categorization. I send tasks to family members and we even haved several folders of shared tasks.

Each morning, I get an email showing the day's tasks. I sometimes printout the tasks for the upcoming week. Beautiful.

The Price Is Right
We actually didn't even have a business model until a year ago, when we figured out that working full-time, unpaid on RTM and spending all our money on hosting infrastructure for a growing service wasn't, like, the most sustainable idea ever. Whoops. --- Emily Boyd, co-founder
You know how the Internet has wacky business models? Well, Remember The Milk offers lots for free and doesn't even have ads. What good is remembering the milk without money to buy any? I upgraded to a Pro account for $25/year for thanks giving.


October 4, 2008

Keeping Promises: Do You Care About Corporate Governance Scores?

Broken promises don't upset me. I just think, why did they believe me?
 Jack Handy

We looked at the top life insurers by revenue, ranked by The Financial Post 500. Financial measures don't tell the whole story. This time we turn to the Globe & Mail which looks at Corporate Governance.

Corporate What?

A prince never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promise  Niccolo Machiavelli
A promise only matters if it's kept. Financial products and services are simply promises. How can you pick the companies most likely to keep their promises to you? You can look at how they are run. The Globe & Mail considers
  1. the composition of the board of directors
  2. shareholding and compensation
  3. shareholder rights
  4. disclosure
The "A" Dozen
A promise made is a debt unpaid  Robert Service
In financial services, only 12 companies score 80% or more in Corporate Governance
  1. Manulife (1st overall)
  2. TD (3rd)
  3. BMO (5th)
  4. RBC (5th)
  5. Sun Life (8th)
  6. TSX Group (13th)
  7. Scotiabank (18th)
  8. CIBC (18th)
  9. Industrial Alliance Group (21st)
  10. Home Capital Group (23rd)
  11. National Bank (30th)
  12. Brookfied Asset Management (45th)
Highest doesn't mean best (recall GM vs BMW) but higher means better. Here's the full list, and a summary in table at the right (click to enlarge). 

Here's the shock. Some big names don't even make the top 100!?!  Maybe Canadians don't care  or are unaware  of the immense swings.