January 28, 2012


Pick Four coverGoals, goals, goals. Many systems help you reach them. By experimenting, you'll select or create system that suits you. To succeed, you need to get started and keep going.

Seven Habits

Over the years, I've used elements of the Seven Habits system (and used to buy the paper-based calendars in the days before smartphones). With this approach, you plan by the week. We have many roles (e.g. parent, employee, spouse, student).

You schedule the relevant ones for the week into your calendar. For instance, as a parent you may want to help your child practice a speech on Tuesday evening from 7 PM to 8 PM. As an employee, you may allocate 1 PM to 4 PM on Thursday to catch up on email. Once you schedule the essentials, other activities fit around them. (For more, see Scheduling your priorities the Seven Habits way)

Getting Things Done

Several years ago, I started using the Getting Things Done approach to get things out of my head and into a system I trust.

I'm using PersonalBrain (see review) to track for big things. The drawback is that I can only use it on my Windows computer. There's no edit/sync with Android or iPad.

For To Do items, I use Toodledo for a web-based repository that's connected to Pocket Informant on my Android phone and iPad. I have the Pro version so that I can create subtasks. This works well.
For client-related items I want to track long term, I use a web-based CRM system, Batchbook. There's overlap but that's manageable. (for more, see Three big lessons from Getting Things Done)

What's Missing

My current approach is 100% independent. No one else is involved and the goals are private. Some goals slip ...  but at least no one else knows.

Pick Four

Pick Four - sample diary pageEnter Pick Four. This is Seth Godin's update of Zig Ziglar's low tech process for reaching goals over 12 weeks.

Pick Four combines three elements
  1. a mind dump of your life goals (like Getting Things Done)
  2. identifying roles and goals (like The Seven Habits but for the full 12 weeks, not week by week)
  3. peer support
Most of the workbook is a diary in which you make notes about what you did for each goal each day. You also mark whether what you did was enough.

Form A Team

Pick Four - crazy pricing in CanadaAmazon sells these workbooks in four packs. We paid $30, which works out to $7.50 each.

At the time of writing, the US price is $20. In Canada, the price is $135.04, which must be a mistake.

The inviting open-me cover looks reminds me of Dr. Seuss and Tim Burton. The paper looks cheap because it's not smooth or bright white. Looks deceive. The paper is good quality. I'm using a gel pen and ink doesn't bleed through the paper.


I'm in a quartet of high-calibre participants I met recently. We barely know each other but are all committed to meeting our goals. When you're working in a team, members must agree to (obvious) rules like maintaining confidentiality and keeping commitments.

Why 12 Weeks?

Twelve weeks feels right. That's long enough to achieve reasonable goals but short enough to motivate. By the end, we should have built habits that
  • keep us from quitting those goals
  • encourage us to set more goals

What's Missing?

Pick Four is only paper-based. I'd much prefer an iPad app. That saves trees and helps with privacy. As with a diary, I wouldn't want anyone looking at what I'm writing.

Since the spiral binding is on the left instead of the top, writing on the left-hand pages is tougher for neat freaks. Maybe there will be more options in the future. Since I don't like throwing things away, I'd like an iPad version that lets me print to a PDF for archiving.

You only get five days per week. That gives you two days off. I like that but would prefer a seven day calendar to be consistent with today's lifestyles. For instance, you might have goals that include weekends but that doesn't mean you're a workaholic.

Picked Four

Here are my goals:
  1. Ask for business (3 times a week): I make myself available to clients who decide on their own that they'd like my services. That's pressure-free but not proactive.
  2. Exercise (3 times a week): I turned 50 last year and must pay more attention to my body. This category also includes sleeping earlier.
  3. Declutter (daily): don't ask. I've got stuff piled up on flat surfaces. I have closets and boxes filled with stuff I'll never use and would have trouble finding.
  4. Ship video (once every two weeks): this involves getting better with editing and talking to the camera without my mind going blank.

Each goal is a stretch and was reviewed by a peer mentoring group and my Pick Four goalmates.

I'm on Day 2 and will report back in 12 weeks on April 21, 2012 (results here (new)).


Podcast 153

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes

PS Don't wait for my findings. Keep working on your goals.

January 21, 2012


who's on your side?In a game of strategy, you can’t play on both sides at the same time. If you switch allegiances, who can trust you?

Near the end of 2011, I had an epiphany. I realized that I wasn't putting your interests first as well as I could.

Product Design

When I designed health and life insurance products for a decade, I knew there were compromises that boosted profits.
Example (skip if you don’t like statistics): universal life might have a contingent bonus that rewards you if your investment returns are high. For instance, you might get a 2% bonus if you earn 5% in a year. That looks appealing but research showed the bonus would only pay 60% of the time. That reduced the projected payout to 1.2% (= 2% rate x 60% probability). To cover costs, the investment loads were increased by 1.2% (say from 1.8% to 3.0%).
I was okay with this because other insurers had similar designs and sales were made through independent advisors. Buyer beware looks fair when you have an impartial advisor with the will and skill to help you make sound choices. I didn’t realize that advisors also suffered from the plague of innumeracy (low financial literacy).

One For All

When I spent 5 years helping top advisors sell insurance, I saw a more troublesome issue. Since I was working for an insurance company, I could only promote their offerings. No company in any business can have the best product for every situation. That's because companies make different compromises. For instance, clients at younger ages or buying smaller policies may be charged more to subsidize older clients buying larger policies. Why? There's more competition for the wealthy, which means better prices for them.

Representing a single company creates a conflict between what you’ve got and what's best for the client. I rationalized. I was supporting independent advisors who could deal with different companies. They decided what to offer their clients and I was there to help them. Never mind that compensation or other incentives might influence the recommendations. Since the advisors were really salespeople, they were not required to put your interests ahead of their own (see the insurance loophole).

All For One

Since 2009, I've been saying that I've been serving you directly, bypassing the salespeople. At least that’s what I said. That wasn't 100% correct. In some cases, I was still collaborating with advisors to serve their clients. This is often called “splitting cases” since the revenue gets shared. That looked like a win/win:
  • advisors had clients but needed more credibility or expertise
  • I had both but, as a startup, needed more clients
This time, I had access to products from different companies, which allowed the better solutions to be presented.

There was a bigger problem.

Oh No

Since the advisors "owned" the clients, I had to meet their interests first. This lead to conflicts since I would not concede. Too often, these advisors wanted to sell products with
  • more coverage than necessary
  • higher compensation than conscionable, or
  • strategies with more sizzle than substance
There was reluctance to provide after-sales service, since revenue came primarily from new sales.
Example: You know mutual funds have high investment expenses. You may not know — but probably guessed — that investments inside life insurance have high investment expenses too. This is normally hidden, but I told you in 2008 (see two drawbacks of investing in life insurance). A salesperson might not feel compelled to inform you but an advocate for you must ...
What if an advisor doesn't provide full disclosure? There's the sin of omission. It's not the same as telling a lie but now the onus is on you to pose questions you might not think to ask. Even if you do, what answer can you expect?

What's worse than fooling a client? Fooling their tax advisor into recommending a strategy. When clients find out what happened — which may take years — the tax advisors get blamed since they were more trusted.


Do you see my conundrum? Serving you with life and health insurance is my calling. It's the only thing I've done in my entire career. This is not my Plan B or Plan C.

How could I serve two masters, the salespeople and you?

I couldn't find a way to overcome the troubling conflict of interest. There's a time to take sides. That's why I've stopped sharing cases with advisors who make their living by selling health or life insurance.

I've terminated every single arrangement by the end of 2011. I can't serve them and you.
I choose you.


Podcast 152 (6:51)

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes

PS I still collaborate with hand-picked specialists like accountants, lawyers, fee-only financial planners, investment-only advisors and employee benefit specialists.

January 14, 2012


whisper kr062008_09 500x580There’s nothing wrong with selling but salespeople don't want to be seen as salespeople.

Impressive titles like "advisor", “consultant”, "planner" and “specialist” sound better even though anyone can use them (more examples). Designations look impressive unless you explore and conclude they are sales-oriented too.

Regardless of title, advice has little value if biases (real or perceived) are built-in. Surveys routinely rank advisors among the least trusted professions.


Do advisors use the word "fiduciary" to describe themselves? A fiduciary is legally required to put your interests ahead of their own. A salesperson does not have that burden. Buyer beware.

Becoming a fiduciary is not the answer. If something goes wrong, even fiduciaries can have trouble proving they acted properly. That's the consequence of hindsight, selective memory and emotion. Lawyers play a role too.


What about “advocate”?

An advocate is on your side. An advocate educates you. An advocate makes a stand in public — even when that conflicts with their industry. An advocate points out what the fine print really means to you. Seller inform.

An advocate isn't a rebel who wants to "tear down the walls from the inside" and tell-all. An advocate wants to make improvements within the system. That takes more skill but leads to better, faster results for you. Experience as an insider helps an advocate help you.

What's stopping advisors from becoming advocates for you? They may already belong to organizations which are advocates for them.


Anyone can call themselves an advocate but no one can prove they are one.

At best, an advocate can demonstrate they are on your side with their actions. Since an advocate could get corrupted, look for
  1. what they’ve done in public, and
  2. what they continue to do in public.
What’s done in private doesn’t count since there’s no public scrutiny.

click for article about real turtles on BaffinPaddlerWhen Turtles announces a return to the "original recipe", you might wonder if that’s because they tried to sneak in cheaper ingredients … and lost. When Fido mobile announced “now easier to speak to a real person”, perhaps that’s because they cut service … and lost. There was a time when Enron was trusted. Before the financial meltdown, long-established companies like AIG were considered solid too.

Advocacy might be a ploy but that’s tough to fake for years.


A salesperson often works for "free", which means for sales-based commissions, bonuses and other incentives. How does an advocate get paid? Probably by charging for the advice. Would you pay?

“Fiduciary” is a scary word for advisors and “salesperson” is scary for you. “Advocate” looks ideal. Just make sure you select a real one.


Podcast 151 (4:21)

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes

PS Are an advocate for whoever you serve?

January 7, 2012


2011 red 500x500Welcome to 2012. As usual, let's start by reviewing what you read here on Riscario Insider in 2011.


After nearly five (!) years, blogging feels like a normal part of life.

The Top 20 Posts

Normally, we only look at the top 10 posts. As in 2010, five of the ten are repeats (this time #1-4, 7). To show more variety let’s look at the top 20 instead.

Here's what you read most.
  1. Quotes related to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (#1 in 2010)
  2. Does Warren Buffett "Buy Term and Invest The Difference"? (#3 in 2010)
  3. Napoleon Hill: The six basic fears from 1937 (#6 in 2010)
  4. Secret 7: The best tax sheltering in Canada (#7 in 2010)
  5. Should you switch to an actuarial career?
  6. Does billionaire Seymour Schulich help you “Get Smarter”?
  7. Toodledo does more than Remember The Milk
  8. The right way to view Netflix in Canada
  9. The Globe and Mail on Canada’s Insurance Loophole: What else is wrong?
  10. Napoleon Hill: Fear #2 (criticism)
  11. The pros and cons of financial leveraging
  12. Napoleon Hill: Fear #3 (ill health)
  13. The pitfalls of mortgage life insurance
  14. How to save on your next Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz
  15. What happens during a paramedical exam for life insurance?
  16. The problem of “trapped” retained earnings
  17. Me an actuary? Seven questions from a student
  18. PersonalBrain 5: data to information to wisdom
  19. The two drawbacks of investing in life insurance
  20. Warren Buffett’s tough career choice: actuary or billionaire?
Insurance was the most popular top with six appearances (#2, #11, #13, #15, #16, #19). Napoleon Hill made the list three times (#3, #10 and #12). Actuarial items are there three times too (#5, #17 and #20).

Work A Peek

Here are the 2011 posts categorized for your convenience.
  1. Two ways to stay visible (and employable)
  2. Mailbag: career advice for students
  3. Interviewed by the Toronto Star
  4. Be proactive within your circle of influence
  5. Tell to win: Peter Guber and the art of storytelling
  6. The talent myth-conception
  7. Escape from the cage of mediocrity
  8. Break through your speaking barrier at Toastmasters

  1. Two ways to show gratitude
  2. How to fight cynicism and Reasons to be cynical
  3. Noxious Chinese drywall and beyond
  4. How to save on your next Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz
  5. You must see the Tim Burton exhibit at TIFF
  6. Your digital tapestry is your legacy
  7. Surviving a week without a dial tone
  8. Maker Faire Detroit 2011 disappoints
  9. Lessons from the demise of HP’s TouchPad
  10. Is your car built to last?
  11. 9/11 and the end of innocence
  12. Dad’s 75th birthday and Life lessons from a 50 year old
  13. The perfect smartphone: bye bye Blackberry. Hello Android and iPhone
  14. The horrors of Rogers “Ultimate” Internet
  1. The Globe and Mail on Canada’s Insurance Loophole: What else is wrong?
  2. Why after-sales service stinks for life insurance
  3. Does your insurance company win when you cancel your coverage?
  4. Do you care about long term case?
  5. Case study: The doctor the insurance advisor mistreated
  6. The pitfalls of mortgage life insurance
  7. Two types of insurance you may have but can’t own
  8. How Lamar Odom’s mom saved his life
  9. Rate hikes: Is your advisor sleeping on the job?
  10. RIP: What happens if your insurance advisor dies?
  11. RIP: Steve Jobs “buttoned up”. Have you?
  12. Income replacement: A guide to disability insurance
  13. Where does your insurance advisor get advice?
  1. The ABCs of 1-2-3: The key to financial literacy / numeracy
  2. A short quiz about your financial foibles
  3. The cost of getting advice from your banker
  4. Longevity over the last 100,000 years
  5. What’s worse than fine print?
  6. Where are the customer ratings for advisors?
  7. How the wealthy feel about their advisors and The wealthy reveal how their advisors fail them
  8. How CRA identifies issues that concern them (and then you)
  9. The risk of financial innovation
  10. Is the best advice free or for-fee?
  11. What are you doing about your high investment expenses?
  12. Keeping promises: Corporate governance 2011

    The Top 5 Podcasts

    If you prefer, you can listen to podcasts. Here are the top five.
    1. Does billionaire Seymour Schulich help you "Get Smarter"? (#1 in 2010)
    2. "The Snowball" rolls into Warren Buffett (#2 in 2010)
    3. The three major obstacles to growth according to Brian Tracy (#4 in 2010)
    4. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell: Mastery plus Opportunity trumps Talent (#5 in 2010)
    5. Warren Buffett’s touch career choice: actuary or billionaire

    The Top 3 Countries

    You read from 138 countries (up from 128).
    1. United States: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston (#2 in 2010)
    2. Canada: Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Edmonton (same order as 2010)
    3. United Kingdom: London, Kensington, Manchester, Edinburgh, Lambeth
    For the first time, the US is the leading country for traffic. For 2007-2010, Canada was #1.

    Sources of Traffic

    1. Search engines: 69% (up from 43%)
    2. Referring sites: 14% (down from 22%) [main sources: LinkedIn, Taxevity, Twitter]
    3. Direct: 17% (down from 20%)
    For the first time, social media is the main source of referrals.


    Here are the top keywords typed into search engines to get here.
    1. 7 habits of highly effective people quotes (#1 in 2010)
    2. seymour schulich (#2 in 2010)
    3. quotes from 7 habits of highly effective people
    4. seven habits of highly effective people quotes
    5. career change actuary
    6. the 7 habits of highly effective people quotes
    7. warren buffett life insurance
    8. quotes from the 7 habits of highly effective people
    9. napoleon hill
    10. 6 basic fears
    Notice the variations of "7 habits" and "quotes"? Different paths lead to the same destination.

    Browsers Used

    1. Internet Explorer: 37% (down from 44%)
    2. Firefox: 25% (down from 32%)
    3. Chrome: 20% (up from 12%) [was 2% in 2009]
    4. Safari: 14% (up from 9%) [was 2% in 2009]

    Operating Systems

    • Windows: 76% (down from 83%)
    • Macintosh: 12% (up from 11%)
    • iOS: 7% (up from 3%)
    • Linux: 1% (down from 2%)

    Screen Resolution

    • 1280x800: 19% (down from 20%)
    • 1024x768: 12% (down from 18%) [was 35% in 2008]
    • 1366x768: 12% (up from 5%)
    • 1440x900: 8% (unchanged)
    • 1280x1024: 8% (down from 13%)

    Mobile Devices

    In 2011, 9% visited with mobile devices (up from 3.5%). Apple devices still rule (76%) followed by Android (18%) and Blackberry (5%). The iPhone is the most popular device (25% of mobile visits) followed by the iPad (20% and the longest visits).


    Podcast Episode 150 (9:45)

    direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes

    PS Back to regular posts next week