April 26, 2014


(No need to worry about spoilers. Dialog from the Game of Thrones S04E04: Breaker Of Chains.)

Prince: Wisdom is what makes a good king.

Tywin Lannister: Yes. But what is wisdom? Hmm? A house with great wealth and fertile lands asks you for your protection against another house with a strong navy that could one day oppose you. How do you know which choice is wise and which isn't? You've any experience of treasuries and granaries or shipyards and soldiers?

Prince: No.

Tywin Lannister: No. Of course not. A wise king knows what he knows and what he doesn't. You're young. A wise young king listens to his counselors and heeds their advice until he comes of age. And the wisest kings continue to listen to them long afterwards.

Tywin is an advisor advising that the advice of advisors be heeded continually.

There’s merit in Tywin’s advice but how much?

What’s Missing?

The advice is from an advisor who’s interests aren’t the same as the ruler’s. In that case, whose interests come first? Advisor and master spy Varys claims to serve the realm, rather than the ruler at the moment.

Advice may start as good and gradually change to bad over the years without getting noticed. That’s how Tom Hanks got cheated by his insurance advisor over a 13 year period.

In Game of Thrones, many advisors are old. They don’t leave their posts willingly.  Are they good at giving advice or good at remaining advisors?

The Truth

Here’s another scene in which Lord Baelish appears to be helping Lady Sansa.

Lord Baelish: What did I once tell you about the capital?

Lady Sansa: We're all liars here.

Lord Baelish: Come, my lady. I know you've had a difficult day. But you're safe now. I promise you that.

Lord Baelish has an important role as an advisor to the king. Yet he includes himself among the liars. How then do you tell when you’re being told the truth? Lady Sansa doesn’t ask. Perhaps that’s a sign of wisdom.

Better Advice About Advisors

Better advice about advisors comes from others who have used advisors. A prince can ask his parents and royalty in other realms — without blindly accepting their answers. Questions include:

  • How valuable are advisors?
  • How many advisors are ideal?
  • When do you stop taking advice and take leadership?
  • How do you select the right advisors?
  • When do you change advisors?

Your Financial Castle

You’re the king or queen of your castle. Do you have the right advisors to guide you along your Financial TRAIL?


PS The best advice? Be like Varys: watch what advisors do to figure out what they want.

April 20, 2014


invisible thoughts
Advisors have an opportunity to build trust by creating content. If consistent. If allowed. Some advisors are forced to erase their digital tapestries (or at least portions).

Here’s an email from an advisor we’ll call Heidi Hiding (not the real name).
"Could you please have my comment removed ASAP from the blog posting below , I is a compliance issue."
"Could you please have my comment removed ASAP from the blog posting below , I[t] is a compliance issue."
Contacting sites is step six in how to disappear online.

Why The Concern?

The blog post asks does your advisor have these three elements of trust: chemistry, credentials and generosity. Heidi’s now deleted comment from 2010 said:
I'd like to think I have all of these qualities. I am a CFP, write a blog, volunteer on an alumni committee, routinely give free advice to those needing budgeting help or general financial advice at no charge. I read a number of blogs and financial sites where I put in my two cents as well. More info on my website.
Do you see a major cause for concern?

More Deletions

Where else has Heidi disappeared? That’s easy to figure out. Google makes copies of web pages (e.g., about Rogers Unlimited Internet) and the Wayback Machine does too.

I found traces of Heidi on sites like these:
imageAt the moment, Heidi remains visible at
  • Know Your Financial Advisor with the $599/year Trusted Membership
  • Wikidomo
  • Personal website
  • MoneySense directory of fee-only planners: Heidi says “I get the majority of calls from people who read Moneysense Magazine and have found me through their website. Some call come from my website, which focuses on fee-only and fee-based financial planning. I only get one or two calls a month. Doing the math, you can see the challenge of making a living as an independent fee-only financial planner.”

The Business model

Heidi’s revenue comes from
  • fee-only financial planning
  • selling products with embedded commissions
    • investments: mutual funds, segregated funds
    • protection: life insurance and health insurance

Other Comments

Here are comments from Heidi on different sites.
“… wtf is that supposed to mean? Is an FA [Financial Advisor] supposed to have a crystal ball and know exactly what to buy, when to buy it, when to sell it so that he can make so much money he doesn’t need clients? The majority of people DO need a Financial Planner, not a mutual fund/seg fund/stock salesperson.”
“I work through an MFDA licensed firm and for the last 2 years have been offering Fee Only Financial Planning. The biggest problem has been compliance issues from the MFDA. While the firm I work through supports my offering Fee Only planning the compliance hassles have led to comments from the management that the firm makes barely enough from my Fee Based business to "buy a coffee". I think this attitude will continue until the hidden commission model is abolished but I'm doing what I can in the meantime.”
“Investment allocation is only a small part of what a true financial planner should be offering their clients. I offer fee based and fee only services and some clients want investment advice but implement it themselves. Others opt for a fee for assets under management.”
“,,, since I began on concentratiing on being a Fee Based Financial Planner instead of a mutual fund order taker, I have attracted a more financially astute clientelle and have been able to put my CFP to good use doing estste planning, risk mangement, long and short term savings planning, budgetting, mortgage planning, oh and a little bit of investment planning as well.”
“The biggest challenge is finding clients. I think more people are getting educated about the need to use a fee-only planner but the question is how do you help them find you? Websites and other social media are the obvious way but I have personally had limited success. I do know you will need to have patience, perhaps you can generate income in other ways while you build the fee-based part of the business. I do this by doing tax returns, insurance sales and brokering the odd mortgage.”

The Last Word

Removing comments creates results like this where Heidi loses the last word:
Heidi: [comment removed by request of author] 
Commenter: Commission based = commissions
Fee Based = fees + commission.
Fee Only = fees
Also, to suggest that this eliminates conflicts of interest suggests a lack of understanding of that topic. You get paid to manage a client’s investments. What if they want to sell those investments to buy a house or start a business? Your pay goes down, and clients have to weigh that conflict when weighing your counsel.
I’m not suggesting it’s not possible to give appropriate advice while conflicted, but as an industry we need to stop acting like conflicts don’t exist. All models have them. 

Heidi: [comment removed by request of author]

What Happened?

After removing Heidi’s comment, I sent her email:
Me: Your comment is from 2010 and looked harmless. What was the compliance problem? Was the problem with your firm, MFDA [Mutual Fund Dealers Association] or IIROC [Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada]?
Heidi: MFDA, I changed firms recently and when they did a search of my name on the web they found a number of blog comments. Since I signed on as Heidi Hiding CFP and provided a link to my website they considered this advertising. So my options were to have them all removed or to have compliance sign off on them. MFDA requires that Compliance signs off on all posts of this kind before posted? In future, I can comment as Heidi Hiding with no link to website and/or mention of my profession or anonymously etc.
What do you think of rules like that?


PS Disqus amalgamates comments on compatible blogs for those allowed stay visible (e.g., like this)

April 13, 2014


Related: Find out about the next course

This year, I’ve been focusing on my health by
  • eating better
  • sleeping earlier
  • exercising more
The big challenge is exercise. Good intentions haven’t translated into ongoing habits,

Intentions vs Actions

Visiting a fitness club takes time, planning and waiting for equipment. Yoga looked like a good way to exercise at home before breakfast. Since pure yoga melds body, mind and soul, I wanted
  • sevaks (teachers) who knew the ancient ways from India but taught in English
  • an extended, structured course (rather than a workshop)
  • personalized attention (rather than a student in a large class)
Is that asking too much?

The Solution

A fellow Toastmaster told us of a free 16 week course in West Toronto (Etobicoke near Kipling/Rexdale). My wife attended Shri Ambika Yoga Kutir and recommended I join. That’s a big commitment. The classes take place at 7:00:00 AM on Saturdays. I’m not a morning person and don’t like sleeping early on Friday nights. Would I have energy to travel and take a two hour class before breakfast?

I made a commitment and haven’t missed a single class despite the extreme winter. Since lessons build on each others, that’s important.


Here the main benefits I’ve already achieved
  • more energy all day: the breathing exercises help you get more oxygen into your blood  — especially via Kapal Bhati (shallow bellows breathing)
  • better posture: you tone muscles which often get ignored (e.g. in your spine and neck)
  • more flexibility: we don’t use positions like padmasana (lotus posture) in our daily lives
Perhaps the greatest benefit is the confidence that comes from persisting and not quitting. My life has changed and will continue to improve as I continue the yoga.

The Catch?

The course is free and that’s not a trick. You’re not put on a commercial mailing list. There are no attempts to upsell you (because there’s nothing to sell). The only way you can spend money is on the optional course materials. The best ways to repay the generosity of the volunteer sevaks is by
  • continuing to practice yoga
  • encouraging others to join (a goal of this post)
You attend to learn. Students (sadhaks) are discouraged from the usual networking and exchange of business cards.

The Format

handwritten notes for yoga class 10Each class starts with all students on yoga mats facing a row of teachers at the front of the large room.

The week’s agenda is shown on a whiteboard. Different teachers explain the theory behind the new postures, the benefits and the precautions. There are demonstrations of the new postures.
We then go to one of four groups based on our age and gender. My group (males 45+) had about a dozen students and two teachers. That’s an excellent student-to-teacher ratio. As we practiced, we got personalized attention. That’s what I really appreciated since I wanted to do the exercises properly. You can’t get that from YouTube or a conventional show-up-if-you-want class.

Each student in my group had his own strengths and challenges. We weren’t competing, though. We were encouraged to do what we could. We weren’t pressured to do exercises for which we made us uncomfortable. Some exercises had variations for different needs.


For the best results in the Shri Ambika Yoga Kutir class
  • take notes (photography and videography is discouraged; manuals aren’t available until near the end)
  • practice daily (I averaged 5-6 days a week … only skipping mornings when travelling or having unusually early meetings)
  • invest in a proper yoga mat (e.g., the well-cushioned, nonslip Manduka BM71 with a lifetime warranty)
After you graduate, you can return anytime you want to repeat the basics or take advanced classes. If you’re interested, get details about the next course.

It’s funny how our bodies respond when we take care of them. What better investment can you make?


PS I’m thinking of redoing the beginner’s class to learn the basics better and stay on track.

April 6, 2014


in the right field?
Here’s another request for career advice.
Hello Promod! I’m a first year student currently enrolled in the Mathematics and Statistics Co-op program at the University of Toronto. I am willing to become an actuary in the future and have no personal connection with anyone as of yet. I have a few questions regarding the career itself, and possible paths one would need to take in order to attain this career. I would appreciate if you could answer them as it would help me make my life’s first important decision.

Firstly, I would like to know how you go about handling your duties on a daily basis, in other words, if I were to be an actuary for a day, what I am going to be facing that day as a guarantee. I am also willing to know if the daily activities of an actuary are repetitive, or will my work differ from day to day? Another thing I’m willing to find out is the challenges actuaries face as a result of their career, internally and externally, whether it be the actual tasks that they complete, or whether it be the people that they face, or even potential consequences they may have. I am hoping to find what the future holds for these careers. Here, not only am I looking for whether or not the job opportunities will increase or decrease, but I am also looking for other careers that may use the skills that I have attained in these career areas.

By analyzing your responses to these questions, I would be able to figure out whether or not I see myself as an actuary in the foreseeable future. Your response to these questions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time!
When I was still in the corporate world, a student asked seven questions. Another asked to job shadow me to “witness the daily activities that an actuary performs and see if I can picture myself doing the same 20, 30 or 40 years from now.”

The requests are thoughtful but life is unpredictable. Here’s another attempt at answering the underlying questions.

Starting Out After Graduation

In each of 1983 and 1985, Metropolitan Life hired six actuarial grads for the Canadian Head Office (CHO) in Ottawa. In 1984, the economy was bad and they only hired me. The unemployment rate among my classmates was 77% (only 4 of 17 got jobs). Is the economy any more predictable today?

I got the usual actuarial equipment: a big electric printing calculator and a monochrome terminal connected to an unseen mainframe computer. No Internet. No smartphones. No answering machines.

On the plus side, you couldn’t take work home.

I shared a telephone with a coworker who smoked at her desk. Another colleague got sent home for forgetting to wear a tie. At the time, Metropolitan Life was the second largest life insurance company in North America. Within years, they left Canada. I had already moved on.
My Evolution
You gravitate toward the type of work you like and are good at doing.

I’ve been good at learning, experimenting and communicating. Much of my work was project-based. For instance, launching a new product. I liked variety, uncertainty and making decisions. You might prefer work which is more predictable and guided.

Shortly after I started working at Met Life, the Chief Actuary (my boss’s boss’s boss) wanted basic color graphs for an important presentation. I didn’t know how to create them but no one available did either. We were in the early days of computers and graphing printers used expensive felt pens. I learned how to graph and found ways to communicate results better than expected. I made my boss, boss’s boss and boss’s boss’s boss look good. Do that and you look good too.

In those days, actuaries did coding (then called “programming”) in APL — powerful but tough to use well. I became good through self-study, which opened up more opportunities. Even today, coding is considered a must-have job skill. You can learn for free on your own time, how many bother?

You gain a valuable edge when you do what others can’t or won’t do.

A Typical Day

There’s no typical job, which means there’s no typical day. Roles change with circumstances, your abilities and your level.

An actuary is trained to measure and manage risk. That seems technical but computers simplify the work. Success requires many soft skills such as getting along with others, communicating clearly, thinking independently, innovating and meeting deadlines.

There are many different kinds of actuaries. I’ve worked primarily in the world of personal insurance (life, critical illness, disability). While the product actuary at National Life, I had three actuaries reporting to me. We focused on universal life insurance optimized for wealthy clients. Success required creativity, a deep understanding of the tax laws and the creation of effective point-of-sale computer-based tools.
The Team
I had an actuary for each of these core responsibilities:
  1. New product development:  analyzing competitiveness, calculating profitability including “what if” scenarios, writing product descriptions (for the launch process)
  2. Advisor support: answering questions, developing/testing point-of-sale computer-based marketing tools, gathering market intelligence
  3. Administrative support: getting the customer service systems updated to accommodate the product features, drafting policy contract wording, projecting performance of inforce policies
Each role was important but required different skills and personalities. My other seven staff were also involved, primarily with advisor support. Managing people was necessary but not as easy or enjoyable as I first thought. I invested time in learning how to get better.

Career Stages

When you get your first job, you'll be doing work related to your skills. Since your skills are limited, don't count on doing work which is especially interesting. You're learning how to meld into the working world — skills you only master by doing. Demonstrate your growing skills and and you’ll get new opportunities.
Changing Roles
Big insurers like Met Life had a rotation program for students writing the actuarial exams (10 at the time). You work in a department for two years. The first year, you learn from the actuarial student who's about to leave. The second year you train your replacement. This process helps you decide which department suits you. I worked in Corporate Finance, Personal Insurance and Group Insurance. That left Investments and Pensions but I left the company by then.

You also got paid study time (3 workdays per hour of exam). For a five hour exam, that's 15 days (three workweeks). Write twice a year and that's 30 work days (six workweeks). Add three weeks of vacation and you’re away nine weeks a year. Plus you get juicy salary increases for passing.

I don’t know what the practices are in today’s leaner world since I’m in the nontraditional role of helping the public review, repair and renovate their insurance at Taxevity.

Your Brand

There's tremendous value in building a personal brand. That was very difficult in the past, even if you wanted to stand out. How could anyone find you? Now we have Google. How could they gauge your experience? Now we have LinkedIn. How could you show your thought leadership? Now we have blogs. How could anyone  hear or see you? Now we have podcasts and YouTube, respectively.

What’s your strategy? When will you start? When you’re looking for work, your classmates are your competitors …

The Opportunities

As a student, you’re usually too young to make the right decisions for a 30-50 year career. It’s easy to get fooled by common career myths. Look around. Despite best efforts at planning, many people hate their jobs and even change careers (though the oft-repeated estimate of  seven career switches seems unlikely).

The good news is that you don’t have to make the right decision today. You just need to make a good decision and then adapt. Keep developing portable skills to keep fresh and maintain your edge as new opportunities arise.


PS Even if you’d rather not, keep building trust with networking.