I took my daughter to Great Wolf Lodge recently, which is a family resort built around an indoor water park.
The park highlights are the water slides. They range from the kiddie slides to the high intensity Vortex.
Now, if you really must know, if I could get away with it, (and if I was under 48 inches tall), I would choose the kiddie slides every time. However, my 11-year old daughter is adventurous, but not so adventurous that she'd go on the slides alone so I made the sacrifice and joined her on the more “exciting” slides.
We inched our way towards the “Eagle”, which appeared to be the most tame option at 1,100 feet of twists and turns. During the approach I listened to the squeals of glee and the screams of fear. I watched each person shoot out the end of each slide, focusing on their facial expressions. “Were they upset? Were they laughing?” How would I feel when I got to the bottom?”
It got me thinking about investing. Anyone can go on a water slide and survive (even thrive) because at the scariest point of the slide you can't get off. There are no escape hatches, or ejector seats. All you can do is hold on tight, scream if that helps, and you get to the bottom safe and sound.
Investing can be as unnerving as a wild water slide for some people. The problem is an investor can bail out at any time. Research tells us that they do so frequently when it is scariest, which is usually the worst possible time.
So picture some water slides of varying intensities but you cannot see the end, and you cannot see how people are when they get to the end. Which slide would you choose and see the related investor risk tolerance.
Lazy River – not actually a slide, but a slow moving current where you can coast on an inner tube enjoying the ride while the sound of laughter and screaming surrounds you. Risk profile – Ultra Conservative. Forget investing, go for high yield savings accounts and cash equivalents.
Kiddie slide – a gentle, sloping ride ending in a light splash. Risk profile – Conservative, stick with GICs and quality bonds.
Eagle – a medium speed slide with a few twists and turns. Risk profile - Moderate, a preponderance of GICs and bonds with a sprinkling of quality equity investments.
Grizzly – a fully enclosed tube with higher speed twists and turns. Risk profile – Moderate/high, a balanced mix of fixed income and equity investments.
Niagara River Rapids – a roller coaster like ride with unexpected ups and heart pounding downs. Risk profile – High, primarily equity investments including smaller, non dividend yielding holdings.
Vortex – a dramatic drop down a dark tube into a huge wide basin where you are whipped around at a high rate of speed ending in a final dark, deep descent. Risk profile – Very high, speculative equities including the penny stock that the cab driver told you about yesterday.
It is a well known fact in the insurance industry that bank mortgage life insurance is underwritten at the time of claim.
It is not as well known by the borrowing public. In fact, the majority of mortgage customers are not familiar with the difference between underwriting at the time of claim vs. underwriting at the time of application. Do you know the difference and why it matters?
Simply put, when you buy bank mortgage insurance you only have to answer a couple of medical questions. Unless the size of the mortgage is very large (and hence you are buying a very large amount of life insurance) a nurse does not visit and take blood, urine, your blood pressure and weight.
The bank is not interested in any additional detail because they don't actually underwrite (rate the risk) the policy until there is a claim. At that point, they may actually decide that the insured is not eligible for coverage.
That's right, you don't know if you really are covered until you die and your next of kin files a claim.
If you think I'm joking, watch this episode of CBC Marketplace. It will be crystal clear.
Mortgage insurance has other drawbacks as well, but they pale in comparison to the possibility of your beneficiaries finding out that the insurance they believed would protect them will not pay out.
Usually, basic term life insurance is the better alternative. That being said, it's best to make a life insurance purchase decision in the context of your overall financial plan since everyone's circumstance is different and there is no one answer for all individuals. If you own mortgage life insurance, you can replace it with individual coverage. Just make sure that you get the individual coverage in place before you cancel the mortgage insurance.
For most Canadians, a mortgage is the largest debt they ever take on. Much time and attention is given to negotiating the lowest possible interest rate, but typically much less time is taken determining the optimal amortization period. This is even though the length of repayment (amortization) is directly correlated with the amount of interest paid and, therefore, the ultimate cost of your house purchase.
Here are the four most common approaches to choosing an amortization period along with potential drawbacks:
1. I select the maximum amortization in order to qualify for as large a mortgage as possible, so I can purchase my dream home.
This, of course, is one of the strategies that got many Americans into financial distress. The problem with this approach is that it leaves little room for financial hiccups such as, increasing interest rates, job loss, and unexpected expenses such as home repairs. When the “unexpected” happens, credit cards become the solution and a debt spiral begins.
2. The shortest amortization that I can afford. I can't stand being in debt.
There is nothing wrong with this in theory.....but it lacks practical considerations. This approach also leaves little room for the financial hiccups noted above. Asking the lender to extend the amortization while you look for a new job doesn't always go over well. You know how it goes, it's easy getting credit when you don't need it......
Any half decent mortgage provides the option to double up the payment, increase the payment by 10% and make principal repayments of 20% of the original mortgage every year. All of these options speed up repayment. An alternate to committing to a short amortization would be to moderate the amortization and accumulate the extra funds in a savings account. Every six to twelve months you can determine how much of the savings to apply to the mortgage. If your employer has just announced another round of layoffs, hold onto the cash.
3. I chose an equity line of credit so I can control the rate of repayment.
This is a popular approach these days. It is a lot like #1 but can be even worse since often equity lines of credit only require that the monthly interest charges are covered. This is called the “forever” amortization. A typical rationalization we hear is that it doesn't make sense to pay down the mortgage when interest rates are so low. The reality is that it's the best time to pay down the mortgage since the majority will go towards principal. When interest rates inevitably rise, the rate will apply to a smaller outstanding balance.
Equity lines of credit are best suited to the most financially disciplined of us. Those individuals benefit from the additional flexibility of an equity line of credit without the risk of still being indebted when reaching retirement age.
4. I chose what lender recommended.
This is hit and miss. The suitability of the recommendation depends on the experience, ethics and integrity of the lender. Even the best, most trustworthy lenders base their recommendation on fairly limited information about the client. Lenders typically gather asset/liability and income details in order to determine affordability and credit worthiness. They don't always know about the complete financial life of the client, which if they did, might lead them to an alternate recommendation.
So, how do you choose the mortgage that is right for you?
The options should be considered in light of your overall financial plan.
We give very specific recommendations to our clients regarding the maximum amount of debt they should consider as well as the optimal structure of the mortgage. The advice takes into consideration the client's entire financial reality, their many goals, and risks and opportunities they may not be aware of. Armed with the advice they can negotiate with their lender with much more confidence and power.
What's your amortization and is it optimal for you?
I multi-task and I know that it interferes with my productivity.
Recently, expert sales and productivity coach Nicki Weiss wrote a fantastic article on how (and why) to stop multi-tasking. Below is the article in it's entirety. This article comes from Nicki's super monthly newsletter. It is worth subscribing to and you can do so on her website's home page www.sa1eswise.ca
Sa1esWise: How (and Why) To Stop Multitasking
During a conference call with the executive team of a client company, I decided to send an email to another client.
I know, I know. You'd think I would have learned.
What could go wrong?
First I sent the client the message. Then I sent him another one with the attachment I had forgotten to append. In my third email I explained why the attachment he received wasn’t the one he was expecting. When I eventually refocused on the call, I realized I hadn't heard a crucial question.
Multitaking makes you stupid
I swear I wasn't smoking anything, but apparently I was acting as if I had. A recent study has shown that IQs drop by 10 points in people who are distracted by email and phone calls.
We’re only fooling ourselves when we think we get more done by doing several things at once. In reality new research shows that our productivity can decline by up to 40%. We don't actually multitask; we switch-task, rapidly shifting from one activity to another, interrupting ourselves and losing time.
You might think you're different, that you have multitasked so much you’re an expert. But you'd be wrong. Recent findings show that heavy multitaskers are less competent at doing several things at once than light multitaskers. The more you multitask, the worse you are at it.
An experiment in non-multitasking
I decided to do an experiment. For one week I would not multitask and see what happened. When I was on the phone, I would only talk or listen. In a meeting I would only concentrate on the meeting.
I didn’t think I could sustain that kind of focus, but turns out I was pretty successful, at least most of the time.
During the week I discovered six new ways of looking at the world:
1. The experience was delightful. When you stop checking for email you stay in closer touch with your surroundings. I noticed this phenomenon especially with my teenage sons. Normally I feel they don’t want to interact with me much, given how uncool I am. However, I was surprised to notice how often they initiated a conversation when I wasn’t constantly responding to the e-mail ping.
2. I made significant progress on challenging projects. I usually try to distract myself from work that requires thought and persistence, such as writing and strategizing. However, without distractions I was able to plough through the uncomfortable times and overcome the mind blocks.
3. My stress dropped dramatically. Research shows that multitasking isn't just inefficient, it's stressful. I can vouch for the stress factor. I felt liberated from the strain of keeping so many balls in the air, and I experienced a sense of accomplishment when I finished one task before going on to the next.
4. I lost all patience with time-wasting activities. An hour-long meeting seemed interminable and a meandering conversation was excruciating. I focused my attention like a laser beam on my list, and quickly burned through the “to-do’s”.
5. I had tremendous patience for enjoyable activities. I was in no rush to end conversations with my clients, and my mind stayed focused when I was brainstorming about a difficult problem.
6. Single-tasking has no downside. No one became frustrated with me for not answering a call or failing to return an email the second I received it.
Why don't we all just stop multitasking?
So, why not use all your brain’s energy to listen to a prospect on the phone while booking a trip to Paris online?
Sounds good, except the brain is already working at capacity when you’re doing just one task. It is picking up conversational nuances or thinking about what you’ve just heard. Ask it to take on a second or third task and you take away its ability to deal fully with the first one.
How do we resist the temptation?
Turn the distractions off. I often write and plan at 6:30 a.m. Following my successful experiment I continue to leave my cell phone and email off just in case a multitasker is trying to reach me. I turn my car phone off, too…sometimes (other single-task warriors I know leave their cell phones in the trunk).
Use your impatience constructively. So you’re itchy without all the ring tones and email pings to answer. Fill that void by creating unrealistically short deadlines. Give yourself a third of the time you think you need to accomplish something.
There's nothing like a deadline to fully occupy your brain. If you only have 30 minutes to finish a presentation, you’re not going to take a call or flip back an email.
Ironically, single-tasking to meet a tight deadline will reduce your stress, and just might help you to be more productive.
Talk back: What is your experience with multitasking? How does it affect your productivity? Your customer relationships?
A friend of mine recently told me about a financial advisory firm that offers:
A FREE financial plan
A FREE Clublink golf lesson.
All you have to do is book a meeting with the financial advisor and bring in your investment statements to qualify. I checked it out and indeed, the offer was on the advisor's website in black and white.
It reminds me of an offer I received when visiting Las Vegas recently.
The friendly individual offered me and my husband:
Tickets to a show such as Cirque de Soleil or Donny and Marie (yikes!)
All we had to do was attend a 90 minute presentation and the “gift” would be ours.
Now, I wasn't born yesterday, so I know a sales pitch (aka scam) when I see one and so we moved on while the salesperson was throwing every sales technique at us in the book.
Having chatted with a number of Vegas tourists, we found out that the 90 minute presentation is really a five hour, high pressure sales pitch for a time share investment.
My bottom line message is this.
If you want a financial plan, would you rather deal with a salesperson that offers one for “free” if you bring in your investment statements, or with a professional with no strings attached?
It amazes me that millions of Canadians have billions of dollars invested in Money Market Funds (MMFs) that are earning no interest for all intents and purposes. In fact in the six months to the end of 2009, the average Canadian Money Market Fund earned just 0.02% after costs.*
The potential opportunity cost for Canadians is between $300 million and $400 million. That is because secure, higher interest savings options do exist. We know this because we use them for our clients.
So why are Canadians not selling their MMFs and finding better alternatives? Here is what I think:
• Investors are unaware that they are not earning any interest on their MMF investments.
• Inertia – it’s easier to do nothing than do something.
• Advisors are not incentivized – There is a lot of work and administration and very little (or no) compensation related to moving clients into higher yielding savings vehicles.
• Investors are stuck in Deferred Sales Charge funds and would pay a redemption fee to get out, thus negating the benefit of earning more interest.
None of the above reasons are acceptable in my view. If you own a money market fund, ask your advisor what you are earning on it and why you haven’t been presented with a better alternative.
I was having coffee with a friend recently who has three beautiful daughters age 6 and under. She asked me when I began giving my soon-to-be 11 year old daughter Rachel an allowance.
Now, there are many philosophies on the subject, and sharing my own is not meant to be prescriptive. I do find, however, that people tend to be interested in my personal money decisions given that I give so many people financial advice. (yes, I practice what I preach!).
My daughter started getting a weekly allowance about 3 months ago. Here is how it happened:
I was preparing dinner after work and she was doing her homework at the kitchen table. Out of the blue she said, “Mom, when can I get an allowance?”
Me: “Why do you ask?”
Daughter: “Well, my friends get an allowance.” (bad answer)
Me: “What would you spend an allowance on?”
Daughter: “hmmmm, well, birthday presents and mother’s day and father’s day presents. Stuff like that. (good answer!) And I will do chores around the house.”
Me: Rachel, your responsibilities at home are yours whether or not you get an allowance. Everyone in the family pitches in, even though we don’t get paid for it. That will not change. Dad and I will discuss this and let you know.
We did discuss it, and neither of us have anything against giving Rachel an allowance. She has learned the value of money over the years and when she has received gifts in the form of cash, she hands over most of it for her savings account. So, having a little spending money for presents etc. will get her used to making buying decisions.
We surveyed a number of parents and found out that the going rate within her group of friends is $5. Wow, when I was a kid it was 50 cents! But back then, I could buy two chocolate bars for 50 cents.
So, how is it going? Pretty well I think. She has made a couple of purchases, but has also been saving. Just this weekend she mentioned that she is saving up for a laptop. Good thing they get less expensive every day!!!
Feel free to share your allowance stories. I’d love to hear them!
We ask a lot of questions before developing an investor policy statement for our clients and one of them is about their rate of return expectations.
But we don't ask with the intention of developing a portfolio designed to achieve those expectations. So why bother asking?
Well, we ask to get a sense of how much, and what type of client education will be necessary when we present the optimal portfolio.
One of the things we might discuss is the impact of volatility on returns. Here is a theoretical illustration to prove the point:
Beginning investment $100,000
Now, we realize that these numbers are constructed to illustrate the point, but the point is an important one nonetheless.
Individuals seeking double digit returns will typically purchase the Portfolio B investment in year three or four after the great returns have come to their attention. Then they experience the declines of years five and six. Typically, by year seven a number of them will decide that it wasn't such a good investment after all and sell at a loss. With this kind of volatility, most investors don't hold on long enough to receive the average 6.5% rate of return. And the bad news is that even if they were invested for the full 10 years, the 6.5% average gets them less money at the end of the day than the boring portfolio that generates 6% each year.
The bottom line is that volatility and sequence of returns matter. More on both of those subjects to come.
Since May 1, 2010, travellers must present proof of health insurance in order to enter the country. Upon arrival, travellers may be required to present an insurance policy, insurance certificate, or medical assistance card valid for the period of their stay in Cuba. Those who do not have proof of insurance coverage may be required to obtain health insurance from a Cuban insurance company when they arrive.
Although proof of Canadian provincial health insurance is sufficient for visitors to enter Cuba, your provincial plan may cover only part of the costs and will not pay the bill up-front, as required. It is therefore recommended that travellers purchase supplemental health insurance. Note that some private insurers also require the traveller to pay costs up-front and be reimbursed later. Travellers should note that Cuban authorities will not allow anyone with outstanding medical bills to leave the country.
If you have travel medical insurance through your employee group benefits or as a credit card benefit, read the fine print and ensure that the insurer will pay for medical expenses up front. If not, ensure that you have easy access to cash in the event of a medical emergency or purchase a separate policy that will pay expenses up front. For example, Manulife Financial Travel Medical Insurance will pay expenses up front if they are contacted as soon as the illness or accident occurs. Otherwise, you are on the hook for 25% of the costs.
All health insurance policies are recognized, except those issued by U.S. insurance companies, as they cannot provide coverage in Cuba.
A client of mine told me that her banker suggested that she might be able to reduce her account service charges if she switched to a "senior's account". My client was skeptical and had no intention to make the change.
I asked her what she pays now, and her answer was $25 per month. Now, $300 per year seems like a sizeable amount to me (I pay $60 for unlimited activity) and I suggested that the alternative being suggested may indeed save her a few dollars.
So, why was she skeptical? There are two reasons in my opinion.
1. Baggage - The banks have focused so much of their efforts trying to upsell and cross sell products to their customers, that customers regularly question whose best interest is at heart. This will take a cultural change at the banks, and a lot of time, to overcome.
2. They still don't get it - How did this banker endeavor to convince my client that she would be better off with a different type of account? She handed my client a glossy brochure highlighting the advantages of the "senior's account". This is a not so subtle message to the customer to "figure it out yourself".
Rather than miss out on potential savings, I told my client to go back to the banker and ask for an illustration on how much she would save by switching - using her individual transaction history for the illustration. In my practice that's the approach I take when illustrating why one financial decision is preferable over another. Time consuming? Yes. A better result for clients? Definitely.
Great customer service is more than handing out a brochure. Insist that you get it.