You Pay Too Much For Your Telecom Needs

Thought that might get your attention, but let us face the fact that in Canada we pay a ludicrous amount of money for our telecommunication (i.e. Telephone, Internet and Cable) needs.

Cost of Telecom in Canada 2014

That is the Average Folks Many people pay much more.

Where is my proof? Luckily our friends at the CRTC have compiled data on this very area in their Communications Monitoring Report 2015: Canada’s Communications System: An Overview for Citizens, Consumers, and Creators , and their research is quite extensive. This report is quite extensive, but luckily they also have compiled some really nice infographics, for folks like me who don’t like to read really long reports.

Aren’t those numbers staggering to you? The average consumer pays $203.04 a month to stay in touch with the world?

The other interesting data in the report point out how things are changing in that:

For the first time wireless overtakes wireline in Canadian household subscriptions:

  • 20.4% wireless only vs 14.4% wireline only

Not that surprising, given most of the folks I know under the age of 40, only have a Wireless phone number or don’t have a traditional Home Phone (i.e. Voice over IP or something similar).

Smart Phone

Smart Phones and Young Folks

Remember young folks are addicted to Smart Phones (most of them at least). According to Mobile World, the graphic on the left is true for 16-24 year olds.

In fact 71% of them can’t live without their Smart Phone? Wonder how much their bills cost? The data wasn’t that surprising to me given how my kids are attached to their phones.

How old are the cord cutters out there? That is mentioned as well:

Number of hours Canadians watched traditional television in 2014:

  • Children 2-11 years old: 20.6 hours
  • 18-34 years old: 20.6 hours
  • 65 + years old: 41.8 hours

Seems like traditional TV might be dying off in Canada too?

The big three of Telus, Bell and Rogers have little competition aside from trying to steal each others customers (Ask for the Customer Retention group if you call for a discount), they won’t be lowering these rates any time soon.


Robo-Advisors a God Send to Investing ?

The topic of the Robo-Advisor has come up many times lately, and I think I (as a former programmer and current IT person) have a unique perspective on this topic (having a journeyman’s understanding of financial matters as well).

A simple explanation of this investing vehicle from Wikipedia is:

Robo-advisors are a class of financial adviser that provides portfolio management online with minimal human intervention.

Robo Advisor

Hand of God ?

What qualifies as a Robo-advisor? Pretty much anything that is a very loose set of heuristics and ideas, along with some technical flim-flammery. My first piece of advice is if anyone says they have a Robo-Advisor taking care of their investments, ask them if they understand what they are using. Handing your money over to an (allegedly) automated system that you don’t understand is just as bad as handing it to a Human Advisor who has little or no talent in investing. A task badly done by technology or a human is still a task badly done.

The important thing to remember is the Robo-advisor simply does what it is programmed to do, it “decides” on the basis of what it is told to do (it does not learn, or diverge from its programming). Many marketing blurbs speak of expensive algorithms that assure maximum investment performance, but I am skeptical.

The key thing to understand in this area, is the investing philosophy the Robo-advisor is going to follow. Here is a simple philosophy and method to go with it.

Passive Investing with Quarterly Balancing

Philosophy: set up a diverse portfolio with the following configuration:

  • 25% Canadian Index Fund
  • 25% US S&P 500 Index Fund
  • 25% International Index Fund
  • 25% Canadian Bond Fund

You recognize that as a simple couch potato configuration. Buy low mgmt fee ETFs or Index Funds.

Algorithm: Every 3 months, compare holdings percentages and if any position is greater than 5% off 25% (plus or minus) rebalance using existing funds.

This pretty much is what a Robo-Advisor might do for you (note you can do this as well, you are simply automating it). From a simple point of view, this seems like a relatively good way of doing things, or does it?

What the philosophy doesn’t say:

  • What funds or ETFs should be used, so what stops the programmer of the Robo-Advisor to have you buy funds with a company that might pay them a fee? This kind of “buying bias” is being seen in the market place already.
  • What stops the program from suddenly changing funds, and churning your money (i.e. losing it to purchase fees and such)?
  • How much are you going to pay for the service? Are you paying for something you could just as easily do yourself (yes, I realize many folks don’t want to do this, but that does not mean they should be paying through the nose for the privilege either).

These are just some very simplistic questions to ask.

I’d really like to see some kind of regulation or standards in the area of Robo-Advisors, but I suspect specific regulation may not occur until there is a scandal of some kind (in the area).



Auto Loading Your Loyalty Card is a Bad Idea

I ran into a very bad issue with my Starbucks Loyalty card a while back, when all the information in the Starbucks database was hacked and my account information was stolen. This information hack allowed the thieves to create their own version of my Starbucks card, and they “went to town” on it.

Let me digress , remember that the Starbucks Loyalty “card” is not a credit card per se, it is a card which is “filled” from a money source so that you can buy things (note I said things not just coffee) at Starbucks (and collect allegiance points and such). You can “fill” the card from a bank account, a credit card or even your Pay Pal account, and you can fill it one time or you can set up the “Auto Load” mechanism. The auto-load mechanism will take money automatically when your loyalty account balance drops to zero (or a preset threshold), and this is where the hackers found their angle.

The scam seems to run like this, once your account or card is “cloned” someone goes into a Starbucks store, and buys $100 worth of things (most times just a gift card), and then the auto-load kicks in, takes money from its source (Credit Card, Bank Account, etc.,) and then the thief go to another store and will buy another card, and this continues on until the account is flagged or in my case, I saw what was going on and called to cancel the auto-load. The only reason I knew this was happening was because I got notifications on my phone telling me that the auto-loads happening.

Loyalty Card Scam

A Graphic Rendition of the Scam

In my case I was lucky enough to catch it early, and Starbucks was smart enough to refund me all the money taken (after 15 business days).

Since this incident I have gone to any other loyalty cards that I have like this and turned off the auto-load option, to stop this scam from happening again (some examples might be a Tim Horton’s card or maybe your Subway Card?).

This is not a commentary on the Starbucks Brand or Coffee (I still drink it and enjoy it), but a reminder of the fact that the easier it is for you to spend money, the easier it is for the scammers to find a way in to get at your money (and spend easily as well).


iPad Compatible Banking Apps

A while back I purchased an iPad for myself to see if I could “run” my small business (yes, this web site is a small business, stop snickering) on an iPad. I have learned a fair amount about the apps on the iPad and such, but I have also learned that for some odd reason many different apps only have iPhone compatible versions.

For those unfamiliar, you can run iPhone compatible apps on your iPad, however, they only run in Portrait Mode (short across top, longer on the side) and it looks pretty clunky (and most likely, if anything goes wrong, you are not going to get any customer support).

Apple iPad

Your New Banking Device ?

Whilst attempting to figure out how things work, I tripped across a couple of interesting issues with the Canadian Banks and their “apps”:

  • TD has an iPad compatible app, as does Tangerine bank, haven’t tested to see if the scan cheques capability works on either app
  • PC Financial, Capital One and Amex all have iPhone apps, but nothing that runs on an iPad, currently
  • For those of you curious this site is supposed to be iPad compatible too.

Having iPhone compatible apps is fun, and convenient, an iPad version with a few more features would help consumers more (although you would be banking over very unsafe WiFi networks).

How did I deal with this shortcoming? I tweeted about it (naturally):

Amazing stuff. Boomer and Echo pointed out that ten years ago I wouldn’t be making these complaints, but I had a retort for that as well:

No answers to my tweets (yet), aside from TD favoriting my comment about how their app did work with an iPad.

This was written on an iPad using Microsoft Word, and OneDisk to store it, which was then transferred to my web site, convoluted, but it works (for now).

Do you use your Tablet for on-line banking? How about your Smart Phone?


Tales of Financial Persistence

Yesterday I was relentless in reaching my goal of erasing from my monthly bills one of the most embarrassing charges I could have, as a High Tech Financial Blogger, and that is paying for America On Line services.

It all started in 1993 when I first joined AOL, and I got e-mail address awhit34109 AT . Back then we needed dial-up access to get to the Internet, and back then, it really wasn’t the Internet, it was just a bunch of Newsgroups and Forums all complaining about things (so not much has changed really). Back then AOL used to send you a CD every month (or every day) in the mail so that you would sign up with their Internet Service Provider software. It was a magical time, and I have used the e-mail accounts from there for a very long time.


The America On Line

Time passed, and the Internet changed, and suddenly I had Internet access that didn’t rely on a phone line and a modem to get connected? What? How is that possible? I was part of the initial trials of the Nortel 1 Meg Modem, which was in ill-fated product that got bulldozed by the Tech Standard DSL, and Nortel missed out big time on that, but I had unlimited, always up Internet access, and it was all good.

AOL saw this change and they introduced a “bring your own access” solution, which was much cheaper, so I chose to stay with them, paying about $8 a month for this privilege. I also got some emergency dial-up access if I needed it, and some other free stuff, and the AOL interface too.

Time continued to pass, many different e-mail providers appeared, and when Google introduced Gmail, AOL had already started to die (remember AOL/Time/Warner?) but I kept paying AOL, mostly because I was lazy and just never got around to it.

Finally yesterday, I called 1-800-AOL-HELP to cancel my fees based AOL, but evidently I can keep my AOL E-mail accounts too. After 140 minutes on hold (I kept track of it, on my phone, I had to wait that long to get through on the “I want to cancel my AOL” hot line), a nice young man tried to cajole me into paying $3.95 for some other odd service (basically for a version of McAfee that AOL would supply), but I stuck to my guns and said, “No, I want to cancel my AOL, but keep my e-mail addresses“. Evidently I succeeded, but I will see if they continue to keep charging me for this.

This AOL service is evidently what is keeping AOL afloat, as there are countless lazy uninformed stupid folks like me that have just never cancelled their AOL and continue to pay $11 a month for a service they don’t need to pay for? Many folks think they are paying for their mail services with this, but no, you can keep your e-mail for free (it has been that way for a long time), you are actually paying for Dial-up access, McAfee software, and AOL service line, none of which I have used in years (yes, I should be derided and ridiculed for this).

Hopefully, I think after a lot of persistence (and a lot of Muzak on hold), I may have succeeded.



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