Self-Driving Cars Will Change Things

I realize that self-driving cars will change how we drive, but it will also change many other auto related things as well (even some financial aspects of our lives).

What happens to Car Insurance? If most of the cars on the road are being driven by computer and such, will insurance rates drop? They should, but will they? Will we even need car insurance? The concept of lower rates for better drivers goes away, since none of us will drive, thus we should all get the same rate (shouldn’t we?). Other things that can affect your rates now come into question too:

  • Distance you commute to work, does that even matter any more?
  • Age of the driver, an 18 and 85 year old are the same when they aren’t the driver.
  • Type of car being driven shouldn’t really matter, in terms of whether it is a sports car, RV, sedan or pick up truck, only the relative cost of replacement (or maybe not?).
  • The theft portion of your auto insurance might be lower, as the new cars should be harder to steal (if new ignition systems are used), and certainly be easier to retrieve?

If cars are this much safer, do they still need to be that safe in terms of an ability to survive a crash? My guess is yes, since mechanical failure is possible (i.e. flat tires, failed systems, etc.,) so that kind of safety won’t be going away any time soon. The GPS industry will change, as our cars will have them built-in, will that mean the end of Garamond and other GPS companies, or will they evolve to some other useful idea?

Will we need to have parking lots? If a car can drop you off at work, and then either go home or drive somewhere else so that someone else can use it (e.g. your wife), then will the concept of a parking lot become obsolete ? Why do we need to tie down so much real estate so that cars can wait for us (hopefully somewhere close)? Wouldn’t I just send my car home after it dropped me off?

Google Self Driving Car

A Google Rendition of their Self Driving Car

Uber and Taxis might both just disappear, or maybe Uber would take over, if I could have my car drop me off at work, and then act as a “Ride Service” which I would be paid a premium when used? This might lead to a great deal less cars on the road too, that should lower insurance rate as well, shouldn’t it? Do you really need that many flights on shorter haul trips? Overnight car trips suddenly become more attractive and cheaper.

How will governments intervene into the technology? Will local governments be able to divert cars off heavily used roads to alternate routes? Schedule snow clearance and divert cars away from areas having snow cleared? Same would be true for road repair as well, you can easily divert cars elsewhere and be able to repair roads during reasonable hours (less work done over night). Will there be need for more roads? I think both sides of that argument are possible.

At first blush you’d think the following driving violations would simply disappear:

  • Distracted driving, since we don’t need to notice, we can be oblivious and not kill anyone.
  • Impaired or under the influence should go away, although if you are too drunk to tell your car to take you home, what do you do then?
  • Speeding? Again, I suspect there are going to be “cheat codes” to make that possible
  • Driving with an expired drivers license? Do we need those any more? Driving with expired registration might go away, if they hook into the government’s DB, and not allow cars that aren’t license to start.
  • Running a red light, or a stop sign, assuming everything is hooked together well.
  • Driving too slowly, will this mean that Quebec highways will no longer need posted minimum speeds?
  • Demerit points would go away, since it is a mechanical system doing the driving (you can’t penalize the human riding in the car, or can you)?

I am sure there are a few I have not thought about, but how will that change how Police work?

Will we have car offices, where we can work while commuting to our office? You aren’t driving, maybe you get some work done, or maybe you watch a movie? Will folks be tricking out their cars so that they are nicer leisure environments? Hacking the control systems will become a huge black-market for those wishing to get an advantage on things.

An interesting financial question is will families need to have two cars? If you can schedule things with pick up and drop off, maybe 1 car can deal with all the family transportation needs. Lower insurance and less cars means more money in family pockets.

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Financial Knowledge Draining Away

I was reading a very interesting article in the Bloomberg Businessweek† “Chowing Down on Boomers’ Brains“, which talks about the huge loss of “tribal knowledge” with the retirement of the Baby Boomers from the workforce, and it has me wondering just how well our Banks are going to deal with this “brain drain” from their ranks? Evidently some very large firms in the states (GE, GM and others) have this as a major risk in the near future.

As an example in my little part of the Government, about 25% of our department is going to retire this year. This might be an extreme example, but how we are going to keep all that “tribal knowledge” or “industrial memory” is not clear to me (as most folks are not being hounded to do “brain dumps” of what they know).

Retirement

Collective Knowledge Wandering off Into the Sunset

What does this have to do with banks, you might ask? The banks and government have 1 common stream, they both have very nice Pensions for their employees (in most cases), so in most cases folks who can retire, will retire (i.e. will not keep working because they can’t afford to retire).

If you want a concrete example of the danger of “brain drain due to retirement”, you need only look at the infamous Y2K fracas, where banks had to pay an exorbitant amount of money to “contractors” to repair COBOL code that could not deal with the concept of a year having more than 2 digits.

Is this going to happen again? I don’t know, but I just wonder how much “collective knowledge” in the banks (about day to day business, information technology and other operational areas) is simply wandering off into the sunset of retirement? I guess we will find out when we see how many folks are hired back on contract to maintain antiquated but essential systems. Another interesting angle to this discussion is that the CRA is a government agency and is most likely suffering the same issues with retirements as well? Maybe they will forget how to tax us? (OK, maybe that one is a stretch).

Can the banks plug the brain drain? Let us hope they are thinking about that.


– Note that while Bloomberg Businessweek is an expensive magazine to buy and read, it is available from the Ottawa Public Library (for free) using the Zinio application, keep that in mind.


Photo by satit_srihin. Published on 31 January 2016 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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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.

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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).

 

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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).

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