Creative commentary plus crafty composition

An article in the current edition of The Insurance & Investment Journal raises the age-old conundrum of receiving ‘independent advice’. It should be noted that the report is in support of the idea.

Why has this been such a prevailing issue, frequently a hot topic of reportage?

I certainly identify with the question of how independent is the advice one gives. In my twenty-four years in the financial services industry, I was working on behalf of a large organization primarily focused on planning and investments. With respect to the latter, we were offered a platform of in-house investment options, chiefly mutual funds; although for about the last twenty years, third party managed funds have been offered as well.

Thus, while not exactly offering completely independent choices to clients, we were able to cover the range in a reasonable manner, made more so by the company’s emphasis on overall financial planning, and its training sessions for the ongoing development of consultants. Moreover, in this industry, the array of offerings across the board for many years has been so vast, no one could be an expert beyond a limited range of products anyway.

In the article, a different aspect of the issue is discussed, namely, the law of survival perspective affecting insurance companies in Canada. The narrative looks at how best practices ties into what’s best for their distribution networks.

On the one hand, there are independent advisors who want to remain so. “If an insurer offers special conditions to independent advisors to increase sales” – inducing them to funnel their business to only one provider – the impact may “become unfair to other advisors with whom it has business relationships”.

On the other hand, if the insurance company increasingly focuses on its own network of distribution, “it is likely that other insurers will eventually do the same”. If they all start to fold their tents, the wide-open possibilities of interdependence will be replaced by the tunnel vision of intra-dependence.

In other words, it is not only unseemly but also impractical for supposedly independent advice to be allocated from just one hand.

So, can advice in the context of providing a service ever be truly independent?

As suggested by my own experience, and with other service episodes anecdotally, this goal remains aspirational. When I hear or read of spokespeople promoting the independence of their service mantra, I can’t help but feel they are deluding themselves.

No one person or organization has an all-encompassing formula or lock on full independence, at least not in the commercial world. Product knowledge in many service fields, such as relating to personal finances, keeps advancing and expanding. As we all know, technology has quickened the pace; indeed, as pointed out by Tom Friedman in his book, “Thank You for Being Late”, the pace of ‘accelerations’ has reduced internal evolution in much of what affects us to one to two years. As well we must consider the human factors, such as personal expertise, performance, and, let’s face it, ethics.

Thus, truly independent advice giving is a ‘pie in the sky’ concept. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy reaching for a piece as much as possible.

 

Travel Tips

Open any travel related periodical or insert, and chances are that, in addition to glowing enticements to visit sites far or near, there will be some degree of tips from supposed experts. Sometimes the expertise is limited to lessons learned by the author about specific destinations; sometimes it’s more general ‘rules of thumb’ (not the green kind).

Case in point: the spring edition of CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) Magazine devotes several pages to recommending travel locations for 2018, with brief comments from CAA travel specialists. Some remarks are more insightful than others.

For example, in considering potential travel to Sweden, the CAA representative observes that a trip timed in fall or winter provides a good opportunity to see the Northern Lights – which one may well witness also in northern Canada or Alaska at a much less cost of time and money.

On the other hand, the commenter on a trip to Ireland makes the less obvious suggestion to not depend on a smartphone quality camera if one wants pictures which do the lush, green landscape justice.

In relation to venturing to South Africa, the advisory makes the practical points about the need to have some cash on hand, due to ATM access limitations, and to check with one’s bank concerning the use there of debit or credit cards.

Accepting there is value in guidelines about specific locales, there are some more generic versions of advice out there which one may encounter…

  • When traveling to a country where the native language is not one’s own, understand that it’s not incumbent upon native speakers to cater to one’s delusions
  • When traveling in groups in less secure locations, be wary of dependence on the ‘buddy system’, lest one be the buddy left exposed in the face of danger
  • There may be sober reasons why ‘the road less traveled’ is in fact less traveled
  • Ancient archeological sites are not customarily invitations to tourists to uncover souvenirs
  • There are countries where ‘the web’ refers to lodgings of large members of the arachnid family
  • Accept that being a ‘green’ footprint minimizer involves more than simply being in steppe
  • Make sure local water looks as see through as the picture on a water bottle
  • Remember that drivers of small cars overseas do not necessarily have matching size tempers
  • Stonework should not be cut from foreign roadways simply because it would make a nice backsplash in one’s kitchen
  • If renting an attic apartment, be wary of rooms where concave dimensions are the motif

Being Mindful

It would seem superfluous disputing that the mind is the most important cognitive part of the body; assuming that’s so, being ‘mindful’ should be at least in the highest echelon of good default positions.

What does mindfulness mean? An article in the February edition of Toastmaster magazine gives this a thoughtful (as it were) look.

The author wastes no time in maximizing the scope of mind matters: she uses the example of a familiar cartoon called ‘The Worrier Pose’, which illustrates that we typically juggle a miasma of concerns, to make the point that what may be top of the whirlpool of our mind is – everything!

Engaging in mindfulness helps divert us from self-judgement and other distractions of consciousness. It has been a part of practices such as yoga and Buddhism for centuries. In our times, this subject had come to influence a range of fields, from psychotherapy to sports.

To dissect what mindfulness really encompasses, consider these elements:

  • Focusing on the moment: ‘secular’ mindfulness is considered to mean paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment in a non-judgemental way; in this way one’s senses are tuned in to now; accepting that the mind will wander, meditation can be a valuable way to address this, as an “activity of bringing your mind back when it wanders”, training it to settle on the present
  • Focusing on the mind itself: another perspective sees mindfulness as being aware of our mental states, non-judgementally; adhering to this practice helps one to breed an inner balance along with self-confidence, and moreover one can “more readily access creativity and intuition necessary for publicly communicating a vision and problem-solving”; feelings such as anxiety can be recognized for what they are, minimizing their impact
  • Focusing on colleagues and others in supportive groups and professional organizations: understand and encourage the diversity in others one encounters in these groups, reducing barriers and increasing connection, as well as enhancing our communicative skills in speaking and listening

There are also a few suggestions on to how to ‘cultivate’ mindfulness.

  • Keep some physical distance from one’s cell phone
  • Concentrate on one task at a time (multi-tasking is multi-muddling)
  • Try changing habitual responses, such as using the less dominant hand for tasks usually done with the other
  • Pay attention to all of one’s senses
  • Use the meditative practice of focusing on the centre of the body, which substitutes awareness of the present moment in lieu of attention on thinking

These approaches contribute to enhancing ‘mental strength and clarity’, laudable resources for coping with our fast-paced lifestyle.

A Hurdle is not a Stop Sign

Perhaps all of us, at one time or another, have been tempted to feel discouraged, perhaps quickly, by setbacks on the long journey to accomplishing major goals.

Indeed, if looking at statistics, one can easily be ready to throw in the towel, especially if that towel is frequently coated with rejection.

Many of us are familiar with the 80/20 rule, which anecdotally applies to a wide range of endeavours: Read the rest of this entry »

Adding Value

The proposition of ‘adding value’ has been an underlying foundation for success in service-oriented businesses for many years.

If one wants to generate a positive, lasting and loyal, relationship with customers, providing those extra ingredients of value is vital. This could be indirectly related to business, i.e. taking clients to lunch, paying for tickets to events, etc., or more directly, such as keeping in regular contact, or going the extra mile in solving problems quickly, or obtaining more helpful data for decision making. Read the rest of this entry »

I have a friend who is being compelled to move from her longstanding residence shortly, due to a very unfortunate set of circumstances. She is quite unhappy, having to give up the apartment, albeit in a creaky old house, given its scenic, multidirectional view, but the environment has become untenable.

One of the constants of life is change – but some changes are much earlier to adapt to than others. Read the rest of this entry »

Charitable Rewards

According to a recent report from the Fraser Institute, using tax data, the percentage of Canadians giving to charities has diminished to about 21% from a level of 25% ten years earlier. It has also gone down as a percentage of income.

Americans compare more favourably on this particular scale, with nearly 25% contributing and at a much higher rate of income than Canadians. Read the rest of this entry »