Welfare versus TANSTAAFL

TANSTAAFL continued – A couple of comments came back – which is good! Both raised the issue of welfare being a free lunch for people – interesting question! So let’s take a step back and see from where welfare arises. Either the federal or provincial government – or sometimes both, provides financial support to those people in Canada who meet certain tests or conditions – no other sources of income, severe physical or mental or medical health issues, people with various addictions, etc.

I will not debate the political issues of whether or not these individuals are deserving of government largesse – this is an a-political blog! With that out of the way, from where does the money come? Not government, but every other tax-paying individual in Canada – so is it “free” – no, there is a cost and all taxpayers share in the burden – but is it “free” to the recipients? Let’s consider some other issues aside from the many very serious conditions many people face who are on welfare – some of their own doing and many not of their own doing. For those living in direct consequence of their own actions (or inactions), I would suggest they are paying a very high price indeed – loss of contact with family, long-time friends, what about their self-respect, self-image and self-worth? Aren’t these things beyond price in the conventional sense?

Again, this is not a political dialogue but rather identifying the true cost of things we often take for granted – cost is not necessarily dollars and cents – but there can and is a mental and emotional cost we all pay at various times. For those individuals who truly need financial aid from governments, are we really helping them if we do nothing to help them break their present cycle of life and health – and the mental and emotional stress they face 24/7?

If we accept the premise that welfare is necessary, should we then also accept that simply handing out cash or vouchers isn’t really helping people change?

Shouldn’t welfare be made into a positive experience that truely helps people rather than merely sustains them?

How do we change the image and impact of welfare? I don’t have any pat answers – and neither does anyone else – lots of theories and most seem to be based on simply adding more money to be given away rather than changing people’s lives – or rather allowing them and helping them change their OWN lives! Money is not an answer although it belongs in the mix.

In challenging economic times, everyone pays more attention to government spending and welfare is an easy (and expensive) target because in general terms, the public doesn’t see any long-term positive results – so the question becomes – why spend tax money when the problem never gets any better?

Hope these comments cause some thinking in lots of minds!

So What Goes in a Full Financial Plan Part 3 of 3

So – now the wrap up of this series.

Financial Planning is intensely personal and clients need to have complete faith and trust in their advisor to make the process work properly, effectively and efficiently. The relationship is the key to success.

It is for this reason, that top planners spend the first meeting just working on laying the foundation for a relationship to grow and blossom – listening is the key of course – the good Lord gave us two ears and one mouth – and good planners and advisors use them in that ratio! This is what as known as a “non-interview”.

I first learned about this concept about three decades ago by reading a book by a fellow named J. Douglas Edwards – “Questions are your answer” – copies are still available in used book stores and on-line – I highly recommend that everyone involved in the financial/estate/retirement planning process, read it – and read it several times. In fact, it is excellent reading for anyone in a sales, marketing and/or management role.

I want to touch on the reporting now – I can hear advisors and planners already saying that if they covered everything I listed in my two previous posts, the final report is going to be 100 pages in length! Well, that depends, doesn’t it ——– on the client.

Some clients are detail-oriented, number crunchers, navel inspectors, etc. – and for those people, a planner can create dozens of reports and many dozens of pages – looks impressive I admit – but of what value to the client?

I learned from studing about and listening to people like Jim Rogers, John Savage, Jack and Gary Kinder, Norman Levine, Charlie Flowers, Don Pooley, Hal Zlotnik, Rick Forchuk, Dick Kuriger, Jim Otar and many others – that simple is best.

In my experience, I have found that the planners who use the longest reports are often trying to impress clients with quantity as opposed to quality. Certainly the attitiudes of the client drive the entire process – including the reporting and some clients do want more details than others – but this is a fine line to follow.

I have found that there needs to be enough detail to illustrate to the client that their goals can be achieved given a certain set of circumstances, what changes they need to make and actions they need to take and I allow the client to determine how that is done. As an example, before I present a plan, it is my normal practice to ask them a few questions first, including: How much time to you want to spend at our next meeting reviewing the plans? Do you want to go over the entire plan in detail, or do you want just a high-level summary and then decide on what sequence to follow before getting deeply involved in the entire report? As part of my interview process, I ask clients very early on to indicate their priorities in dealing with their goals – and regardless of my personal preference or prejudice, I follow the sequence or timing as verbalised by the client – this is critical IMHO.

My preference is to give a high-level overview at the first reporting meeting – typically no more than 3 or 4 pages – I don’t want to frighten them or have them start to think they can’t change anything – spoon feeding in other words. Then the rest is covered over the next two or even three meetings so they aren’t overwhelmed and I use LOTS of pictures and graphs and as few tables of numbers as possible. If they ask for some specific details, of course I can produce them, but I don’t try to bury them.

Last, but not least, as a professional financial planner, it is great to have a plan but unless it is implemented and there is regular follow-up (at a minimum of once every two years) to make adjustments as necessary – the whole thing collapses into a pile of snot with only some wasted money and good intentions left lying on the ground!

Anyway, that wraps up this series – hope you find some of the comments of value or at least thought-provoking – agreement is neither necessary, required or expected! Cheers Ian

So What Goes in a Full Financial Plan – Part 2 of 3

So here we go on part 2 of this 3-part series

Post-employment/work Income PlanningAll sources of potential revenue.

1) Employment pensions:
a) Type – Defined Benefit Plans, Money Purchase Pension Plan (Defined Contribution) Deferred Profit Sharing Plans, Employee Profit Sharing Plans, Employee Share Purchase Plans, Group RSP, etc. – past and present – valuations, statements, benefit formulas – early or late – contribution rates, maximums, etc.
b) Portability, commutability – formulas, etc.
c) Inflation protection – none, partial or fully indexed.
d) Pension choices available – spousal requirements, pension splitting options, etc.
e) Income buy-back availability.
f) Integration with OAS or CPP as applicable.

2) Personal retirement assets:
a) RRSPs, Spousal RSPs, Locked-In Retirement Accounts, Locked-in RSPs, Tax Free Savings Accounts, OPEN – depending on current purpose if in existence.
b) Valuations, statements, reasons for choices of investment holdings.
c) Plans for disposal of other investments/business interests/tax-shelters, etc. to supplement other retirement income assets.
d) CPP and OAS benefits statements – OAS maximization/claw-back minimization and planning.
3) Other Savings/Investments earmarked for other purposes/re-direction possibilities.
4) Review potential for partial employment or other post-retirement income supplements, potential inheritances, etc.

Education Planning – as appropriate For clients and family members as applicable.
1) RESPs, other in-trust holdings earmarked for education:
a) CESG and related possibilities including low-income education benefits for grandchildren/great-grandchildren.
b) Retiring student loans effectively.
c) Potential uses of Tax Free Savings Accounts for children.

Charitable/Philanthropic Intentions Family, living and/or posthumous recognition or benefits, donation planning.

Special needs – challenged or gifted Registered Disability Savings Plans, other government assistance plans, trusts, grants.

Wills, Codicils Inter-vivos/Discretionary Trusts, Alter-Ego/Joint Spousal Trusts, General and
Restricted POAs – including bank accounts, Limited POAs, Enduring POAs,
Representation Agreements (Living Wills), Multi-jurisdictional Wills/Multiple Wills for non-situs assets,
Planned inheritances, tax implications, contingent ownership issues etc.
choices for Executors/Co-Executors/Corporate/Contingent Executors, Guardianship
of the person and financial guardianship, conservatorships.

Marriage Marital regime, prior divorce, financial obligations from previous relationships that
survive death. Discuss domestic partnerships as appropriate.

Special tax-planning issues Restructuring cash flows, taxable inheritance planning. Review previous
personal, corporate, partnership, Limited Partnership financials, trust tax returns for missed items,
trends. Discuss Health and Welfare Trusts or Private Health Services Plans, as appropriate.

Risk tolerance assessment Separated by family member, goal specific – generic asset allocations, generic product

Gift planning Family and others – refer back to Charitable/Philanthropic.

Intergenerational Wealth Transfer Tax effective and efficient transfer of wealth – next and/or subsequent generations.

Implementation roadmap Suggested target dates, sequences.

So What Goes in to a Full Financial Plan? Part 1 of 3

I start this series with a bit of trepidation – I have so far, in more than 20 years of doing financial planning, been able to find some sort of universal agreement on what should be covered – but here is my attempt. I fully expect some disagreement – but that is good – it means people are thinking about it seriously! Also, readers should be aware that “financial planning” is NOT about selling products – it is exclusively about helping clients create a roadmap for their lives – financial and otherwise. For brevity, I am covering these issues in point form – obviously the actual discussions drive the ultimate destination and no two clients(even spouses or partners) have exactly the same vision – which keeps life interesting! If anyone would like confirmation of what some of these abbreviations and notes mean to me – just ask!

LifestyleCurrent and future, hobbies, interests, health issues/family history, soft-facts via
non-interview. Potential for changed occupation(s), children? Where do they
see themselves in 5, 10, 15, 20 years??

Cash Flow Actual versus planned, leakage (un-accounted for loss of revenue)/budget/cash flow
Income tax assessment/recommendations. Income splitting (CPP and other options).
Debt analysis and review – consolidation, refinance, Line(s) of Credit, Total Debt Service Ratios,
eliminate debt through use of other assets to improve cash flow, TDSR, etc.

Assets and Liabilities Including property assessments, mortgage/loan statements and schedules, details of
co-signing, credit card statements, revolving LOCs, bank accounts, GICs, TFSAs,
RESPs, all Registered Products, notes/mortgages receivable, loans to family
members, ACBs, assessments, valuations, cash flows, etc., stock options,
student loans

Risk Management Risk assessment – lives, property, automobiles and business.
Assessment of risk protection alternatives.

1) For individuals – all family members:
a) As appropriate, discussions about life insurance, disability insurance, critical illness insurance and long-term care insurance.
b) Discuss beneficiary appoints (contingent), previous spouses, blended families.
c) Review of group insurance benefits available – including life, AD & D, STD, LTD,
Medical, Dental, Vision Care, Out-of-country, HSAs, etc.
d) Current and available accident benefits, credit life insurance, disability insurance and critical illness insurance.
e) Potential for expanded benefits through ICBC re automobile injury/death.

2) For business/investment real estate/tax shelters/etc. – all involved family members:
a) Over-head Expense Coverage, Disability Buy-Sell, CII Buy-sell.
b) Grouped Executive Enhanced Benefits Plans.
c) LOC coverage as appropriate.
d) Discussion of Buy-Sell situation, liabilities, potential problems for survivor and deceased family.

3) Contingent Liabilities – all involved family members:
a) Who signed what and are the debts protected and recoverable – including review of alternatives.
b) Can contingency be removed.

4) Residence – owned, rented – reviews as appropriate:
a) Coverage for buildings, contents, scheduled items, deductibles, floaters, exclusions (earthquake), limits.
b) Voluntary medical payments, own damage, personal liability, off premises items, properties.
c) No frills, Basic, Broad Form or Comprehensive coverage.
d) Is building or contents over-insured?
e) If strata – match coverage with Strata Insurance Certificate to ensure no gaps.
f) Loss-payees.
g) Improvements updated on policy – strata and detached residences.
h) Fair Market Value versus Replacement Value updated on policy
i) Scheduled items – basket-clause application for jewelry, collectables, etc.
j) Check coverage for ATVs, boats, etc. extended re damage, theft, destruction and liability.

5) Automobiles – Government and Private insurance as appropriate:
a) Are deductibles appropriate given age of vehicles, use, driver?
b) Waiver of depreciation appropriate
c) BC residents – RoadStar eligibility/benefits.
d) Loss of use
e) Underinsured Motorist limits
f) Uninsured Motorist limits
g) Supplemental Death and Income Benefits
h) Third-party liability
i) After-market upgrades or improvements
j) Change of use
k) Experience of drivers
l) Check coverage re ATV’s, boats, etc. extended as floaters or endorsements
m) For boats – Recreational Boater operator cards, etc.
n) Coverage for personal items such computers, cell-phones, iPads, etc. if vehicle stolen or destroyed.

6) Business/Rental Properties/investments/tax-shelters:
a) Coverage limits for structures, loss payees, flood, fire.
b) Third-Party liability, voluntary medical, own damage.
c) Loss of revenue – business continuation – business financial statements.
d) Recent valuations of all assets used in the business.
e) Business cash flow.
f) Tenant damage as appropriate.
g) Revolving Lines of Credit and terms/agreements/co-signing.
h) Business agreements – shareholder, partnership, operating, financing, royalty, revenue sharing, etc. as appropriate.

Taxation and financial planning – Part 2 of 2

So let’s pick up where we left off last week.

Whether people recognise it or not, wealthy people do pay more total taxes than lower income earners – they like more toys, more vacations, more luxuries – guess what – there are taxes included in all of those items too – but then, to admit that would go against the current 1% versus the 99% protests! The simple fact is, there is no “tax freedom” day – everything we spend goes for taxes or raw materials – everything in between is taxes or becomes taxes in one form or another – but let’s not get depressed about it! How does this impact on financial and insurance/estate planning?

Projecting future tax rates that might apply to retirement income or tax credits that might exist for personal health care is a losing proposition. The same applies to the future impact of estate succession/capital gains or even inheritance taxes (which will come back in the future in one form or another – guaranteed!)

Most software programs in use today around the world for the financial services industry, add compelling statements such as “full income tax T-1 calculation done for each year of your plan” (pardon the Canadian influence – but I are one – and proud of it!!). What rubbish. The only thing that COULD accurately be said is the tax calculations are reasonably accurate for the PREVIOUS tax year – everything else is at best an estimate and at worst, a SWAG.

Canadians want more services paid for by “governments” so the governments have to get more $$ from the tax payers to pay for those services. Remember, there is only ONE taxpayer – that is each person. Businesses don’t actually pay any tax – never have and never will – they are simply conduits to get taxes from tax payers to the various levels of government. Some politicos say we are going to raise taxes on various businesses – how nonsensical! Does anyone seriously believe that the business is going to reduce profits to owners, partners and shareholders to pay the tax? Of course not – they just increase the cost of the item, good or service they sell to…….guess who……. tax payers!! But then, that isn’t nice to admit either! The same applies when businesses are charged royalties for accessing natural resources – the cost of those royalties are simply passed along to the consumer – who is also the tax payer – again! BOHICA!

In financial and insurance/estate planning, all we currently need to address are income taxes – and then only as a best estimate. It is my normal practice to include a large disclaimer relating to tax estimates and then I go further by increasing the projected costs by a further 10%. Why do I do that? I have never met a retiree in need of health care who complained about having too much money available to get the level and quality of care they want. I have never met a widow or widower or orphan or surviving business partner who ever complained about having too much tax-free cash available. And I know all governments are going to need more revenue in the future – and they can only get it from us!

BTW for those readers who may not be familiar with the words SWAG or BOHICA – they come from my past military experiences – SWAG – silly wild ass guess – BOHICA – bend over here it comes again! Cheers.

Taxation and Financial Planning – Part 1 of 2

A topic we all love to hate – but it needs to be examined a bit closer when it comes financial and insurance/estate planning – but no, I am not going to turn this into an course on Income Tax – but rather I am going to present some points for consideration in your planning processes.

I am always amused at various federal and provincial politicians that stand up and brag that “we have removed the burden of taxation from those Canadians with the lowest incomes”. Sounds wonderful and some politicos may actually believe it – but I assure you it is completely false. Other tax goodies such GST/HST tax credits for low income earners, Climate Action credits, planned low income tax credits, etc. are simply political smoke and mirrors. I will clarify something right here – I never have been, am not and never expect to be a member of any federal, provincial or civic/municipal political party or action committee – my comments are completely apolitical. I lump all political parties together when it comes to these games, and frankly I don’t trust any of them to be completely honest – but then I am a cynic or so I have been told!

OK, back to my point – sort of. Every person in Canada who purchases anything is paying taxes to all levels of government in Canada plus additional taxes to foreign governments if the item(s) purchased were made outside Canada or the raw materials came from outside Canada. And this applies to EVERYONE – from the person at the top of Canada’s Wealthiest list to the person who scrapes by begging for handouts or receives social assistance of one type or another. Charities pay taxes too – and this includes religious organisations that, for whatever reason, have been given charitable status – money is being moved around to all levels of government.

Many people “rejoice” when tax-freedom day arrives – somewhere around the middle of the year according to several organisations – I contend this is a complete fallacy – and I’ll tell you why!

Assume I make and sell a widget. When I calculate the price for which I am willing to sell it, I have to look at all the TAX inputs – buying the raw material to make it – I am paying taxes to the seller of the raw materials who is paying taxes on those raw materials to government in the form of royalties, licence fees plus taxes on purchasing the equipment that they used to get the raw materials. I have to calculate in the selling price the amount of money I paid to the manufacturers of the equipment that I use to make my widget and they have included in their price of the equipment all of the taxes they had to pay. I have to calculate the labour costs included in each widget I make and that includes payroll taxes such as CPP, EI, Health Care etc.

Then I have to include the property tax I pay for the building that houses the equipment in which I make the widget – and if I lease the building and land, then I pay a pro-rata share of the taxes my landlord pays. Next I have to package the widget and pay taxes on the materials used in the packaging, then I have to ship it somewhere and pay taxes on that including road and bridge tolls, provincial, federal and local taxes or surcharges, fuel taxes, port taxes, customs duties etc. Finally I get around to paying me – and I have to figure in my tax bill to figure what I need to have left to take of me and my family and pay all of these same types of taxes on everything we consume or use.

Whether people want to recognise it or not, wealthy people do pay more total taxes than lower income earners – they like more toys, more vacations, more luxuries – guess what – there are taxes included in all of those items too – but then, to admit that would go against the current 1% versus the 99% protests! The simple fact is, there is no “tax freedom” day – everything we spend goes for taxes or raw materials – everything in between is taxes or becomes taxes in one form or another – but let’s not get depressed about it! How does this impact on financial and insurance/estate planning?

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!

Effects of Inflation on Financial, Estate and Retirement Planning and product illustrations

After reviewing different options for growth rate assumptions in previous blogs, let’s now examine inflation. From Statistics Canada’s website, the following inflation rates apply for the same 1992 to 2011 period.

1992 1.8 %
1993 1.4 %
1994 0.2 %
1995 1.5 %
1996 1.9 %
1997 0.7 %
1998 0.9 %
1999 2.4 %
2000 3.0 %
2001 0.7 %
2002 3.7 %
2003 2.1 %
2004 2.2 %
2005 2.2 %
2006 1.8 %
2007 2.6 %
2008 1.3 %
2009 1.5 %
2010 2.7 %
2011 2.7 %

Average 1.87 %

Median 1.85 %

CAGR 1.86 %

Inflation has ranged considerably since the 1950s – from mid-double digits (during the period of a strange PET creation called the Anti-inflation Board) to a minus during a recession. Even in this illustrative period it has gone from 0.2% for a low to a high of 3.7% – more than 18 times the lowest rate!! 3.7% is a plan killer – particularly over 20 or 30 years – and remember from a couple of blogs back, this is just the main CPI result – sub-indices for things such as Health Care and Recreation can be and very often are considerably higher – which results in an even larger impact post-retirement than just the basic CPI. But let’s continue the basic thread here.

If I take the Average, Median and CAGR results from one of the previous blogs and subtract these inflation figures, look at what happens.

Net Average 4.98 % $2,640.69 Overstated by 32.20 %

Net Median 8.00 % $4,660.96 Overstated by 133.34 %

Net CAGR 3.52 % $1,997.49

You can see that the Net Average drops from 6.84% to 4.98%; the Net median is reduced from 9.85% to 8.0% and CAGR drops to 3.52% from 5.38%. Putting these inflation-adjusted rates into the usual future-value formula, using the Net Average rate results in the initial $1,000.00 invested growing to $2,640.69, the Net Median gives $4,660.96 while using the Net CAGR provides a total of $1,997.49 after the 20-year period. I will further complicate this discussion by taking the CAGR from the blog adding money to the fund – 5.01% and subtract the 1.86% CAGR for inflation, and now I get a Net CAGR of only 3.15%!!

I am going to ignore the Median calculations in my future comments – and you can obviously see why – that leaves either the Net Average or the Net CAGR.

The CAGR is the actual calculated Compound Annual Growth Rate for the initial $1,000.00 investment over 20 years – it takes into account the actual up and down movements for each year to give the actual end result. The numerical Average does not consider the actual end result of the annual changes to the rates of return – rather just the annual rates themselves. Which, IMHO, is seriously flawed logic. As you can see from the table above, using the Net Average results in projected future values 32.20% HIGHER than actual history would indicate – can you justify an error rate this large to yourself or your clients??

I cannot.

I was told by a statistician many years ago that averages are nothing but the worst of the best and the best of the worst – reviewing these numbers proves that statement to me – and I hope to my readers as well.

Talking to various actuaries (a very interesting group of folks I might add) over many years, particularly pension actuaries, I have been told many times that the real rate of return on money over long periods of time (30 plus years), is typically in the 3.00% to 3.50% range – RROR being return over and above inflation but before taxes – and surprise, surprise, this is what is supported by the actual results over the previous 20 years using the S&P/TSX Total Return Index and applying the Stats Canada CPI and actual calculated Compound Annual Growth Rate!

Next time, I will discuss another favourite hobby-horse – income taxes! Cheers


It has been said that there are Liars, Damn Liars and Statisticians – and you can throw in Economists for good measure! Another approach is to ask a mathematician, an accountant and an actuary the result of the formula 2 plus 2 equals what? The mathematician will say 4, the accountant will say that depends (explains a lot about some financial reporting!) and the actuary will ask, what do you want it to equal? Through creative choices, numbers can be made to say just about anything a person desires, if you apply enough “logic” – no matter how flimsy!

Apples to bananas! As we explore the effects of growth rate assumptions on financial, estate and insurance planning, I am going to take a slight detour to briefly discuss two benchmarks commonly in use – the most popular being the S&P/TSX – which is an INDEX, and the DJIA which is an AVERAGE – they are NOT interchangeable nor do they measure the same things!

The DJIA measures the 30 largest (by market cap) US Corporations – subject to annual reviews and adjustments. The S&P/TSX measures (allegedly) the 300 largest (by market cap and not necessarily purely Canadian) companies trading on the TSX. At last count, there are apparently about 290 companies included in the S&P/TSX Index. Finally, one is expressed in CDN currency and the other in US currency so variations in the DJIA, as usually seen in Canada, also reflect exchange rate movements.

As you can see, the DJIA is only a very narrow “measurement” of market value and movement while the S&P/TSX is, at least in theory, a reflection of a much broader market. Very different measurements yet for some reason they are entwined as being very similar, if not identical – and not just by the media, many in the financial services industry are also guilty of this “grouping” for comparison purposes.

The closest US market measurement to the S&P/TSX Index is the S&P 500 Index – as the name implies, measuring the movement of the largest 500 US Companies – also in US Currency and then converted to CDN $ for use here – again adding exchange rate movements to the changing index values.

Many people are unaware that we (Canadians) do have a “large cap” index that is SIMILAR, but not identical to the DJIA – it is the TSX60 – which measures the 60 largest companies trading in Toronto. So, if comparisons about movements, trends, etc. are to be made, it is certainly far more appropriate to compare movements (net of currency exchange effects), between the DJIA and the TSX60. Other major exchanges around the world also have narrower, large cap sub-indices similar to the TSX 60.

For more specific information about the compositions of the various indices and market averages, please refer to their specific websites – or have fun with Wikipedia.

Inflation has been around since someone started to track changes in prices of various goods and services. In Canada, we use the Consumer Price Index as measured by Statistics Canada. All details can be found on their website plus additional information on Wikipedia. Obviously, the basket of “goods and services” in use today is very different than 50 years ago – even 20 years ago – consumer choices and options change – therefore so does the “basket”. In Canada, inflation is separated into a “full measure” of everything and then a variety of sub-indices such as “core” inflation along with others such Health Care, Education, Recreation, etc.

Comparisons between inflation rates amongst various countries is close to impossible – each country is measuring different items, then of course, we may have currency issues that could also affect published rates – check the websites for each country to determine how currency may impact published results.

All too often, people in our industry and in some cases the media, tend to use a single inflation assumption in our planning – which is patently incorrect. When people retire, the effects of inflation are typically higher due to probable higher costs for Health Care and Recreation, while some aspects of the total inflation rate will drop such as business transportation.

I will discuss inflation in planning in more detail in a future blog – my only purpose here is to caution people to be careful about your chosen basis for assumptions during different phases of the planning process – different rates for education costs, health care, recreation, housing, etc. are all appropriate – a single presumption is not!

BTW, I watch Business News Network each morning to catch Marty, Frances and Michael plus their various guests – plus I regularly use their website – www.bnn.ca – for other updates and information on various indices – including the TSX60.