Archive for January, 2012

Under 40? Forget Retirement Planning

January 31, 2012

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech in Davos last week set off a mini firestorm when he briefly touched upon the need to make social programs sustainable as the population ages rapidly:

We have already taken steps to limit the growth of our health care spending over that period. We must do the same for our retirement income system. Fortunately, the centerpiece of that system, the Canada Pension Plan, is fully funded, actuarially sound and does not need to be changed. For those elements of the system that are not funded, we will make the changes necessary to ensure sustainability for the next generation while not affecting current recipients.

Newspapers immediately started speculating that the Federal Government is contemplating raising the age of eligibility for Old Age Security (OAS) from 65 to 67. Other rumours suggested that the Government might lower the threshold at which OAS benefits are clawed back. We might have to wait for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to table the budget document for insight into exactly what the Federal Government is planning to do.

The current brouhaha clearly illustrates the futility of detailed retirement planning for anyone under 40 years of age because a lot can change in the quarter century left until retirement. Perhaps, as the rumours suggest, Old Age Security will be radically altered by the time today’s 40-year olds retire. There may even be significant changes made to the Canada Pension Plan. Therefore, younger Canadians should spend most of their energies in building a strong financial base — establishing a savings habit, investing the savings prudently, paying down debt etc. — and worry about the minutiae of retirement plans as they get closer to retirement.

iShares + Claymore is not good for Clients

January 29, 2012

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Recently, BlackRock which offers 48 ETFs in Canada under the iShares label announced that it will be acquiring Claymore Canada, a vendor of 34 exchange-traded funds. The press release accompanying the announcement said that the transaction enhances BlackRock’s ability to “deliver excellence in innovation, quality and choice”.

According to the Canadian ETF Association, iShares is already the dominant player in the ETF sector with a market share of 67%. Claymore currently occupies the #2 slot with a market share of 15.5%. When the deal is consummated (unfortunately, it is likely a question of “when”, not “if” the deal will be approved, because BlackRock can probably successfully argue that its market share of the overall fund business is fairly small), BlackRock’s market share will become even more dominant at 82.5%. Or look at it this way: iShares currently has 13 out of the 20 largest ETFs by assets under management. After acquiring Claymore, BlackRock will have 18 out of the top 20 ETFs.

It is true that other ETF vendors are competing strongly. In 2011, BMO was virtually tied with iShares in net ETF creations at 33%. Claymore occupied the #3 spot with 20%. Combining iShares with Claymore (Jon Chevreau cleverly dubbed the combination “ClayShares”) would mean BlackRock would have more than 50% of the 2011 ETF sales to go along with its dominant position in the ETF landscape. It is hard to see how the creation of a virtual monopoly will deliver innovation and choice for ETF investors.

Economic Impacts and Social Values of Credit Unions

January 17, 2012

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[Note: The following is a guest post by Norm Klatt, Senior Vice-President at Concentra Financial, which made a winning bid of $5,000 in the Bloggers for Charity initiative. I thank them for the generous donation to charity.]

In today’s uncertain economic times, there’s value in taking a closer look at a group of reliable financial institutions that are operating within an under-utilized and largely misunderstood alternative business model. These organizations, which began in December 1900, are positioning themselves to re-assert their differences and become more prominent in the financial industry.

This alternative business model is a co-operative; the institutions are credit unions.

Adhering to a basic philosophy that the most important business strategy is to serve the member/owners has enabled credit unions to develop into the competitive organizations they are today. Understanding of, and adherence to, the co-operative principles is the raison d’etre for Canada’s credit unions.

If you weren’t already aware, 2012 has been designated International Year of Co-operatives by the United Nations. What better excuse to share some numbers about Canada’s 419 credit unions. According to the Credit Union Central of Canada, credit unions in Canada employ over 25,000 individuals to serve the 5 million-plus member/owners. This service is delivered in over 1730 credit union branches located in all areas of the country from the largest cities to small rural settlements. Credit unions hold over $117 billion in assets. Together, they constitute the second largest lender to small businesses in Canada…a significant contribution and critical to the economic strength of the country.

But, when talking about credit unions it is important to look behind or perhaps beyond the economic impact. In addition to lending to the businesses that fuel the economy, credit unions are critical to the community itself. In many instances, if it were not for the credit union, the community would not have access to a financial services provider. More often than not, employees of credit unions also live in the community they serve. This allows them the advantage of being able to understand the needs of that community and support the objectives that are important to its growth and well-being.

Credit unions epitomize ‘co-operative’ social responsibility by making a real and sustainable difference in the lives of their member/owners and their community. They lead the way in community giving and volunteerism; through donations, services, scholarships and volunteerism, credit unions contributed more than $37.5 million to individuals and organizations in their communities in 2010.

The small community of Churchbridge, Saskatchewan is a great example. One of the flagships of their community is the town’s public swimming pool. When the staff of Churchbridge Credit Union learned of the need to replace the worn, 40-year old relic, they dove right in as it were. By pioneering initiatives such as staff and board matched donations, holding community BBQs and offering town residents a 0% interest free loan program to encourage participation, over $32,000 was raised. And if that wasn’t enough, staff members voluntarily sat on the planning committee and worked on the building and on the fundraising efforts to support. A true community approach for the 900 residents.

There are success stories like this one all across Canada. With help from local credit unions, many communities continue to prosper, both economically, and in corporate giving thanks to the creation of the co-operative principles over 100 years ago. Those principles are still alive – and are a viable alternative for us all in 2012 and beyond.