Fort McMurray woman wants Insurance Act changed

‘We are still paying a mortgage on a pile of ashes,’ homeowner says

Excerpreted article was written by Jamie Malbeuf · CBC News 

After struggling for three years to get a settlement, a Fort McMurray woman wants to see changes to the Insurance Act.

Jamie Harpe lost her home in the May 2016 wildfire that destroyed 15 per cent of the buildings in Alberta’s oilsands city.

“Three years into it, we are still paying a mortgage on a pile of ashes, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight,” she said.

After the fire, Harpe said, she was able to settle a claim for the cost of her home’s contents with her insurance company, Aviva.

But the house claim remains unsettled.

Aviva declined to comment on the case, but Harpe said she will opt for a formal dispute resolution process.

The most recent estimate for the cost of the rebuild is from two years ago; Two different companies assessed the cost at between $3.1 million and $4.3 million, said Harpe, the president of an oilfield servicing company she owns with her husband.

She estimates the house was about 7,000 square feet. Her lawyer requested a quote for the cost of heating and hoarding — which includes a fence around the construction site to prevent unauthorized access and tarpaulins to cover the site and keep heat contained, allowing construction in winter — and that estimate came in at between $200,000 and $400,000.

The two parties almost came to an agreement recently, she said, except for one unresolved matter: who would pay the heating and hoarding costs.

Harpe said she doesn’t think her family should have to shoulder that cost.

She has been paying lawyers to help her with the claim, which she said has cost her about $70,000 over the last two years.

In the meantime, she bought property two doors down from her old house and put a prefabricated home there.

She says the money for living expenses from the insurance company ran out, and her family has been paying additional expenses out of pocket.

Now they’re paying for a second mortgage on top of almost $5,000 a month for the first mortgage.

The insurance industry is going to be here until the very last claim is closed in Fort McMurray.– Rob de Pruis, Insurance Bureau of Canada

She would like to see the Insurance Act changed so that companies have to pay additional living expenses for lengthy cases such as hers.

“The Insurance Act seems to work for the insurance company, and when it comes to the consumer there are so many loopholes that the insurance companies can, in a sense, bully the hardworking Canadians.”

At this point, she said, her payout should be higher than the cost of the rebuild, because of the additional money they’ve spent.

The provincial and federal governments should make changes to insurance regulations that benefit consumers, she said

Harpe said the claim has taken a toll on her mental health.

“You still have to work. And you still have to live your day-to-day life. And in the meantime … you’re always worried about what’s happening with the rebuild.”

Less than 1% of claims unresolved

The Fort McMurray wildfire was the most expensive insured disaster in Canadian history.

Rob de Pruis, director of consumer and industry relations for the western arm of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said more than 60,000 insurance claims were opened after the fire.

He said less than one per cent of those files remain open, and those are typically the complicated files, or ones where the company and homeowner couldn’t come to an agreement.

An aerial photo of Harpe’s home before it burned down. She says it shouldn’t take three years to get an insurance settlement. (Submitted by Jaime Harpe)

De Pruis said in most cases when the claim is drawn out, it’s because of misunderstandings or poor communication between the company and the homeowner.

There are options for the homeowner to pursue if an agreement can’t be reached: the company’s internal ombudsman or an independent company called the General Insurance Organization.

They can facilitate conversations between the two parties.

There is also a formal dispute resolution process, which is the route Harpe is taking. This is a facilitated discussion with representatives and specific timelines.

As a last resort, De Pruis said, the claim could go to court.

“The insurance industry is going to be here until the very last claim is closed in Fort McMurray,” he said.

De Pruis said the IBC is available to help anyone who is struggling with an insurance claim.

How Businesses Can Play A Role In Insuring The Future

How Businesses Can Play A Role In Insuring The Future

By planning ahead, entrepreneurs can significantly reduce the likelihood of their businesses running into costly problems in the future.

By M. Rajendran
Deputy Managing Director, Middle East/ CEO of UAE, Al Futtaim Willis

Will the world be more or less risky in the future? The answer to this question depends on which type of risk we are talking about. With our health, for example, better medicines and better prevention, should reduce our risk of suffering from many of the most common chronic diseases. But what about workplace risks? Or the risk posed by the natural world around us? Let’s take a look at each in more detail before exploring how a business can prepare for that future.

1. Future health 
A 2018 report by the Economist predicted that the future of healthcare is to be dominated by personalization, precision and prevention, with the latter taking centre stage. There is good reason for this. According to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 75% of American healthcare spend is on chronic diseases which makes sense when the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 15.2 million deaths worldwide in 2016 were due to heart disease and stroke alone. The bulk of these chronic diseases are caused by our own lifestyle habits, making prevention key. It’s something we’re all waking up to. Governments around the world are already implementing their own disease prevention programs. Individuals are using lifestyle trackers on their phones and watches. This strategy is vital. Especially when the Willis Towers Watson 2019 Global Medical Trends report shows that the cost of healthcare globally is outstripping inflation two-to-one. In the UAE, healthcare costs increased by 10.3% in 2018, and are predicted to hit 11% in 2019.

How can your business play a role in disease prevention? Despite governments pushing disease prevention, much of the work is likely to come from businesses. By putting wellness management and disease prevention at the top of your agenda, you’ll be protecting your business from future risk in terms of spiraling healthcare premiums. Wellness programs come with well-publicized benefits including reduced sick days, improved productivity and lower healthcare costs. But they are a long-term strategy as well: a 2016 study published in the Journal of Population Health Management investigated the healthcare utilization and cost effectiveness of a personalized preventive care program in the US. It found that approximately 24% to 26% of members were cost effective in the first and second year. But that by the third year, 63% had hit this mark.

2. Future work 
Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are important topics at the moment. While most discussion has centered on what they mean for employees and job stability, you hear far less about what they mean for workplace risk. This is disappointing because ultimately the digital revolution is also a revolution in risk reduction.

A recent Willis Towers Watson report titled “Five Myths About The Future Of Work” was based on the results from the company’s 2017/2018 Global Future of Work Survey. It found that 21% of EMEA responders expected the automation of work in their company to reduce risk or errors. For many industries, it will help make the workplace a less risky place and reduce employee liability, especially with repetitive tasks. A robot’s output is entirely predictable.

How can your business reduce risk with automation and AI? This is a question that can only be answered by auditing your business needs. For example, all jobs can be split into tasks to better understand what can be automated and what requires human input. The human tasks are then rebuilt back into jobs. There are a huge number of tools already available to help companies automate elements of their business. For example, customer relationship management (CRM) systems can help with the control of big data. Automated accounting tools can automate approval and invoicing. And chatbots can keep up customer interactions without over-burdening staff. All of these come together to help reduce the risk of errors and cyber-crime.

3. Future environment 
So far, we’ve seen that our overall health will likely improve through disease prevention, and our workplaces become safer due to automation. The same cannot be said about the environment. The Global Risk Report, published by the World Economic Forum, surveyed over 1,000 decision makers from the public, private and academic sectors globally. They predicted that over the next decade, the top three risks were all environment-related: extreme weather events, failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation, and natural disasters.

To put this into perspective, these three were higher than data fraud/theft and cyber attacks, which came in fourth and fifth respectively. Businesses are already taking cyber-related issues very seriously, but remain less concerned about the impact of a changing climate. This is to their peril. For example, last year parts of Canada were hit by wild fires, catching companies out because historically the risk was deemed minimal. Here in the Middle East, rising oceans and drought are two threats sitting on the horizon. The World Bank, for example, has identified 24 ports in the region at risk of sea level rise.

How can your business mitigate against environmental change? Many companies are vulnerable to some kind of climate-related risk. For example, a company could purchase stock without fully considering how sudden environmental events could cause rapid price corrections. Or a company could find itself in an area of increased rainfall raising the risk of flooding and damage.

It’s important leaders identify their business and strategic risk. Split these risks by location, as required, and then develop a mitigation strategy. This includes making sure insurance policies are fully up to date and flexible enough to deal with sudden environmental disasters.

The key takeaway here is that things rarely stay the same for long. In many ways the future may well be less risky, especially for our health and workplaces. But this is only the case if we take advantage of the programs and technologies available to us right now. By planning ahead, we can significantly reduce the likelihood of our business running into costly problems in the future.

Source: Entrepreneur 

Ontario is finally regulating the terms financial planner & financial adviser

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The recent 2019 Ontario Budget finally introduced a proposal that is long overdue – formally regulating the terms financial planner and financial adviser. While specific details about proficiency standards are yet to come, most of us in the financial advice and investment industry are eager to have a valid framework in place as soon as possible.

There is a difference between a financial adviser and a financial planner. A financial adviser typically helps clients manage their investments, while a financial planner helps clients identify and meet major goals, such as retiring comfortably or paying for a child’s education. While appropriate licensing is required for someone to advise in the purchase or sale of a mutual fund, a stock, or an insurance policy, anyone can offer general financial advice without any evidence of qualification. As a result, many investors can fall prey to a regular stream of frauds and incompetent advisers.

For the past few years, our industry has been focused on a few key issues, such as the fees investors pay. While regulators have concerns with respect to their transparency, many players in the industry seem to be focused on whether or not they are too high in terms of their fees. Both of these perspectives are important, but miss the point.

In my view, the big issue is whether or not the advice is qualified, competent, and valuable. How one pays for it, and what one pays for it, are secondary.

It’s critical that investors are able to tell financial advisers apart, first to help protect themselves from fraudsters, and second, to help guide them to properly qualified practitioners. You don’t have to spend too long on Google or reading newspapers to find stories about investors being scammed out of their money. But regulating the use of financial adviser and financial planner titles is a simple and effective first line of defence against criminals. It’s like locking your doors and closing your windows.

Today, Canadians are facing a retirement-income crisis. Here’s what is driving the severity and urgency of the problem:

  • The fastest growing segment of the population is baby boomers. By 2024, one in five Canadians will be over 65.
  • Fewer than 23 per cent of tax filers made an RRSP contribution in 2016, according to the most recent data from Statistics Canada. The result is that there is nearly $1-trillion in unused RRSP contribution room available.
  • While TFSAs are popular, they are used as much for short-term savings as for long term, with 47 cents in withdrawals for every $1 contributed.

According to MNP, a leading consulting firm for accounting, tax and business, 46 per cent of Canadians are within $200 of financial insolvency.

The fact is more Canadians are reaching retirement age faster than we realize. And they are getting there with less money put aside in order to live longer than they expect to. There is a sense here of burning the candle at both ends.

While many things can impact your economic reality, it is clear that financial illiteracy is widespread. Most Canadians are really passengers in their own financial lives and are headed for disaster. When they do decide to grab the wheel, most of them need help, advice, and assistance to get back on track. When they seek the help of a professional, they deserve to get qualified, experienced advice. Indeed, a great adviser can make an enormous difference.

But lousy ones can derail us in disastrous ways. An important aspect of my work is something I refer to as “forensic financial planning.” It involves finding and correcting the damage that bad advice has done. Think of dentists who must fix problems other dentists have created. But then not everyone can be a dentist. My industry is different since, until now, anyone could hang a shingle.

What kind of mistakes happen? Here are four big ones:

  1. The incorrect use of leverage.
  2. Over-allocating to securities that are high-risk.
  3. Buying mutual funds that are too expensive and proprietary.
  4. The excessive use of whole life insurance.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Often the salesperson is well meaning, but not particularly competent. Let’s hope that this new initiative from the Ontario government makes it easier for clients/consumers to find qualified professionals.

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I want to become a general insurance agent. What are the qualifications and how do I apply? Here’s how.

Postal code change leaves couple facing insurance hike

Ryan Flanagan, Producer, CTVNews.ca

An Ontario couple saw their home and auto insurance premiums increase to the tune of hundreds of dollars per year because of a change in their address – even though they didn’t move.

Christine and David Pindar live in a rural part of Oshawa, Ont., east of Toronto.

They were notified by Canada Post last summer that the last three digits of their postal code would be changing. Once the change took effect, they passed on the new information to their insurance company, the Allstate Insurance Company of Canada.

“They said ‘Oh, well that means your premiums are going to have to go up,’” Christine Pindar told CTVNews.ca.

Pindar said her house insurance premium rose by 37 per cent and the premiums for her and her husband’s three cars increased by about 10 per cent each. She pegged the overall increase at approximately $600 per year.

Taking a deeper dive into the numbers, she found that her insurance company now believed it would cost her more to replace her house in the event it was destroyed – not just because of inflation, but also because of the new postal code – while the actual assessed value of the home remained the same.

When she contacted Allstate, she said she was told that the new postal code put her into a higher-risk area.

Particularly strange, as Pindar sees it, is that the new postal code didn’t exist before last summer – making her wonder how exactly it can be deemed risky.

“It’s a brand-new postal code. How can that create an increase? It just blows my mind,” she said.

Pindar said she and her husband are looking into their options and if there is anything they can do to lower their premiums.

“For anybody, $600 is a slap in the face for no reason,” she said.

A spokesperson for Allstate Canada declined to address the Pindars’ situation specifically.

WHAT HAPPENED?

According to Canada Post, the Pindars’ home is one of approximately 500 in the Oshawa area which saw their postal codes reassigned as part of changes to postal routes. The changes “are necessary to accommodate increased growth in the area and to improve overall delivery efficiencies,” according to a spokesperson for the agency.

“Postal code changes do not happen often and we go to great lengths not to change them,” the spokesperson said.

Postal codes play a significant role in determining insurance premiums in Ontario. The Allstate spokesperson said the company includes postal code data as well as a home’s age and type when calculating home insurance policies. Auto insurance policies are based on factors including the vehicle’s safety rating and usage, as well as the driver’s experience and previous claims.

“All insurance companies operating in Ontario are mandated by the provincial regulator to consider postal codes when calculating premiums and we must adhere to that regulatory framework,” Jordan Kerbel, the company’s director of external relations, said in a statement.

According to the Financial Services Commission of Ontario, people living in urban areas generally face higher rates because of higher traffic levels and increased likelihood of theft.

Pindar suspects this may be at play in her case, as her previous postal code covered an area spread further out from Highway 407 than the area of the new code.

Jasmine Daya, a Toronto-based lawyer, told CTV’s Your Morning Monday that Ontario’s so-called postal code discrimination tends to benefit drivers in downtown Toronto and outside the Greater Toronto Area, while drivers in suburban parts of the GTA typically have to pay higher auto insurance rates.

“People in Brampton, people in Scarborough, their rates are very high,” she said.

“People who are paying lower rates, being outside the GTA, are very happy to have postal code discrimination because they benefit.”

Two bills introduced at Queen’s Park last fall called for the Ontario government to ban the practiceof letting insurance companies set rates based on addresses or postal codes.

Swap These Financial Stocks to Reduce Risk

Victoria Hetherington

Rising household debt, falling house prices, slowing credit applications – it’s a wonder anyone is still buying shares in Canada’s Big Six banks. Indeed, from financing weed suppliers to exposing itself to a potentially volatile American market, big Bay Street bankers may be too rich by half for the low-risk appetites of domestic investors looking to them for stability.

Take Bank of Nova Scotia (TSX:BNS)(NYSE:BNS), with its exposure to the U.S. economy, for instance. Scotiabank does substantial business south of the border, and as such may have left itself vulnerable to the potential of a widespread market downturn in the U.S. Even with this leg up, though, it still managed to underperform the Canadian banking industry as well as the TSX index for the past year.

More shares have been bought than sold by Bank of Nova Scotia insiders in the past three months, though not in vastly significant volumes. The usual boxes are ticked by its value, indicating P/E of 10.6 times earnings and P/B of 1.4 times book, while a stable dividend yield of 4.88% is augmented by a good-for-a-bank-stock 6.6% expected annual growth in earnings.

Again, overexposure to the United States market is an issue with Bank of Montreal(TSX:BMO)(NYSE:BMO). Specifically, this comes from BMO Harris Bank, a large personal and commercial bank; BMO Private Bank, which offers wealth management across the U.S.; plus BMO Capital Markets, an investment and corporate banking arm of the parent banker.

With year-on-year returns of 8.1%, BMO outperformed the industry and the market, and as such seems a safe bet on the face of it. Its one-year past earnings growth of 24.6% shows rapid recent improvement given its five-year average growth rate of 6.1%. Meanwhile, a P/E of 11.3 times earnings and P/B of 1.5 times book show near-market valuation, and a dividend yield of 3.9% is matched with a 3.6% expected annual growth in earnings.

Try the “insulated” alternatives

An example of domestic alternative on the TSX index would be Laurentian Bank of Canada (TSX:LB). Although its one-year past earnings dropped by 4.2%, a five-year average past earnings growth of 14.3% shows overall positivity, while a P/E of 9 times earnings and P/B of 0.8 times book illustrate Laurentian Bank of Canada’s characteristic good value. A dividend yield of 6.3% coupled with a 9.2% expected annual growth in earnings gives the Big Six a run for their money.

Alternatively, Manulife Finanical (TSX:MFC)(NYSE:MFC) offers a way to stick with financials but ditch the banks. This ever-popular insurance stock was up 2.33% in the last five days at the time of writing and is very attractive in term of value at the moment, with a P/E of 10.3 times earnings and P/B of 1.1 times book.

Manulife Financial’s 3.5% year-on-year returns managed to beat the Canadian insurance industry, but just missed out on walloping the TSX index’s 4.2%. In terms of the company’s track record, its one-year past earnings growth of 138.1% eclipsed the market and its industry, though its five-year average is sadly negative. Its balance sheet is solid, however, with its level of debt reduced over the past five years from 60.2% to the current 41% today.

The bottom line

Sidestepping banks may be a shrewd move at the moment, with other forms of financials offering a more insulated route to a broader space. While more regionalized banks like Laurentian Bank of Canada are one option, stocks like Manulife Financial, with its dividend yield of 4.17% and 11.3% expected annual growth in earnings offer a similar but less risky play on the TSX index’s financial sector.

Your Pregnancy App May Be Selling Your Data – to Your Boss

Rachel Wells | Glamour

Tracking health data has gotten intimate. Thanks to the booming femtech industry, there are now dozens of fertility and pregnancy apps like Ovia, which give moms-to-be an easy way to input daily health updates during their pregnancy journeys. The apps, featuring colors like purple and blue, create a fun and welcoming environment to track women’s most personal data—sexual activity, menstrual cycles, fertility, pregnancy symptoms, dates for delivery, and even pregnancy loss—in a free, user-friendly mobile app. The idea that these apps might be selling your data isn’t new. But what if your data wasn’t going to some third-party advertiser but rather someone much closer to you—like your boss?

Earlier this week The Washington Post reported that Ovia Health, the parent company behind apps for fertility, pregnancy, and parenting, is selling users’ data to their employers. The Post spoke with Diana Diller, a 39-year-old event planner in Los Angeles who was using Ovia during her pregnancy to log daily activity such as bodily functions and sex drive. Her employer, Activision Blizzard, a video game company, was following along.

Activation Blizzard is part of a program offered by Ovia Health where employers can pay to offer employees a special version of the app as an employee benefit. The catch? The company gains access to the aggregated, anonymized data shared by its employees. Milt Ezzard, vice president of global benefits for Activision Blizzard, told the Post that offering “pregnancy programs such as Ovia help the company keep skilled women.” But experts worry employers could use the information to increase or decrease health coverage depending on what they see in the data. There’s also the fear that companies could use incredibly intimate details like whether or not a woman was having premature birth or suffering a miscarriage in order to make business decisions. “The health information is sensitive but could also play a critical role in boosting women’s well-being and companies’ bottom lines,” Paris Wallace, chief executive of Ovia Health told the Post, pointing to rising rates of premature birth and maternal death as the reasons they want to sell this information to employers.

“It feels like a very big breach of privacy,” says Brianna Bell, 29, a writer based in Guelph, Ontario. “It makes me feel uncomfortable, and it feels like this company has preyed on women who are in the most exciting and vulnerable time of their life.” Bell used Ovia’s pregnancy and parenting apps for 18 months without knowing the company could sell her information. (Ovia’s consumer apps—the free-to-download Ovia Fertility, Ovia Pregnancy, and Ovia Parenting—“do not share any data with employers,” a representative of the company said in a statement provided to Glamour. But the apps’ terms of service do state that by agreeing to use the product, users grant Ovia the right to “utilize and exploit” their anonymous personal data for research, marketing purposes, or sale to third parties.)

The idea of your data—even if it has been stripped of your name—floating around out there for use is unsettling. But is there really anything to worry about? Users need to opt in to Ovia’s employer programs like the one offered by Activation Blizzard, according to the company, and of course, you can always choose not to input certain data. “An employer then only receives population-level data once a certain threshold of users has been reached,” Ovia told Glamour, adding that the app’s makers work only with large companies to reduce the risk of a specific pregnant woman being identified in the office. “We are not reporting personal, intimate information like cycle data or pregnancy symptoms to employers,” the company says.

But that’s not much of a comfort to many women. “It seems as though nowadays anyone can find any information they want on someone even if we think we’re in control of our data,” says Raz Pele, 30, who used Ovia’s fertility app for two years and the pregnancy app for six months, tracking information like her ovulation cycle and the dates of her period. Even with the limited information she put into the app, she isn’t comfortable with the idea of her employer, a large commercial real estate advisory firm, viewing it.

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