Can an insurance company do banking better? Manulife Financial Corp. is upping its game

PERSONAL FINANCE COLUMNIST

Two words you never thought you’d say in imagining a brighter future for chequing and savings accounts: Manulife Bank.

A non-factor for years, the banking division of insurance giant Manulife Financial Corp. is upping its game. On Monday, Manulife Bank introduced a package of services designed to claim a share of a market for daily banking that is crowded with big banks, alternative banks, credit unions and upstart financial technology companies.

Manulife’s strategy: Appeal to millennials and other digitally savvy people with a four-part bundle of banking services wrapped in an app for smartphones that helps with saving and budgeting. Manulife’s goal: Compete against the country’s banking heavyweights more than the alternative players. “We’re here to be the best alternative to the big banks,” said Rick Lunny, chief executive of Manulife Bank.

The All-in Banking Package from Manulife Bank is slick enough that it should be studied by other banks looking at how to adapt their accounts for the digital age. The question is whether there’s enough there to offset the so-so economics for customers who believe in paying the least in fees while getting the most interest.

The core of All-in is an unlimited transaction account (e-transfers included) that costs $10 a month, compared to $14 to $16 for similar big bank accounts and zero at an increasing number of alternative online banks. The All-in account goes down to zero in fees in a month where you add $100 or more to a savings account that comes as part of the package.

That savings account pays 1.2 per cent, a disappointment. Several alternative online banks that have savings accounts are paying 2.25 per cent or more to go with their no-fee chequing accounts. Examples: Alterna Bank, Motive Financial and Motusbank, which opened for business in April.

The third part of the All-in package is a no-fee cash-back credit card paying rewards of 2 per cent on groceries and 1 per cent on other expenses. This reward rate is not at all bad, although anyone wanting a no-fee cash-back card should check out the Rogers World Elite MasterCard.

The fourth part of the All-in package is travel interruption insurance offered by Manulife. Finally, as a sweetener, Manulife is offering people who sign up for All-in one year of Amazon Prime, which otherwise costs $79. Amazon Prime offers free delivery of Amazon orders plus access to TV shows and movies.

All-in is most interesting when you look at the way financial technology is deployed to help customers manage their money so they’re able to save more.

Mr. Lunny said the bank partnered with five fintech companies to develop features such as the one that lets you set how much money you want in your chequing account and then sweeps any excess into savings at the end of each day. Other functions show how close you are to saving enough each month to eliminate the $10 account fee and how close you are to your credit-card limit. There’s also what Manulife calls an intelligent virtual assistant, which can answer questions about banking and offer tips on budgeting, saving and such.

The most obvious big bank competition to All-in comes from the online banks Tangerine, owned by Bank of Nova Scotia, and Simplii Financial, owned by Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. Both offer no-fee chequing with unlimited transactions and savings accounts with rates of 1.2 per cent.

On fintech specifically, some of the most noteworthy competition to All-in comes from the budgeting apps at a pair of big banks, Toronto-Dominion Bank and Royal Bank of Canada.

Manulife designed All-in to work most effectively on smartphones and expects the bulk of its customers to access their account that way rather than desktop computers. It’s a sign of how much importance the bank is putting on young adult customers as opposed to an older, wealthier demographic targeted by the bank’s Advantage Account.

Mr. Lunny said the bank hopes to attract millennials with the All-in package, then sell them mortgages and investments as they get older and more established. “We feel millennials are our future,” he said.

For millennials, the All-in package scores well on mobile-friendly technology and convenience – four products in one. But having to save $100 a month to make the $10 account fee vanish? That’s old school, and not in a good way.

Desjardins launches $45-million fintech fund

Desjardins Group is launching a $45-million fund to invest in financial technology startups as it seeks to build more direct relationships with a nascent sector that once looked poised to disrupt traditional banking.

The new fund will make investments ranging from a few hundred thousand dollars to as much as $3-million, taking stakes of 10 per cent to 25 per cent in early-stage “fintech” companies. It will be managed by Desjardins Capital, the financial co-operative’s venture capital arm, which has invested in more than 400 companies.

The fund builds on existing partnerships and investments Desjardins has made with more than 20 fintechs dating back several years. The burgeoning fintech sector was once seen as a threat to established institutions such as Desjardins but, faced with the high cost and difficulty of acquiring new customers, many fintechs have changed course and have begun collaborating with large financial companies to help them with the transition to digital banking and insurance services.

By creating this new fund, Desjardins is looking to take tighter control of its investments in financial technologies, and to sharpen its focus on products and services that can directly contribute to its strategy, from innovation in insurance and wealth management to strengthening cybersecurity.

Desjardins has already pumped $25-million into Luge Capital, a venture fund focused on fintech and artificial intelligence that launched last year with a total of $75-million from backers such as Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and Sun Life Financial. Desjardins will continue to back Luge, but now wants to make its own investment decisions as well. Whereas past investments have often been confined to startups in Quebec, the new fund will also seek out opportunities in the United States, Britain, Europe and Australia.

“With $45-million, we can do a lot,” said Guy Cormier, chief executive of Desjardins Group. “There’s a lot of noise, there’s a lot of buzz in the fintech industry, and we just have to be quite careful and quite clever about the kind of partnerships [we choose]. We really know what we want to do, what we want to accomplish, so we’re not trying to go everywhere. But with this fund now we have more capacity.”

The fund’s first investment falls outside the normal boundaries of fintech. Desjardins is putting $400,000 into X-TELIA Group Inc., a company that operates a wireless network tailored to home automation and connecting the so-called internet of things, to help expand its network across Canada. Desjardins sees applications to home and auto insurance, but is also a major lender to the agricultural sector, and X-TELIA connects smart sensors on farmers’ grain silos to make it easier to manage inventory.

“We want to add to our offer. It’s not any more enough for a financial institution to do the financing or to do the everyday banking,” said Martin Brunelle, vice-president of transformation and special projects at Desjardins. “What we want is to ease the lives of our members or our customers.”

Three other fintech companies are currently in the pipeline to receive investments from the new fund, Mr. Brunelle said. But they are at different stages of maturity and some could take years to bear fruit, if they flourish at all.

“The first goal is not return on investment for us. It’s really to build a relationship that is stronger, tighter with these fintechs, and will help us to build something that is great for our members and clients,” Mr. Cormier said. “The return on investment will be there maybe in a few years.”

Source: The Globe and Mail

The Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario will help reduce regulatory burden and make Ontario open for business

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Fairfax Financial says chief financial officer David Bonham died suddenly

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. says chief financial David Bonham died suddenly during the weekend.

Fairfax chief executive Prem Watsa says the entire Fairfax family mourns the sudden and unexpected loss.

John Varnell, Fairfax’s vice-president, corporate development, has been appointed to serve as chief financial officer on an interim basis.

Varnell previously served as the chief financial officer of Fairfax on two occasions, as well as the chief financial officer of Northbridge Financial Corp. and Fairfax India Holdings Corp.

Fairfax is a holding company with subsidiaries in property and casualty insurance and reinsurance.

 

Technical CE Credits for BC Insurance Licensees

Technical CE Credits for BC Insurance Licensees

Continuing Education requirements for insurance licensees in British Columbia varies based on your experience and if you have any professional designations.

All BC Insurance licensees must meet the CE requirements for their class of license, annually from June 1 to May 31 .

Only technical courses qualify for CE credits.

What are technical CE credits?

For General insurance, if you are a Level 1 or Level 2 licensee, the only qualifying insurance continuing education is technical material directly related to:

  • General insurance products.
  • Compliance with insurance legislation and licensee requirements such as Council Rules, Council’s Code of Conduct, the Insurance Act, and privacy legislation.
  • Ethics.
  • Errors and Omissions.

For level 3 licensees, “technical material” is broadened to include courses relating to management, accounting, and human resources.

For Life/A&S insurance, the only qualifying continuing education is technical material directly related to:

  • Life insurance products.
  • Financial planning, provided the education is geared to life insurance and not a non-insurance sector, such as securities or mutual funds.
  • Compliance with insurance legislation and requirements such as Council Rules, Council’s Code of Conduct, the Insurance Act, privacy legislation, and anti-terrorism/money laundering legislation.
  • Ethics.
  • Errors and Omissions.

 

ILScorp online courses will display the word Technical in the course credit type.  For example, the online course Cyber Insurance, which covers topics such as privacy and actual cyber coverage forms has the credit type: General/Adjuster – Technical, which will display in the course description as well as on your completed CE certificates.

Other courses such as, Dealing with Difficult People and A Structured Approach for Terminating Employees, deals with topics related to management and human resources. ILScorp does not display the word Technical in the course description or the CE Certificate of these soft skill type courses however, they do qualify as Technical CE for Level 3 Licensees only.

Before starting your online courses with ILScorp, be sure to check the credit type, and accrediting provinces associated with your course. Some courses are Technical in nature, some courses are not, some courses are accredited in BC, while others are accredited in Ontario only.

Your course description with display all the valid accreditation criteria so be sure to double check all the details before you start the course.

ILScorp offers General/Adjuster – Technical CE as well as Life/A&S-Technical CE credits.

All courses are provincially accredited and completed entirely online. ILScorp will also keep your completed course history and CE certificates on file for up to 7 years in case of audit.

Remember BC, your deadline is May 31, 2019 and you can only complete a maximum of 7 technical CE credits per day and excess credits cannot be carried over into the next annual license period.

Contact ILScorp today to meet your CE requirements!

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.

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