Act 349

Follow through

It doesn’t really matter what you’re trying to do. Improve your golf game, improve your relationship, master a new skill. It’s not really about talent, it’s about follow through. I started this blog so I could prove to myself that I could follow through on a new year’s commitment. And I’m almost there.

Along the way, I’ve also found myself making some pretty broad and sweeping statements. Most recently, I wrote to my now infamous credit union to say that if they didn’t reverse their decision to offer a third party hosted video game on their website to teach kids financial literacy, I would close my children’s accounts as a protest. My kids are not marketing opportunities and their information will not be shared with a third party provider (which it would be if they’d joined the game). The last thing kids needs is yet more video games. And the number one lesson of financial literacy is to safeguard your privacy. My privacy might be shot, and that was a calculated risk I chose, theirs still has a chance. When I received an e-mail in reply saying that it was a researched and ¬†carefully considered marketing decision, I got off my high horse in a bit of a huff. What’s the point of fighting those who actually think that a video game adds value to a child’s banking experience? Ugh. Anyway, I left it at that.

But it kept at me, lightly tapping its fingers in the back of my mind. Enough already. Today I decided I would follow through and closed their accounts. “But why?” they asked. “Because my kids are not your marketing opportunities is why”, I said. And what little money they have is safer in their piggy bank for the moment if my credit union is going to be that careless with their name, their age, their birthday and their address in the name of “financial literacy”.

In fact, I got so into the whole follow up feeling, I even closed the teenie tiny RSP accounts that were leftover from when they recommended I cash in my RSPs (which I did, silly me) instead of lending me the money I needed to capitalize my growing business. Those proceeds will put a wee bit of extra money into my Christmas fund. And I’ll keep contributing to my RSP with the independent financial advisor I turned to as a result of the original fiasco.

I’m glad a followed through. It’s easy to take a position. It isn’t always easy to hold it. But try. If something really matters to you, it’s not enough to just say it matters. You owe it to yourself to take action and follow up. And you also know that owe is not a word I take lightly.

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Act 187

When FREE is a four letter word

Now I hate to single out one particular financial institution for this because they all do it in one fashion or another, but there’s a particular campaign that’s popular on facebook at the moment that is, in my opinion, a good example of when free is not as free as you might think.¬†You get 5 free gifts and get to give away 5 gifts to friends and family through a website. They get to tell your friends about their products and services and how their money stays in your community when you bank with them.

I happen to be a member of one of these financial institutions (FI) and agree that some of the money stays in the community as patronage rebates, it’s not entirely accurate to state that all the money stays in the community. In fact, ironically, most of the “free” gifts are gift cards to national chains. Not much local about that. And because the FIs in question are member-owned, ultimately, the members pay for the campaign and the gifts as part of the operating costs.

If you’re not convinced, ask the manager of your FI where the lion’s share of the profits are placed (or invested) and what proportion, if any, of local mortgages are bundled and sold to central agencies. The answers might surprise you.

Ultimately, as consumers, we’re drawn to that four letter free word. Free gift with purchase, free loyalty rewards for program sign up, free gift with application (my least favourite). If you exchange your personal information or the personal information of friends and family to receive a benefit of any kind, you’re the one giving value away for next to nothing.

As consumers, we are also “products” of sorts – our information has value as does our patronage – most customers have a lifetime value (what you’re worth to the business over time), a retention value (what’s they’ll pay to keep you) and an acquisition value (what they’ll pay to get you in the first place). These campaigns – that offer free items or services of any kind – are part of your acquisition value.

So do the math, and if it adds up for you – that’s fine – but be mindful that free does have a cost. One that we all pay for in the long term. And once you give away your privacy, you can never get it back. It’s just a matter of determining what you’re prepared to pay when and if you do so.