Financial Literacy Education For Mature Population

Photo Credit: Yahoo Finance

Photo Credit: Yahoo Finance

November is Financial Literacy Month and many financial institutions are capitalizing on this opportunity to launch new products and services. With the Holiday sales approaching particularly around Black Friday in the U.S. and Cyber Monday in Canada, RBC has just launched a new website, Why Financial Literacy Matters, that brings together a host of online resources for all life stages.

Financial literacy programs are not new and most other financial institutions, particularly industry associations such as the Canadian Bankers Association (CBA) and all other major banks in Canada already have some sort of educational programs in place for various segments of the population. The financial literacy programs usually cover new Canadians, students and millennials. But RBC’s Why Financial Literacy Matters website has a segment that targets seniors. The initiative itself is hardly novel, particularly on retirement plans and goals, getting the most from retirement income and other information which are all aimed at selling more services and products for the bank. But three subjects in this financial literacy segment for seniors interest me: ways for seniors to protect themselves against fraud; the financial cost of care; and power of attorney 101.

One would have thought that the mature population of Canada – baby boomers and seniors – should be quite financially literate at their ages. After all, these are the people who will need adequate funds in their retirement years and most of the seniors are already in retirement drawing money from their nest eggs. But according to a recent study from credit firm Equifax, Canadian debt loads are increasing, especially for seniors who are increasing their debt loads at a much faster pace than the population at large. This will definitely lead to problems down the road as their incomes are not likely to keep pace. Seniors, defined by Equifax as those aged 65 and older, increased their debt loads by 4.9 percent in the second quarter of this year, which ended in June, whereas the average debt load for Canadians was up by two percent during the same period. The average Canadian senior owed just under $15,000 which does not even include any mortgage debt, but rather it represents debt on top of anything they owe on their homes.

Equifax also pointed out that seniors have been increasing debt for a while, which might partially stem from having to help adult children or other family members with their own financial hardships. But increasing debt in one’s senior years is a troubling sign as most seniors can’t count on a higher income in their retirement than they saw in their working lives.

That’s why I thought it’s timely for RBC to provide tips and resources for boomers and seniors to plan their retirement and control their spending. According to Yasmin Musani, RBC’s Head of Retirement and Successful Aging Strategy, financial education is a lifelong journey – there is always more we can learn along the way, no matter how old you are. “For boomers and seniors who are approaching retirement or living in retirement, it’s important to understand your financial goals, how you can manage your current finances, your sources of income and what to be aware of when it comes to potential financial abuse.”

RBC’s Advice Centre, launched in 2009, currently offers several hundred videos and articles covering a diverse range of financial matters. The Financial Literacy microsite further offers a variety of digital resources, content and tools for people to access anytime and from anywhere they want.

For boomers who are planning for retirement, I also like the advice offered online by CIBC’s Advice Centre on their website – retirement planning for more than five years out and retirement planning for less than five years out. With so many aging boomers unable to retire due to lack of savings, both short-term and long-term planning are key to a better life in their golden years.

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A Male Perspective Of Turning Sixty

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I’ve never paid any attention to Ian Brown’s fine writing until I read his 2,000-word article in The Globe and Mail, The challenge: In search of the real Justin Trudeau, on October 2 just prior to the Federal Elections. For me and many of my friends, this article just sealed our voting directions and, perhaps, turned the tide for the Liberals as well.

Brown’s article was one of the reasons why I’ve read his new book, Sixty: A Diary Of My Sixty-First Year. An award-winning novelist and a thoughtful investigative journalist, Brown is also a loving father of two kids, one of whom is a severely disabled boy to whom he dedicated his book The Boy In The Moon. The book won him multiple literary awards including The Charles Taylor Prize for non-fiction, the B.C. Book Prize and The Trillium Award. I have not read his moving personal tale that explores the value and the meaning of every human life, through the eyes of one father, searching for his son. But I would highly recommend his new book on aging which, in his own words, marks “the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning.”

There are quite a few good books on aging, but very few of them comprise the self-deprecating wit exemplified in Brown’s Sixty. The closest match I could think of is Billy Crystal’s best-selling memoir, Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?” published in 2013. But Crystal is a successful American entertainer, so his half-biography, half-memoir written when he turned 65 should be funny and entertaining like his jokes on stage. I also doubt whether so many of Crystal’s jokes on his Jewish upbringing and culture could have been appreciated and comprehended by non-Jewish readers.

Brown was motivated to write a diary when he turned 60 because of the existential question, “What will I remember as I die?” He was panicked by the idea of time running out and he figured that he needed to write down all the details and to pay better attention because he could then “get a second chance to live it.”

I find this book charming because it’s a male perspective which is so different in many ways from that of a woman. Of course, there were the constant insecurities of his sexual virility and the numerous fantasies about having an intimate relationship with younger women ranging from a fellow passenger on the train to a coffee shop waitress to an attractive passer-by in the streets. So obsessed was he about turning 60 that he would constantly google who else was reaching the same milestone. From Oprah (Brown was envious of her wealth) to Christie Brinkley (her looks) to Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey (“a sociopathic asshole”), to Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, and to Francois Hollande, the President of France (who’s “still getting it, apparently quite regularly”), Brown was either pleading poverty throughout the book or envious of other male boomers’ sexual conquests.

Brown’s admiration of other intellectual guys, such as the playwright Tom Stoppard whom he called a genius, made him regret not to have earned any accomplishments earlier himself. Stoppard was 22 when he became a playwright, having already been a journalist and drama critic. “And here I am, at sixty,” moaned Brown, “contemplating writing a play for the first time.”

The author was also extremely fearful of the aging process, both mentally and physically. At times, fear even turned into despair, when he reported on the growing number of dementia sufferers and how the human brain starts to deteriorate at the young age of 27.

The book constantly made me laugh. But I also found Brown’s love for his family – his warm affections for his daughter Hayley, to the extent that he’s even inspired by her; and the caregiving details for his late father – extremely touching. As a cinephile, I’m also a big fan of his wife’s, Johanna Schneller’s (The Globe and Mail‘s film writer) writing. So, many of their travelogues in the book and the chronicle of the husband-and-wife daily life were also interesting to me.

Sixty is not flawless, by any means. For example, I did not see why a Norwegian writer, Karl Ove Knausgaard, would have inspired Brown. Most of the extracts from Knausgaard’s book, My Struggle, were quite boring. Brown’s travel tales in Australia and the Cotswolds, although interesting, were not particularly captivating and seemed to give an impression of an eventful diary just for recording’s sake.

If Sixty amuses and saddens you at the same time, perhaps it’s time to also read Jane Fonda’s Prime Time, a woman’s perspective of aging fearlessly at 74 when she wrote the book. Are you intimidated by your age? Are you fearful or fearless? It’s time to reflect and move forward!

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Messages Matter In Political Campaigns

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By now, Justin Trudeau’s and The Liberals’ win in Canada’s Federal Elections yesterday has been, and continues to be, the most talked-about and marvelled story of the day.

Like many other Canadians who are excited about the change in our government, I stayed until the wee hours of the morning to monitor the polls as the mighty red swept the Canadian landscape in huge swaths throughout the evening. Unlike the political pundits, journalists and pollsters who have been analysing the reasons behind the stunning Liberals’ victory from a policy point of view, I’ve been looking at Trudeau’s win from a communications perspective.

Public policies, perseverance, focus, confidence, style, tone and connectivity with voters all matter in political campaigns, but as I’ve advised and trained clients in my previous life as a senior communications adviser, it’s the key messages that will eventually make or break a marketing or political campaign. Trudeau has had a lot of help from communications strategists and among them was David Axelrod, the master campaign strategist for Obama for both of his election campaigns. In his book Believer: My Forty Years In Politics, Axelrod quoted Mario Cuomo who said that successful politicians should “campaign in poetry and govern in prose.” Trudeau took his advice one step further – he faced Stephen Harper’s negative-attack ad head-on and turned a nasty, negative assault into a positive key message and campaign slogan: “I’m Ready for Real Change for Canadians, Now.”

Most politicians want to communicate as much as possible within a very short time to try to garner voters’ support. But their enthusiasm often results in the over-communicating of key messages. I always told clients that people’s attention span is short-lived, and they won’t be able to remember more than three key messages. So it’s crucial that communicators, speakers, orators and debaters have the ability to crystallize their messages to a maximum number of three, and keep repeating them over and over again in order to register in the audiences’ minds.

You could tell that Trudeau has been media-trained to death in this area. His approval ratings went up immediately after each debate against his opponents when he surprised the viewers and pundits with his aggressiveness, confidence, enthusiasm and feistiness. The very under-estimated Trudeau exercised fierce discipline by focusing on and repeatedly articulating his three key messages that his party would:

1. Create good jobs by making the largest investment in our public transit, roads, and bridges in Canadian history while interest rates are low;

2. Cut taxes for the middle class by raising them for the wealthiest 1%; and

3. Give Canadians more money to raise their kids and lift 315,000 kids out of poverty.

He repeated them tirelessly during debates, rallies, town hall meetings, media interviews and via his website and the mailings of his personal letter just days before the Elections. This effective delivery of consistent key messages made him and his party the indisputable champions of the middle class. Clear, concise messages coupled with the delivery style of sincerity, confidence, and positivity clearly worked for him.

Taglines and slogans like “Real Change for Canadians Now” and “In Canada, Better Is Always Possible” are hardly poetry, but they were inspiring enough in elevating Trudeau from the third place among the key political parties to Prime Minister-Designate in 78 days!

Another example of the importance of key messages is Hillary Clinton’s performance in the first Democratic Party Debate in Las Vegas about a week ago. Her one key message was brilliantly developed to resonate among voters, “I’m a progressive who can get things done.” As The New York Times reported, ” She portrayed herself as Mr. Obama’s partner, the candidate who would perpetuate and enhance the president’s legacy.” Not only did she enhance her personal brand through this powerful key message and positioning, but she further used Obama as a shield when faced with questions that could raise doubts about her on the left. When the first hint of criticism arose about her initial support of the Iraq war, Hillary said, “I recall very well being on a debate stage, I think, about 25 times with then-Senator Obama, debating this very issue. After the election, he asked me to become secretary of state. He valued my judgment, and I spent a lot of time with him in the Situation Room, going over some very difficult issues.” Building on the successes of Obama and trying to go even further in some policy areas was another of Clinton’s key messages. After that debate, even The New York Times who has not exactly been Hillary Clinton’s friend to date concluded that she nailed it as Queen Hillary among the Democratic Presidential candidates.

It was also David Axelrod who said on CNN that Hillary needs more “poetry” in her campaign. There is still a lot of time before the U.S. Presidential Elections in November 2016 for Hillary to heed this advice. In Canada, in the meantime, the people have spoken and we have elected Justin Trudeau based on hope and faith in the decency of democracy. In 10 days’ time, our young Prime Minister-Designate will have the opportunity to fulfill his promise to voters and turn his key campaign messages into reality!

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The Irony Of Countries Not Accepting Migrants

Photo Credit: The Sunday Times

Photo Credit: The Sunday Times

It pains me to see so many Eastern European countries refusing to accept migrants and refugees. Having just returned from a two-week vacation in Prague and Vienna, the daily news of Syrian refugees being turned away at train stations and border towns of Eastern Europe are very much on the top of my mind.

Most countries around the world are facing the challenges of aging populations and low fertility rates. According to The New York Times, for the former communist nations of Eastern Europe – where populations are shrinking even faster and economies are struggling – the influx of migrants would seem to be a perfect fit. However, that is not the case. Even as the region stares at the most dire demographic implosion on the Continent, it has proved the most resistant to accepting migrants. In fact, anti-migrant sentiment runs particularly strong in a region worried that the wave of people pouring into Europe from the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere will overwhelm their fragile economies and weaken their national cultures.

Instead, Germany, the country that created so much havoc during World War II, has now become a moral leader on the issue of refugees. In Germany, the arrival of an expected one million migrants this year is being sold to occasionally reluctant citizens as a way to inject more economic vigor into an aging country whose population is expected to decline eight percent in the next few decades. Whether the enthusiasm is going to last and how the refugees will be integrated into the country will remain to be seen, but many said that this moral attitude of welcoming refugees stem, in part, from the echo of history. For older Germans, in particular, the current photos of boats crossing the Mediterranean recall the ships of Jewish refugees vainly seeking safety in the 1930s; and the photos of joyful arrivals at Munich’s train station last month recall the East Germans who streamed into the West after the fall of the Berlin Wall a quarter of a century ago. The Globe and Mail reported that the way Germany has reacted to the crisis “is not a German response, but the response is part of humanity.”

Closer to home, Canada is not faring any better when compared to the Eastern European countries that turned away refugees. As an almost 150-year-old nation comprising immigrants from around the world, Canada has recently tightened its immigration policy. Pictures of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old toddler from Syria drowned off the Turkish coast, haunted the world’s conscience. Alan, his five-year-old brother and his mother all perished as a result of a desperate attempt to seek a brighter life elsewhere. The boys’ father blamed Canada for this tragedy because his family was refused entry into the country even though the boys’ aunt had been trying to legally secure their immigration for her two brothers and their families.

In August, Stephen Harper said that if re-elected, his government would take another 10,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq by 2019, on top of an earlier pledge to accept over 11,000 Syrians and 23,000 Iraqis. In spite of mounting criticisms from the Opposition Parties as a result of the Kurdis’ tragic deaths, he has refused to change that policy even though many mayors and four provincial premiers would take more Syrians. Many members of the media predicted that the lid of the coffin for the Prime Minister is now finally sealed because of this crisis. We will know whether this is true or not in less than two weeks! I used to proudly say to all my friends that without Canada tomorrow, the world would be a less tolerant place to live. With the Conservative Government who has shown little compassion for immigrants from war-torn countries and the latest niqab ban from citizenship-swearing ceremonies, I’ve lost that bragging right about our country’s status as one of the most tolerant countries in the world!

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Boomers Still Fascinated By Celebrities


Every year in September, low-key Toronto (now the fourth largest city in North America) becomes the centre of attention in the world with A-list celebrities and international media swarming the city for 10 days at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, TIFF is in its full glory at the moment. Next to the Cannes Film Festival, TIFF is the most influential film festival in the world. In fact, we can probably argue that the Festival is even more important than Cannes because the largest number of deals on movie distribution rights is usually sealed at our festival. Movies premiering here are also hot favourites for the Oscars: past examples were 12 Years A Slave, The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire and Argo, to name a few.

Having worked with all kinds of celebrities during my entire career, I usually try to avoid them because they are often ‘high-maintenance’ individuals. But even I could not resist the opportunity to walk the red carpet last weekend to see the premier of Tom Hardy’s Legend. I respect Hardy (Locke, The Drop, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as an actor and the Red Carpet Room VIP pass was too tempting to turn down. So, in spite of the pouring rain that evening, I was partying in my Diane von Furstenberg gown with my champagne in hand and eyes on Hardy walking by the glass door of our VIP room. Having seen him play an American in so many films, it’s refreshing to finally see him portray two British characters all at once in Legend – he played the identical twin gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray, two of the most notorious criminals in British history during the 1960s.

American director Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Robin Hood, Mystic River) led the cast of Hardy, Australian actress Emily Browning, and American actor Chazz Palminteri (The Usual Suspects, A Bronx Tale, Analyse This) to appear on stage and it’s actually Palminteri who got the loudest applause from the audience. These supposedly “larger than life” characters all dwarfed in real life. Hardy later made bigger news when he shut down a reporter who tried to probe him on his sexuality at a post-screening news conference. As it turned out, the movie was weak and brutally violent, but Hardy’s performance saved the night.

As I walked by the screaming fans outside Roy Thomson Hall, I wondered whether they were fascinated by Hardy being the ‘it’ dude of the moment (he was just named one of GQ magazine’s 50 best-dressed British men in 2015) or whether it was his acting skills that they adored. We boomers like to think that our adulation of celebrities is long gone. But maybe not! We may not be lining up at TIFF in the rain like the millennials so that they could take selfies with their idols, but we continue to be fascinated by celebrities in one way or another. From flipping through People and Hello magazines at hair salons, to following our favourite entertainers in the news, boomers continue to be part of the celebrity culture.

In fact, according to, scientists say they have reason to believe celebrity obsession is on the rise. People high in narcissism tend to embrace celebrity even more. The trend of taking selfies with obtrusive selfie-sticks everywhere is a perfect example of young and old narcissists everywhere. Then there’s technology that’s giving us access to the beautiful and famous. From entertainment news on TV to celebrity web sites and social media, everybody can get to know the famous people. There has always been celebrity worship, but technology has taken it to a heightened level. We boomers may frown upon the fact that Kim Kardashian has more followers on Twitter than President Obama but, in many ways, we are as guilty of obsession with celebrities as the younger generations.

Whether we worship celebrities or not, Torontonians are always proud of TIFF which, without fail, elevates our city to temporary stardom and kicks off our glorious fall weather! Kudos to the tireless Festival organizers and thousands of volunteers who are making this year’s TIFF another memorable one in the international calendar.

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