Canadian banks are finding that Twitter is a powerful platform to gain more clients by going casual with their existing/potential clients and pretending that they are the nicest people on earth… Anyhow, I found it interesting to know how many Twitter followers each of the Canadian Big 5 Banks has, and here are the results:

  1. CIBC: 57.7 K followers.
  2. TD Canada Trust: 49.2 K followers.
  3. ScotiaBank: 43.9 K followers.
  4. RBC: 27.8 K followers.
  5. BMO: 19.5 K followers.

There you have it – CIBC has the strongest presence on Twitter (they also offer 24/7 support through Twitter – or at least they claim they do). CIBC, by the way, is the smallest Big 5 bank, with total assets just above $350 billion. RBC, which ranks at #4, is the strongest bank and has $825 billion in assets.

Oh, and by the way, all the tweets of the Big 5 banks are in English. I couldn’t find a single tweet in French. I wonder how long will it take the Federal government to enact an English/French law for tweeting.

If you’re in Quebec, then you might be interested in knowing that Quebec’s DesJardins Group has 2,530 followers on its English Twitter account and 10.4 K followers on its French account. Quebec’s Desjardins is the 6th largest financial institution in Canada, with total assets of around $190 billion.

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My main job is IT consultancy (I do stock trading for fun) and, for a year now, I haven’t used, on any of my machines, any Microsoft product besides Windows (and its built-in applications). Let me explain…

The last 2 Microsoft products that I used were Outlook Express (which I was, for mysterious reasons, emotionally attached to) and Microsoft Office (which I used to hate, but had to use because of my job). I used Outlook Express on my reporting machine and I used Microsoft Office on both my reporting and my development machine.

When I replaced my reporting and development machines a year ago, I was faced with a big dilemma. Which email client should I use to replace Outlook Express (Outlook Express was defunct years ago)? Mozilla Thunderbird seemed like an excellent solution, but I wanted a client that organizes my emails the same way that Outlook Express did (e.g. all email accounts go to the same folder). After some research, I discovered that Thunderbird can do all what I want with the use of plugins and some modifications to its settings. I installed it, I modified it, and I used it and it made me really happy! Now I’m able to quickly find old emails (I mean really quickly) – it used to take me about 20 minutes to find an email because the search engine in Outlook Express sucked. Email client problem solved!

As for Microsoft Office, since I really hated it and I thought it was a complete ripoff, I actively searched for a free replacement and I found it easily. It was Apache’s OpenOffice, which was a product that I have used many years ago but did not quite impress me. However, OpenOffice nowadays is a polished product, and you really can do whatever you want with it. You can even open Microsoft Office documents or save documents as MS Office documents. Office productivity software problem solved!

Now, what’s the point of this post? Is it to let others know that I use free software on my machines? Well, maybe, but there’s another point to it. It means that Microsoft’s revenue is shrinking as more and more people are aware that they can be (with the exception of Windows) Microsoft free.

Microsoft knows that, and that’s why they have moved to a subscription based model on their products in order to make up for the lost revenue. I’m not sure how this business model is working for them and I’m not sure whether this is a good strategy on the long term, considering that non-Microsoft products are now extremely reliable.

I think Microsoft’s last bastion is Windows – if they lose it then they lose everything. Google is trying to push them off the cliff with their Chrome OS – but that won’t happen anytime soon because Google’s alternative is online only, and the world isn’t ready yet, nevertheless, Google is bound to eat some of Microsoft’s market share. Apple is already doing that. Microsoft, with their current strategy, cannot survive on the long run, because Windows is ridiculously priced at the moment. Microsoft is still acting as if they’re the only ones with a good OS, which is not the case anymore. They just can’t charge $100 for an OS anymore for the end users (they can charge much more to corporations, however, and they can still get away with it), which means that they will need to revise their pricing strategy. I’m sure that at one point, Microsoft will move to a subscription based model on Windows, which is very logical, since Windows undergoes many updates a year, and people should not expect to get those updates for free for the lifetime of the product.

On the bright side, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is doing well on the stock market. It’s up 22.75% in the past 12 months, which is quite impressive. It’ll be more impressive if Microsoft can sustain that growth in the next few years, but hey, there are many tech companies trading at a forward P/E of over 100, which means that at a P/E of 15, Microsoft is modestly valued.

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Most of us Canadians deal with the United States and get paid with US Dollars. Many Canadians receive payments to their PayPal account in USD, and are forced, when transferring the money from PayPal to their bank account, to exchange the money first to Canadian Dollars through PayPal (PayPal does not officially support USD accounts in Canada, but some people claim that they were able to accept US funds into their RBC USD accounts). The problem with this is that us Canadians who have many expenses in USD, are forced to exchange the money back to USD. But that’s another issue…

Now, the question is, does PayPal exchange the money for the same exchange rate that you see on Google finance? Unfortunately, no, they add 150 to 200 points (1.5 to 2 cents) to the current exchange rate you see on Google.

So, when do they add 150 points and when do they add 200 points?

Well, they add 150 points between 10:00 AM EST and 4:00 PM EST on business days. If you try to transfer money in the after hours or during weekends or holidays (US or Canadian holidays), then you are hit with 200 points (2 cents) above the base exchange rate. For example, if you have a $1,000 US in your account, and you want to transfer it to your Canadian account, and if the USD/CAD rate is at 1.07, then expect to see CAD $1,055 in your account if you do it during working hours, and CAD $1,050 in your account if you do the transfer during off hours, weekends, or holidays. So, if you’re frugal, make sure that you push money from PayPal to your bank account during business hours (in the US and Canada).

I hope my little post has saved someone, somewhere some money!

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Mobile carriers hate Whatsapp, they also hate Viber, Skype, and Tango. They hate them because the former stripped them out of their SMS revenue (SMS revenue has fallen for the first time for 4% in 2013), and they hate them because the latter stripped them from mostly international minutes revenue. One of the main reasons, for example, why Canada ranks almost in the bottom 10 countries right now when it comes to the generosity of its mobile data plans is that hate.

Now, mobile carriers can challenge the current status quo, where any score for App Developers is a loss to them. They can make this whole hate-hate relationship into a win-win relationship. Here’s how: they can get as payment gateways.

In many developing countries, mobile carriers act as a payment gateway and it’s working very well for them. Unfortunately, mobile carriers in developed countries took a passive aggressive attitude towards apps in general and thus lost that payment gateway status to Google/Apple. That is a wrong strategy and it’s causing lost revenue. Mobile carriers still have leverage and they can negotiate great deals with App Developers and they can both make a lot of money. Not all the app money has to go to Google or Apple, mobile carriers can make money out of mobile apps too.

If mobile carriers drop that negative perception that app developers are eating out of their revenue, and start working with them, then there’ll be more money for everyone. Will it ever happen? I’m sure it will.

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July 4, 2014 | In: Opinion

On Giving Discounts

I do some serious online shopping every month. One thing that I have learned is not to buy anything that is not on discount, unless I really need it, and unless I really need it now.

So, I see something, and I wait for it to go on discount, and once it does, I wait for it to go on discount the second time (maybe the second time it’ll be cheaper), and, if it’s cheaper on the second time, then maybe I wait for a third round of discounts, or I would just buy it. If it’s not cheaper on the second discount, then I will wait for a discount similar to the first discount, then I will buy it.

I’m sure that there are many people who are like me, the thing is, when you see an item on discount, you automatically think that its real price is the discounted price, and not the original ticker price. The more discounts an item receives, the less value that item will have from the customer’s perspective.

Of course, there are discounts and discounts. For example, car manufacturers make some discounts around September on the current year’s models to get rid of their old inventory and make place for the new inventory. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about selling some furniture with a ticker price of $2,000 at $1,000, because of a discount. I’m talking about selling hotel stays at 70% off.

I’m not personally annoyed by discounts, in fact, I love them and I use them to my advantage. But I think marketing has to come up with a better alternative to discounts, since most people no longer buy anything at full price, and those who do, are one of the following: 1) They are suckers, 2) They’re not paying for the items they’re purchasing (most likely their company is paying), 3) They need the items they are buying at full price immediately.

If we know that everything will be on discount at some point of time, then there is no point of having a discount at all.

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I was doing some groceries the other day and I thought Watermelons could be refreshing in this hot Montreal summer, so I bought one. It was on special for $2.99, the watermelon weighed something like 4 kilos, or about 9 pounds. That watermelon came from Florida, which is a 1500 miles away or a 22.5 hour drive (non-stop).

Then it struck me – $2.99 for such a big item is cheap, very cheap, I mean very, very cheap. Let me tell you what happens for that watermelon to reach me:

  • The owner of the watermelon business must spray the farm against insects and reptiles. He must also ensure that it’s watered all the time (watermelons use a lot of water) and he must ensure that he’s using the right soil.
  • He should then hire a bunch of illegal immigrants to physically pick those melons and put them in a warehouse in a pyramid shape.

  • He should then hire another bunch of illegal immigrants to package those watermelons.

  • He should then contact the wholesale fruit and vegetable merchant and sell him the watermelons.

  • The merchant should ask his secretary to prepare the export documents and then use one of his trucks to export the watermelons to Montreal.

  • The truck has to go through the customs and then head to Montreal.

  • The truck should then delivers the watermelons to a fruit and vegetable wholesaler in Montreal.

  • The fruit and vegetable wholesaler should dispatch the watermelons, along with other vegetables and fruits, in one truck to the grocery store I buy from.

Now the question is, how much expenses did that watermelon incur before reaching me. As you can see, it’s a lot, and there are many, many indirect/hidden costs that I haven’t even mentioned anywhere. I just mentioned the direct costs.

Can that watermelon really sell for $2.99? Apparently, it can. Maybe there’s just more to this thing, but for now, I will enjoy my watermelon while we all pretend that the watermelon business is a profitable one.

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A couple of years ago, I used to have a TFSA account as part of my BMO Investor Line account. Every year I was able to move an additional $5,000 to my TFSA account. For those who do not know, a TFSA account, which stands for Tax Free Savings Account, is an account that, as the name suggest, is free from taxation. In other words, any profits you make from a TFSA account (interest, stock trading, etc…) will not incur any federal or provincial tax. So, if you were smart and made $100,000 from that $5,000, you will not pay a penny in taxes on the $100,000 you earned.

Of course, we all know that Canadian stocks are boring compared to their US counterparts. That’s why, many Canadian investors ask the following question: “Can I purchase US stocks with a TFSA account?”

The answer is yes! You can buy US stocks with your TFSA account. There is one problem, however, is that you’ll be stuck with an unfavorable, bank-set CAD/USD exchange rate if you buy directly from your TFSA account. As such, a wiser thing to do would be to buy US stocks in USD, and then move them to your TFSA account, instead of buying US shares with CAD directly from your TFSA account (since the bank will need to convert your money to USD before selling you those shares). This way, you will be avoiding the exchange rate when converting from CAD to USD.

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Back in 2008, I suddenly got interested in doing an MBA. I thought it would enhance my career and it will allow me to find better jobs (back then I still wanted to work for other people – not anymore). For some reason, I attended a seminar of an Executive MBA program at one of the most prominent universities here in Montreal. Surprisingly, I was impressed…

I was impressed by the quality of the teachers and the quality of the program in general. I remember they also had a 1 month field trip to a business-important country (such as Qatar, China, etc…). In short, the program was brilliant. What made me unable to join the program (back then) is that it cost about $80,000 to do. Yes, it was tax deductible, but, considering my responsibilities back then, I just couldn’t afford it. Oh, and by the way, unlike regular MBA, neither the Federal nor the Provincial governments subsidized this program.

Fast forward to 2011, where I joined the regular MBA program for the second time, and I discovered that it wasn’t worth it. Some might argue that the real value of an MBA is the professional network that you can create and later use to your advantage, but the problem is, my professional network was a bunch of people who were no older than 25 years and with minimal work experience (and, of course, with no management experience at all, which made me wonder how they made it into the program considering that being a manager for a specific period of time is a requirement). One of my colleagues never had a job in his life, and I’m not kidding.

Everything is different between an Executive MBA and a regular MBA. The professors in an Executive MBA are real professors, there is much more seriousness in an Executive MBA, and the quality of the network that you can potentially build in an Executive MBA is much higher than that in a regular MBA. Of course the tuition fees are definitely much more expensive in an Executive MBA, but at least you’ll get something for your hard earned money.

If you really want to do an MBA, then do an Executive MBA in a top-notch university, otherwise, save your money for a down-payment on a house. It’s a much better investment.

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A friend of mine is currently looking for a job, and so he’s writing a resume. I can tell, with confidence, that 75% of his resume is pure lies, about 20% of his resume is truth mixed with lies, and about 5% of his resume is exaggerated truth. He got his past 2 jobs with a similar resume, so, I guess it’s working for him.

Unfortunately, my friend is not alone, anyone who’s anyone is doing this. Granted, the percentage of lies varies slightly from one resume to another, but, lies are lies (in other words, you are hiring a liar). The problem is, candidates are taught that it’s best practice to submit a different resume that will match the skills needed for each and every job they apply to. Of course, that’s not technically possible without lying.

Lies aside, resumes are also a pain to read. Why would I care about someone’s hobbies if I want to hire him? Why would I care about someone’s work experience from the 90′s? Why would I care about a nearly endless list of programming languages that the person claims to have worked? Why would I care if the person speaks Swahili when the job only requires English?

In my opinion, the CV, if it’s really necessary, should only be a few lines long. This will make the process of writing and reading that CV a light, non-painful process.

I personally would not ask for a CV from a candidate. I would just ask them to perform a task for me in their field of expertise. If they did it, then they’re good for the job, if they didn’t, then, I’m sure someone else will.

I hope this little rant of mine gets viral, so that this whole resume practice (and the industry built around it) will end.

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Yesterday I was watching a documentary on Napoli (feels weird when I call it Naples), and how life is becoming increasingly hard there, and how unemployment is skyrocketing and how people are closing their shops because of the high taxes.

15 years ago, I used to play a game called Caesar III, in that game, you were allowed to control the lives of the citizens of a Roman village. For example, you were able to increase taxes if you needed money, and when I did that, people used to leave the village, and thus I ended up with less money (instead of more).

What’s happening in Napoli, and in Italy in general, is even worse. The government wants to collect more taxes, so they suffocate businesses with taxes, and so these businesses lay off their employees, and so these employees will start collecting unemployment benefits. Which means that not only the government has less people that are not paying taxes, there are more people that are spending those taxes. Definitely not a good sign.

This issue is creating an avalanche that will soon sweep through the country and throughout Europe in general. I’m not sure how long Italy will be able to hide the fact that not everything is well over there. By the way, Italy’s GDP is 10 times the size of Greece, so imagine the impact Italy will have on the financial markets once the bluff is called.

I think it’s time for a little correction though – the Dow industrial average is now trading near a record (the record was touched last week by the way, but it seems there’s a huge resistance at 17,000).

I think we only have to wait, somebody must be buying a lot of FAZ at the moment, waiting for the opportune moment.

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