The 1 Trend Marketing Influencers Agree is a Must-Have for Future Business

Our technology-driven world is evolving at an exponential pace. According to IBM, 90 percent of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone–that’s how much noise we’re making online!

The (multi)million-dollar question is: How can we possibly predict what the future will look like, so we can better prepare today for the realities of tomorrow?

To help answer this question, I reached out to 17 of the world’s most prolific super-influencers to learn what they think about the future of marketing and technology. Each of these influencers reaches more people than the populations of the world’s small countries. Combined, they reach enough people to be in the top 100 nations.

These folks accurately predicted the future once before–investing in social media to become powerful, personal brands–which is why I reached out to see what they think is coming next.

The responses varied widely. For example, automation plays a major role in how a few influencers think about the future of marketing, and they highlight elements like mixed-reality and artificial intelligence as necessary tactics that we must all embrace.

However, other influencers highlighted old-school marketing strategies that will still resonate in the future, including elements like brand identity, authenticity and good old-fashioned advice like “deeply understand your audience.”

The question I asked them was: What does the future of marketing look like, and how should brands prepare themselves now to thrive in the future? Here are their responses:

1. Create a Winning Identity

The future of marketing will include a strong focus on digital identity, visibility, and credibility. Before you can market yourself appropriately, you need to first define who you are and where you stand as a brand. This is important to know when building your identity. If you’re unsure of what you do or who you are, you’ll find that your customers will also be confused as well.

Juntae DeLane, Founder, Digital Branding Institute

2. Invest in the Millennial Method: Digital, Mobile, Social and Influencers

In order for brands to thrive, marketers and business owners need to think digital, mobile, and social media first. If your website does not provide a seamless experience for users, if your website is not mobile optimized and if you have not put a social strategy into place… YOU SHOULD!

Millennial consumers are doing most of their browsing and shopping on mobile devices and are more influenced by their peers than branded content or branded advertising. The time is now to start building relationships with Influencers in your space to activate for campaigns, product launches, event promotions, and to overall amplify brand awareness.

Chelsea Krost, CEO Millennial Mindset Marketing Strategist at Chelsea Productions

3. Map the Path to Purchase

Mobile phones, search, and social media have changed shopper paradigms forever. Today, shopper’s have unique paths to purchase tailored to their lifestyle. This has had a profound impact on how, when and where consumers engage with brands.

Marketing needs to win the new digital path to purchase by understanding, managing, and owning the key digital engagement points through content that delivers conversion. This will be done with shopper technology, shopper strategy experts, and content/influencer networks committed to generating authentic content to drive conversion.

Ted Rubin, Social Marketing Strategist, Acting CMO of Brand Innovators, and Co-Founder of Prevailing Path

4. Listen and Engage

After a century of mass marketing, mass distribution and mass communication where brands learned to push out a message, consumers are now expecting two-way communication and an individualized experience. Take a moment to consider how much more engagement you could get if you listened to buyers.

In other words. STOP MAKING THE KIND OF MARKETING YOU HATE.

Connection fundamentally changes the nature of an item. The winners of the future will be the brands that move from a commodity to a full experience.

Warren Whitlock, Director of Startup Grind Las Vegas

5. Use Strategy to Leverage Technology

Marketing has become about smart technology. CMOs are on track to spend as much as CIOs this year on technology, and most are very willing to invest big money to get the results that are being demanded from them. But, most are finding that there is a disconnect between the promise of results and the reality. While some of this failure is because CMOs have chosen the wrong tool for the job, most is due to a lack of strategy integration.

With the glut of money being poured into technology acquisitions, the focus has been on hiring technologists (tool-level specialists), not marketing strategists, to manage and implement. However, CMOs who bring in marketers who a) know strategy, b) can look for integration and usage opportunities, and c) can provide strategic technology acquisition recommendations, will ultimately gain the edge in the marketing-tech arms race.

Steve Farnsworth, Chief Marketing Officer, The Steveology Group

6. Incorporate Mixed Reality

In the near future, nearly everything will be a marketing interface and “mixed reality” will be the only reality. Brands must invest now in agile talent that understands that disruption is opportunity. Marketing mavens must become part technologists and data scientists. As artificial intelligence delivers the holy grail of the “market of the one,” storytellers will need to know how to weave addictive branded experiences with the thread of mixed reality.

Glen Gilmore, Strategist and Faculty member at the Rutgers School of Business, Executive Programs, Digital Marketing

7. Prepare for Artificial Intelligence

The increasing complexity of digital marketing is making technology a vital partner for the digital marketer. It is becoming a science and not just an art. In 2017 and beyond, expect to see marketing automation become mainstream and more sophisticated.

This also means that even artificial intelligence will become an integral part of marketing for even small to medium business. We can see the start of this with the rise of chatbots and other enhancements. The future will see the continuing rise of the marketing robots that all brands should be preparing for.

Jeff Bullas, Founder at JeffBullas.com

8. Constantly Experiment with New Tech

Brands that are concerned about their long-term recognition, and being at the forefront of the next major computing platform (think mobile 10 years ago), will have a strong leg up on the competition. Experimentation and building early relationships with the platforms sure to dominate down the road will provide long-term advantages for any company, big or small.

If nothing else, designate a small internal team to understand the VR/AR landscape, where the opportunities are today, and where they’ll be in 12 months. When you are ready to put resources into a project, you won’t be starting from zero for an understanding. And it is a complicated ecosystem to understand.

Robert Fine, Publisher, Cool Blue Media

9. Focus on the One-on-One Experience

The future of marketing will revolve around relevance. Whether it’s in your targeting for advertising (social or otherwise) or being present in search for relevant terms or leveraging A.I. to route customer inquiries to the right opportunities, we have to commit ourselves to stop talking to everyone and start talking to the one-on-one.

We’ve got to stop thinking of marketing as an end sum game and go after the relevant audiences that will be fulfilled and enriched by what we have to offer. The companies that do that will see long-term, lasting results.

Jason Falls, Chief Instigator at the Conversation Research Institute

10. Embrace Voice Recognition

Marketing technology will make true 1:1 interaction with consumers possible at scale, and that hyper-targeted reality is perhaps not surprising. What will be even more disruptive, however, is the move to voice and audio as primary information retrieval and consumption modalities.

Amazon Echo and Google Home are just the first steps in an inexorable march toward a world where consumers use voice to research, interact, and buy. The movie “Her” may very well become largely reality, and the successful marketers of the near future will be those that create compartmentalized, structured content that is easily found via voice query, and easy on the ears, in every way.

Jay Baer, President of Convince Convert

11. Start Using Robots Now

Without a doubt, the future is automated. As artificial intelligence continues to advance by leaps and bounds, marketing’s future becomes more strategic and creative for the humans, while the machines take over any repetitive tasks. This does mean significant human capital dislocation; we won’t need people to copy and paste data from spreadsheet to slide, or to manually analyze reports.

Brands should be prepared by beginning now in their AI and Machine Learning experimentation, getting a feel for the landscape and what’s possible.

Christopher S. Penn, VP Marketing Technology, SHIFT Communications

12. Invest in Location, Location, Location

It’s never been easier to target a market segment than it is today. The advent of Apple’s iBeacon and related technologies are leading location-optimized brands to take advantage of location-enabled devices for sending out push notifications to shoppers, leveraging social platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

Hence, brands that will thrive in the future are those that are able to hyper-target their messaging based on identifiable social and geo-locational triggers using immersive marketing campaigns and augmented reality scenarios to engage and influence buying decisions.

Douglas Idugboe, Co-Founder, Smedemy

13. Broaden the Definition of Media

The future of marketing is its past. New communication channels have opened up, but the same paradigm of much competition and limited attention span means that brands need to consider social media more of a pay-to-play paradigm similar to traditional advertising. They also need to view influencer marketing as paid media and another form of advertising.

Most importantly, brands need to become more visual in their marketing, as if each brand was not only the media, but also the creator of their own TV programming.

Neal Schaffer, President of Maximize Your Social

14. Give In to the Tech Giants

One of the most powerful mantras in this digital space is to never build your house on rented land. Meaning, keep all your content on your website. Today all content is moving to the cloud. It’s time to give up and surrender to Facebook. They want the content, you’ll have to give them the content. Seriously. It’s time to surrender.

People don’t want to visit your website any more. They don’t even want your app. They want all their information in their news stream. This means we will be optimizing for Facebook — as well as Google — instead of optimizing for people. Yuck. But that’s the world we live in, so let’s deal with it.

This trend is creating enormous problems for publishers. How do you monetize when Facebook and Apple own your audience?

Mark Schaefer, Executive Director, Schaefer Marketing Solutions

15. Showcase Real People

Facebook is going all-in on mobile and all-in on video. Brands need to be focusing more than ever on highly engaging storytelling through live and recorded video content that draws their audience in emotionally.

Spotlight customer success stories, showcase real people using your product or service, introduce staff, conduct interviews, go behind-the-scenes, involve your audience on a personal level as much as possible. And, couple your video storytelling with exceptional social customer care–ideally that even includes personalized video content–and you’ll have a serious leg up on the competition.

Mari Smith, Premier Facebook Marketing Expert

16. Be Authentic or Die

The future of marketing looks chaotic! The blur of art and science is mind-bending. Brands need talent on both sides plus a brilliant translator to survive. Social media will continue to grow and expose your brand. Be authentic or die!

Eve Mayer, CEO/Owner of Social Media Delivered

17. Stay Focused, Humble and Open

Winning marketing teams and brands of the future will be agile, prepared and calculated. The road ahead is filled with distraction and redundancies across the social and digital web with conflicting voices of opinion and best practices.

Smart and savvy marketers will do their research to know where their ideal clients hang out online and how they can best serve them. They will avoid chasing shiny objects yet at the same time must be ready to embrace new trends as they come so that they can provide the best customer experience possible. They need to be aware, humble and open to a new world where the only certainty we have is change.

Pam Moore, CEO of Marketing Nutz, Founder of Social Profit Factor Training Academy

Although their responses were all very different, all 17 influencers agreed on one truth: we must cater precisely to the consumer–wherever he or she is, and whatever he or she wants or needs. Wherever technology is going, we must go with it and keep experimenting or risk getting left behind.

In other words, the consumer has all the power, and we must cater to our audiences like never before if we want to survive in the future.

Although no one knows exactly what the future will look like, we do know this: In more ways than one, it’s already here.

Are you ready?

3 Necessary Practices to Manage Your Mind and Achieve Your Goals

How do I control my mind and focus on my goals? originally appeared on Quorathe place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Awdhesh-Singh, Author of Books on Spiritual Intelligence Leadership, on Quora:

It is true that our mind is very fickle. It keeps chattering all the time with or without our permission. It is also a fact that it does not listen to our will when we wish to focus it on anything. Even if we force our mind to do something; it, like a naughty boy, start playing its own game as soon as the force is relaxed.

We can control our mind. However, we have to understand the four realities of our being. These are

1. Body

2. Mind

3. Feeling (Heart)

4. Soul

Since all these four belong to one single reality, we can discipline our mind by disciplining the others.

1: Discipline Your Body

If you can discipline your body, your mind shall be disciplined. This is a time tested technique which is used by all military academies all over the world to discipline the mind of the soldiers. The training starts with the discipline of their body and soon their mind is so disciplined that they can jump from a cliff by an order of their boss. The same principle is behind Yoga, Meditation, rituals, fasting and numerous other methods which discipline the body and hence discipline the mind.

2: Mind Your Emotion

Many people wear their emotions on sleeve. They fall in love every alternate day and then curse the other person for not responding to their gesture. They hate almost everyone and then wonder why others hate them so much.

You have to make yourself less vulnerable to emotional stress by limiting your dependence on only few people. You must also take care of the emotions of other people so that they also take care of your emotions. Once you are emotionally stable, your mind shall not waver.

3: Strengthen Your Soul

Someone has said wisely that if you win the world but lose your soul, it is of no value. You nurture your soul by doing righteous, moral and legal actions according to your conscious and for the benefit of all human being. However, some people don’t mind selling their soul for dime. Once they lose their soul, the mind loses direction. Soul is like a light that directs our mind to the right direction. Without it, mind start ruling you and you become its servant. To keep your soul, develop faith in God or in Humanity. If your faith is intact, your mind has to follow your orders without questioning.

This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

Mark Cuban Actually Agrees With Donald Trump On This One Dealmaking Principle

Compromise destroys businesses, crushes deals and destroys lives. It is the idea that I can give up what I want, you can give up what you want, and somehow, we call that win-win.

That is not win-win. That’s lose-lose.

So why is compromise so glorified? Why do our parents teach us that to succeed in life, we must learn to compromise?

Because it’s easy. It’s comfortable.

Compromise is for people who are not willing to put in the effort to find an alternative that’s an actual win-win. It’s for people who need to save face. It’s for people who are afraid to lose.

Chris Voss, a former FBI crisis negotiator illustrates it this way:

“A woman wants her husband to wear black shoes with his suit. But her husband doesn’t want to; he prefers brown shoes. So what do they do? They compromise, they meet halfway. And, you guessed it, he wears one black and one brown shoe. Is this the best outcome? No! In fact, that’s the worst possible outcome. Either of the two other outcomes — black or brown — would be better than the compromise.”

So how do you win instead of compromise? As Stephen Covey puts it–look for the third alternative. The third alternative is not compromise. It’s a new option. The option that solves problems or creates gains on both sides.

In my 20-plus years as a deal-maker, I have learned that Covey and Voss are right on point. When you meet in the middle, both sides give something up. Both lose. Here’s how to win.

1. Make high value trades.

What if I can give you something that is of value to you, but no big deal for me? What if you can give me something that is huge for me, but easy for you? Instead of us both giving up something–meeting in the middle–we both gain something. That’s win-win.

2. Get over the idea that there are two sides.

Evict that idea from your mind forever. When you think in terms of two sides, you think in terms of my way, and your way. Then, you compromise or you haggle.

Instead, step back and think – what if there were 10 ways to do this? What if one of them was even better for me than what I originally wanted? Now that you have the right mindset, you can find the wins.

3. Focus on what’s important.

What is actually important to your counterpart? What do they want? Can you fulfill that need? Can you do so without sacrificing too much?

What is it that you really want? If you solve your counterpart’s problem, or fill their need, can you get what you want?

If the answer is yes, then you have an opportunity to achieve a true win-win, not a compromise. If the answer is no–well, no deal is better than a bad deal.

5 Simple-Sounding Lessons That Founders Should Seriously Think About

What are the things that one should know before going for a startup? originally appeared on Quorathe place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Raad Ahmed, Serial entrepreneur, Founder of LawTrades, 500 Startups B15, on Quora:

There are so many things that go into taking the first steps in a startup. Of course, everybody’s journey is a bit different, but anybody who has “been there and done that” can vouch that there are certainly some things that they wish they had known from the very start.

Here are a few things you should keep in mind.

  1. Working for yourself is not easier than a 9-5. That’s not to say it isn’t worth it, but working for yourself requires a lot of drive to get the hard things done. There’s nobody outlining your milestones or setting your schedule, which is part of the attraction, but also a lot of work in the beginning.
  2. Organization is everything. As others have pointed out, you should definitely do your homework about business in general as well as the niche you are interested in. You should know the requirements for incorporation, develop a solid business plan, and a strategy that will attract investors. There’s a lot that goes in to the planning and developing phase of business. Just remember, the foundation that you establish now, will be what gains success later.
  3. The idea and the execution both matter. It’s not an either/or situation. Your idea needs to be good enough to survive your execution, but without solid execution even the best idea will fail. Both points rely on each other to really have a chance at your startup getting past the development phase.
  4. Be a team player. Even if you went into the startup thinking that you would be a solo member, chances are that will change quickly. Your team members need to add value and your interaction needs to be solid and professional. Not only will a good team get things accomplished, but investors will pay very close attention to that aspect of your business. Learn to work well with others and value the input and skills that others can bring to the table.
  5. Be patient. Startups can take a really long time to reach their full potential. It’s not an overnight success and there’s a lot that goes into reaching even the most basic goals. However, the way that you measure success with a startup isn’t the same as you would if you were an employee with a company. Remember to outline your goals and celebrate the fact that you are making advancements with each milestone that you meet.

There’s not a “right” answer when it comes to outlining what it takes to get a business up and running. There is virtually countless tidbits of information that you can learn from others or learn through trial and error. Ultimately, be prepared to always be learning and evolving as you progress through each phase.

If you are interested in learning more about the legality of a startup, LawTrades would be happy to help. We have already assisted over 1000 entrepreneurs with various stages of the business game. Check out our website to learn more about our affordable services and let us know if you’d like a consultation with a startup attorney. Best of luck to you!

This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

Steal These 4 Business Tips from Airbnb

Airbnb continues to grow at an impressive rate. The online lodging business was recently valued at $31 billion.

Airbnb is one of the most recognizable members of the sharing economy, where other businesses like Uber and Snapgoods have found success. In fact, ride-sharing giant Uber is worth $68 billion. These wildly successful businesses clearly all have aspects that startup owners and entrepreneurs can learn from.

Airbnb, in particular, has a number of business strategies that helped make it successful. For startup owners, mimicking these strategies or basing ideas off them can be a wise move.

1. Monitor your communities attentively

One of the reasons Airbnb has found such ample success is the satisfaction among those staying at a property and those renting it out. A big reason for this is active policing to ensure both sides are following the rules.

Airbnb has a list of community standards and expectations that all members should read. It emphasizes its motto: “A community built on trust.”

Chip Conley, Airbnb’s Head of Global Hospitality Strategy, says tens of thousands of hosts are booted off Airbnb each month for not meeting these standards and expectations. This opposes a fairly popular viewpoint that deems services like Uber and Airbnb an easy source of profit, with people doing most of the work.

In reality, Airbnb devotes a large chunk of time and budget to monitoring and making sure everyone is playing nice.

Airbnb knows how personal a living space can be, even if it’s temporary. To achieve that goal and retain users as a result, they enforce their community standards and expectations very seriously. That, combined with all funds remaining in an escrow, provides a feeling of security that many modern businesses cannot compete with.

2. Make sure customers know exactly what they’re getting

The age of commercial TV and internet has made many realize expectations aren’t reality. Many of us have purchased a product or service before, only to be left disappointed.

Airbnb and many successful startups try to evade consumer disappointment in any way possible. One of the most surefire ways to prevent the feeling of disappoint is to show buyers precisely what they’re getting.

In 2009, as Airbnb was trying to get off the ground, co-founder Joe Gebbia and others sat at a roundtable, trying to figure out how to improve. At one point, they came to a fairly simple realization: The photos of the listings were terrible.

Rather than stick with blurry phone pictures, the company decided to invest in traveling to these listings themselves and professionally photographing them. This doubled the company’s weekly revenue.

While some issues are sorted by improved code, this particular situation revolved around one thing in particular: Showing buyers precisely what they’re getting. Sometimes this means improving the photo quality, so buyers see an attractive property, not one that’s poorly lit. It goes to show two things:

Aesthetic are important, and people are much likelier to purchase something if the product page doesn’t look hastily put together.

3. Test, test and test some more

Data can sometimes be an accurate predictor of results, though sometimes a new idea or feature needs to be put in action to truly see how effective and scalable it is.

Airbnb operates under an approach where a creative hypothesis is implemented, with the team reviewing its impact. If there’s a meaningful return on an idea or feature pushed on a small scale, more resources will be brought in.

“We’re trying to create an environment where people can see a glimmer of something and basically throw dynamite on it and blow it up to become something bigger than anyone could have ever imagined,” said Gebbia.

While some more risk-averse businesses may see this as overly experimental, it’s difficult to argue with a business that keeps on growing.

4. Tackle an archaic industry head-on

It’s no secret that the hotel industry isn’t exactly fond of Airbnb, just as taxi companies aren’t enthused with Uber. Still, Airbnb’s daring and bold approach to revolutionize the lodging and billion-dollar hotel industries is precisely the breath of fresh air many people, younger ones especially, find appealing. In fact, a survey by the David Binder Institute found that 76 percent of millennials thought Airbnb was a great business idea.

Although there are a number of costly obstacles in taking on an older industry, Airbnb is a fine example of taking them on and prevailing.

Airbnb seized on the popularity of the sharing economy, while emphasizing the importance of respecting consumer expectations, regularly enforcing communally accepted rules and idea testing and implementation.

These are all winning strategies that can help any business succeed.

‘I feel duped’: Why bank employees with impressive but misleading titles could cost you big time

Mike Black says he feels “completely betrayed” after trusting RBC Dominion Securities employees with impressive-sounding titles to manage his life savings, only to earn far below the market average for six years.

“I worked 35 years at two jobs and saved up a considerable amount due to the fact that I didn’t have a pension and would need money for retirement,” said Black, who managed to put away nearly $1 million.

An RBC “financial advisor” — “advisor” with an “o” rather than an “e” is important, but more on that later — invested his money in mutual funds, but when the portfolio performed poorly for three years and Black threatened to leave the bank, he was sent to an RBC “vice-president” who would manage his money.

Black received a financial plan that claimed his nest egg would earn “about six per cent in annual interest” when invested in different mutual funds, mostly owned by RBC.

His investments actually earned less than three per cent and cost Black more than $30,000 in fees over six years.

“How is it that you end up getting a return of this kind over this period of time, when this is to be managed by a professional and we pay such high fees?”

‘All they are doing is selling what the bank wants them to sell.’
– Mike Black, RBC investor

Turns out, the RBC vice-president was actually licensed as something called a “dealing representative” — a salesperson.

“I feel duped,” Black said. “My portfolio is my pension. All they are doing is selling what the bank wants them to sell.”

In an email to Go Public, RBC said its “internal review found that the portfolio was appropriate based on the risks and objectives the client communicated to us.”

Deceptive employee titles

A recent report by the Small Investor Protection Association found there are 121,000 people registered as financial professionals in Canada, and the vast majority are registered as dealing representatives — salespeople licensed to sell financial investments.   

Only about 4,000 of these registered financial professionals have a fiduciary duty, which is a legal obligation to act in the client’s best interest.

Larry Elford says thousands of bank employees across Canada are salespeople with fancy titles. (Dave Rae/CBC )

“The game today is to earn clients’ trust,” said Larry Elford, a former certified investment manager with RBC and lead researcher of the SIPA report. “And never let them know that you are actually a commissioned salesperson and you don’t have to honour that trust.”

The stakes are high, says Elford, who points out that a two per cent management fee on mutual funds typically cuts an investor’s retirement fund by about half over a 35-year period.

What’s in a vowel?

A common trick for misleading customers, according to Elford, is the banking industry’s use of the term “financial advisor” — spelled with an “o.”

He says “advisor” is an unregulated title that anyone can use, whereas the title “adviser” — spelled with an “e” — can only be used if the employee has a fiduciary responsibility to the client.

“Advisors can sell you the third, fourth, fifth or least beneficial product to you,” Elford said. “They do that a great deal of the time if it makes them more commissions, or if their bank manager is telling them they need to sell more of the house-brand product.”

The Ontario Securities Commission confirms that “adviser” is a legal term under securities law that describes a person or company that is registered to give advice about securities, whereas “advisor” is not.

In an email to Go Public, the Canadian Securities Administrators confirmed that it does not regulate most titles used by employees in the financial industry.

‘It’s completely about selling’

Many bank employees who’ve contacted Go Public say they act more like salespeople than anything else because of pressures from “high up” to hit revenue targets. CBC is concealing their identities to protect their jobs.

“I would say 90 per cent of my day is trying to hit targets,” said a financial services representative at TD Bank.

“I have to go [meet with] my manager daily and go through each customer that’s scheduled for me and see how many ‘units’ I can get from that customer.”

‘I had zero training and had to learn on the go.’
– TD financial advisor who recently quit

She says if a client has money in a savings account, she’s encouraged to get them to buy TD mutual funds instead of giving financial advice she thinks would be better, such as paying down a credit card or high-interest loan.

“It’s completely about selling,” she said.

A TD financial advisor who quit last month says he was “thrown into the role” and expected to learn on the job.

A TD financial services representative who contacted Go Public said 90 per cent of her day is spent trying to hit sales targets. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

I had zero training and had to learn everything on the go,” he said.

A CIBC financial advisor says he spends his day selling investments that may not be in his customers’ interests, even though they think they’re getting impartial advice.

“The term financial advisors is bank jargon for salesperson,” he said. “At least in other industries they are more open about it. You sell cars? Well, you are a car salesperson. We are not advising people on anything. We are just trying to make sales.”

An RBC branch manager in B.C. says tellers are now called “client advisors,” and are required to get a licence to sell mutual funds.

“How do you expect a 20-year-old employee who’s getting paid $12 an hour to provide advice with the title ‘client advisor,’ when they’re really just equipped to sell? It’s not fair to anybody … you’re putting clients at risk.”

In a statement, RBC says it “stands behind the advice and support” its “investment advisors provide to clients.” 

Bank employees at all levels at BMO and Scotiabank told Go Public they, too, feel their titles are misleading because they’re mostly under pressure to sell bank-owned mutual funds and other products to boost the bottom line.

In previous statements to Go Public, TD, CIBC and Scotiabank said their clients are their top priority and they expect their employees to behave ethically. 

‘Self-regulating doesn’t work very well’

Stan Buell, founder of the Small Investor Protection Association, says he’s heard too many stories from people who thought a financial advisor was going to look out for their best interests.

Stan Buell, founder of the Small Investor Protection Association, says bank employees should be called salespeople if that’s their role.

“I’ve talked to hundreds and hundreds of people who’ve been victimized,” Buell said. “And every one trusted their advisor.”

He said he doubts any of the advisors were actually advisers — with an “e” and a fiduciary duty. “They’re all salespeople, trained in sales.”

He says banks and other financial institutions need tougher regulations.

Self-regulating doesn’t work very well,” he said. “It must be an outside agency that is not composed of the industry to have the power to handle complaints, to investigate and authorize and even pay restitution for the victims of the financial institutions.”

As a start, Buell would like Canada’s big banks to be more transparent and call their employees salespeople, not “advisors” or other titles that suggest they’re working in the customer’s interest when they’re actually serving their employer.

Mike Black says he took his money out of those fee-based accounts at RBC Dominion Securities and hopes for better luck with his next investment.

But his experience has left him shaken.  

“I’ve always been very trusting, conscientious, both me and my wife. We’ve walked the walk. And quite frankly, I feel like it’s been a hit and run.”

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The best way to protect against unscrupulous bank tactics? Empower workers

CBC’s recent investigation into upselling by bank employees blew the door open on shady practices that have long plagued Canada’s financial institutions. The stories detailed toxic work environments where employees said they felt pressured to sell customers products they didn’t need — sometimes breaking the law — to meet high sales targets set by management.

Much of the discussion in the aftermath focused on how the banking industry would be affected by such revelations and how customers can protect themselves from unwanted products and fees. But there’s another aspect of this story that merits discussion: How did the work environments at these banks become so bad that employees couldn’t challenge these unethical and illegal practices? If anything, this scandal is as much a labour issue as it is a consumer watchdog one.

Precarious employment, low wages

Banking is often viewed as an industry offering secure white-collar jobs with good wages. In reality, many non-management bank employees, including tellers and call centre workers, face the same issues as other non-unionized private sector service workers: precarious employment, low wages and stressful work environments.

In 2007, for example, workers filed class-action lawsuits against CIBC and Scotiabank over issues related to unpaid overtime. In 2013, RBC outsourced information technology jobs in Toronto to a multinational outsourcing firm from India, which meant that many Canadian workers lost their jobs. Over the past two years alone, banks have laid off thousands of employees, all while earning record profits. It’s certainly no wonder why, as the CBC investigation into upselling revealed, many workers feared they would lose their jobs if they didn’t follow management orders to upsell customers, even if they thought it was wrong.

In many other countries around the world, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, India and the United Kingdom, bank workers have dealt with similar kinds of issues by unionizing. In Canada, there have been repeated attempts to establish a union for bank employees. In 1942, a group of Montreal bank workers staged the first Canadian bank strike. In the late 1960s, bank employees in Quebec secured the first collective agreement in the industry. Most notably, in the 1970s, hundreds of bank employees signed union cards during the most significant bank organizing drive in Canadian history.

Unfortunately, these efforts were met with limited success, due in large part to employer hostility and intervention. Banks have consistently opposed unions and used a variety of tactics to stop employees from organizing, which has included circulating anti-union materials and false information in the workplace, withholding pay increases, transferring employees and pressuring pro-union workers to resign.  

‘We are all doing it’ say employees at Canada’s big banks3:20

The immense power and vast resources banks hold mean they have little to lose by ignoring worker demands and pursuing lengthy and expensive legal battles that they can easily afford to wage. That’s what happened in 1977 when RBC appealed a certification order issued by the Canada Labour Relations Board. The appeal likely would have failed, but nonetheless it drained the finances of the small independent union that, at the time, had the most bargaining units in the industry. The union ultimately withdrew from negotiations with the banks and from bank organizing. Since the 1980s, there has been no concerted effort to unionize bank workers.

The result is that the Canadian banking industry continues to have a low unionization rate. According to Statistics Canada, in 2012 only 8.9 per cent of workers in finance, insurance, real estate and leasing were unionized.

Challenging employers

Some bank workers, like those at Laurentian Bank of Canada, have managed to remain unionized for several decades. Others have struggled to secure a first agreement and remain unionized. Without a union and a collective agreement, bank employees have limited power to challenge their employers. They can, of course, still choose to ignore orders, quit their jobs, file lawsuits, or go to the press. But while all of these tactics can, at times, be useful forms of resistance, individual acts will do little to change power relations between banks and their workers.

The call for greater industry regulation won’t deliver long-term change. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Banks engaging in unethical and possibly illegal behaviour is neither new nor surprising; banks are primarily responsible to their shareholders and their main goal is to maximize profits. But the call for greater industry regulation, which usually comes from the public following these sorts of scandals, won’t deliver the long-term, fundamental culture overhauls needed to fix the problem. Better protections for workers will.  

As former president of the AFL-CIO Thomas R. Donahue once stated, “The only effective answer to organized greed is organized labour.” Given that the public relies on bank workers to blow the whistle on unethical and illegal practices in the banking industry, a unionized and empowered banking workforce might be one of the best defences against unscrupulous bank tactics.

This column is part of CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor’s blog and our FAQ.

Will Toronto’s house prices crash like they did in the ’90s?

Toronto’s current real estate boom shares one thing in common with the red-hot housing market in the late 1980s, recalls real estate veteran Karen Millar.

“Prices were escalating and everybody was worrying how were they going to afford it, how were their kids going to afford it,” said Millar, now a senior real estate specialist with Royal LePage Signature Realty. 

She also recalls selling houses once the bubble burst. “There was no champagne,” said Millar in an interview with CBC Toronto. “It was sad.” 

The rapid rise in the price of the average Toronto-area house — up 27 per cent from last year — is evoking memories of the way prices skyrocketed three decades ago. During the late 1980s, the average GTA house price more than doubled in just three years.

After 1989, prices dropped for seven straight years and didn’t reach that level again until 2002.

While one senior bank economist is warning the Toronto housing market is again in a bubble, others are stopping short of using that term.

That’s because these economists believe  the “fundamentals” of the Toronto market — the economy, interest rates, population growth and the sources of demand for housing — are far more solid than they were in the late 1980s. 

Dana Senagama, an analyst with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation specializing in the GTA market, cautions people against drawing parallels to the previous bubble. 

Dana Senagama studies the GTA real estate market for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. (CBC)

“I would say don’t compare,” Senagama said in an interview Tuesday with CBC Toronto.  “It’s a very different time period, very different economies. The housing market has very different fundamentals at play.”

“The only similarity that I see has been the rapid increase in price growth,” said Senagama.

In the late 1980s, interest rates were high, some of the rules about qualifying for a mortgage were less strict, developers started building vast amounts of new homes without purchasers lined up and the province was about to get hit with a deep recession.

Sherry Cooper, chief economist for Dominion Lending Centres, describes another housing bubble bursting — in the U.S. in 2008 — as “absolute collapse, massive foreclosures, underwater mortgages. If that’s the definition, then no, we are not in a bubble.”

The fundamentals of Toronto’s current boom “are very strong in comparison,” Cooper said Tuesday in an interview with CBC Toronto. “We are not seeing a situation where households are so overextended that they’re going to walk away from their homes.”

Karen Millar is a senior real estate specialist with Royal LePage Signature Realty.

But Cooper is concerned about the growing unaffordability of homes in the GTA and worries the sharp rise in prices is in danger of becoming “self-perpetuating.” 

“Everyone thinks you can’t lose money in housing and that spurs all sorts of activity beyond owner-occupied house purchases,” said Cooper.

‘I was in shock’

Both Cooper and Millar recall how the bubble affected them personally.

After it burst, MIllar had to carry two homes for six months because she couldn’t get a buyer. “We lost our shirt,” she said. 

Cooper arrived in Toronto in the mid-80s from Washington D.C., where $250,000 bought a good-sized house with a yard. In Toronto, north of Eglinton, she bought a  “small house, no lot, $425,000. I was in shock.” 

Then came the collapse. Cooper says the drop in prices benefited people who wanted to move up in the market.  

“Everyone thinks it’s the end of the world if the bubble bursts,” said Cooper. “A lot of people took advantage of it and were able to move into what were formerly very expensive properties for significantly less than what they otherwise would have had to pay.”

The Toronto Real Estate Board is predicting the average selling price of GTA homes will grow between 10 and 16 per cent in 2017. 

Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa is promising a slate of measures to cool housing prices in his upcoming budget. The date is yet to be released.

How will Canada’s schools handle pot legalization?

The revelation that the federal government will legalize marijuana in Canada by July 1, 2018, has sparked a flurry of speculation about possible implications. 

But those imagining a disastrous Canada-wide increase in high school students showing up stoned in classrooms need not worry, school boards say.

“Even if it may be decriminalized and even if a student may be of the age in which he or she can purchase marijuana, our code of conduct is still in place,” said John Bowyer, superintendent of safety and security for the Durham District School Board, east of Toronto.

John Bowyer of the Durham District School Board says even if a student were old enough to legally buy marijuana, it would still be a violation of the code of conduct to attend class under the influence. (Nicole Ireland/CBC )

“What we expect is that our students come to school prepared to learn and … in a state of mind that they can be safe and they can learn appropriately.” 

Earlier this week, CBC News learned that Ottawa would set a minimum age of 18 to buy pot, but the provinces will be able to increase that age. How marijuana is distributed and sold will also be up to each provincial government.

The Durham board is waiting to get that kind of specific information from the Ontario government, Bowyer said. But in general terms, he sees potential marijuana policies as similar to those governing alcohol use. 

“Right now alcohol is legal to be purchased by someone who is 19 years of age or older [in Ontario], but we do expect that students do not show up to the school in possession of alcohol or having consumed alcohol.”

The Ontario government’s health and physical education curriculum already teaches students about substance use and addiction. The Durham board runs a “healthy choices” program, which focuses on the risks associated with alcohol and other drugs, whether legal or illegal. 

Legalization likely won’t “dramatically” change the conversation with students about marijuana, Bowyer said, because the impact and possible consequences of using it remain the same. 

But Art Steinmann, manager of the substance use health promotion program with the Vancouver School Board, hopes legalization will actually help “normalize” conversations about pot and lead to more educational opportunities.

Legalizing marijuana will give educators the opportunity to speak with students about the health risks associated with using pot at a young age, says Art Steinmann, a Vancouver School Board manager. (Vancouver School Board)

“A lot of kids today are fairly knowledgeable about alcohol and tobacco and yet … they entertain a number of myths about marijuana,” Steinmann said. “They think it’s a harmless herb for the most part.”  

Although he doesn’t have hard data to prove it, Steinmann said, he believes the fact that pot is illegal means people in authority might not talk about it with students as much as they do about alcohol.  

“A lot of, say, classroom teachers, or even school counsellors, gym teachers, coaches, whatever, probably don’t really feel comfortable or don’t feel they want to get into discussions on that,” he said. “[But] those same people might be comfortable with saying, ‘You know, if you ever do drink, don’t drink and drive.'”

“There’s sometimes a little more societal comfort to talk about products that have been, you know, clearly categorized and delineated as to where they fit in our culture, and with cannabis, that hasn’t been the case.”

More open conversations about marijuana are vital from a public health standpoint, said Benedikt Fischer, senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

Even though most secondary school students won’t be old enough to legally use it when the legislation changes, there’s an obligation to educate them about cannabis, he said, noting about one in three Canadians between 16 and 25 either have used or are using the drug. 

Research suggests using marijuana could be damaging during teens’ developmental years, and it’s important to teach them how to minimize the risks, Fischer said.  

“If you can delay [using] it from 14 to 17 or 18 or even later, that is likely going to bring quite a bit of health gain.” 

The age requirement that comes with legalization paves the way for conveying that message, Steinmann said. 

“It’ll give us the ability to say, ‘You know what? They’re legalizing, regulating this stuff. And by the way, did you notice there’s an age limit? Now why might that be?'” he said.

“We would have an opportunity to say, ‘Wow, it seems like people who have really studied this and really looked into it are saying that younger people should not be using this.'”

Keeping Canada and U.S. on same economic track will be hard as policies diverge: Don Pittis

Only six months ago, Canada and the United States seemed like trains on the same track.

Sure, there were policy differences. But especially after the election of a Liberal government in Ottawa, the two capitals were generally agreed on climate change, free trade, immigration, taxes, bank regulation and many other issues.

But suddenly, with the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president instead of the widely expected Hillary Clinton, everything changed.

Different tracks for different folks?

This week, as Trump makes new announcements to soften rules protecting the environment and hints emerge of $18 billion in cuts to social programs, it is as if someone had suddenly opened a switch and turned Canada and the U.S. onto completely different tracks.

If the U.S. abruptly changes direction, can Canada afford to follow its own path?

U.S. President Donald Trump holds up an executive order on ‘energy independence,’ eliminating Obama-era climate change regulations, at the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

It was a question that came up obliquely during the recent federal budget as the Liberal government put off details to wait for developments south of the border. 

In the U.S., Fed chair Janet Yellen has raised interest rates twice with at least two more quarter-point rate cuts planned for later this year to compensate for the stimulating effect of new Trump spending and tax cuts.

‘I think Canada has the opportunity to present itself as the new shining city on the hill, the place that welcomes diversity and innovation.’
— Frank Graves, Ekos Research

Yesterday Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz seemed gloomy and disinclined to raise rates. That is helping to push the Canadian dollar down.

“We talk about serial disappointment. It looks OK, but then some new shock comes along,” Poloz said yesterday. 

Bad or really bad?

Growing protectionist rhetoric from the United States represents one of the potential shocks of diverging policy.

“If a tariff went up across a border, then consumers on two sides of the border may react differently to those different prices,” said Poloz. “Will it be slightly bad for your business or really bad?”

While the U.S. central bank is raising interest rates, Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz seemed to be heading the opposite direction. (University of Ontario Institute of Technology/Twitter)

Until recently, polling data from Ekos Research have demonstrated that values in Canada and the U.S. are remarkably similar, says Ekos president Frank Graves. And like Trump supporters, many Canadians face anger and despair.

Similar and converging

“The values in aggregate held by Canadians and Americans [show they] are probably the most similar societies in the world and the pattern has been one toward greater convergence, not divergence,” says Graves.

Of course, the U.S. and Canada can see dramatic swings in government policy following an election. 

An example of one of those swings was yesterday’s new presidential order opposing climate change.

“My administration is putting an end to the war on coal,” said Trump. “To reverse government intrusion and to cancel job-killing regulations.”

Just as Trump was celebrating his new climate policy Erin Flanagan from the environmental group the Pembina Institute was issuing a release congratulating the government of Canada for sticking to its climate plan.

Flanagan says Trump is simply missing the boat by failing to support a booming U.S. clean-energy industry.

“It’s clear that the world is changing,” she says. “I think it’s a really great signal that our government is not going in that Trump direction.” 

Many supporters of the fossil fuel industry in Canada disagree, saying the divergence in policy will be just one more hit for a troubled sector as U.S. producers get a competitive advantage.

Businesses outside the sector are also worried their U.S. competitors could garner further advantages from tax cuts, tariffs favouring the U.S. and deregulation. Meanwhile a free-trading Canada would face competition from Europe, Asia and Mexico.

Canadians for Trump

Already Ekos research shows a Canadian backlash against Liberal policy and in favour of Trump. Graves says among Canadian Conservatives, his polling show 57 per cent support Trump’s policies although that compares to “single digits” among everyone else.

Graves points out that Canada has taken profoundly different policy positions from the U.S. over the years. Before the arrival of Trump it seemed the U.S. was gravitating toward Canada with a move to socialized medicine and legalized cannabis.

It may not be bad that Canada and the U.S. seem to be heading down different political and economic tracks. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

But as to whether Canada should stick to its own values or, as Graves says, “get with the room” and be more like the U.S., Ekos polling shows Canadians remain “pretty divided,” though people are generally agreed that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should cultivate a personal relationship with Trump.

But it is possible that at this moment in history, divergence is in Canada’s interests. For instance, there are credible forecasts showing Mexico will be the fifth largest economy in the world by 2050, he says.

Is the U.S. going to hell?

“So why would we want to be tying ourselves to the American economy when it may be just going to hell in a hand basket?” asks Graves. 

Rather than cutting taxes for the rich and deregulating to boost the economy, Canada can fight anger and despair by emphasizing skills training, knowledge, greater economic equality and openness to the world. 

“I think Canada has the opportunity to present itself as the new shining city on the hill, the place that welcomes diversity and innovation,” says Graves.

Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis

More analysis from Don Pittis