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Age-gap couples need to pay more attention to finances

AFA Liz Koh has written this article for Stuff.co.nz describing some of the issues couples with large age-gaps can face when it comes to finances, including the value of life insurance dedicated to the tasks of providing for children shared with a previous partner, and makes a good point: 

'A life insurance policy taken out on the life of the older partner can free up funds to pay out first or second families on death...'

It is a valuable reminder of the fundamentals of life insurance as a way to create an estate and manage estate planning tasks elegantly: it encompasses both asset created, and the process for delivering the asset to the right people (if ownership is done right). With a declining liability (future support costs reduce as children grow up) it is always simpler, and usually more efficient than allocating capital today.

Attack on Whitecoat.co.nz unfair

The attack on whitecoat.co.nz is, to borrow a quote from Ian Powell, Executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialist, is "unfair". In defence of customers of medical specialists, I feel compelled to take a look at this criticism and wonder at some of the issues. You can check out the comments as reported by TVNZ One News at this link.

The union representing New Zealand doctors has labeled a new website which allows members of the pubic to rate doctors as setting a "dubious precedent" which does not guarantee "greater transparency or improved quality of care".

This is a strange standard to hold the service to. No one 'guarantees' these things. People or organisations may only contribute to them.

"What happens if a doctor initiates child protection proceedings because they are concerned about a child's well-being, and one of the parents involved subsequently rates the doctor poorly or posts negative comments?" executive director of ASMS Ian Powell said.

All doctor's behaviour, whether approved or not by clients, whether good or bad, is always subject to the opinions of others. This is simply a fact of life. That this information may be shared quickly is a fact of the digital world. This question could be framed in a different way: imagine a doctor behaves badly and no-one was permitted to share that information, would that be a preferable outcome? Dealing solely in extremes also makes this dreadfully loaded - as most interactions with ratings sites are far more likely to comment on simple matters like manner, parking, wait times for appointments, and the experienced quality of outcomes. Sharing more of those things would help many consumers. Besides, is the current method of selecting specialists ideal? I have heard one medical professional say "the specialist system is broken". So plainly not everyone thinks that what we have right now works as well as it should. Experimentation might be just what we need.

"There are circumstances in which comments posted on the website could post an actual danger to the doctor's safety, for example when doctors perform abortions or carry out other treatment or procedures that some individuals or groups find contentious."

This is also an argument against any website listings of services, or entries in old media like phone books, or any free speech. In essence it says we cannot share opinions because there are violent lunatics in society. I think most of us want a world in which we can share opinions and violent lunatics are prevented from taking extreme action.

"It's also important to make the point that popularity and charm in a health professional does not automatically mean a higher standard of clinical practice or better outcomes of care – for example, Dr Harold Shipman was loved by his patients!" Mr Powell said.

Are we only safe from murderers if we don't talk about them? That's a curious proposition. It also suggests that the only feedback a customer might give is on how 'charming' a specialist is - which is simply not the case. It is true that clients may comment on matters of great or little importance. This theme, that clients, or patients are incapable of perceiving the higher functions of their caregivers, pervades all the comments:

"They are not choosing between different types of vacuum cleaners; they need compassionate, qualified expert medical care, not the latest brand. And that type of treatment is usually delivered by teams of health professionals, rather than a single doctor.

I don't think anyone would disagree with that statement. But to believe that means no client should be permitted to share their view is strange. Does the patient have no say over their treatment? Can the patient have no legitimate concerns or requirements? Can no patient view be valid? Given the power imbalance between patient and doctor that already exist, helping to rectify that even a little has got to be a good thing. Comparisons aren't just for vacuum cleaners, they can - and are - applied to professionals of all kinds. In fact, the more complex the advice process the more information is useful and important.

Not a natural...

As someone who is not a natural at presentations, I have had to work to improve. Hat tip to Tony Vidler for this excellent list of presentation tips (see this link). From that list, and with a couple of my own added in, my favourites are:

  • Know your subject - I quite like answering questions, because in my field, because of all the data I pull together for quarterly reporting on the life and health industry, I usually have a good general knowledge of the subject, and at least know where to find the rest. Nothing beats covering the ground well in order to present effectively or serve on a panel discussion.
  • Work out key messages with the event organiser - the chances of success are far greater if you are going to fit in with an overall theme. It can eliminate the need for a detailed introduction, and allow you to focus - great for avoiding covering too much (a mistake I am prone to making).
  • Memory skills - memory is a skill which can be developed, and for the crucial first five minutes, and other important passages of the presentation, then learning what you want to say and being able to recall it accurately, is a valuable contributor to overall performance. Reading up on memory is a great way to start. Look up 'Moonwalking with Einstein' a whimsically titled book about a journalist who learned some amazing memory tricks.

Link to more.

Advice on disposal of a product is another neglected area

Advice on disposal of an insurance product is another neglected area. This is related to the subject of advice on replacement, but it is not limited to that. Advice on disposal occurs when someone tells a client to cancel a policy. That happens. Because of the recent focus on replacement business most people tend to think of that happening when someone wants to replace the insurance policy with another. But it also happens a lot when someone wants to recommend that the client use the money they spend on insurance to spend on something else. It happens a lot when a client is stretching a budget to make the next step up to a more expensive property. It also happens when a client is re-organising their affairs to save more.

It can be good advice to cancel insurance policies that no longer meet your needs - but it isn't always good advice, it depends on personal circumstances, and requires an appreciation of the risks faced by the client and their wider financial situation. Often this advice is being given by financial advisers, or non-advice staff selling home loans, and sometimes by non-advisers unrelated to the financial services sector. Having a decent definition of advice on disposal may save us from stretching the definition of replacement advice to breaking point.