A Money Coach in Canada

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Citizens Bank of Canada first caught my eye upon its grand entrance, 12 years ago.  Their tv and bus stop ads promised Canadians a different kind of bank – one with an ethical policy, and one committed to the planet and to communities.   Plus, it was online.  This appealed to me enormously.

I applied for an account straight away, and got rejected:   fresh out of university, I didn’t have the credit history they wanted.

Eight years later, I tried again:  I wanted to open my business account with them.  This time, I had the credit history, but they were ceasing to open business accounts.

As fate would have it, I got into Citizens Bank by the back door.   Two years into my money-coaching business, I had stumbled across an advert for a part-time banking position with a credit union.   Extended benefits and some side income were a welcome supplement to my business.    I applied through the agency, and unbeknownst to me, the job was with CB.

I got the job, and finally I had a bank account where I’d wanted one all these years.  As an employee I can only describe myself as falling in love with this decent, underdog bank.  My passion was fueled further by the many amazing people who banked with us –  people whose green lifestyles were featured in national magazines, world class authors, professionals who devoted part of their year to development work overseas, progressive politicians, and above all,  the many, many Canadians who, like me, simply wanted to live a typical Canadian life in the most environmentally and socially sensitive way that they could.  I spoke to people in Iqaluit, in St. John’s, in Ottawa, in High Prairie, in Whitehorse, in Regina, (in Quebec to people upset we couldn’t open accounts for them!), in Lethbridge, in Yellowknife —  If any of you are reading this –  thanks so much for having joined me in the Big, Worthwhile Idea that was Citizens Bank.

Frankly, I’m still baffled that Citizens Bank didn’t gather at least a million members.   High interest savings, low or no fee chequing, and the profits went back to the community instead of to shareholders around the world – surely an easy choice.

But it didn’t.

So, I asked if I could try my hand at getting the word out.   The CEO, to whom I’m forever indebted for this, gave me six months to go for it, even saying OK to a job title of  “Bank Evangelist” – I wasn’t in it to “market” to anyone, just to spread the word!

Just as I was pulling some ideas together, the financial sector went wonky.   And our parent company, Vancity (some of whose staff never did “get” Citizens Bank) started to look hard at which of its subsidiaries were successful, and which ones not so much.  Last October most of CB’s staff were laid off.  Growth and evangelism were out of the question.   I left the bank.

The axe finally fell last week.  The accounts have been sold to TD Canada Trust (if it had to be to a bank, I’m glad it’s them, at least).

Grieving a bank seems nuts.   But I do.  I grieve the loss of Citizens Bank in Canada –  both for what it was, and what it could have been.  For me, Canada is diminished without this progressive little underdog bank.  I know Big Worthwhile Ideas come and they go, and I’m glad at least for the four years in which I could feel really good about where I banked.  But still.

A heartfelt shoutout to those who were there before me, and there with me, giving CB its best shot – esp. Jody A., Jane H., Kathy O., Madleine R., Lynn S., Lorelei M., Heidi F., Lacey H., Ben & Robin, Dean H …. the list goes on!

And on a pragmatic note – any recommendations on where to move my banking?  I’m already with ING for my savings (another long-time fave of mine) and I’m thinking of PC for my online checking.  Other ideas?  (bearing in mind I’m up in Yellowknife – no credit unions up here).

Well now, this is an interesting development.  Visa Canada is partnering with a very savvy company in the States called Borderlinx. It provides Canadians with a US shipping address, so that we can order at any online store in the States and ship it to the Borderlinx address.  Borderlinx will then ship it up to us in Canada.

Living in Yellowknife, this holds very promising possibilities!  In fact, it holds possibilities for anyone without easy access to the likes of Banana Republic (my clothing store of choice),  Restoration Hardware, Zappos shoes and a whole lot of other shops.  These are just two of the stores which only ship to US addresses via online shopping.

If it wasn’t for Visa’s involvement I would have assumed this was a fly-by-night operation – I pay for the goods, they collect them, and resell them or something.  So I contacted Visa’s eCommerce rep and got the following responses from Stephanie Wallat:


Q:  Does VISA have any estimate of how many Canadian online shoppers want to purchase from US online vendors, but can’t because the vendor doesn’t ship to Canada?  (ie. how big of a problem is borderlinx solving for us)?

According to research by Burak Jacobs on on behalf of Visa in October 2008, the main barrier to shopping at US sites is “Sites that do not ship to Canada” -(38%) . The next reason was shipping costs at 25%.

The same research showed that 62% of respondents indicated they are shopping at US sites – what we don’t know, however, is how many more would, if the sites they targeted would ship to Canada.

With that many shoppers facing the barrier of shipping, this gap presented an opportunity for Visa to provide more value to its cardholders by offering a solution like Borderlinx .

Q: If I had discovered Borderlinx on my own, my guard would be up.  I’ve always assumed there was Some Reason the US Vendor didn’t ship, other than their inconvenience, such as international trade agreements/tariffs etc.   The fact that VISA is partnering gives Borderlinx credibility to me – enough so that I’ll personally try using it if the price/exchange rate is favourable enough to compensate for the shipping/taxes etc.  Can VISA confirm that US online vendors don’t ship to Canada purely for their own logistical reasons, rather than because doing so violates anything per above?

We can’t speak on behalf of retailers, but from what we understand in talking to US retailers, it is more a case of logistics than compliance (although in some cases,  it may be that the merchant’s goods are not accepted in Canada   – the Borderlinx website provides some examples of prohibited goods).

Shipping outside of the US can involve considerable effort, especially for the smaller retailers. To be successful, retailers need to understand the new market, have the internal resources and organizational structure to support cross border, be able to handle the fulfillment/logistics, know the government/regulatory/legal requirements of each market, etc.

Visa is working with third parties like Borderlinx to fill the cross border gap and enable its cardholders to shop anywhere in the world.

Q: Do Visa guarantees about damages of goods purchased apply to items that go through Borderlinx?  (I’m actually unclear about those guarantees, but I think VISA replaces items that break or get damaged, if purchased by visa?)

In general, if a Visa cardholder makes an online purchase that arrives damaged, the first step is to contact the merchant.  The Visa E-promise acts as another avenue for dispute resolution should attempts to deal directly with the merchant fail.

Borderlinx inspects packages and will alert a customer if the package is damaged (details below).
Carriers selected by Borderlinx insure deliveries  against damage up to $100. Borderlinx is working to provide its customers with additional coverage, and will be able to provide more information about that soon.

From the Borderlinx site:
If your goods are damaged when they are received by Borderlinx, the email advising you of a new delivery to your Borderlinx address will explain that goods were received damaged and – as far as possible – describe the damage. You should then contact the retailer directly to arrange an exchange/refund and let us know what you wish to do through the Customer Service page.

If you see a ‘Damaged’ icon against your delivery, you will not be able to have it shipped (ensuring that you don’t choose to receive damaged goods inadvertently). If you still want to receive your goods, please contact Borderlinx Customer Service so that we can arrange shipment.”


This money coach plans to test this out in the fall, and I’ll let you know how it goes.  It will take some careful calculations, factoring in the exchange rate, the tarrifs, and the shop prices but I’m really pleased to have at least the option available to me.

What a weekend.  Thanks so very much to the many people who left me comments on my blog and facebook.

When all was said and done, yesterday I decided not to proceed on buying the gorgeous place.  The three main reasons were:

  1. The rush factor.  As many commenters pointed out, and I agree, rushing into a financial decision of this size is simply not a good idea.  It probably was a fantastic opportunity, and a very fair deal.  But the point is, I don’t know that.  When I bought in Vancouver, I had all my ducks in a row (oops!  except naive about legal fees – ouch!), I knew the market, and had looked at easily 20 places.  When I bought  “the one” it was a well-informed, grounded choice.   I may regret not having jumped at this place, but I’d rather consistently make my financial choices as an fully informed woman.
  2. The bank said I would get the mortgage, but only just.  It would nearly max me out on my ratios.  This would preclude any other opportunities for the foreseeable future.  That’s too tight for my comfort.
  3. The last reason is extremely simple:  I realized it was a bit more space than I need, and would require a lot more furniture purchases.  I’m used to living fairly simply (although elegantly!) and I don’t have a lot of Stuff. I want to keep my life that way.  I would have had 3 unfurnished rooms in this place, and then knowing me I wouldn’t resist furnishing and then I’d need to go find myself a financial coach!

So thanks again, so much, for all your thoughts, support and well-wishes.

And that’s the end of this story!

Have a great week,


Back To School time!

A recent poll by visa uncovered a number of interesting tidbits about Canadians and our online back-to-school spending.

1.  Recession?   What recession?

Almost half (48 per cent) of online shoppers plan to make an online purchase between now and Labour Day; among these, the majority claim that they will be spending either more or about the same as last year:

  • 30 per cent said they would spend more
  • 49 per cent said they would spend the same amount
  • 15 per cent said they would spend less
  • 7 per cent didn’t know

2. A surprise to me was how few of us plan to purchase online – only 1 in 6 people.  Is that a reflection of the goods bought?  ie., pencils, binders, new gym shoes just aren’t online-type purchases?  (Q:  What do parents buy online these days for school?   A: Clothes/shoes 41% Books 26%, Computers & related electronics 22% Backpacks 10%)

3. I’m also skeptical about  how little people expect to spend for back-to-school (I wonder if there will be a huge budget/actual variance?)

  • The average online shopper expects to spend approximately $318 online to prepare for the return to the classroom in September 2009
  • Four in 10 online shoppers also plan to shop in retail stores for back-to-school, spending an average of $298

In fact, I wonder if group B below is my target market, whereas group D has a real grip on their finances?  (joke. maybe)

  • $1-$99 13%
    $100-$249 23%
    $250-$499 11%
    $500-$999 23%
    $1000 + 14 %
    Don’t know 28 %

Any readers going back to school, or sending your kids to school?  How do these numbers stack up?

Thanks to Visa for providing these stats!

Visa logo

Also, readers, keep tuned —  I have a couple questions to ask Visa but it sounds like they may have a genuinely useful option for Canadians who want to buy from US sites (think:  Zappos.  Banana Republic) which don’t sell to us.

If you haven’t noticed, there’s been a quiet increase in federal spending in our high north.

  • In 2007, Harper allocated $3Billion to purchase 8 ice-capable patrol ships.
  • Just the other day, Canada and the US signed off on a deal to map the continental shelf under the Beaufort Sea.
  • MacDonald Dettwiler (think: cdn arm of the space shuttle) just signed a $4M contract with the Cdn. Space Agency to come up with a concept for better satellite monitoring of the north.
  • And Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has the Go for a world class High Arctic Research Station, starting with $2M for the feasibility study and an ultimate budget in the $85M range

All this, of course, is to politely underscore Canada’s sovereignty claims.  Growing up in Yellowknife, I little dreamed the Canadian north would one day be of such international interest.  But then I little dreamed of climate change either – and all the implications of an ice-free arctic ocean during the summer months, estimated to occur either next summer or within 5 years.

Two of the implications are:

  1. Oil and Gas available – the Arctic is estimated to contain up to 25% of the world’s remaining reserves.
  2. Northwest Passage created. (remember grade 6 social studies?  about the Europeans wanting to find a way to traverse the globe but encountering the impenetrable arctic, so going south instead?).

This means all kinds of interesting things.  Who gets to extract the oil?  And should the oil be extracted?  And are the waters between the Canadian islands Canadian waters (we say) or International (U.S. says)?

Keep your eyes lookin’ north, readers.   Things are – dare I say – heating up around here.

2903056368_5f24c74a8ePhoto Credit: Ezioman (photo taken in greenland)

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