I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Ellen Roseman. Ellen has over 40 years of experience working as a columnist/journalist with the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star. Also, Ellen is an author of seven books. This interview took place at Toronto Reference Library on April 28, 2017 (Friday @ 1800). The duration of the interview was 22 minutes and 31 seconds.
Urgen Kuyee: Thanks for talking to me today, Ellen. Tell me a little bit about yourself. Which school did you go to? How long have you been advocating for consumer rights for Canadians, especially Torontonians?
Ellen Roseman: I went to McGill University. I got a degree in philosophy and I was looking for activities and just kind of fell into writing for their publication McGill daily. Then, when I finished at McGill after 4 years, I came to Toronto and I got an MA in philosophy – a master’s at University of Toronto and then I had to figure out what to do next. I didn’t really plan to be a journalist but I could not really find anything else so I fell into journalism. Luckily, I took this detour into business journalism and I found that I really enjoyed that. Then, it was a shortstop from business journalism into consumer journalism; so, it makes me feel old becauseeeeee I’d say I’ve been doing this for… See, I started in Toronto Star in 74 as a consumer reporter so that’s more than 40 years hahaha
ER: LONG time! I did it for a while – got back into the business journalism side of things and I was one of the editors that report on business and I was writing more about mutual funds, that kind of stuff but then mutual funds turned into a consumer story.
UK: I am aware you started as a columnist for The Globe and Mail and then, you moved to Toronto Star.
UK: Were there any major differences between the two big newspapers?
ER: Yes, the globe and mail is very much business newspaper. That’s the profitable side of the paper and that’s what their audience wants. Their audience tends to be fairly affluent. And, the Toronto Star is a more of a populous newspaper; their business section is small. Most of the audience does not tune in for business journalism but the people at the star I find are just really anxious to get help and that’s a lot of what I do is help, connect them to the right places. So, it’s a bigger newspaper – more readers. The Globe is a smaller audience but more affluent and more of the elite.
UK: The Toronto Star is a bigger newspaper than The Globe and Mail?
ER: Oh yes.
UK: I didn’t know that.
ER: The Globe is across Canada but its circulation is smaller than the Toronto Star, just in our region, which is, you know Toronto and The Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
UK: What advice would you give to an aspiring journalist or a columnist who sees him or herself working for The Toronto Star in the next 10 –15 years?
ER: It is hard to contemplate the future because the print media are going downhill and that’s newspapers, magazines, books and even a lot of the investing is going online – the rob advisors, that kind of thing. I think that there is still going to be a strong demand for newspapers or the kind of reporting that we do but it is going to be online and a lot of it is not to be traditional articles. It is going to be videos, podcasts and all different kinds of things. But, I think in general the public feels – especially with the Internet deluged with information. There is so much of it around and they don’t know whom to trust. In the US, Donald Trump is making people trying to distrust the media but I think in general in Canada, we feel that the journalists are trying to help us find more trustworthy sources of stories and trying to help us sort through the craziness and come to some kind of clarity as to what’s going on in the world.
UK: Are you aware of any schools that have good programs for Journalism?
ER: Well, there is Ryerson, Western and Carleton. All three of those do journalism programs. But then, if you don’t want to invest in a longer program, some of the community colleges do it. There is Centennial at Pape and Danforth. They have a campus there. They do a journalism program and they also do book publishing.
UK: You don’t teach at those schools, correct?
ER: No, I don’t teach any journalism but I teach at the personal finance area.
UK: Talking about teaching, you are teaching a course on retirement finances starting this Thursday (May 4, 2017) at U of T. Please explain what will be covered in this course.
ER: It’s four weeks so it’s a quickie. But, I wanted to talk about the change in nature of retirement. It used to be – I got to retire early and some people do still retire early but people don’t realize that investing is all about compounding. And the longer you are working and investing, the more money you are going to have. If you lose that last 10 years or so – if you get out at 55 instead of 65, it is going to make a BIG difference to the amount of money. Plus, we are living a lot longer too. So, the new idea and there is a book called Victory Lap written by Jonathan Chevreau. They are talking about if you hate your job, get out at 55 but don’t leave the workforce. Find another way to keep earning money and keep some kind of at least part-time job because you want to keep delaying the time where you are going to stop earning money and start digging into your retirement finances because you want that to last long as you do and there is a good chance like at your age you might live to a 100 or more. So, you have got to work 30 years at least but then you might be retired for 40 years so the finances don’t work out that well.
UK: Very interesting. Again, the course is only 4 weeks long.
ER: So, we are looking at where your income is going to come at retirement and how you are going to spend money and the role of financial advisors which I think are quite different ones because a lot more of it has to do with your taxes. Taxes are HUGE in retirement. And, not so much about accumulating but more about taking all the money you have accumulated and turning that into an income that isn’t going to be taxed too heavily.
UK: What personal finance advice would you give to your 25-year-old self?
ER: Probably, I could have got into the stock market a little earlier. Like many people, I waited but I was lucky because I got into RSPs very early and at that time, GIC rates were pretty good. So, I could just keep rolling over my GICs. I didn’t really get into stock market investing until the late 80’s. Partly because when I was at the Globe and Mail, I moved into the business section at 87 and that’s when mutual funds started to take off. I was covering mutual funds and I thought I have got to invest in mutual funds. So, I got my education in investing in mutual funds and thought, oh well – how about trying individual stocks and since then, I have been doing individual stocks.
UK: And, which personal finance book would you recommend for young Canadians?
ER: The Wealthy Barber Returns by David Chilton is funny. I like Jack Bogle – The Little Book of Common Sense Investing. It is one of the smaller books because it is all about the fact. Now, not everybody agrees with him but I think you do that you should never pick stocks, you should just buy indexes, plain vanilla indexes and just hold on especially if you are a smaller investor and that will serve you very well. And, Jack Bogle of course started the index.
UK: I have attended a couple of your presentations and workshops in the past. I have heard you say in quote “Banks are not your friends”. Please explain.
ER: Hahaha. Well, it’s interesting because in the last few months CBC has really made it clear that banks are not your friends.
UK: Yes, marketplace.
ER: That’s right, the up-selling that goes on. It’s part of the world of business these days. Everybody has to be selling all the time but Canadians I think have trusted their banks. We got all the reassurance in the 2008 problems in the US that our banks were not going to approve sub prime mortgages and we have strong standards. Now, of course the home capital woes made us worry a little. They are not a bank but they are an alternative lender. But I do believe that banks are strong, they are great investments, and we all have a stake in stocks to our mutual funds and our pension plans and everything else. But, we should not trust the advice we get from the banks because there is no fiduciary duty and they are not there to help us as in put our interest ahead of their interests. They are out there to make money for their shareholders. If they can help us that’s a good thing but that’s not their primary goal. I think that a smart consumer should use the banks to advance their own interests which is bargain with them, negotiate with them, tell them that you are going to go somewhere else unless they give you a better deal. Tell them if they give you a better deal that you’re going to bring some more business their way – that’s their goal to try and increase the amount of business they’re getting from you so you can use that as your negotiating tactic to try and get a better deal from them because their posted rates are pretty bad.
UK: Almost an egg.
UK: I work as a nurse and some of my co-workers have zero knowledge about investing. It was the same with my classmates when I was in nursing school. What advice would you give them about investing their money?
ER: It is not as hard as the industry makes you think. There are books out there that explain especially like how to invest in ETFs, it is pretty easy. There is the Canadian Couch Potato blog.
UK: Yup, Dan Bortolotti.
ER: There are all kinds of interesting resources so you just have to wrap your head around the fact that you have to learn a little bit about how things work. Open a discount brokerage account, take it slow and easy by buying one thing at a time or follow a portfolio like online and just go slowly. It can be scary at the beginning because you think – Oh, I am doing it all by myself, no body is helping me and how do I know how I am doing. But, while discount brokerages can’t give you advice, they can certainly give you lots of help with executing your orders. So, call them up once in a while. You don’t have to do all online; you can call them and get some information about how to do things. Not just what to buy, which they can’t do, but how to make sure you are buying things properly and not making mistakes. Like a big thing that if you are buying a stock, a lot of stocks have A shares and B shares and you may not realize and buy the wrong set of shares. Then, you think – Oh my god, I need to get out of that quickly and then you realize no you have bought it and you have to sell it and pay a commission and buy it again and pay another commission. So, those are things that you learn as you go.
UK: You have published about five or six books. How many books have you published?
UK: Seven. Do you plan to write a new one or is that it?
ER: Not at the moment. It is hard to make a real living from a book. The best authors are those who are on television all the time and you are in your living room and people recognize your face. And, it is a lot of work. Maybe, you will publish a book one day.
UK: Maybe haha.
ER: Think you will do it?
UK: Maybe in 15 years.
ER: But, no plans on publishing a traditional book. I am still doing the investing course quite a lot and tomorrow, not tomorrow, today is Friday. On Sunday, April 30, 2017 at U of T, I am working with another instructor and we are doing a one-day course on investing which takes my nine weeks and kind of crunches up them into one day and there is a lot of material we give people and we think that could make a book one day especially as people realize I better learn how to invest because that is the only way to make my money grow. I don’t know about you but I think that low interest rates are here to stay. We are going to have small increase but it’s never going to get to the point where you can have a good retirement income with all your RRSPs and TFSAs just by investing in GICs or savings account. Unless, you try to invest in the growth of the economy, it’s not going to help you very much.
UK: This is my very last question. I know you have been asked this before. Do you have an idea about how much you have saved for Canadians in terms of fighting for consumer rights till date?
ER: It is hard to figure out. I think that year (2013); I worked it out roughly umm a few hundred thousand a year I think.
UK: WOW (FYI: Ellen has been fighting for consumer rights for almost 2 decades. So, do the math).
UK: Ellen, you are a blessing to all Canadians especially Torontonians. Thank you so much for your time.
ER: Thank you, Urgen.
You can follow Ellen on Twitter here.