I love to celebrate anniversaries. I do so today with some questions I’d like you to answer.
Is life better for consumers than it was three years ago? Is it easier to communicate with large retailers and manufacturers? Is there more protection when it comes to overcharging, product quality and safety, and safeguarding of your legal rights?
Is life better for retail investors? Is the client-adviser relationship changing after the market collapse of 2008-09? Is the average person ready to leave high-cost mutual funds with bundled advice and embrace low-cost options and do-it-yourself investing?
Finally, is the Internet making a difference for consumers and investors? Is it allowing more effective communication with companies? Is it easier to connect with other in the same situation you are by using the Internet?
Let me say that, in my opinion, things have gotten worse for consumers who want to resolve problems on their own, without going to court or to the media.
Things are no better or investors, who are forced to put money away for the future and hope it will last, without getting the information needed to make good decisions or challenge the hidden conflicts of interest that distort the advice they’re given.
As for the Internet, I’m impressed with the way it allows us to talk to each other and learn from each other. But I don’t see ordinary people taking concrete action together and becoming agents of change, especially in Canada with its weak tradition of activism.
I’m also impressed with how easy it is to communicate by email, even with large companies and their CEOs. If you don’t believe it, check out this article about Steve Jobs of Apple, who does answer emails (at least sometimes, if only to send a single-word reply.)
Finally, I liked this blog post about the problems that newspapers are facing in trying to engage the public with online comments. Author Jeff Jarvis thinks the negativity reflects the fact readers aren’t asked to comment earlier in the process.
That’s what I try to do with this blog, engage my readers. I cherish the responses I get here — and trust me when I say they inform the work I do at the Toronto Star every day.