A family trait, brought forward

Much of my Ryan ancestral information is only available via the storytelling of ancient (living) Newfoundlanders. Most of the written records were lost to fires, so if some of the tales are a little tallish, chalk it up to Newfy creativity.

Cases in point: As the story goes, one ancestor came over from Ireland as captain of a ship transporting indentured Irish immigrants, sometimes referred to as white slaves. Although their servitude seems to have had legal limits not available to African slaves, on arrival they were chattel in most meaningful respects. Many captains took one of the more desirable females as a mistress, and reportedly my ancestor was not above this. But it turns out he fell in love with her, and they settled in Cape Bretton to raise a family.

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Around the time Canada became a nation, it is said that a cousin slipped away into the U.S., and eventually joined up with the notorious (Jesse) James gang. "Wild Bill" Ryan purportedly had some of my DNA in his veins as he rode alongside James into Muscle Shoals, Ala., and relieved a local paymaster of about $5,000 in gold, silver and bank notes (about $85,000 value in 2018). In response, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama pasted wanted posters of them throughout the region.

Before James could be brought to trial, he was killed by an associate Bob Ford. Meanwhile, my supposed cousin Billy Ryan was caught in Tennessee and sent to prison for 25 years on conviction of an earlier heist.

Fast forward 125 years. I am mild-manneredly sitting in my bank office in Prince Rupert, humming the Care Bears theme song when I get a rather obnoxious phone call from an overly authoritative voice at Revenue Canada (now CRA). He demanded that I release a client's file information to him because he represented the all-powerful federal government, or words to that effect.

I called our lawyer, who confirmed that we absolutely do not answer to the CRA or any other body requesting information. We answer to the law and most particularly to our clients. We would not release the information unless either permitted to do so in writing by our client or forced to do so by a court subpoena. Feeling like Wild Bill armed with a menacingly sharp pencil and a legal opinion, I called back the would-be intimidator at CRA, and relayed the message triumphantly. He huffed and puffed, but in the end, couldn't so much as flutter a piece of paper with all his hot air. And in the end we did not release one single digit from the file to them.

A story in the news over the past few days suggests that Statistics Canada will soon be forcing Canadian banks to release information to them about our clients (see story above). The opposition parties are fighting the idea in Parliament on the principle of privacy, while the feds seem determined to back their statistical file diggers.

In response, the Canadian Banking Association pushed back along with the opposition parties, and eventually the privacy commissioner got involved. The CBA recently released a statement which includes the following:

"The CBA and its members are encouraged that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner has launched an investigation into Statistics Canada's data request... The banking sector continues to emphasize the central importance of protecting the privacy and security of customer financial data and personal information."

And RBC took it a step further with the following tweet:

"RBC protects the privacy of our clients' info, which we'll only use for the purposes listed in our client agreements. Before using info for a purpose not listed, we first obtain consent. No customer transaction data or other personal info has been transferred to Stats Canada."

In the old days, bad guys like Wild Bill used a gun to rob the bank. Today the thieves use a computer (or their position) to try to rob the data bank. The security guard with a gun has been largely replaced by carefully managed systems to protect our clients from data breaches.

Even in my relatively brief time in the industry, I have seen the guns held on site fade in to memory, while the protection of private information has risen to the level of sacred trust. Meanwhile, in the evolution of things, several non-banks have made headway in to the money-moving business on the transactional level, and a few of them - Google, Apple, Amazon, - are simultaneously getting rich by knowing the most intimate details about your purchase habits.

Think about that for a minute.

This morning, Amazon sent me an email with a remarkably accurate guess as to which book I might want to buy from them next. This is both convenient and freaky at once. As finance and big data converge, customers will need to pay very close attention to these new players' abilities to protect their personal information from the bad guys - and on their likelihood to use what they know about you ethically in the face of their being both a retailer, and an owner-manager of your personal data.

Mark Ryan is an investment advisor with RBC Dominion Securities Inc. (Member-Canadian Investor Protection Fund), and these are Ryan's views, and not those of RBC Dominion Securities. This article is for information purposes only. Please consult with a professional advisor before taking any action based on information in this article. See Ryan's website at: http://dir.rbcinvestments.com/mark.ryan.

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