A Letter from the Bank on Financial Freedom

A couple of days ago I received a letter from the Belgian French – damn you debt crisis of 2008 – bank BNP Paribas Fortis. Since I’m not a customer of Fortis, I was pretty sure it contained some cheap marketing ploy to get me to transfer my funds to one of their exciting brand-new accounts. As it turns out, I was right.

After almost throwing the letter away two words caught my eye: “financial freedom” (obviously the letter wasn’t in English). Whoa, their data mining team must have been doing overtime to pick up on my interest in financial freedom!

A Letter on Financial Freedom From BNP Paribas Fortis

The full first paragraph of the letter read as follows:

Hello totally awesome No More Waffles,

You’re young and you want… financial freedom? You want to handle all your banking needs wherever, whenever and however you like? That’s possible with Hello4You!

Major let-down, right? The rest of the letter continues about how Fortis’ service is free until you turn 28 and how cool it is to be able to pay your bills with your smartphone. Oh, and yes, that’s a llama. I have no idea what it’s doing there, but there you have it.

As you can imagine I was quite disappointed, but still I couldn’t shake the feeling there was something important about the llama’s message about financial freedom. How could a bank promote such a basic service with a tagline on financial freedom and hope to make some customers in the progress?

After a couple of days I still hadn’t figured it out, but that’s probably on me. What was clear to me, however, was the fact that financial freedom meant something completely different to the good people at BNP Paribas’ marketing department than it did to me and most likely the vast majority of the NMW readers.

For most of you financial freedom or independence probably entails some sort of passive income streams or savings that cover your basic needs. In other words, you don’t have to work anymore to sustain your lifestyle. A large part of financial freedom is indeed about having a steady income for life from something other than a job.

Even though I talk about financial independence in almost every post on this blog, it wasn’t until this letter hit my mailbox that I actually started thinking about my definition of financial freedom. Yes, it’s about covering my basic needs with invested savings. Yes, it’s about not having to work. Yes, it’s about being able to do whatever I want, within reason of course.

However, that still doesn’t explain why I want financial freedom. Why do I want enough money to cover my basic living expenses for the rest of my life when BNP Paribas Fortis thinks all I want is to be able to take care of my bank accounts on the go?

As it turns out, the answer was pretty obvious. Both my desire for financial freedom and the logic behind Fortis’ service boil down to choice. When you’re financially free you have the choice to explore any opportunity that presents itself to you. The difference between Fortis and me is that I try to pursue choice in the long run, whereas Fortis tries to lure customers with immediate gratification.

Fortis basically asks, “You want to buy a llama right here and now? Here are our services to make that happen.” They offer you the freedom to do so, but that doesn’t make it true financial freedom.  Financial freedom is about reaching a point in your life when you can make any choice you like for every opportunity or decision that presents itself to you.

If you’re bored of your llama tomorrow, good luck getting rid of it. If I decide to quit my current job to start my own llama wool business after hitting my financial independence target, I can close that business at any given time and move on to bigger and better things. No bank account or service will help you achieve that level of freedom or independence, only a freedom fund can.

Long-term, sustainable choice is the thing I’m looking forward to the most in reaching financial freedom. That’s why I don’t give in to the type of instant gratification that BNP Paribas Fortis would have you believe is financial freedom. They offer now over tomorrow even though true gratification comes from fullfilling a long-term goal or desire.

Would you rather buy a llama now through your smartphone or have the choice to become an ex-llama wool farmer later?

34 Comments

  1. I had to laugh at the llama. I completely agree, though. It’s very much about choice, and being able to live life on your own terms. I am always weighing my purchases against how they will impact my future. Instant gratification can be quite the enemy to gaining financial independence. If I said yes to spending on everything I thought looked neat, I probably wouldn’t have nearly as much saved up.

    1. Haha, I have no idea why they went with a llama, but I think it’s hilarious! 🙂

      Choice is key to financial independence, like you said. Weighing current purchases against future income from not spending that money is a great way to rationalize long-term gratification.

      Thanks for visiting and best wishes,
      NMW

  2. “Would you rather buy a llama now through your smartphone or have the choice to become an ex-llama wool farmer later?”

    This question you ask NMW is extremely philosophical—one perhaps for the Dalai Lama? 😉

  3. I thought the llama was a subtle clue regarding booking a trip to Peru on my smartphone. At the end of the day every financial choice that you make touches the next choice. None of them are independent of the other.

    1. You’re right about every financial choice you make touching upon the next one. That’s why it’s so important not to fall for instant gratification… You’ll most likely regret your purchase quite soon and there is no going back from there.

    1. The llama is by far the best thing about this marketing letter! They must have been smoking some potent stuff when they came up with it though…

    1. That’s a nice way of putting it: choice is the new currency! I really like that.

      For me, choice is the biggest reason to strive for financial independence. I can’t stand it when I have to do something because of external influences.

      I might just call the bank and ask! 🙂

    1. Creative, but not very good at conveying the message! It is by far one of the weirdest marketing letters I’ve ever received in the mail.

  4. I truly do not understand that letter whatsoever. And that llama in the middle of a city, bizarre! Llamas are jerks – I’ve been to enough petting zoos that I know this for fact. And they have horrible teeth (or may that was the al pacas – close enough).

    1. Llama – al paca, same thing to me! They have the weirdest face structure ever, in my opinion. I absolutely don’t get why they are shaped the way they are.

      I showed the letter to a couple of friends, they didn’t get it either. It’s one of these rare occasions where it’s definitely not us, but them! 🙂

  5. Llamas are mean! Which is great if you are keeping a guard llama for your flock of sheep but terrible if you are hiking in Colorado and you pass a llama train and are spat at. Not that I speak from experience or anything… 😉

    1. Haha, a llama train! 😀 Next time, take a picture! I’d love to see that!

      I’ve heard that they are mean and aggressive, but I’ve never seen one “in the wild”. The one in the picture seems quite domesticated, but why would anyone buy a llama? I don’t get it!

  6. Not sure about the llama choices, haha, but FI is all about having choices. I want the choice to leave my current job if I wanted. I want the choice to try different opportunities without financial worry. Choices choices choices! That’s what it’s all about for me (well us)!

    1. You’re damn right it is! Too bad financial independence doesn’t protect us against making stupid choices though. 😉

      I’d love to have my own small business after quitting full-time employment. Doing some stuff here and there without worrying about the money you take home from it sounds awesome.

        1. It definitely does!

          I’m quite happy that my current job allows me to work from home two days a week. Too bad that’s hardly possible with everything goin on! 🙂

  7. Llamas are perhaps the cutest creatures ever. They are so dumb looking. Anyway, taking on debt and itching the “instant gratification” spot is not true financial freedom. I’m far more apt to buy something after I’ve worked hard to save up for it and actually BUY it instead of finance it.

    1. They look cute, but it’s just a masquerade… Llamas are actually quite aggressive!

      I’m so glad that financing stuff is frowned upon in Belgian culture. You get a lot more respect from friends and family if you save up to buy something. Working hard for something is a much better strategy anyway, like you said.

  8. You didn’t get the memo? Once you reach financial independence you get a Camelid native to South America as a reward.

    I’m actually pretty sure that that is an alpaca not a llama though (in the letter, I think your top picture is a llama). Llamas are bigger and have shaggier outer coat and then a softer inner coat whereas alpacas just have a single coat. Although alpacas are significantly smaller than llamas (by a couple hundred pounds) they produce more fiber, making them a superior animal in terms of farming wool. So once you do reach financial independence choose the alpaca, you’ll get more wool. Also alpacas are friendlier, more curious animals than llamas thus making them more trainable than llamas.

    (It’s amazing what a few months in Ecuador and Peru can teach you.)

    1. Haha, this is by far my favourite comment of all time! 😀 Your llama and alpaca knowledge is simply amazing! I’ll replace owning a llama wool-farm with owning an alpaca wool-farm on my bucket list.

    1. I’ll get the paper work ready and send over a copy to Canada… Who knew reaching financial freedom would be this easy?! 🙂

  9. Interesting take by Fortis on financial freedom! I guess they want you nodding your head saying ‘Yeah! Financial freedom sounds cool! OK I guess I’ll do whatever you want me to then!’ (even if it won’t actually give you financial freedom). I think you’ve done a slightly better job at summing up financial freedom – the real kind.

    At least they got the part about you being totally awesome right!

    1. You’re probably right. Let’s be honest, who is against freedom? Freedom is one of the pillars of our modern society! But to turn that general belief in freedom into a marketing strategy is a really perverse thing to do. A lot of people will probably fall for their trap, which is why they’re getting away with a marketing campaign like this.

      Thanks for the kind words and for stopping by!
      NMW

  10. The llama is an interesting choice!?!? Financial freedom = llama. I would like to meet the person in the marketing department that dreamed that up.

    1. Ha, I think a lot of people would also like to meet the marketing department’s drug dealer… They must have been using some very potent stuff! 🙂

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