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Chasing Interest Rates

It’s been almost impossible the last few years to find a safe FDIC-insured savings account that pays any kind of meaningful interest rate, but a few online banks are finally peaking the 1% mark. Not great – but if you need to park some money in a totally safe account here are a couple options:

GE Capital Bank pays 1.05% – www.gecapitalbank.com

CiT Bank pays 1.0% – www.bankoncit.com

Ally Bank pays .99% – www.ally.com

Of the three, Ally’s website is easier to use and downloads to Quicken, with GE a close second in ease of use, but unfortunately it does not offer a Quicken download.

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Posted in Investing

How The Web Makes Salespeople Lazy

I consistently receive between 150 and 200 emails a day – a large percentage of them attempting to sell me something. Most are easily disregarded – mass solicitations I shuffle off to the spam filter. But there are always five or ten emails a day from salespeople legitimately attempting to sell me their product or service.

The fact is that I like and admire good salespeople. It is a difficult job, and if you are good at it you are almost always one of the most valuable people in the organization.

But the web seems to have created an entire generation of lazy, ineffective salespeople that use digital solicitations as a crutch. It allows them to disregard some of the basics of good sales techniques, and ultimately just irritate some of their potential buyers. Here are some of the main mistakes I see on a daily basis:

Fear of phone.  I know it is incredibly difficult to reach people these days on the phone, but there are still many reasons to actually talk to someone.  While I am screened from phone solicitations, I apply a much broader filter to email solicitations, since I receive so many.  If you can actually reach a real human being your chance of closing a deal is much better.

Lack of targeting and research.  I consistently get emails from salespeople trying to sell me products that I personally don’t buy.  My organization has people in charge of buying paper, insurance, and all the other “stuff” that makes a company run.  Yet every day I receive very personalized emails wanting to “buy me lunch” so I can hear a pitch on a new printer or employee benefit plan.  If a salesperson really want to sell my company something, they should pick up the phone, take the time to find out who the buyer is, and make sure we are a legitimate lead for their product, instead of wasting both our time.

Don’t expect me to do your job.  I also frequently receive emails that seek to circumvent the above advice, and expect me to do the work.  Every day I get multiple versions of this:

“Tim, I really want to get together to show you our new whiz bang product, and if you don’t want to get together, would your forward this email to the right person, and let me know who I should contact?” 

And the answer is no.  Much of the time I am not sure who buys those kind of products in my organization, and I am too busy to make phone calls on behalf of someone I don’t know to find out, and then communicate back to them.  That falls under the salesperson’s job.  The salesperson is more than welcome to call the front desk and ask.  We have a “friendly” policy and would be happy to direct them to the right person.

Don’t assume the customer owes you anything.  Once again there seems to be an entitlement issue with many salespeople.  Here is another common email I received:

Tim, I have tried to contact you numerous times, but to no avail!  It is very important we get together….”

Often there is even an aura of anger to the emails, as if I really offended someone I don’t know who has used an automated email system to reach out to me in an effort to sell me something I don’t want.

The Fake Friend Approach.  When I receive a friend request from a person with a seven syllable name employed by a technology company in Mumbai, I make the assumption we didn’t go to high school together, and they are probably just trying to sell me something.  Personally, I reserve Facebook for friends and family, and never accept a friend request from a salesperson.  I am more liberal on LinkedIn, and do accept general business contact requests if they seem appropriate, but in my profile state “please do not send me job resumes via this site as they will not be properly read.”  Still, I receive many job resumes, which bodes even worse for the person applying as it indicates a lack of attention to detail.


One Response to How The Web Makes Salespeople Lazy

  1. Scott says:

    Right there with you, but also don’t call me back in 3 weeks when I tell you i’m not interested. I let our receptionist know I will take a call if they ask for me directly, otherwise to voicemail it is.

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Posted in Marketing

Bitcoin – A Year Later

A year ago I cautioned people about a new “investment” vehicle called a Bitcoin, and since then the plot has thickened.  As a reminder, a Bitcoin is an on-line digital currency supposedly created by a Japanese computer programmer under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto (although that too is a mystery). The idea is to replace government-issued currencies and the need to settle transactions through a central banking system. Its issuance is controlled by a network of computers by a sophisticated algorithm. As opposed to a government that can continue to print money endlessly thereby deflating its value, the network has a finite amount of tokens that can be issued of 21 million with approximately 13.6 million already issued.

To get a newly-minted Bitcoin requires one to solve a complex equation whose answer is a 64- digit number. The people who attempt to solve this are known as “miners” and likely need a huge computer network to be successful. The equation gets more and more complex over time with the amount of Bitcoins issued per year limited and decreasing each year with all issued by 2040. Or for us common folk, we can buy a Bitcoin just like buying gold or stock.

Bitcoins are accepted by some merchants as an alternative to cash. There was even a “Bitcoin college football bowl game” a few weeks ago. You can buy goods and services with them and several networks have developed to exchange them. The underworld loves them as they do not have to launder a Bitcoin as they do with regular cash.

The value of a Bitcoin, just like gold or shares of stock, is determined by supply and demand. However, they have been extremely volatile ranging from under $200 to over $1,300 in 2013 and were valued at around $750 when I wrote my blog in early 2014. On a daily basis the value often moves up or down by 10% or more.  Since the beginning of 2015 Bitcoins have cratered in value and are off 40% and are now valued at around $200. The value has dropped due to a number of reasons including China potentially not allowing them, a number of computer hacks into the system, large on-line thefts, allegations of fraud by some of its largest supporters and the closure of the largest Bitcoin exchange.

So with this large drop in value are Bitcoins safe and something you should now jump into?  In my opinion a strong NO to both.  Bitcoins are not backed by anything or supported by any government. They exist only in cyberspace in a network whose issuance is controlled by a complex algorithm written by an unknown person. While you may say that there is nothing backing the dollar, I beg to differ. There is an established government that for over 225 years has made good on its debts. While there are no hard assets per se backing the dollar, the U.S. government still owns vast holdings including about 30% of all the land in the country. There is NOTHING backing a Bitcoin. Some point to the controlled network making Bitcoins “tamper-proof” with a limited supply as benefits. However, the network supporting them has been hacked several times in the past year causing a sharp drop in value. My advice is to sell off any Bitcoins you have and do not accept them in your business. If you are smart enough to be a miner – go ahead but don’t hold onto the tokens for too long. They have been a horrible investment over the past year and the situation could get even worse. This very much reminds me of the tulip mania in Holland in the 1600s and the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s and both ended badly.

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Posted in Investing

Want to Make More Money On Your Investments? Die.

Welcome back to the scary days of stock market turbulence! After a reasonably calm couple years with an escalating prices, we are back to huge swings in the stock market. Ebola, wars, political turmoil, foreign recessions, elections….. nothing is worse for the market than uncertainty and fear.

During big market swings, it is easy to panic and sell, or predict the market has bottomed out and buy. But panic and market timing are not valid investment strategies.  My friends that have done the worst with their investments tended to be reactionary, buying and selling based on the news of the day.

So what should you do? Recently Fidelity Investments undertook a major investigation of their best performing accounts. They wanted to find out the secrets of their best investors. And the common theme?  The owners were all dead. Pretty hard to fly into a panic when you aren’t breathing. The top performing accounts were estates, with minimal management and trading – the ultimate buy and hold strategy.

Luckily, you don’t need to be dead to invest this way.  For most people, an age-based investment allocation with low-cost index funds, periodically rebalanced, and locked-away to minimize trading and fees is the best way to make your money grow.

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Posted in Investing

Your Treats Are Killing My Dog

A few years ago I encountered a rancher and his beautiful herding dog.  It was obvious this dog and man were one – riding the range, the dog sometimes sitting on the rancher’s saddle on a long haul.  Man’s best friend, indeed.  I was so taken by this dog’s beauty and effortless ability to follow his simple hand commands, that I asked the rancher if I could I give his dog a treat.  He looked at me funny, politely declined, and then sauntered away.  At the time I thought; “what a hard ass, what harm could one small treat possibly do?”   I didn’t realize how weird it must have seemed to the rancher that I, a dog less person, was carrying dog treats in my pocket.

Now I have my own dog, who suffers from food allergies and also battles arthritis. When Lemon gains even an extra pound or two she will limp and cry in pain.  And now it’s me who is living in a constant karmic payback scenario, politely declining offers from generous treat givers. Have you noticed it has become a common practice for businesses to offer dog treats now?  Gas station attendants, waiters, store clerks and even hotel concierge’s all want to give my dog a treat. At first I thought this was a thoughtful gesture, but now I see it for what it really is – a cheap ploy to extract affection from my unsuspecting furry travel companion. 

It’s understandable. My dog Lemon is the cutest yellow Lab alive.  She is beautiful, affectionate and smart.  I know this because my husband and I are stopped by total strangers and told this all the time.  Unabashed in our love for our dog, we often end our day looking at her lovingly, marveling at her magnificence and telling her how utterly adorable she is, as she winks back in agreement.

Lemon also happens to be one of the luckiest dog in the world. She goes to work with us, attends interesting meetings, flies on our airplane, swims and fly fishes in her own river and pond. She hikes, and loves Frisbee and soccer. The problem; many people that meet Lemon want to feed her treats. “Oh, just one? It can’t possibly hurt”, they mumble while their accusing pathetic eyes are saying; “what a sad control freak you are, let me give your dog a treat!!”

This adds up to a lot of treats when you count all our employees, friends, family, and random people she meets in a typical week (Lemon has a very busy schedule).

Due to her bad food allergies (this is code for she gets diarrhea or constipated depending on the treat) we do not feed Lemon anything but prescription dog food (lamb and rice, no chicken or cornmeal filler) and fresh veggies from our garden (she loves apples and carrots).  Strangely, we are constantly battling her weight gain, and twice have rushed her to the emergency room with “Pancreatitis” – with one nearly deadly episode where she hemorrhaged from both orifices.  Pancreatitis in dogs is a toxic food related illness, which is generally caused by giving dogs people food.

Last year, you may remember, over 600 dogs and cats died due to contaminated pet treats made in China.  A quick Google search revealed that in that same year there were over thirty brands of dog food/treats recalled for “possible health risk” issues, many of which include salmonella contamination and possible kidney failure.

So that treat you are so lovingly offering my dog, could actually be deadly. 

Don’t feed other people’s dogs.  It’s akin to giving candy to a baby.  It’s seems harmless,  but is a really creepy thing to do. 


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Posted in Livin' Large