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The Latest from Rich Old White Man World

I spend a lot of time visiting fishing lodges all over the world. Most of the time, because of the expense, travel, and time required to visit these lodges, they are primarily occupied by rich old white men (ROWM). Not quite sure what that says about me, but….

As you might anticipate, the ROWM demographic tends to be Republican and conservative. That’s not to say they aren’t often really terrific guys. I’ve had many great times – and some really interesting conversations – with my ROWM friends (they tend to drink really good scotch too). Most are smart (despite their inexplicable love of Fox News), and I think they have a genuine sense of patriotism where America is concerned. However, things often turn a little more heated when we discuss certain subjects, especially climate change.  As you might expect, despite a decade of irrefutable evidence, ROWM tend to be climate change deniers.

So I was surprised a couple weeks ago, while visiting a fishing lodge in Argentina, to hear a major shift in a ROWM position. One night at dinner, my graying, Obama-hating, retired investment banker friends suddenly announced, “climate change is real – but there is no evidence that man has anything to do with it.”

OK, I thought.  At least they are finally acknowledging it is a problem, so I probed further…

“Wow, so you believe in climate change,” I asked one of the ROWM. “And do you think it is a big problem?”

“Oh yeah,” they replied.  ” It’s a major issue.  Course I know the verdict is out as to whether or not man really had anything to do with it, but I know it is very serious.”

And then they told me that they thought it would finish off mankind.  End of the world, Mad Max kind of stuff.  “Unfortunately there’s nothing we can do about it,” they said glumly.  “The damn Chinese and Indians are going to continue to pollute, so we’re toast.”

I didn’t point out the obvious gap in logic.  Americans are the biggest carbon polluters, and ff man really has nothing to do with climate change, what does it matter what the Chinese and Indians do?    But……  I have to admit trepidation at their willingness to just surrender.  It’s a bit frightening to see people going from utter denial of a problem, to suddenly accepting that the problem will mean the end of mankind.  It’s like a guy that ignores a huge mole on his leg, insisting it is fine, then one day announces he’s going to die of cancer.

Certainly there are a lot of reasons to be pessimistic about our environmental future. California is a year away from running out of water – threatening a large part of our food supply.  Even in Oregon, one of the last places on earth you would ever have to worry about droughts, experts are predicting dire water situations in the coming year.  Almost everywhere I travel in the world there is either not enough water, or too much. Unfortunately climate change will necessitate many major changes in the way we all live, beginning a lot sooner than any of us had anticipated.

But surrendering to the problem is not an option, and there are tiny rays of optimism in the doom and gloom.  Alternative green energy is moving much faster than anticipated. Solar energy production is 48 times higher than the projections established in 2000, and wind energy production is 17 times higher.  In fact, renewable energy now accounts for 13% of energy production (increasing 5% over the last 12 years), including wind which produces 4% of our energy.

Imagine what would happen if we quit debating whether or not climate change is real, and instead put our total attention and resources towards solving the problem.  There are a lot of ROWM out there that have a proven history of solving problems and winning battles.  I would love to have them participate in a solution.



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Posted in Politics

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