Money

April 15, 2011

And that’s all* I have to say about money.

This post brought to you by the A-Z Blogging Challenge.

* Well, unless you’re willing to pay me to talk about money :)


Because a mime is a terrible thing to waste

May 27, 2009

So the headline on the BBC News website‘s RSS feed read:

Marcel Marceau debt auction ends

And the first thing that popped into my head was: I wonder if it was a silent auction?


Just how untransparent can they be?

March 24, 2009

In the snailmail today was a notice from Bell Canada:

We’re going green.

Dear R LEE

We are writing to notify you about an important change to our eBill program.

You are currently receiving a paper invoice, along with a monthly email notification advising you that your online bill can be viewed by logging in at the Bell Web site.  Following your next bill, we will be discontinuing your paper invoice to help reduce paper waste and protect our forests.

If you would prefer to continue receiving a paper bill in the mail, you have the option of keeping this arrangement now and in the future.  Simply log in to bell.ca/staypaper and click on “I wish to keep receiving paper bills”.

Thank you for choosing Bell.

Sincerely,
Jim Myers
Senior Vice-President, Customer Experience

OK, let’s start with “We’re going green.” — this has become the “ISO 9000″ of the 21st century IMHO.

What I mean by that is back when the ISO 9000-series standards were first developed, they were initally the business equivalent of cod-liver oil — they were told it was good for them, but implementing the requirements for certification wasn’t always terribly palatable.

For companies that already had good quality and documentation practices in place, it wasn’t that difficult, but for many it was a real sea-change — and when they came out the other side, they probably really were better companies, with more consistent quality in their products and services (note: I didn’t say better quality, since implementing any of the ISO 9000-series requirements doesn’t guarantee that quality will improve, just that you will have documented the quality — good or poor — of what you do.)

But as more and more large companies insisted on their vendors being ISO certified, an industry of consultants sprang up around certification (and training to go with it) to make it cheaper, easier and more palatable, with the result being that getting ISO certification became a part of the price of entry into the game.  I won’t go so far as to say it became meaningless, but it certainly has lost some of its value as a differentiator between a supplier you want to deal with and one you don’t.

So, what I mean is that being green in the noughties is something companies have to do just to stay in the game, and which any good profit-seeking company will want to spend the least amount of money on to acheive the appearance of.

Which for me means that they may as well have said “We’re still here to make as much profit off you as we can.”  Fair enough, that’s what they’re in business for — I just object to the lack of transparency in cloaking it with green.

Next: I don’t particularly enjoy having them shout out my name in the salutation, I mean really, how hard is it to automate putting it into proper upper and lower case letters…

Then, the use of the Royal “We” — alright, so that’s a stylistic letter writing formula that I’m quibbling about, but the letter is written over the name of one individual, the Vice-President of Customer Experience.  Why not say “I am writing you…” — it’s certainly not as if the whole company was in on writing the letter…

OK, on to the part that really gets up my nose:

Following your next bill, we will be discontinuing your paper invoice to help reduce paper waste and protect our forests.

Now, as an individual concerned with the environment, I will certainly choose ways that I can “reduce paper waste and protect our forests”, but their statement says that they will be doing it for that reason.

Which is a load of crap: they’re doing it to reduce their costs and maximize profit.

As I’ve said before, I don’t have a problem with a company wanting to make a profit and reducing costs can certainly be a legitimate way to do that — I just take issue with it when there’s a attendant increase in the cost to society as a result (but that’s a rant for another day…)

So if they would not be so untransparent and just admit that they’re eliminating the paper bill using a “negative option” strategy (something which got the Rogers Cable company into hot water some time ago…) I would happily elect to not receive the bill in the mail.

Maybe if enough of Bell’s customers insisted the same thing, that they come clean and say the reason for eliminating the paper bill is to cut their costs and increase their profit, before allowing them to discontinue sending it, then maybe they’d do it.

Well, I don’t plan on holding my breath waiting for Mr. Myers to ‘fess up and admit that Bell is just trying to squeeze a few more pennies of profit out of each customer this way, but if you are a customer of Bell Canada and feel the way I do about this, then why not let them know how you feel and just perhaps we can get him to do it — particularly if we all threaten to click on “I wish to keep receiving paper bills” if they don’t.

And thank you for choosing Unconventional Wisdom.


Make them REALLY earn those bonuses

January 31, 2009

When I heard about President Obama’s stern rebuke to Wall Street bankers over the bonuses paid to their employees in the wake of the collapse of the financial sector and the subsequent bailout of those same banks under the Bush administration, I marvelled at his political courage in calling them out on this.

And then it got me to thinking, what would be an appropriate way to make them really earn those bonuses — after the fact.  Here’s what I came up with:

To earn their bonus, they each need to visit — in person, so as to give names and faces to the victims of their moral, ethical and professional failings; and at their own expense, so as not to divert any more of the bailout funds — all the people who have lost their homes, lost their jobs, lost their savings as a result of the fiscal irresponsibility of the people earning those obscene bonuses.

And when they are face to face with them, they need to justify to each and every one of them why they deserve their bonus.

But how to make this happen?  Maybe by implementing an income tax provision that would provide a penalty to anyone employed by a financial institution that benefitted from the bailout, and who received a bonus, if they did not participate in the scheme.  Set a target number of affected families to be visited, based on the size of the bailout the company received and the bonus paid, then pro-rate the tax penalty on the bonus based on how closely they “make their numbers” (just to inject a little irony…).

To be effective, the maximum tax penalty applicable should be sufficiently high to make it painful enough even for these high-rollers to think twice about letting it slide — let’s say the penalty for 0% compliance were set at 1,000% of (10 time s) the bonus amount.  As well, the number of visits required needs to be non-trivial — a minimum of one per week, or perhaps even more.

At 50% compliance, that is if they completed 1/2 of the required visits, the penalty would drop to 500% (5 times the bonus amount) and at full compliance there would be no penalty at all — they would still have to declare the bonus as income and pay the usual tax on it, of course, although I’m sure they all have well-paid tax lawyers or accountants to make sure they don’t pay much.

And the penalties paid should then be directed back to all the people who suffered as a result of the bankers fiscal irresponsibility.

So, let me know what you think about my idea for some social justice.  And if you think it’s a good idea, spread the word — as a Canadian, I have no influence on US policy, but if you are a US citizen and think this is a good idea, let your elected representatives know how you feel.


The Non-Coalition of Canadians For The Prorogation Of Damn Near Everything

December 4, 2008

Since hearing the sad news today that Her Excellency Governor General Michaëlle Jean has accepted the request of the Right Honourable Prime Minister Stephen Harper to prorogue the 40th Canadian Parliament, I have reflected on my post of yesterday declaiming exactly this undemocratic maneuvre of requesting the prorogation of Parliament for the, to my eyes at least, fairly venal purpose of saving the Prime Minister’s job and dodging his accountability for the government’s fiscally irresponsible actions (Canada had already been running a deficit earlier this year, and then when the economic crisis hit full force, the PM announced that he was prepared to do so even more vigourously in an attempt to stimulate the economy…  let’s see, the economy was already tanking whilst running a deficit, so we’ll keep trying that until it works.  Riiiiight!  You know what they say about insanity: it’s when you do the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.)

Yes, I am recanting (OK, maybe not so much… read on) my position — rather than see purely the negative in the PM’s self-serving actions, why not learn and profit from them?  Why not, indeed?

So, to that end lets take a positive look at his actions and see how we can all apply the same sort of logic (erm, well, if you can call it that…) to the lives of ordinary, everyday Canadians like you and me.

And having thought about how the PM’s actions can serve as a lesson to us all, it came to me in a flash of inspiration: The Non-Coalition of Canadians For The Prorogation Of Damn Near Everything (or TNCOCFTPODNE — really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?)

So just what does the TNCOCFTPODNE think we should all do in a show of solidarity with the poor, beleaguered PM?  Here’s the FAQ:

Afraid of losing your job due to a layoff, downsizing, rightsizing, off-shoring or just plain old greedy profit taking?  Request the GG to prorogue job losses!

Mortgage payments are too high?  Request the GG to prorogue your mortgage!

Can’t afford your car loan?  Request the GG to prorogue that too!

Credit card companies are hounding you?  Easy — get the GG to prorogue those pesky statements!

I have started a Facebook group for TNCOCFTPODNE, which is open to one and all.  Join now and start enjoying the freedom from stress that the prorogation of damn near everything will bring you!


Headlines That Make You Smile and Smile Again

February 1, 2008

OK, just had to post about this headline that made me smile I found on the BBC News website today — seems that Microsoft aren’t content with just being a bunch of yahoos, they want to buy the eponymous company.


I’ve got two words for you…

October 15, 2007

Softwood lumber.

Ah, well… hope springs eternal, according to this article on the BBC News website about the WTO ruling that the US has illegally subsidized cotton farmers.

Best of luck, of course, to the Brazilian and West African cotton farmers who are among those harmed by the US subsidies.  Things will be looking up for you Real Soon Now.


People like that make me cranky

September 4, 2007

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to turn up a link to the piece that aired this evening on the CBC news (not The National; it was CBC News: Our World, I think — we were watching on Newsworld, in any case) which would have provided some of the details, so bear with me as I recall things as best I can.

This piece dealt with a Canadian who had travelled to the US, where he’d made some purchases using his credit card including software for the GPS in his car — an Audi, you could tell clearly from the 4-ring emblem on the trunk. The point of the piece?

He’d been charged an extra fee on the foreign exchange purchases he’d made — extra, as in above the exchange rate for the date. And he had called the bank to complain about this; they informed him that the fees were clearly explained in the small print (his words) on his statement. He said, showing the statement to the camera, that it was printed “faintly” and said that the person he’d spoken to claimed that “they had been having some problems with the quality of their printing” (or words to that effect — again, _his_words_, as they didn’t have anyone on from the bank IIRC), the smug implication being that the bank was being (or at the very least, approaching) deliberately deceitful.

Well, let me say that both K and I could quite easily read the fine print on the screen — on our not-HD, not large screen (20″) TV. We could see that it said foreign exchange transactions were subject to a fee of 2.5% on top of the current exchange rate. Sure didn’t look deceitful to me…

They also trotted out some dude from a consumer organization — can’t remember its name — who went on about how this “hidden” fee added up to millions, if not billions, of pure windfall for the banks, on the backs of beleaguered consumers.

Now, I’m not an apologist for banks or other for-profit businesses — those who know me, know I’m fairly left leaning, socially conscious, yadda, yadda. But I also understand quite well that profit is not an inherently evil thing. How some people or corporations go about achieving their profits is another thing, and I know there are plenty which pursue profit at all cost to the detriment of society (well, *some* parts of society  — usually the parts that can least afford to be screwed over to the benefit of someone who probably already has more than enough, several times over… did I mention my socialist leanings?), the environment and so on.

The report went on to show the Canadian government’s web site where the foreign exchange fees charged by the major banks on their credit cards are listed. They all charge 2.5% — perhaps there are others, not shown, that have lower or higher fees.  Given the competition between credit card providers (seems like I get Yet Another “You have been pre-approved for a <fill in name of a credit card brand here> card!” mailing at least a couple of times a week… I start worrying something has happened to the letter carrier if there isn’t one waiting for me when I get home), you’d think one of them would shave a fraction of a percentage point off their foreign exchange fee in order to lure customers over from The Other Brand.  And then they’d all have to drop the fee to stay competitive… which leads me to think that there’s not that much room for them to move on this, or it would happen.

Now, as someone who has done a fair bit of travelling and living abroad, I have a lot of practical experience with foreign exchange. And the exchange rate that’s quoted in the newspaper, on the TV and the internet is not the rate the banks use in processing transactions — whether you’re buying (or selling to them, for that matter) actual currency or they are converting a credit card transaction.

Like any business, they buy for less than they sell — this rule works for a company selling widgets as well as for a bank buying and selling foreign currencies; it’s called making a profit, which is what a business is, well, in business for. The margin between what they pay to buy a currency and what they sell it to you for — less the costs they incur in making the transactions — is their profit. The quoted exchange rate is usually halfway between the two.

So what really gets me cranky about people like the one in the new items is this: their sense of entitlement. This person was obviously reasonably well off — the Audi, the trip to the US to buy things (hey, why’n’cha shop in Canada and support Canadian businesses?) — and yet he’s outraged at being charged 2.5% for a service, for the convenience of not having to go to the bank and get foreign cash (which, I can assure you, would not be sold to him at the rate reported in the news either… there’s still that pesky profit thing happening) to carry around.

That’s not the only reason I get cranky at this kind of whiny behaviour: you can bet your sweet assets that these people have investments (as do I, for retirement — hey, leaning left does not mean you stop looking out for yourself; you just take the needs of others into account while doing it…). And what do they expect from their investments? Why, they expect them to grow, pay dividends or interest — which come from profits. And the expectation is always that the company turn the biggest profit possible; often without regard for the impact to others.

This is called “wanting to have your cake and eat it too”. People like this want to buy everything cheap but have their investments turn big profits. Do the math, people — it won’t work, at least not in the long run. That mutual fund you have? Dollars to doughnuts it’s invested in a financial institution or two; you want the fund to grow? Pay for it, like everyone else, in the service charges the banks make their profits from.

Myself, I prefer to deal with companies that charge a fair price for their products or services, are socially responsible (to their employees and to society as a whole) and derive justifiable, sustainable profits from their enterprise in order to deliver a reasonable return on investment to shareholders.

OK, enough ranting for now — the story on the CBC was really just a trigger for the “having your cake and eating it too” issue that’s been bugging me for a long time.


The Good, The Bad and The Miscellaneous

May 10, 2007

The Good

Yesterday evening, we (me and my wife, K, that is) were in The Big Smoke for a book launch party that K had been invited to. She’s known Amy, the book’s author (she’s also Editor/Publisher of the on-line knitting magazine knitty.com), for some time so to show support we schlepped into town to help her celebrate.

Book Launch party for “No Sheep For You”

The book’s title, No Sheep For You, alludes to Amy’s allergy to wool and fabrics made from it — as a knitter, this has a somewhat limiting effect… The book is filled with information about substituting alternative fibres in hand knit garments — the characteristics of each type of fibre and the yarns made from them mean that it’s not always a straightforward substitution as adjustments need to be made to accommodate the differences in order to make a satisfactory finished garment.

The book has actually been out for a while now, but Amy wanted to have the launch party outside of Lettuce Knit, a local yarn shop that she frequents and which holds weekly “stitch ‘n bitch” knitting get-togethers. Weather was therefore a determining factor, and it’s finally becoming seasonable enough in these parts that she was able to schedule the party with reasonable confidence that there wouldn’t be snow…

It was a great party, and Amy deserves lots of congratulations (and success) for all her hard work in putting together the book and knitty.com — here’s a picture of the get-together, with arrows to point out K and Amy:

K and Amy at the book launch party

During the party, I did wander off while everyone knitted and chatted, exploring old familiar stomping grounds: Kensington Market, Spadina Ave (including walking by the El Mo, where I had seen George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers perform an amazing set many moons ago), up through the campus of the ol’ Alma Mater and on into Yorkville.

Which leads to…

The Bad

Walking back to Amy’s book launch party from Yorkville, I passed along Cumberland St, where there are a number of chi-chi re$taurant$ and boutique$. Now Cumberland is a no parking zone, but I came across a Mercedes-Benz AMG SL55 AMG folding-roof convertible (I can tell you exactly what kind of car it was because it had the “V8 Kompressor” logo on the side of the front fender — I am an admitted, life-long gear-head, and didn’t need to look at the trunk lid for the model badge to identify it) parked at the curb in front of one of those aforementioned restos. It had a handicapped-parking permit on the dashboard.

Now, I’m willing to entertain the possibility that the owner/driver, or perhaps their passenger, were legitimately entitled to be issued the permit by the authorities — but it certainly made me go “hmmm…” and wonder if there had been some monetary influence involved in getting the necessary medical certificate required to obtain said permit.

Then, a short distance down the street: another fancy-schmancy car parked in the no parking zone, also with a handicapped permit. If memory serves me correctly, this one was a Bimmer, a 6-series if I’m not mistaken — I wasn’t paying as much attention at this point (being distracted by my thinking about the possibility that fraudulently obtained permits were being used to abuse a privilege that should be reserved for those who truly need it), so I can’t say with authority whether it was the vanilla version or the M6 überwagen with the V10, or even whether it was a coupé or cabriolet.

So, while it’s possible that both of these were legitimate applications of the handicapped parking privilege, the circumstances — two very expen$ive cars parked in front of expen$ive restos on an up-scale street in a trendy neighbourhood…. well, let’s say that I’m leaning heavily towards believing that everything was not exactly on the up-and-up.

The Miscellaneous

There were a couple of other items from yesterday’s foray into T.O. that were interesting (well, at least to me — Your Mileage May Vary) that I will mention here:

While driving in to the city, we came across a pixelboard displaying the following news item:

Toronto the good?  Guess it depends on what you like…

Which was immediately followed by:

What to do while in town…

An unfortuitous (or perhaps intentional ;) ) — but amusing — juxtaposition…

The other miscellany: while walking along Yorkville Ave, I noted on the hoarding in front of a construction project a sign reading something like “Funding provided by BNP Paribas (Canada)“.

Why did this seemingly mundane sign catch my eye? Well, BNP Paribas is a French bank that I am familiar with from my time living/working in France — but I had no idea that they had a presence in Canada.

Certainly not an earth-shattering observation, just one of those connectedness things that strikes you at odd occasions and in odd places.


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