Archive for July, 2017

Service of Keeping a Lid on Grievances: Cripple the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Consumer Complaint Database

Monday, July 31st, 2017

Photo: funusualsuspects.com

You may want to take a quick look at the Consumer Complaint Database maintained by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau [CFPB] before it joins rolled-back EPA regulations and watchdogs that once protected American consumers that are severely relaxed or gone. The goals are the same: Make it easier and cheaper to conduct [big] business, in this case, for banks.

You’d read on the website: “Each week we send thousands of consumers’ complaints about financial products and services to companies for response. Those complaints are published here after the company responds or after 15 days, whichever comes first. By adding their voice, consumers help improve the financial marketplace.”

Photo: consumerfinance.gov

Copy on the home page continues: “By submitting a complaint, consumers can be heard by financial companies, get help with their own issues, and help others avoid similar ones. Every complaint provides insight into problems that people are experiencing, helping us identify inappropriate practices and allowing us to stop them before they become major issues. The result: better outcomes for consumers, and a better financial marketplace for everyone.”

Yuka Hayashi addressed the issue in her Wall Street Journal article, “Battle Is On Over Government’s Version of Yelp for Banks -White House says government complaint database is unfair to banks, but consumers say it can spur action.”

Photo: techsgig.com

She wrote, “Responding to calls from industry groups, the Treasury Department in June recommended restricting access to the data to federal and state regulators.” She reported that since it was founded in 2011, consumers have filed 800,000 complaints the public can see, 1.2 million in all.

“The dispute highlights areas of friction as the Trump administration and other Republicans consider rolling back rules put in place after the financial crisis,” she wrote. “Those pushing for loosened rules say removing onerous and costly requirements would encourage more lending and economic growth. Opponents say such changes would bring back reckless behavior that caused the financial crisis.”

Photo: salon.com

A St. Paul social worker asked his student loan company to lower his monthly payments and after four to five tries, the temporary solution increased his monthly bill Hayashi reported. Two days after he posted a complaint on the CFPB complaint database, they sent him “several repayment options.” The social worker credits the CFPB.

Hayashi wrote that the Treasury Department felt the site “subjects companies to unwarranted reputational risk.” However, she continued, “Consumer advocates and some financial-services experts… say that the portal’s public nature is what gives it teeth.

What do banks think? “The bureau has failed to address the significant problems in the accuracy, integrity and usefulness of the information reported in the database,” Virginia O’Neill, senior vice president at the Center for Regulatory Compliance at the American Bankers Association told Hayashi.

Did you know you could post complaints about dealings gone south with a financial institution? Have you had a nasty banking issue? Do you believe that the complaints on the Consumer Complaint Database should be hidden from the public or allowed to be seen, as they have been for six years?

Addendum: In The Wall Street Journal’s August 7th issue, Andrew Ackerman wrote “A Republican-backed effort to overturn a rule making it easier for consumers to sue banks has hit a snag: the Senate.

“At issue is a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule approved in July barring fine-print requirements that consumers use arbitration to resolve disputes over financial services. The rule makes it easier for consumers to join class-action lawsuits against banks and credit-card companies. Though fiercely fought by the financial industry, it is set to go into effect in March.”

In addition: ” However, support in the Senate is uncertain. No Democrats are likely to back the effort, and Republicans, with their slim majority, can’t afford to lose more than two GOP votes. Several Republican senators have expressed reservations about voting to overturn the regulation, worried they may be portrayed as siding with banks and against consumers.”

This is something so easily lost among all the distractions for consumers to keep an eye out for.

Photo: survivalkit.com

Service of Time Off to Reflect and Refresh

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

Photo: halliecrawford.com

I have a hard time sitting still if I’m not at my computer. There’s always something that I feel should be done. This pressure runs in the family. I relax fully when I’m away from office or home and when I return from a break I lower the decibels of activity for a bit and feel refreshed. Surprise: The world hasn’t fallen apart.

This is why I was drawn to these two wise perspectives to taking time off. I think that the same advice applies if you’re the boss, if you’re looking for a job, if you’re a stay-at-home parent, if you’re retired—to everyone.

Father James Martin. Photo: en.wikipedia.org

“My novice director used to always say ‘You’re not a human doing, Jim. You’re a human being.’ Do you always need to be doing? Producing? Can you find time to rest, to be silent and to pray? Can you be a human being?” I read Father James Martin’s comment in a Facebook posting. A man who juggles multiple projects, he had taken off a few days after a hectic book tour. Among many other things, Father Martin is the author of “Jesus: A Pilgrimage;” “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything;” “My Life with the Saints,” and “Building a Bridge” and editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America.

Judy Schuster sent me an article about a tweet heard ‘round the world—well, if not that far, almost. When Stephanie M. Bucklin covered the story on Today a while back, it had already received over 10 thousand retweets.

The subject: Taking a day off for your mental health and admitting it. Bucklin quoted the web developer whose boss, on seeing her honest note to her team, praised her for admitting the real reason she wouldn’t be at the office. The tweet: “When the CEO responds to your out of office email about taking sick leave for mental health and reaffirms your decision.100.”

Not everyone has a boss like this, wrote the Today contributor, so if you feel burned out, what to do? For ideas she interviewed Ken Yeager, the director of the stress, trauma and resilience program at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. He says that on weekends you’re not recharging your batteries, you’re filling time, by “binging on Netflix or watching HGTV marathons.”

Photo: whattoexpect.com

He suggests “getting outside, visiting friends or cooking with your family members. Things like taking your kids to the zoo, seeing a show or concert or even just fixing that leaky faucet give you more energy back, too.”If “you still feel like you’re in a rut at work” he recommends you suggest to your boss “moving projects around, switching up tasks among team members and figuring out other ways for you to move, grow and do new things.”

Yeager’s other ideas: Attend a workshop, an industry conference, eat out, and choose a different road to work, “switch up your routine and re-energize you.”

Have you admitted to taking off a mental health day? Have you left work early to catch a baseball game, matinee or to shop? What techniques do you use to short-circuit ruts and to restore your energy and creativity if you can’t disappear for a day or two to dust off your mental health?

Photo: bryanuniversity.edu

Service of Marketing That Misses the Mark

Monday, July 24th, 2017

Photo: 123rf.com

I love clever marketing ideas. This one was a puzzle and, as my friend Jim would say, “Amateur night at the Dixie Theater,” or my dad, “comme cheveux sur soupe” [like hair on soup i.e. out of place/irrelevant].

A clean cut young man rushed toward me on Third Avenue between 40th and 39th Streets holding out a brown thing wrapped in cellophane [photo left, below]. He didn’t say a word so I took it to be an intro sample for the unidentified object and kept walking. It didn’t look appealing.

A few steps later, a nice looking young woman reached out with the same brown object and I asked her, “What is it?” She replied that it was a pretzel wrapped in chocolate. [It also has some white marshmallow bits on top.] Now curious, I took it and the postcard that came with it [photo below, center].

Next I noticed, parked on the sidewalk, a cart similar to the ones that street food vendors use [photo right, taken later through a bus window]. This one wasn’t where such vendors usually park, at curbside, but well into a very wide sidewalk. It had the pretzel concoctions in the window and was decorated with images of a building like the ones on the postcard; copy from the card and a giant sign “House39.” There was someone inside but nobody around it or even noticing it.

This crew was promoting a new rental building around the corner and down the street. According to the postcard, rentals ranged from studio to three bedrooms starting at $3,910/month. The card lists amenities including a rooftop pool, hot tubs, yoga studio, children’s playroom and more. The postcard doesn’t say if the rent covers use of these features.

So what was wrong with the promotion?

  • The youngsters hired to pass out the treats didn’t mention anything about a new apartment down the street.
  • Pretzels or sweet treats have no connection, clever or otherwise, with apartment sales.
  • People walking down Third Avenue are random and just because they are in the neighborhood during the day they are not necessarily the demographic for apartments with rents that start at almost $4,000 for one room.
  • The beneficiaries of the idea were the cart rental and pretzel companies; the kids who made a day’s wage on a nice summer day; the postcard graphic designer and printer and the marketing company that was paid to create and implement the idea. I doubt that the building saw a viable visitor as a result.

Photo: mponstage.com

The real estate developer, if fixated on doing something on the street, might have skipped the cart and had young people in a striking tee-shirt passing out key rings with the apartment’s address and copy that touted “find the key to happiness in your new apartment.” Or given the name of the structure, “House39,” they might have placed 39 self-stick, removable footsteps between Third Avenue and the front door with—if it’s not too obscure and vintage–references to the iconic spy film, “39 Steps.” A key ring to echo the “39 Steps” theme would suggest that readers “take the mystery out of where your next, best apartment will be.”

Can you find the connection–that passed me by–between the cart, the sweets and luxury apartment rentals? Have you noticed cockamamie, half-baked marketing ideas that people pay good money for and that make you scratch your head?

 

Service of Nightmare for a Bride: What You Don’t Anticipate is What May Go Wrong

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

1930s wedding dress. Photo: nafdress.com

Last weekend an NPR segment made me cringe for those involved. Bill Chappell’s headline sets the stage: “Brides Scramble For Dresses And Information After Alfred Angelo Stores Close Abruptly.” Brides and their attendants who’d bought and paid for their gowns at the chain’s 61 stores—as well as the chain’s [unpaid] employees–were given little if any warning, according to Chappell.

The 80 year old business, started in Philadelphia by Alfred Angelo Piccione and his wife Edythe, filed under Chapter 7, so no restructuring will happen, and its headquarters office in Delray Beach has an eviction lawsuit against it.

Photo: richmond.com

Refunds from Alfred Angelo don’t appear to be in the wedding parties’ cards. As important: What to wear? Chappell wrote: “To help those who might not get their dresses, some former brides are now offering up dresses for free — and member station KPCC in Southern California is using the #dressmatchmaker hashtag to orchestrate dress exchanges.” Others are sharing contact information of seamstresses they learned were altering dresses.

Customers of the Tulsa, Okla. branch are lucky. Employees there, knowing that they probably wouldn’t be paid, opened the store anyway and planned to ship dresses to brides. In addition, they weren’t charging if money was still owed on a gown.

One bridesmaid who expected to wear her gown in a fall wedding “told KPCC that when she called Visa about the situation, ‘They said that if the company doesn’t follow through then they will give me my money, and they will go after Alfred Angelo.’”

In subsequent coverage, Peg Brickley and Michelle Ma wrote in The Wall Street Journal that the reason for the failure is [still] unknown and acknowledged that at one time the business was “considered one of the top bridal designers in the country.” The gowns were “priced in the midrange, where most of the money is spent,” according to an industry research firm.

The article reported that retailers, both online and actual, that depended on the manufacturing and wholesale divisions, were also both surprised and left in the lurch. While competitors anticipated an immediate uptick in business, one may have spoken for many small wedding dress enterprises when she expressed concern for the future. She predicted that customers would be reluctant to buy from them for fear that they, too, might go out of business in a flash.

Apart from the biggest hiccup—a bride or groom no-show—or when the photographer’s results fall flat, the wedding glitches I know of, though traumatic at the time, pale by comparison to a lost dress. They range from a florist who shorted the number of bouquets and dashed to get a replacement that didn’t match the others to a mom who left her flower girl daughter’s dress shoes at home. Do you know of other wedding calamities and how they were resolved? How can you protect yourself from similar misfortunes when dealing with a small business?

Photo: pinterest

Service of Happy Surprises: Contango IT Will Make Your Day

Monday, July 17th, 2017

Photo: solelydevoted.net

I associate a surprise with a treat. I enjoyed both recently.

The place: The kitchen in my office

The time: Lunch

One of my office friends was making a cup of coffee. As I walked past him to get my daily seltzer I mumbled that I was so much in the mood for lemonade but would settle for the cold fizzy water I’d stored in the fridge.

As I returned to my space a few of the others in the office were milling about, putting food in the microwave, washing a dish or walking down the hall.

Sean Galvin, service coordinator, Contango IT

Around 4 pm Sean Galvin, a service coordinator fairly new at Contango IT, one of the other businesses in the office, walked into my room, put a bottle of Tropicana lemonade on my desk, didn’t say a word and left. Imagine that! The surprise made me so happy. The lemonade was delicious.

Contango is a leader in IT consulting, wiring/infrastructure and custom programming–a pioneer in cloud computing since 2008 with a client list of household names. This growing company is staffed with young and bright, informed millennials with a range of extracurricular interests making them fun to speak with after hours. Danny Mizrahi, founder and principal, knows how to pick staff. They work hard; are conscientious, and at the same time are thoughtful neighbors. Previously they’ve cheerfully participated in posts on this blog, sharing titles of their favorite scary movies and IT buzzwords that irritated them.

We are bombarded daily with examples of greed and selfishness so that a kind act takes on additional significance. Have you benefited by a surprise lately that warmed your heart?

Photo: culinaryservicesgroup.com

Service of Telecommuting [II] & Teams, Old as the Hills

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

Photo: michiganemploymentlawadvisor.com

In spring 2013 I wrote “Service of Telecommuting” after Yahoo’s HR director, Jackie Reses, had sent a memo to all staff telling them that if they worked at home they had until June of that year to report, fulltime, to a desk at a Yahoo office. According to a recent article on bloomberg.com, “The Rise and Fall of Working from Home–The permanent telecommuter is going extinct,” the approach continues to unravel.

In the article, brought to my attention by CG who has contributed to this blog, Rebecca Greenfield reported that earlier this year IBM “told 2,000 U.S. workers they could no longer work from home and about the same number of employees that they had to commute into offices more often. Facing 20 consecutive quarters of falling revenue, IBM hopes that bringing people back together will lead to faster, more productive, and more creative workers.”

The last straw

Small companies have also tried the concept and have rejected it. Greenfield described a PR agency whose staff didn’t act like the grownups the boss had expected them to be. Too many took advantage of the situation so he cancelled the option after less than a year. In addition to not answering the phone when home and being incommunicado for full days, “The last straw…was when someone refused to come in for a meeting because she had plans to go to the Hamptons,” the owner told Greenfield.

She wrote: “More than 60 percent of organizations surveyed by the Society of Human Resource Management this year said they allow some type of telecommuting, up from 20 percent in 1996. But telecommuting comes in many flavors, and 77 percent of organizations don’t let people work from home on a full-time basis. Most employers allow ad-hoc remote work for the person who needs to stay home for the plumber or wait for a package.”

Photo: 123rf.com

You might not remember who French journalist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr is [1808-1890], but you’ll remember the saying he penned: “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” I am thinking of the big deal made these days about teams when in my experience they have existed all along.

Regardless, I’m not convinced that the increase of teams in the workplace that Greenfield noted has accelerated the demise of telecommuting. “At the same time, work has also become more team-based. Only 38 percent of companies are ‘functionally’ organized today with workers grouped together by job type, a 2016 Deloitte survey found. Most comprise collaborative groups that shift depending on the work.”

In my opinion, collaboration and face-to-face communication help any enterprise that consists of more than one person. People who prefer to work alone, at home, shouldn’t get jobs in a company. Obviously there are exceptions for temporary periods—sick family members and anticipated nasty travel glitches for example—but as a routine option, I think what telecommuting saves in real estate—space to house an employee–is lost in lackluster productivity. Do you agree? Do you think that IBM will find that its policy change will help turn around its period of sluggish performance and creativity?

Photo: zultys.com

Service of Because They Can Though Maybe They Shouldn’t

Monday, July 10th, 2017

The world seems to be divided between those who do anything they want because they can and those who factor in others. Since I wrote, last week, about the executives who don’t blink at charging exorbitant prices for life-saving drugs my mind continues in that track.

The driver of a supersized SUV turning into 45th Street from First Avenue didn’t take his foot off the pedal for one second and almost ran me over. Why? Because he could—nobody stopped him and even if he’d hit me, he’d have been off and running for the same reason. The light was fully in my favor [as in the photo above] and I was crossing at just the right place [unusual for some New Yorkers].

The driver felt big, important and on a mission. I was an irritating pedestrian in his way, slowing progress. This scene happens countless times a day to thousands all over the city. Over the weekend we were in a cab that missed being slammed by a zigzagging driver who treated Lexington Avenue as though it was a super highway. Sometimes the threatening vehicles are bicycles driven by thoughtless, entitled individuals.

Photo: pinterest

The SUV incident happened two days after NJ Governor Christie sunned himself on Island Beach State Park in front of the state-owned summer house [photo right]. This beach—and all state parks in the Garden State–were closed to other citizens June 30-July 3 because of the second government shutdown in that state’s history. Christie’s beach time wasn’t illegal—the house has access to the beach—though when he and the family were captured on camera by a news helicopter, it didn’t look good [no pun intended]. As Christie put it at a news conference in which he was criticized: “Run for governor, and you can have a residence there,” according to nj.com.

Island Beach State Park, NJ

He claimed that he’d promised his son that he would celebrate his birthday at the beach. But just because he could didn’t mean he should when his constituents had to cancel their picnic, swimming and sunning plans. “Do as I say, not as I do,” doesn’t set well with most. In fact, his selfishness may have ruined it for future governors. There’s talk about selling the house or renting it to generate income for the state.

For the most part, the people I know and work with are thoughtful, caring, empathetic, courteous and cordial—because they choose to be. The men at the transfer station in Millbrook, NY were so gentle and understanding when I showed up on a recent Saturday with a car filled with garbage, paper and bottles. I was wringing my hands because I didn’t have my ticket [the first time ever]. I felt overwhelmed by their kind, understanding response. “Not to worry,” they said, “We’ll get you next time,” and they grabbed for the bags and bottles and moved them to join like refuse in the three separate sections. Wet garbage costs $5/bag.

In your life, are there more SUV drivers and Christie-like characters or more people like the men at the transfer station?

Service of “I’ll Pay,” No “You’ll Pay”—Who’ll Pay?

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

 

 

Photo: groupon.com

Tinder is a popular app where singles meet, [it boasts a million subscribers], and it—and websites like it–has changed the dating landscape as people tend to have many more first dates than before. Khadeeja Safdar wrote about the new dynamic in “Who Pays on the First Date? No One Knows Anymore, and It’s Really Awkward–First dates multiply in era of Tinder, and those tabs add up. Some women are wary the fake ‘reach’ for the wallet won’t be turned down.”

Photo: zoosk.com

The title and subtitle of this Wall Street Journal article tell the story.

Safdar described some of the prickly endings timed around restaurant check arrival time.

  • Before the check came the date excused himself to visit the WC and said, “I’ll wait for you outside.”
  • A woman ordered two entrees, ate the pasta and asked the waiter to wrap up the grilled fish. When she was in the ladies’ room her date, a well healed physician who had planned to pay for dinner, asked for separate checks because he “didn’t like feeling used.”
  • Having met for drinks, the woman asked her date if they were planning to order food. The response: “Don’t you have food at home?”
  • When a college student got home from dinner initiated by her date who chose the restaurant, he sent her an “invoice via the mobile-payment app Vennio for her portion of the meal.” She didn’t pay and blocked him.
  • One date proposed splitting a burger and fries, cut the burger unevenly, taking the far larger half. When the check came, the woman “performed the ritual reach for her credit card, and he agreed to let her pay half without any hesitation. ‘Even the waitress looked at him, like, are you serious?’”
  • The date who forgot his wallet’s an oldie but still happens.

 “The rules aren’t complicated, according to etiquette experts,” wrote Safdar. “‘If you invite, you pay,’ said Diane Gottsman, author of ‘Modern Etiquette for a Better Life.’ ‘But the reality is that the other person may not know the rules or realize it’s a date.’”

Photo: meetville.com

This is what I think: To avoid uncomfortable moments establish who pays for what before the date takes place. Who wants to pay for one or two meals with a stranger the cost of which is five times your restaurant budget for the quarter when the other person chose the preposterously pricey venue? On the other hand, if you can afford to watch the scene play out and if you have a strong stomach for discomfort, the way a person acts in this situation tells a lot about them and whether or not you’ll want to see them ever again.

Can you share examples such as those above or ones that turned out nicely? What do you think the answer is for a seamless first date? Does age have anything to do with the outcome?

Photo: marketwatch.com

Service of Greed: Will it Get You One or Another Way?

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

Photo: linkedin.com

Martin Shkreli is on trial for federal securities fraud, but regardless of how the judge instructs the jury to forget his arrogance in another high profile example of greed, it may nevertheless impact his destiny. Well over 100 potential jurors were already excused because they had nasty things to say about the man.

Photo: drugs.com

I previously wrote about Shkreli in “Service of Side Effects of Drug Prices.” He earned the rights to a life-saving drug, Daraprim, that for decades saved lives of those with a potentially fatal parasitic infection, when he bought a drug company, Turing Pharmaceuticals AG. He raised the price of a pill to $750 from $13.50 because, as Wall Street Journal reporter Rebecca Davis O’Brien quoted him, “he had an obligation to ‘maximize our profit.’”

Let the jury decide his fate.

Speaking of drugs and greed, the EpiPen price-gouging saga comes close, but there’s hope. Read on.

Photo: capitalwired.com

Heather Bresch, CEO of Mylan, led the charge on the price of the emergency allergy medicine from $94 for a pair when her company purchased the product, to $700, for those without insurance, or $630 with. Further, the pens need to be replaced every year. Under pressure, the company subsequently introduced a generic version that cost $225-$425 wrote Linda A. Johnson, ABC News.

“Analysts and others have estimated that it costs less than $20 to produce a pair of EpiPens,” she reported.

This was background to the real focus of Johnson’s news: The FDA “approved Adamis Pharmaceuticals Corp.’s product, which should go on sale later this year. Symjepi is a syringe prefilled with the hormone epinephrine, which helps stop life-threatening allergic reactions from insect stings and bites, foods such as nuts and eggs, or certain medications.”

She continued: “Adamis spokesman Mark Flather said Symjepi is intended to be a “low-cost alternative” to EpiPen and similar products, and the company is aiming to sell it for less than generic EpiPens.” Claims about Symjepi range from being easier to use than EpiPen and because the syringe is smaller, it fits more easily in pockets and handbags.

Here’s hoping Symjepi [what a name] will represent healthy competition to EpiPen, serving to adjust the prices of all antidotes to severe allergies. “Adamis said it is still lining up a distributor so it hasn’t set the exact price for its product, which will be sold in pairs like EpiPen,” wrote Johnson.

I believe in profits but really.

  • How can a manufacturer of life-saving medicines gouge to such an extent and sleep at night?
  • How can investors stand silent?
  • Is this approach standard practice with pharmaceuticals?
  • Are there any benevolent CEOs?
  • Are these manufacturers encouraged by the climate in which 217 House members and at least 43 Senators don’t blink at tossing 22 million off health insurance while lowering taxes for the wealthy?
  • And last, public pressure has put an end to careers of corporate and religious sexual abusers and loudmouth public figures who use inappropriate language. Will it impact flagrant examples of corporate greed?

Photo: addictedtocostco.com

Get This Blog Emailed to You:
Enter your Email


Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz

Clicky Web Analytics