Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Much Bigger Issue With Auto Financing

I recently read a local news article with the headline, “Toyota Must Pay $22 Million for Charging Minorities Higher Interest Rates”. The article went on to explain that the U.S. Justice Department and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reached a settlement with Toyota under which Toyota agreed to pay out the large sum to resolve allegations that it “discriminated against black and Asian/Pacific Island borrowers in auto lending.”

The article also stated: “The agencies contended that the average African-American victim was obligated to pay over $200 more during the term of the loan, and the average Asian/Pacific Islander victim was obligated to pay over $100 more, because of discrimination.”

While I am definitely an advocate of equal opportunity and believe that one’s skin color or racial origin should in no way shape or form have an effect on the interest rate they would pay on a loan, the purpose of my article actually stems from the local news article’s second paragraph:

“Through the settlement, filed in Los Angeles federal court, Toyota agreed to limit the discretion of its dealers to charge interest rate markups on Toyota loans. The company also agreed that it will not increase the interest rates it quotes to car dealers in order to fund additional non-discretionary dealer compensation.”

I’ll explain that a little better in normal, understandable words in a second, but first, let’s also take a look at two additional paragraphs from later in the article which I’ve combined into one here:

“Toyota’s business practice, like most other major auto lenders, allows car dealers discretion to vary a loan’s interest rate from the price Toyota initially sets based on the borrower’s objective credit-related factors. Dealers receive greater payments from Toyota on loans that include a higher interest rate markup.”

So, what does all of this mean and why is this even more important than the settlement about racial discrimination in auto loan interests rates? Well, what this amounts to is the fact that Toyota, like many other auto manufacturers, provides a company-sponsored financing option for customers through their dealers. I’m sure you already knew that, right? What you probably don’t know is that Toyota’s financing arm provides a baseline interest rate that they want as compensation for making a loan to customers, but then, allows the dealer to add points to that interest rate, essentially raising the rate, at their discretion, and in fact, on top of that, provides dealers with incentives to charge customers higher interest rates.

Do you see why this is an even bigger deal than the race issue in this story? If not, go ahead and go back and read the previous paragraph again.

I am willing to bet that when you purchased your last car at a dealership and sat down with the dealership’s finance guy, when you were presented with an interest rate and a contract that showed all of those thousands of dollars in interest you were paying on your auto loan, you thought your rate was based solely on your credit score. I bet you had no idea your interest rate included additional points added by the dealer based on their perception of you, or any other factor the dealership decided to take into consideration.

Do you see what this means for the auto finance customer? If the dealership has hit hard financial times and needs more profit, they can charge you more in interest on your loan. Does the dealership owner need to put in a new pool at home so his kids stop bitching at him about being bored all summer? Well, then he can charge higher interest on your car loan to pull in some extra cash. And, of course, as the article reports, it was this discretion of adding additional points to the auto loan interest rate that gave the humans writing and approving the loan paperwork the ability to charge you more interest if your skin was a certain color, or if you had a certain last name or eye shape, or really, add additional interest if anything about you led them to feel you would have more difficulty paying back the loan.

Would I have paid a higher interest rate had I walked into the dealership in flip-flops, board shorts and a tank top instead of a suit, regardless of my credit score? Would I have paid more in interest based on whether I was sold the car by the salesman who was not my same race, or by the salesman who was my same race? Would I have paid more in interest at one dealership as opposed to another based on the color of my skin or the ethnicity of my last name? What this article and this settlement are saying is….yes.

I know the car buying process can be long and stressful, especially if you take the time to get the best price, look at a lot of different options, makes and models, but what this article tells me is that not only do we need to consider a car’s features, options, color, longevity, gas mileage, and repair and service costs, but we must also ask some very poignant questions of the dealership when it comes to financing as well. Ask the dealership what the rate from the manufacturer is and what their mark-up of that interest rate is, and be sure to ask them why there is a mark-up. Know your credit score BEFORE having the dealership run your credit and contrast and compare the interest rate that your credit score is earning not only with different manufacturers, but also different dealerships. Look into whether or not you can secure your own financing through your own bank so your interest rate is not at the whim of the manufacturer, dealer, finance guy or salesman.

While it is nice to see that Toyota is trying to take steps to stop discrimination and dealer incentivized rate increases in the lending process, the fact remains that as long as the major auto manufacturers continue these types of captive loan practices, consumers have a very real prospect of paying higher interest rates for reasons that are not disclosed to them.

I am hoping that after reading this article, the next time you finance a car, you’ll do a little digging on the reason behind your interest rate before signing that contract.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Origins Of Data Visualization

Towards the end of 2014, I wrote a couple pieces on data visualization and as I was researching some additional related topics, I stumbled across a couple very early examples of data visualization. This got me thinking about the history of data visualizations and how they came about. After doing some more digging, I found some very interesting facts that I put together in an eBook.

Click here to read The Origins of Data Visualization.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Why You Should Develop Department-Specific Recruiting Content For Your Website

As the job market hopefully continues to recover, it is imperative each enterprise do all it can to attract the best talent. One of the ways this can be accomplished is through a top-notch careers page on your website.

A careers page populated with the right content shows candidates your company offers a great work environment, fantastic benefits, and above all, a fun culture that fosters innovation and advancement. Testimonials from employees, a strong list of benefits, and pictures of company events can all be very impressive to the right candidates – especially the ones you are really hoping to bring onboard before they accept a competing offer.

If you have the means to create them, videos of employees talking about your company’s culture and videos of past company events like holiday parties or company outings can help seal the deal with the best candidates. But, I bet I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, and hopefully, have already implemented.

So, how do you set your company’s career page apart if everyone already knows to include all of the items I’ve discussed above? I have a pretty simple solution, though it is going to take collaboration between H.R., Marketing and some of your other departments as well as the expenditure of some resources – both human and capital. But, in the end, I feel you will be really glad you took this extra step.

I say it’s time for businesses to stop having just a single careers page and single recruiting video that acts as a catchall for every candidate. It’s time to start developing recruiting content specific for different areas of the business. It’s time for enterprises to not only have an overview page in their careers section, but a careers page for every one of their major departments such as sales, marketing, product development, etc.

Let me explain the benefit of these specialized careers pages through an example. Your candidate is a seasoned marketing veteran and she’s decided this time around, she is going to take however long it takes to find the perfect opportunity. She goes to your site and sees the generic company video that has the CEO and the CFO talking about how great the place is and all the benefits of working there. She sees the product demo video that explains what you sell. She reads a little about the culture and a little about the executives. You feel your careers page stands out because it even has some pictures and videos from a couple of last year’s employee-focused events.

Then, she goes to your main competitor’s site and in their Careers section, she finds links to department-specific pages like Marketing Careers, Sales Careers, Developer Careers and Finance Careers. She clicks on Marketing Careers and there she finds a video of the CMO talking about the overall marketing strategy and vision, and what it is like working in their fast-paced, highly-appreciated marketing department where the CEO is still closely involved in the company’s day-to-day marketing operations. She reads testimonials from Marketing Managers, Graphic Designers and even a Marketing Coordinator, all touting the company’s innovative work and fabulous culture, and explaining how much they love working in your competitor’s marketing department.

When it comes time to accept an offer letter, which company do you think this industry-leading marketing veteran is going to choose? The company that threw up a general careers page, or the company that took the time to explain to her what it is going to be like working and thriving in their marketing department?

I know it might seem like some extra work and you might be at a point where you are trying hard to reduce costs, but the enterprises that really want to attract top talent are going to need to put forth that extra effort and expenditure when it comes to building out the careers section of their website.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Balancing Tasks in the Real World vs. the Digital World

I was recently pondering the complexity of our technology-driven world and how many of us lead two different yet parallel lives - one in the real world and one in the digital world. Now, I’m not talking about those crazy catfishers who pretend to be someone else, but your everyday person who constantly struggles to allocate their time between both worlds.

Let me give you a little insight into what I’m talking about: It’s Saturday morning. I have two separate to-do lists, and I must decide which of the two to start. The garage floor needs cleaning, my car needs a wash, the living room could use some dusting and there are a few do-it-yourself projects around the house that need tending – a few wall scuffs that need to be painted and a shower door that really could use some re-caulking. On the other hand, I need to make some Facebook cover images for the coming week, archive and back-up my computer files, get a jump on reading some trade articles so I can schedule my Hootsuite posts, and as always, there’s more than a few articles in my head I would like to get down on digital paper. So, which world do I work in today – the real world, or the digital world?

And, if it isn’t hard enough to make a choice between these two worlds, I also need to work on some things that bridge the gap between them. I have hundreds of old pictures and other mementos I have been scanning over the past few years in my spare time just to ensure their longevity into our years of ripe old age. Nowadays, we have all these digital memories backed up to our “clouds”, but most of us are just one house fire away from losing all of the memories we made back when we had these things called cameras that exposed light to film and provided us with paper real-world pictures that aren’t backed up to the sky like their new digital counterparts. And being a writer, not only do I have pictures that could be gone forever thanks to a little Fahrenheit 451, I also have a good deal of early writings I still need to introduce to the digital world.

And thus, this is the conundrum in which I find myself whenever I set out to get some things done. Spend too much time organizing, archiving and backing up computer files, and the scanning of pictures and digitizing of hand-written items doesn’t get done. Spend the day scanning or typing and dust starts to gather on all the furniture. Spend the day cleaning the house or completing other tasks in the real world, and that inbox and those social media alerts sure start to stack up. What is a first-world, pre-artificial-intelligence-brain-implant human who still must interface with some type of electronic device in order to get something done in the digital world supposed to do?

Well, let me share a little trick that helps me work on all of my to-do lists – the real world, the digital world, and the bridge in between – just about equally. And ironically, my trick uses a very old technology to help me deal with balancing my digital world tasks with those in the real world.

The first thing I do is maintain lists of the tasks I need to complete in each of the two worlds as well as the hybrid tasks, giving me three separate lists of tasks. I maintain my lists in an Excel spreadsheet stored in DropBox so they are accessible anywhere. If you choose to try my method and you’re not a fan of Excel, you can maintain your lists on your phone, or even on that ancient tool our ancestors called paper. Whatever media you choose for maintaining your lists, just make sure they are easy to update, and above all, can be easily and promptly accessed when you think of something to add. I’ll often make a note on my phone when I think of a task, and then transfer that task to my spreadsheet the next time I open it in Excel. This helps me ensure I don’t forget anything that needs to be added.

Then, with my three lists handy, when I have some spare time to get things done, I pull out my hourglass. Yes, I said hourglass. What? You don’t have one?! I told you I used a very old technology. I turn the hourglass over and start on the first list. When the sand has run out, I turn the hourglass over again and start on the second list. And – you guessed it – when the sand runs out again, I start in on that third list. I then repeat the process over and over again, going from the third list back to the first list until my free time has run out.

I don’t always start with the same list, but tend to start with the list that is either the most pressing or has the most items. There remains some subjectivity in this method in terms of what I start with, but if I adhere to the hourglass’s time and switch when the sand runs out, I find at the end of the day, I have worked on all three lists and made progress in the real world, digital world, and the bridge in-between.

Of course, in these modern times, you can use any clock you possess – the one on your cable or satellite box – the one on your phone – the one on your microwave – the one on the solar-powered floating radio you use in the pool – the one on your laptop or other device. Use any clock and this method will work just as well. As for me, I found that without the physical running out of the sand, I tacked on extra minutes to finish a little more on the current list, and those minutes would add up to extra hours, defeating the purpose of the method.

Now, don’t get me wrong, if you’re midway through an oil change or painting a wall, or scanning a picture, or responding to an email, go ahead and finish out the task, but be sure you don’t linger on one list to forsake the others. Just be reasonable, and a little disciplined, and you’ll see this method can work well for helping you split your time between your worlds.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Failed Promise Of Social Media

Social media platforms have not lived up to the promise or the hype when it comes to connecting enterprises with their customers. Remember when we were told social media was going to replace email, and we were going to be able to easily reach our customers through their feed by posting to our own social media pages and feeds? That sure seems laughable now!

I recently read a sponsored content piece in which the author was touting his ability to quickly and easily obtain 20,000 Facebook likes for any enterprise or individual for less than a nickel each. What a great service if they were quality likes from actual potential customers, but even if they were, post something to your Facebook business page and less than 5% of your new 20,000 devout Facebook Likers will see that message.

That is, of course, unless you click on the link from Facebook that allows you to promote your post by paying them some of your advertising budget. But, that is not what social media originally promised us, is it? We were supposed to be able to connect with customers in a wide-open forum of engagement and friendly conversation, but instead, we find ourselves in a pay-to-play, hope-they-see-my-post-somehow world where we are all questioning the benefits of actually maintaining a Facebook company page, especially for smaller businesses. Clearly, the promise of using social media to easily and cheaply connect with customers was never delivered.

So here we are, in 2016, living in a time warp like it’s 2005, or 2001 for that matter, and the only way we can guarantee our message even stands a chance of getting through to our customers is via email or direct message. If you’ve got some extra time and are looking for a new hobby, maintain that Facebook page for fun, but if you want to actually reach your customers, keep turning to your email platform and any type of direct messaging you can find that yields actual customer responses.

It’s time for businesses to get back to the basics of creating engaging email campaigns that provide messaging and content geared towards their customers and the challenges they face. It’s time to connect with customers, colleagues and partners on LinkedIn and use the platform’s great direct messaging feature to stay in touch. It’s time to stop posting to social media and hoping our message gets seen and instead, return to more traditional methods of contact so we can actually get our message in front of the people we’re trying to reach. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A Guide To Constantly Working

Are you the member of your family, group of friends and league of associates that is constantly working, and constantly deflecting the notion that working too much is unhealthy for your body, mind and relationships? While I have been fortunate enough to not run into this too much in my life, I know a lot of you so-called "workaholics" may run into a lot of flack for "working too much". So, to help you out, I've created a guide based on some principles that have allowed me to keep constantly working while maintaining my health, sanity and personal relationships, and also, still live a happy, balanced life.

Click here to read A Guide to Constantly Working.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

How To Trick Yourself Into Making The Leap To Your Next Job

I recently read a great annual recap post from a successful entrepreneur that asked, what has been your biggest take-away or key learning this year? I responded to the post by stating my biggest take-away for 2015 was that we should all make a leap we might be a little afraid to make, whatever that leap might be. Win or lose, we’ll be better off for having tried, and when it turns out to be a fantastic move, even better!

My comment stemmed from an actual event in my life in 2015, a job change that turned out to be an absolutely fantastic move. Without getting into too many details, I had a job I truly enjoyed, was working with a great team made up of a group of folks that I loved working with (and spending time with), but sadly, was also at a place that didn’t really align with my values. Ultimately, it just wasn’t the right place for me.

While I thought about leaving, my commitment to finish the job I started, the desire to continue working with the team I had grown to love, and that natural fear we all have of changing jobs, kept me from looking. It wasn’t until I was lucky enough to hear about some changes that were going to effect me that I finally decided to start my job search.

Fortunately, by the time those changes were put in place, I had already secured a great new job at a great new company with a great new team. But, I’m not just spinning a yarn here, folks, I have a purpose. See, I’ve changed jobs twice in the past two years, following two seven-year stints in a row, and on each occasion, when looking back, I probably should have changed jobs sooner than I did. Now, while I believe everything worked out perfectly for me, I can also sympathize with all of you out there who might not be working the job you really want, or working for the right company, but find yourself in a spot where you are afraid, or maybe just reluctant, to make the leap you know you should be making.

Trust me, you are not alone. I know a lot of great people who aren’t necessarily happy with the job they have, but share that same fear of beginning a job search, especially if they worry an employer getting wind of their decision to leave might retaliate in some way. Fortunately, though, I have a little exercise that might help.

The last thing anyone working a full-time job wants to do is take the time to find another job after working all day, but we all know it is much more beneficial on many levels to conduct a job search while still employed. Though being unemployed provides much more free time to conduct a job search, it can also negatively impact confidence and even result in job seekers accepting a job offer that might not be right for them.

So, here is what I propose you do to find the motivation to conduct the job search you might be reluctant to start. Go to work next Monday and work a normal day. Do your job just as well as you always do, and when you walk out the door to go home that night, pretend your boss just took you aside as you were walking out and told you he or she just discovered you are going to be let go in six weeks.

Think about the scenario for a second. If this actually happened to you, what would you do? Would you go home and lounge on the couch in front of the TV, or would you get to work finding a new job?

I understand this might take a little effort and almost seem silly to convince yourself this mock layoff warning has occurred, but I promise you this – if you can truly take this little ruse to heart and pretend you have just six weeks until you’re out the door, you’ll do what you need to do to ensure you find that next job!

Start by updating your resume, portfolio, website and LinkedIn profile, and asking colleagues for recommendations. Ask past employers and colleagues to serve as references. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can get everything for your job search lined up once you actually get over the fear of making that leap and start these tasks.

Go to work every day and keep doing the amazing job you’ve always done, and every night, every weekend, every lunch break, look for the job you really want – with the commute, salary, culture, company and team that will make this move a fantastic one!

If you have been contemplating making that leap for some time, but have been reluctant for whatever reason, this little “six week fire drill” might surprise you! If you really buy into it, put your nose to the grindstone, and work the job postings and your network, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the progress you can make in those six weeks.

With the average job search taking two months, by the time you reach the six week mark from that imaginary layoff warning from your boss, you might just be well on your way to a couple great job offers. In my case, by the six week mark, I had already turned down an offer for the salary being too low, was in the final round of interviews for a job I knew I would love, and waiting on a job offer from the fabulous company I’ve loved working for over the past four months.

Make that leap, my friends! Win or lose, you’ll be better off for having tried.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Thank You And I Wish You All The Best In The Coming Year

I hope the social media stars have aligned and the Google, Facebook, Twitter and/or LinkedIn algorithms have come together to result in your eyes actually finding their way to my words today so I may take a few minutes to reflect on an amazing couple of years and thank you for the role you may have played in making them so.

You hear quite often that a door doesn’t close without a window being opened and for me that has really proven to be the case many times in my life, especially over the past two years. While at times, I’ve had to break that window to get it open, or crawl through it just in the nick of time, it still doesn’t change the fact the grass has truly been greener on the other side of that window.

First and foremost, whether you and I spent a lot of time working together at some point in the past couple years, or just had a few passing greetings in person or through electronic means, let me say that I am thankful to have had that time with you. While some interactions obviously have more impact on one’s life - like a recruiter forwarding on your resume, a friend giving you a special thank you card, a loved one giving you some great advice, or parting ways with an employer or major client - I believe each interaction, whether seemingly positive or negative at first, ultimately has a positive impact on the course of our lives in the end.

While I wonder sometimes if my optimism is real, or if I just fabricate it following life’s events and interactions, ultimately, I believe the true nature of the event or interaction is trumped completely by my perception of it in the end. I truly believe how we perceive and approach life’s triumphs and challenges is entirely up to us.

But, that being said, when I take stock of life today and compare it to where I was two years ago, or one year ago, and discover I am better off, there is little more I can do than be thankful for each event and interaction, whether seemingly positive or negative at the time, because those events and interactions are what led to the positive outcome I am experiencing today.

So, whether you were one of the events or interactions that seemed positive, or negative, at the time, I thank you for the part you played in landing me where I am in life today, and wish you the very best in the coming year...

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Do We Really Need Swear Words In Business Headlines?

Now, don’t get me wrong  - I swear all the time – especially when I’m driving, as I am sure a lot of my fellow Southern Californians do, but I recently found myself put off by the use of a certain four letter word used to describe excrement. Why? It was in a slide presentation featured in an email from Slideview that claimed to be able to show me how to build better marketing content.

Being an avid content marketer, I am definitely interested in any presentation that claims to be able to show me how to build better content. But, there I was, on the third slide of the presentation, and sure enough, there in the headline was the word “shit” where you might have just as easily found a more appropriate word.

Again, not opposed to swearing, but when you are about to teach me how to build better content, the last thing I think you should show me is that you lack the creativity or vocabulary to grab my attention without using an expletive. I can’t be the first to notice this trend of trying to shock-jock business readers with the words “shit” and “fuck” to get their attention. To all of you business writers and content creators out there, I ask, is this really necessary? Is this really where we want to go?

I get that we’re not in the schoolyard anymore and can hear some of you referencing big boy panties in your rebuttal, but again, I would argue it is not that these words offend me, it is simply that I believe they do not, and should not, have a place in our business writing because I also believe we can do better than trying to grab attention with words that would make children gasp, point and giggle.

As business writers, it is our job to take the time to create messaging that actually garners attention on its merit, not on its juvenile showmanship. We should take the time to do the job right and earn our clients’ or employer’s money with solid messaging, not simply by putting a swear word in the title and calling it a day.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Credit Unions and Cybersecurity

I recently conducted some research on the cybersecurity challenges credit unions are facing and here is what I learned:

Data security breaches are a significant problem for credit unions because once members begin to question the safety of their personal information, these financial institutions can incur massive losses before member trust can be restored. Many consumers have been known to reduce the number of financial services they’ll put through their credit union following a breach, and some have been known to leave the credit union entirely.

The National Association of Federal Credit Unions found that, on average, a data breach costs a credit union just over $225,000. While credit unions have implemented security measures and devoted resources to protecting customer data, much like all industries, their measures are failing to keep up with the ever-increasing sophistication of attempts from hackers to gain access to credit union members’ personally identifiable information.

Even though federal regulations have been imposed on credit unions to ensure a basic level of security for member data, these regulations, even when met, are still falling short of stopping data breaches caused by malware. Thus, credit unions may be meeting regulations, but are still not meeting members' security expectations.

With endpoints that can vary from ATM machines to company laptops to customer and vendor portals, credit unions inadvertently provide many avenues for a cyberattacker to gain the foothold they need to launch malware and access databases housing sensitive customer information like social security numbers, passwords and credit card numbers.

And unfortunately, their own infrastructure is not all these credit unions have to worry about. As reported in a recent Business Insurance article, when asked what keeps her up at night, Debbie Matz, the head regulator for 6,350 U.S. credit unions, answered: a cyberhacker sneaking in through a credit union vendor, cracking through to the larger U.S. financial system and wreaking havoc along the way.

The credit union vendor portals Matz refers to can include a vendor’s own separate payment processing systems, like point of sale systems, which also leave credit unions vulnerable no matter how well they secure their own infrastructure. If a point of sale system endpoint is left unsecured, credit union members' personal information becomes vulnerable to theft and the endpoint can be used as an access point to larger systems.

One of the scariest parts of this story is that credit unions across the country are relying on traditional antivirus solutions to protect their infrastructure. These solutions are less than 50% effective at stopping threats, at best, and usually, threats are only identified after they cause damage. The data breaches these solutions don't stop are expensive to repair and also harm brand identity, which can lead to a reduction in revenue and even litigation.

There really is only one solution that can secure a credit union’s infrastructure as well as protect it from attacks originated at vendor portals. Credit unions should seek out a solution that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to protect every endpoint in their infrastructure from not only malware that has been identified by antivirus software, but also malware that has never been seen before. Once their own infrastructure is secured with this technology, credit unions should insist their vendors do the same, thus securing their organization completely from over 99% of malware.

While credit unions definitely face some substantial challenges when it comes to cybersecurity, the technology already exists to secure their data – they just need to deploy it.