Identity Theft Takes a New Turn

by Terry Savage

If you think your finances are safer now that you use a chip card, think again. The latest Javelin Identity Fraud Study reports the number of identity fraud victims increased by 16 percent in 2016 to more than 15 million consumers. And the amount the thieves took grew by $1 billion to more than $16 billion in the past year.

A large part of the increase came from “card not present” fraud in the first year since chip cards became widely used. Fraudsters are resorting to more invasive ways of getting your identity details than simply counterfeiting mag stripe cards.

So-called “phishing” schemes have become far more sophisticated. Gone are the days of the misspellings and clumsy grammar that made fraud emails obvious. Fraudsters have gotten better at tricking you into clicking on a link in one of these emails. Once you do that on your computer or smartphone, these links deploy malware called “bots” to collect all your data, including PIN and CV authentication numbers as you shop online.

There’s also a growing trend of identity fraud crimes enabled by victims’ social media posts. Harmless items on your pages, including celebrations of your birthday, or a college graduation or reunion, give thieves information they use open new accounts in your name. Fraudulent new credit accounts for more than half the increase in identity theft crime last year.

So what should you be doing to guard your identity? Here are some suggestions, which mostly involve common sense and a commitment to regularly review your finances.

—Check online accounts regularly. Visit your bank or credit card website at least once a week to make sure that no withdrawals or unauthorized charges have been made. Yes, you’re protected from fraud, but there’s no way to avoid the hassle of getting a new account number when you’ve been attacked. At least you can minimize the trauma by catching fraudulent purchases immediately.

Continue reading Identity Theft Takes a New Turn

Is America’s Military Losing Its Edge?

By Vikram Mansharamani

The United States spends more money on its military than any other country in the world. The American defense budget of almost $600 billion is more than four times that of China’s. In fact, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) notes the US spends almost as much as the next fourteen countries – combined.

But rather than simply leave the interpretation of this data to readers, IISS warns this large budget does not necessarily buy sustainable US military superiority.  In February of this year, John Chipman, director general of IISS, noted that the proliferation of military-relevant technologies has large strategic consequences that appear to be undermining Western might.

This point was driven home during a recent talk at the Harvard Kennedy School by former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy. She explicitly stated “our military technological edge…is no longer a given, because many of the technologies we rely on are becoming ubiquitous.”

Continue reading Is America’s Military Losing Its Edge?

Microsoft Can Now Talk Better Than Humans And Other Small Business Tech News This Week

by Gene Marks

Here are five things in technology that happened this past week and how they affect your business. Did you miss them?

1 – Microsoft says its speech recognition is now as good as humans.

Based on a study it did, the software giant put its speech recognition technology up against professional transcriptionists. The result? Humans made more mistakes than the software. (Source: VentureBeat)

Why this is important for your business:

According to the VentureBeat article, Microsoft has called this a milestone in human parity and believes that it will have “broad implications for consumer and business products that can be significantly augmented by speech recognition.” I don’t doubt that.

2 – Facebook announces new features to help small businesses sell more products and services.

The social media leader has released updates so that restaurants can receive orders and service providers can accept appointments directly on their Facebook pages and have them land on Microsoft’s new Bookings app that will soon be included with Office 365. It’s also enhanced its ability to make buying recommendations when users ask a question. (Source: Recode and Microsoft Office Blogs).
Why this is important for your business:

All these enhancements are free and are designed to not only make it easier for your Facebook customers to do business with you, but to receive new business through recommendations, too.

3 – You will soon be able to receive customer texts directly from a Google ad.

Google says that advertisers will soon be able to allow recipients of their ads to send texts with questions directly to the advertiser. (Source: VentureBeat)

Why this is important for your business:

When customers see your ad now and they have a question, they have to go searching for ways to contact you – with many losing interest in the process. Allowing them to quickly text their questions right from the ad will solve that problem and hopefully keep customers buying. Continue reading Microsoft Can Now Talk Better Than Humans And Other Small Business Tech News This Week

Do one thing today – get out of your innovation rut!

by Jim Carroll

Innovation is a mindset. Do you have what it takes?

BabyEinstein“Don’t expect them to subscribe to the same old beliefs as to structure and rules, working hours, and corporate culture, or business models. You won’t survive in their future if you don’t take the time to understand what they are doing, talking about, and thinking.”

Here’s a few simple thoughts on how to get out of your innovation rut!

Reward failure, and tone down the “I told-you-so’s”

Too many people think when times are volatile, that it’s not a good time to focus on big ideas. Not true! Consider history: many people stuck their neck out in the 1990’s and tried out new ways of doing business, new technologies, and innovative methods of dealing with markets and customers. Yet many of those efforts collapsed in spectacular fashion due to the dot.com/technology meltdown, and a dangerous sense of complacency set in. Back then, innovators had to hang their head in shame, and the nervous nellies who dared not innovate reigned supreme! Yet those who took risk excelled — they invented Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram…. When times are volatile and fear reigns, that’s the best time to make big bold moves.

Listen up!

We live in a time of unprecedented feedback and communication – and yet few organizations are prepared to listen! Customers are telling you, loudly, what they want. Young people are defining a future that is different from anything we’ve dealt with before. Competitive intelligence capabilities abound. And yet most or- ganizations ignore these signals, or don’t know how to listen – or even where to look. Organizations should reconsider the many effective ways of building effective digital feedback systems, in order that they can stay on top of fast-changing events, rediscover markets, and define opportunity – which will help them understand how and where they need to innovate.

Continue reading Do one thing today – get out of your innovation rut!

Help With Health Insurance Choices

by Terry Savage

Making decisions about health insurance is complicated and potentially very costly. It’s no surprise that Americans don’t do a great job of it. It takes work to figure out the best health insurance options. And few people take the time to do it right.

Alegeus Healthcare, a provider of platforms for corporate insurance plans, compiles an annual Healthcare Consumerism Index that measures the “degree of engagement … exhibited during healthcare spending and saving decisions.” It reports that the index this year jumped to 54.4 from 48.3. So, we’re doing better.

But, to put that in perspective, consumers score 78.9 on the index when considering the purchase of a television and 76.2 when evaluating the purchase of a cell phone!

Everyone faces choices. Medicare recipients know that basic coverage is simple, though the monthly premium depends on their income. But they must also choose a supplement plan and a Part D prescription drug plan.

Continue reading Help With Health Insurance Choices

The Best Advice From 2016 Commencement Speeches

By Vikram Mansharamani

Graduates

Graduation season is a wonderful time for celebration. Teachers applaud students, and parents praise their children. All eyes focus on the graduates, and rightfully so. After all, for many college graduates, commencement is well, just that: a beginning. And like most beginnings, graduation ceremonies are filled with a contagious optimism and energy.

I love graduations and am a commencement speech junkie. As a parent and educator, I am keenly interested in how best to advise young people. I also find the ceremonies inspiring, energizing, and renewing. So each spring I get my fix by reading or listening to dozens of commencement speeches.

We can all learn from the nuggets of wisdom shared during the proceedings. Here are five of the most valuable tidbits I’ve taken from some of the best addresses delivered to the class of 2016:

1. Get in the Way
Speaking at Washington University in St. Louis, legendary Georgia congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis urged seniors to be proactive—even if it means ruffling feathers. Noting inspiration from Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Lewis said, “I got in the way…I got in trouble…Good trouble, necessary trouble.” This lesson is as important today as it was in the 1950s and 1960s. As Lewis continued, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you must have the courage to stand up, to speak up, and find a way to get in the way.” The advice Lewis offers is as valid for working professionals as it is for ambitious and idealistic graduates. Convention and inertia are often impediments to progress. Get in the way to force change. The world may be better off because of it.


“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you must have the courage to stand up, to speak up, and find a way to get in the way.”


2. Cherish “Uh-Oh” Moments

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor recounted to University of Rhode Island students an embarrassing story in which she choked during one of her first job interviews. These “‘uh-oh’ moments are worth cherishing just as much as ‘ah-ha’ moments,” she said. “Mistakes, failures, embarrassments and disappointments are a necessary component of growing wise.” The logic of learning from failure is not new, but Sotomayor’s reminder to embrace the “uh-oh” moments is refreshing in an era in which every corner of life has grown competitive and perfection is a ubiquitous expectation. When navigating the crosscurrents of global economic uncertainties, failure is almost certain at some point. Reframing setbacks as wisdom acquisition will empower and energize— precisely at the point when a boost is most needed.


Reframing setbacks as wisdom acquisition will empower and energize— precisely at the point when a boost is most needed.


Continue reading The Best Advice From 2016 Commencement Speeches

This Is Why Lots of Talented People Choose to Never Work for a Big Company

by Gene Marks

If you work for some big companies, you actually get paid to sleep. I’m serious.

Just this week Aetna’s CEO Mark Bertolini said in an interview that his company pays his employees to sleep. “If they can prove they get 20 nights of sleep for seven hours or more in a row, we will give them $25 a night, up to $500 a year,” he said, explaining Aetna uses various ways to help workers keep track, including the use of Fitbit fitness trackers.

The Huffington Post isn’t paying people to sleep — they’re just encouraging their employees to sleep on the job. They’ve got nap rooms in their offices. They’re not alone. According to this report “other companies like Google, Zappos and Ben & Jerry’s are getting on board with the napping trend. All now have built nap rooms in their offices.”

Paid for sleeping? Napping at work? Nice! Sign me up!

In these times of low unemployment and a lack of skilled workers, big companies are coming up with all sorts of crazy perks to entice millennials through their doors. LinkedIn offers unlimited vacation. Etsy’s paid time off policy covers new parents of either gender. Spotify covers the cost of egg freezing and fertility assistance. Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) helps its employees pay down their student debt. Twilio gives employees a free Kindle and a monthly allowance to purchase books. Twitter offers onsite acupuncture and “improvisation” classes. Asana’s employees get free life coaching. Zillow pays the overnight shipping costs for moms who are breast feeding. Perks, perks, perks!

Continue reading This Is Why Lots of Talented People Choose to Never Work for a Big Company

Trend: My thoughts on the future of ‘specialty foods’

by Jim Carroll

I was recently interviewed by the folks at the Specialty Foods Association, for my thoughts on what is happening in their sector.

How a Futurist Deciphers Trends
By Brandon Fox, January 2016

RD2008Food1.jpgFads have a shorter lifespan, trends have a shorter lifespan, consumers have a shorter attention span.

Author, speaker, and consultant Jim Carroll offers global trend analysis and strategies for change to companies as varied as Johnson & Johnson, the Walt Disney Corporation, and Yum! Brands. Here, he discusses why trends are more complicated than “what’s hot or what’s not,” the lightning speed of consumer influencers, and why experimentation is necessary to build shopper relationships.

WHAT TRENDS ARE YOU SEEING IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY?

Boy, where do we start? I take a different approach—it’s not “what’s hot or what’s not,” but how are things changing and how quickly can specialty food come to market

People are influenced faster than say, five or 10 years ago—or even a year ago—and a lot of that has to do with social networks, but also with just the way new concepts and new ideas are put in front of them.

I spoke to a group of beverage executives a couple of years ago about what was happening with food and alcohol. I told them to think about “Mad Men.” All of sudden, 1960s retro drinks were all the rage. It happened quickly because people are influenced in new and different ways. It’s not, “what are the new taste sensations?” but “where are those new taste sensations coming from?”

[As for what’s emerging now,] consider how hummus grew as a trend—and then consider what comes next: more quinoa, buckwheat, and rice [products] as people seek similar healthy snack and meal options. And there are fascinating new developments like fruit sushi, chocolate-flavored soda, and even bacon-flavored vodka.”

WHERE DO YOU SEE INFLUENCES COMING FROM SPECIFICALLY?

One example I use all the time is bacon. I traced it back from an article that appeared in the Associated Press newswire in March 2011. The article was called “How Bacon Sizzled and People Got Sweet on Cupcakes.” [The author] followed the trend back to a wine distributor in Southern California who, about six years ago, paired a Syrah with peppered bacon at a tasting. That somehow got out onto the blogs of the time and all of a sudden, boom! Bacon became hot. Everyone talks about Facebook and Twitter all the time, but it’s a new kind of connectivity in terms of how we eat and drink and how we share and talk about it.

DO YOU THINK CELEBRITY CHEFS’ INFLUENCE HAS BEEN STRONG ENOUGH TO DRIVE THIS INDUSTRY?

Huge impact. It used to take a new taste trend from a high-end restaurant five years [to filter down] and now it takes six months or three months or less because there is so much exposure. And another thing is food trucks. People can’t meet the high capital cost of a new restaurant, so they roll out a truck. They’re everywhere. You have people with obvious skills. They can now do what they want and get in front of an audience. And with television shows like the Cooking Channel’s “Eat Street,” it’s a supernova that’s moving faster than ever before.

HOW DO YOU DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN SOMETHING THAT’S GOING TO BE SUSTAINED VERSUS A BLIP ON THE RADAR? YOU’VE TALKED ABOUT BEING NIMBLE, BUT IS THERE A DANGER TO JUMPING TOO QUICKLY?

Too fast or too slow? When the low-fat and low-carb trends came along, by the time [companies] got a product to market, the trend had come and gone. One fascinating experience was when I was doing a talk for Reader’s Digest’s food and entertainment magazines on the same day Lehman Brothers went down and the stock market crashed. The focus of the conference quickly became the economic downturn, comfort food, and the fact that people would focus on more grocery shopping and less time in restaurants. That was the day that Campbell’s Soup was the only stock that went up in value. The buzz around the room was that we, as a food industry, are not very fast or agile to respond to these fast-paced trends.

THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN IN 2008—HOW HAVE YOU SEEN THINGS CHANGE SINCE THEN?

I still worry. How far has the industry come along? Well, a little bit. To a large degree, many consumer food companies still have not made much progress. Fads have a shorter lifespan, trends have a shorter lifespan, consumers have a shorter attention span. While you might have had longevity of three to six to 12 months with a particular type of food, is that collapsing now? We’re no longer in a world in which we can sit back and have a one-year planning cycle.

YOU TALK A LOT ABOUT MOBILE TECHNOLOGY. EVERYONE SEEMS TO BE DOING EVERYTHING WITH THEIR PHONES, BUT HOW CAN A COMPANY REALLY LEVERAGE MOBILE?

Think big, start small, scale fast. If you think big and look five years out—you’re, say, an olive oil company—the bottle is going to be intelligent. It’s probably going to have a chip built into it. You’ll 
probably have some type of relationship, either direct or indirect, with the consumer. That’s a given.

HOW WILL A CHIP ON A LABEL OR BOTTLE HELP THE 
COMPANY GET TO KNOW THE CONSUMER?

The consumer might have liked the company on Facebook—maybe there was a very effective ad on Facebook and they have agreed to share their information. That establishes the relationship. When [the consumer] walks into the store, their mobile device has that 
relationship embedded in it and the product with the active 
packaging chip in it recognizes that they’re near and starts running a commercial on an LED screen while they’re walking into the store. It might say something such as, “You’ve liked this before, so here’s a coupon that we’ll zip to your mobile device.”

That kind of freaks me out.

I’m 56 and that kind of freaks me out, too. My son—he’s 20—is in a different world. He views contractual relationships in a very 
different way. Five years, 10 years from now, he’s going to have more of a budget for spending, and will he accept that idea of zipping a coupon to him? I think he will.

There’s a stat I dragged out years ago—the average consumer scans 12 feet of shelf space per second. Think about that. You have very little time to grab their attention, so you’ve got to experiment quickly with new ways of putting [your product] in front of them.

Brandon Fox is the food and drink editor of Style Weekly in Richmond, Virginia. Her work has also appeared in The Local Palate and the Washington Post.

Is The Sharing Economy About To Stop Sharing?

By Vikram Mansharamani

Today’s sharing economy has a cutting edge feel to it. It screams “innovation” and disruption. It’s seems futuristic.  We’re living in a world where the most valuable media company — Facebook — produces no content; the world’s biggest taxi company — Uber — owns no vehicles, and the world’s most valuable hospitality company — Airbnb — owns no hotels.

Network

Networks, it seems, are more valuable than the services they facilitate. And in some ways, this makes sense. They are enabling stranded assets liked parked cars or empty beds to be economically productive. The networks are valuable precisely because they connect those with needs and those who can help fulfill them.

There’s reason to believe, though, that the so-called “sharing economy” is a fleeting moment in economic history. Digital giants and upstarts alike are realizing that networks can be fickle, while ownership of and control over the services they facilitate hold the key to a sustainable advantage and long term profits.

Take transportation, for example. Uber is famous for being a giant, car-less taxi company, preferring to let its drivers supply the vehicles. In doing so, though, it has to give them a significant cut. What if it didn’t have to pay for drivers at all? That’s the promise of driverless cars.

As Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick told a tech conference in 2014, the service is more expensive than it should be “because you’re not just paying for the car — you’re paying for the other dude in the car. When there’s no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle.”

What happens to car demand in a world where it’s cheaper to take an Uber than own a car? Sure, it might shrink a bit as cars are more heavily utilized and meet more driving needs. But the more interesting fact may be that the network suddenly owns all the cars.

Last year, Uber launched a lab in Pittsburgh to facilitate the development of autonomous car technology. While Uber may be a car-less taxi company today, it has its sights on owning all the cars in the future.

It’s no surprise, then, that GM recently announced a $500 million investment in Uber’s main rival Lyft, building a network-manufacturer partnership that could compete with the prospect of a vertically integrated Uber. As NPR reported, “In the short-term, GM will rent cars to drivers. In the long-term, GM will build a self-driving fleet in which cars are owned by a company — not bought by individual consumers.” Meanwhile, Google plans on spinning off its driverless car unit into a standalone business later this year.

Uber

The “sharing economy” may eventually morph into the “platform owns everything” economy. Just consider what’s going on in the entertainment sector. Netflix, which has grown rapidly by connecting other people’s content to end users, is now focused on producing its own original content. In 2016, the company plans to produce 600 hours of original programming. Amazon is now producing original shows as well, and doing so quite well. Amazon’s “Mozart in the Jungle” recently won two Golden Globe Awards. At one point in early January, the top 5 TV shows, according to ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, were produced by either Netflix or Amazon.

While Facebook has not announced plans to produce news (which is not particularly lucrative anyway), it is getting publishers to host their content with them. Much more consequential, however, is its approach to virtual reality. Facebook bought Oculus in 2014…and drum roll please… Oculus has a studio of its own—Oculus Story Studio—which is funding original content. If the future of visual media is in VR, then Facebook will be one of its earliest producers.

Might Airbnb someday find itself wanting to scoop up some property of its own? It’s too soon to tell, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they did. One thing seems clear: we can’t assume that network owners will be content until they have control.

The Stock Market: What Should You Do Now?

by Terry Savage

The stock market is just plain scary these days.  What should you do when market gyrations make headlines?  The simple answer is:  Do Nothing! 

Never make investment decisions based on emotion. And the two most dangerous emotions are running rampant right now:  Fear and Greed.  The only way to overcome them is to have a sensible investment plan – and stick to it.

That’s the kind of discipline that comes from experience. And experience is an expensive teacher.  So if you can’t do it on your own, this is the time you’ll appreciate having a financial advisor.  There are three key ingredients involved in disciplined investing:

1.   You Need Perspective.   All historical context seems to fly out the window when markets go wild.  You’re influenced not only by emotion, but by your recent investment experiences. 

Right now, those experiences are in conflict.  You remember the three years in a row of double-digit gains in 2012, 2013, and 2014.  (Last year was basically flat.)  But you also remember the market crash of 2008-09, which literally cut market averages almost in half, wiping out your previous gains. 

And now you search frantically for a clue as to whether this is just a temporary decline – or the beginning of another bear market. No one can give you that answer definitively — in advance!

Continue reading The Stock Market: What Should You Do Now?