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Posts Tagged ‘Financial Services’

Didn’t you plan to be 55?

In aging, behavior, children, culture, domestic life, life, love, women on July 18, 2012 at 12:12 am
Universal Life Insurance Company

Universal Life Insurance Company (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

Actually, no, I told him.

He’s the man who sells us our insurance and Jose and I were in his office yesterday morning pricing life insurance. Automatically seeking the least expensive price category, I looked at “elite preferred non-tobacco” — i.e. really healthy people!

It was marked N/A. Because we’re already too old.

Holy shit.

Frankly, I’d never considered pricing life insurance, but that’s why I married a man whose most common phrase is: “Be careful.”

I never planned much of anything, I realized, when asked.

Which shocked me into writing this post…

From the age of about 12, I wanted to become a journalist, and ideally a foreign correspondent. I knew I never wanted to have kids. I figured I might get married eventually, but it was never anything I thought much about or fantasized over; I’ve now done it twice.

But planning?

Hmmm, not so much. I knew I wanted to move to New York for work, but did not know exactly how that would happen. I did start writing for major American publications in my mid-20s, freelance, to start building some contacts. I even interviewed for a staff job at the Miami Herald in my late 20s. But actually leaving everything behind?

I ended up meeting an American medical student in Montreal, fell in love, got a green card through my American mom, and crossed the border to follow him, for good. I still had no definite agenda beyond finding work in my field and eventually, as I did, marrying him.

I would say, truthfully, I’ve spent a lot of my time and energy preparing for these goals:

– I studied French and Spanish throughout university to gain fluency

– I started freelancing before I was 20, so I learned a lot, quickly, about my industry and made contacts within it

– I knew I wanted to write a few books, so I took workshops and attended conferences which taught me how to write a proposal and find an agent

So why haven’t I been more directed in plotting a specific direction and set of coordinates for getting there quickly and efficiently?

I’ve always had self-confidence and have bounced back from some very rough times emotionally, so have always (correctly) assumed whatever shit showed up, I’d cope somehow.

I have good skills, and a variety of them.

I have savings.

I’m pretty smart.

I don’t take drugs or drink to excess, which could seriously cloud my judgement or decision-making.

I’ve also been faced with some serious headwinds that impeded my younger/idealistic assumptions about what I’d be certain to achieve professionally: three recessions since 1989; 24,000 journalists fired in 2008; having to re-start my career at 30 (i.e. losing the first eight years’ hard work and social capital when I left Canada).

And being fired from a few jobs also killed some of my drive. It’s painful and humiliating and every time it happened I lost a little more appetite for climbing back into that harness with a clear action plan ahead of me. Having my first marriage end within two years also shook my sense of certainty about planning for the future.

But, if I look back over my career and life, I’ve achieved pretty much everything I’d hoped for without a tick-the-box meticulousness.

Especially living in an affluent part of the gogogogogogo United States, I see a lot of people making themselves (and their kids) crazy when they fail to achieve their specific goals — getting into X college or Y company, not earning as much as they’d expected to by 25 or 30. I think that attitude adds tremendous stress, unnecessarily.

I always knew the broad outlines of what I most wanted:

interesting, well-paid work

intellectual challenge

good health

a loving and loyal partner

dear friends

frequent travel

a safe and attractive place to live

enough disposable income for cashmere, decent wine, tickets to the ballet occasionally

My mother, now in a nursing home at 76, inherited enough money in her 40s that she never had to take or keep a job. So she traveled the world alone for years. She never taught me the normal tools: how to dress, wear make-up, stay employed, find and nurture a husband, balance a checkbook. Nor did my Dad, a celebrated film-maker, still world traveling and kicking ass at a healthy 83.

They’re fun and interesting people, but normal and conventional life issues like wills, insurance, planning for the future  (beyond, crucially, save money and stay healthy), just weren’t part of our conversations.

So, did I plan to be 55?

Hell, no more than I planned to be 17 or 29 or 37 or 42.

Are you someone who does a lot of planning?

How does that affect your life?

Wanna Hear What I Really Think? Got $6,000?

In business, Crime, Media on May 13, 2010 at 3:06 pm
Money

Image by AMagill via Flickr

So much for “free” speech.

Just got off the phone with an agent who sells “E and O” — errors and omissions insurance — as I start to figure out how to protect my ass(ets) as a writer. He’s sending me several applications, one of which, the multimedia version, is really long. Of course it is!

The joy of “independent writing”? Anyone can sue us anytime. The latest darling of the suit-happy are SLAPP suits — Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. Which means, unless you work on staff for a Big Media Company (with in-house staff attorneys whose highly-paid job it is to protect you and, more importantly, your employer) you’re toast, baby.

More and more, writers are strong-armed into signing contracts that leave us holding the bag in case someone we cover sues the media outlet for whom we’ve done the — freelance — work.

There’s no better way to make sure we write about puppies and kittens and rainbows than knowing one false move can mean our IRAs are going to get garnisheed in a settlement. The saber-rattling by those with very deep pockets – hmmmm, the wealthy and powerful? — means many of us slap duct tape over our mouths every morning, no matter what madness and malfeasance we discover.

“Independence” is a relative term.

One lawyer I spoke to, knowing the writing life, (beyond lucrative TV and film), delicately inquired, “Do you have any assets?” The answer, having worked long and hard and been really disciplined about driving clapped-out old cars and wearing (mostly) consignment shop shoes is “Yes.” I save 15 percent of my income every year, even when that income is so small I think: “Why bother?”

And, this being the U.S, a nuisance lawsuit is both nauseating and much more probable than I’d like.

Suiting up, then, is quite the challenge, requiring the (paid) services and advice and expertise of my accountant (becoming a company); an attorney (making sure it’s all done properly) and an insurance agent. Unlike car or home insurance, I can’t cough up that dough each month — it’s one lump sum, on my income, a fortune. There is cheaper insurance but — funny thing!– it’s capped at a much lower amount.

Why should you care?

Every day, there are posts I don’t write — or write and don’t publish — because, who needs it? Like many of my colleagues, I’ve got other things to worry about without some $$$$$-mad aggrieved plaintiff ruining my life. That costs you, dear readers, because there’s all sorts of (interesting) stuff it simply isn’t worth mentioning, for fear of such a suit. I know, personally, other independent writers backing away slowly, if regretfully, from smart, incisive, tough, investigative work for this very reason.

Believe it or not, not every writer wants to focus on all-fluff-all the time. But without a safety net, you can’t safely leap too far.

I’m thinking of setting up a Paypal account — you really want my unvarnished opinions? Help me speak truth to power, and not lose my home/assets/savings in the process.

Re-Thinking Business: Multicultural And Moral

In behavior, business on January 11, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Thinking about business in a new way? Radical.

Yesterday’s New York Times looked at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, whose dean Roger Martin thinks MBAs need to think differently about the world.

A DECADE ago, Roger Martin, the new dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, had an epiphany. The leadership at his son’s elementary school had asked him to meet with its retiring principal to figure out how it could replicate her success.

He discovered that the principal thrived by thinking through clashing priorities and potential options, rather than hewing to any pre-planned strategy — the same approach taken by the managing partner of a successful international law firm in town.

“The ‘Eureka’ moment was when I could draw a data point between a hotshot, investment bank-oriented star lawyer and an elementary school principal,” Mr. Martin recalls. “I thought: ‘Holy smokes. In completely different situations, these people are thinking in very similar ways, and there may be something special about this pattern of thinking.’ ”

That insight led Mr. Martin to begin advocating what was then a radical idea in business education: that students needed to learn how to think critically and creatively every bit as much as they needed to learn finance or accounting. More specifically, they needed to learn how to approach problems from many perspectives and to combine various approaches to find innovative solutions.

Seems obvious to me that, in a global economy, anyone hoping to manage or sell or influence others needs to appreciate how differently we view the world, and behave accordingly. In the most simplistic of terms, a negotiation between natives of two different countries, however highly educated, can quickly derail when underlying assumptions or cultural norms and values clash.

What struck me about this story — talk about cultural differences — was the piece’s final quote:

Mr. Martin agrees that the problems that led to the crisis are bigger than business schools alone can address. But he’s still optimistic. “The vast majority of our students want to be a positive influence on the world,” he says. “And if you give them ways of thinking that help them with these complicated dilemmas, they’ll make choices that are in some sense more worthy and have a higher moral quality.”

The very idea of a business person stopping to consider any moral quality is appealing to me, if a little quixotic. It’s all about profit, growth, earnings. The idea now that CEOs earn more than 200 times the wages of their lowest-paid employees is banal. As Yale School of Management professor Bruce Judson, author of a new book, said recently on the Leonard Lopate show, 20 years ago any CEO would be ashamed by that discrepancy; today s/he would be ashamed if this were not the case.

Contrast this with the Times’ piece about the — ho-um, here we go again — obscene banking bonuses being handed out right now. The average wage, before a six, seven or eight-figure bonus for Goldman Sachs employees is $595,000.

Though Wall Street bankers and traders earn six-figure base salaries, they generally receive most of their pay as a bonus based on the previous year’s performance. While average bonuses are expected to hover around half a million dollars, they will not be evenly distributed. Senior banking executives and top Wall Street producers expect to reap millions. Last year, the big winners were bond and currency traders, as well as investment bankers specializing in health care.

Even some industry veterans warn that such paydays could further tarnish the financial industry’s sullied reputation. John S. Reed, a founder of Citigroup, said Wall Street would not fully regain the public’s trust until banks scaled back bonuses for good — something that, to many, seems a distant prospect.

“There is nothing I’ve seen that gives me the slightest feeling that these people have learned anything from the crisis,” Mr. Reed said. “They just don’t get it. They are off in a different world.”

Where does morality fit here?

Women Want More — New Global Survey/Book Finds Many Marketers Clueless

In business, women on November 3, 2009 at 7:46 am
The Proposition or Man Offering a Woman Money

Honey, what can I get you? Image via Wikipedia

There is upheaval in the workplace, radical change in the marketplace and a struggle for influence in govermment and society as a whole. It is a revolution of, by and for women — driven by a desire for more: for ongoing education, better ways to nurture themselves and their families, increased success as executives and entrepreneurs, higher earnings and better ways to manage and leverage their accumulated wealth.

So begins a fascinating new book, “Women Want More: How to Capture Your Share of the World’s Largest, Fastest-Growing Market” by Michael J. Silverstein and Kate Sayre, of the Boston Consulting Group.

It is a revolution of dissatisfaction in which women are using their checkbooks to vote no on large sectors of the economy, including financial services, consumer electronics, consumer durables and healthcare…Too many companies continue to make poorly conceived products, offer services that take up way too much of women’s precious time and serve up outdated marketing narratives that portray women as stereotypes.

According to the authors, women control $20 trillion of consumer spending — likely to climb to $28 trillion in the next few years. Yet only a very few companies, some familiar to Americans like Gerber and Banana Republic, really get women, they argue. These companies, they say, follow the four R’s:

They recognize the value of women consumers and research their needs, studying carefully how their product or service is consumed. Whatever feedback they get, they respond, and refine their offerings.

The worst offenders, (not surprisingly to any woman who’s ever used them) in order:

Investments, cars, banking, life insurance, physicians, car insurance, work clothes, hospitals, personal computers and lodging. I can certainly vouch personally for the first two categories. In both instances, ready to hand over significant sums of hard-won, carefully-saved cash, I was treated like a very slow three-year-old, in both instances by male salesmen. The first, trying to sell me investment products, I blew off. The second, a car salesman who started explaining the car’s features to my boyfriend instead of me, didn’t deter me from buying the vehicle, but, really, what a moron. I enjoyed watching his reaction when I paid cash.

Like men, women work hard for their money. Unlike some men, though — often also juggling what sociologist Arlie Hochschild called “the second shift” of childcare, eldercare and/or housework — they face severely limited time and energy.

As a consequence, they’re short of patience and hungry for understanding and respect  for these severe limits on their energies; anyone hoping to part them from their cash needs to get it. But they don’t. Seems pretty basic to me, but apparently few businesses still  understand these essential drivers of female consumption — or resistance to the most seductive and costly of advertising or marketing campaigns — whether in Calcutta, Beijing or Orlando.

I went to Home Depot last weekend, dreading the whole thing. I wanted to get in and out, fast. A lively, fun, super-competent sales associate named Marilyn, a woman my age, sped me through the aisles within minutes, helping me locate and buy hardware, light bulbs, lumber, a saw, hinges. I was delighted. I was also stunned. When was the last time anyone gave you such efficient, knowledgeable and friendly service?

This book, which isn’t a quick read but packed with interesting data for anyone interested in how and where women around the world spend their money,  is based on a survey of 12,000 women in more than 40 geographic areas, who were willing to answer a staggering 120 questions. Women everywhere told the researchers they’re overwhelmed, tired and worried about money; managing household finances was the top challenge for 48 percent of respondents, and not enough time, said 45 percent.

Time is the most important lever that suppliers can use to win women over to their products and services. If they can reduce the time it takes to buy or use a product — while still delivering the other necessary benefits — they can change from being an inflicter of pain and frustration to being a provider of leverage and convenience.

What makes women extremely happy? Pets — 42 percent. Sex — 27 percent. Food — 19 percent.

Check out the survey here.

Single Women Twice As Likely To Buy Property Than Men. The New Big M — Mortgage!

In business, Money, women on November 2, 2009 at 10:16 am
SAN RAFAEL, CA - MAY 17:  Real estate agents a...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

A woman’s life can traditionally be expressed by a series of life-changing Ms: menstruation, matriculation, marriage, motherhood, each of which carries its own mythology and rituals. There’s a much bigger M, mortgage.

For me — a divorcee without kids — having a mortgage is by far the the most momentous M of all. In the craziest of times, it’s kept me, literally, grounded, forcing me to sit still and think through all my options. If you’re lucky and careful, buying and owning your own home can provide financial and emotional security. It has for me, even with the intervening loss of several well-paid staff jobs and a high-earning husband with whom I bought the place. Today my current partner and I are applying for a new mortgage. I’m more nervous and hopeful than on my wedding day. Husbands can ( and do) come and go, but home? I hope not!

Like many women, I’m risk-averse with my money, and I hate moving, so buying a home was a good choice for me. It’s a one-bedroom  apartment with a spectacular, unimpeded view of the Hudson River that has never changed in the 20 years since I bought it with my ex-husband. He’s long gone but I’m still paying our shared mortgage; today I dropped off the pile of paperwork I hope will get me and my current partner a new mortgage, at a rate more than 2.5 percent lower than our current one.

As someone who loathes invasions of privacy, bureaucracy and fiddly detail, it’s been an eye-opening experience. Last time, I simply played ostrich and let the husband handle every single bit of it. Not smart. Not mature. The night he walked out of our apartment, and our marriage,  I didn’t even know which bank held our mortgage.

This time is different, although the essential problem of needing someone as a co-borrower remains the same — my writing income is a rollercoaster, while my sweetie has a steady full-time job. We now know each other’s FICO scores and have scrutinized the details of each other’s every asset and liability. Talk about getting naked.  Luckily, the apartment has gained in value and I never borrowed against it, even in the leanest of times. Ironically, not having been in a great position to borrow — i.e. freelance and single — kept me out of home-as-piggy-bank trouble.

Women are buying homes more than men, according to the National Association of Realtors:

“Interestingly, single female buyers accounted for nearly twice as large a share as single male buyers for both first-time buyers (24 and 12 percent) and repeat buyers (17 and 9 percent).

Twenty percent of recent home buyers were single females, and 10 percent were single males.

More women (15.5 million) than men (11.8 million) lived alone. Among these, women were more likely than men to own their homes (56% vs. 47%).”

If you’re female, do you own your home alone? Are you happy with that choice?

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