Posts By: Michael Scott

Stay Tech Safe

Information concept: Opened Padlock on digital background

Text from a friend on July 14, 2015…..

Disastrous hacker situation. The virus got through over the weekend. Killed every single file and photo on my hard drive. All tax files, PowerPoint presentations, everything. Unfortunately, I was not backed up in the cloud.”

 With the continued acceleration of technology, scenarios like this are occurring at an alarming rate. Keeping our computers and mobile devices secure against unwanted intrusions can be a daunting task. It requires vigilance and a bit of savvy to steer clear of attacks that threaten your digital landscape.

If you find yourself ignorant of the threats we face on a daily basis, then the book Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable And What We Can Do About It will get you up to speed in a hurry. Written by global security expert Marc Goodman, the accounts he shares on the proliferation of nefarious digital acts will frighten you into wanting to take proactive security measures to protect your wares. It offers a sobering look at the world of cybercrime and how it is affecting our lives.

By way of example, credit card fraud is one of the most widely feared risks that consumers face. Yet it’s been comical watching the FinTech community  respond to these concerns. I talk about this at length in a blog post that I wrote a few months ago. Sadly, despite advancements in new chip technologies for credit cards, we are all still vulnerable to hacks. And contrary to popular belief, most of these intrusions occur through in-person point-of-sale transactions for one blindingly obvious reason; the damn credit card number is still on the front of a card. Why not embed it into the strip so that when you hand it to a restaurant server, they can’t pull out a pen and write your number down? Kind of defeats the purpose of that new security chip, huh?

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The Wu Wei of Responsible Budgeting

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 The New Year has arrived, and it promises untold opportunities for wealth-building! However, tapping into the storehouse of financial gain involves a responsible approach to budgeting. It requires a thorough assessment of how your inflow and outflow of money should ideally align. Most importantly, it demands a commitment to establish sound money practices; something  that is usually not high on our priority list.

Whenever I hear the word budget, it conjures up thoughts of an arduous and time-consuming process. Much of this is due to the fact that ‘money’ is imbued with all sorts of emotions and, at times, uncomfortable feelings.

In the Taoist tradition which I closely follow, there is a Chinese concept called ‘Wu Wei’ (pronounced ooooh way) that offers a poignant perspective in our quest for sound money management. It essentially means ‘non-doing’ or ‘effortless action’, a life course that is devoid of struggle or excessive effort. With practice, it enables an unconscious mental state which allows our actions to flow with the natural rhythms of life.

Below are three foundational pillars which embody the Wu Wei of budgeting responsibly. When pursued with awareness and small doses of focus, they can lead to higher levels of equilibrium between what we earn and what we spend.

Daily Practice

Ensuing from the simple practice of examining your budget are unconscious habits that make managing your money just like breathing. The key here is practice, engaging in this ritual on a regular basis to foster improvement. By way of example, an element of all championship sports teams is their commitment to practice, the absence of which would lead to mediocrity. Similarly, maintaining an effective budget involves preparation and looking at one’s history while also anticipating what’s ahead.

14 Predictions to Monitor in 2016

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With 2015  rapidly coming to a close, we are confronted with figuring out what to expect for 2016. Quite frankly, that’s anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, here are a few thoughts about what I’m seeing on my radar screen.

Don’t laugh. I know that half of them will result in a swing and a miss. But what the heck, it’s fun to trying to predict things in a world that continues to be wildly random and wholly unpredictable!

1. Massive Upheaval and Disruption. My sense tells me that we are on the brink of a major disruption of the prevailing world order. I predict that the U.S. will take it on the chin, as will China and Russia. Unprecedented levels of social  and economic upheaval will take place as the global milieu prepares for a reset. Amidst the rubble, look for Germany to advance in prominence as the de facto leader on the world stage.

2. The Trump Effect. Mark my words.  Look for The Donald to drop out of the Presidential race in the first quarter of the year when allegations surface that he is a Republican Party shill, solely in it to shake up the prevailing political establishment. Ted Cruz becomes the GOP nominee and, along with his running mate Rand Paul, wins in a landslide victory over Hillary Clinton.

China’s Alibaba: Should Amazon, eBay and Overstock Worry?

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 I’ve long been fascinated by what’s happening in the world of international commerce. My intrigue has grown considerably over the past week after a lunch with two new friends from China. Over dumplings, a spicy chicken dish and cabbage, we explored a cornucopia of topics from the future of Big Data to the emergence of the messaging platform WeChat. But the biggest discussion topic was the explosive success of a global e-commerce enterprise in China that few westerners have even heard of……

Alibaba.

Founded in 1999 during a time when less than 1% of China’s population was online, Alibaba has minted itself as the world’s largest e-commerce company with a customer base that exceeds that of Amazon. Back in 2014, the company made history by raising $25 billion – reputedly the largest IPO ever – exceeding that of Google, Facebook and Twitter combined!

Now comes word out of China that Alibaba endeavors to significantly expand its footprint worldwide after a stunning set of accomplishments in their home country. According to the book ‘Alibaba’s World: How A Remarkable Chinese Company Is Changing The Face Of Global Business’, the company currently has approximately 300 million customers, while facilitating over 80% of China’s e-commerce transactions. And this is in a country where per-capita income averages $6,800 per year, and only a quarter of their population has ever ventured into the world of online shopping.

Weathering Retail Sales

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Here in Denver, we were recently socked in by a winter storm for about 24 hours. It made for messy conditions for the morning and evening commutes. Meanwhile, the Colorado mountain communities were full of glee, reveling in snow powder that attracts ski and snowboard business.

As with ski resorts, it’s no secret among retailers that weather can have a profound effect on sales. Seasonal changes – as well as daily and weekly fluctuations – must be accounted for when making consumer sales projections. These ebbs and flows not only impact the type of items being sold, but also the manner in which consumers shop. For brick and mortar retailers, the good weather generally fuels business, generating an increase in foot traffic which leads to an uptick in sales. But inclement weather? Well, the results can be mixed.

 ‘Tis The Season To Be Jolly (for Retailers)

The first phase of the holiday season is now behind us, and it appears that shoppers were out in big numbers, according to the latest retail data from the National Retail Federation.

But warmer-than-normal weather patterns wreaked havoc for some stores who were hoping to capitalize on this the busiest shopping season of the year. A report from data analytics firm Planalytics shows that U.S. stores lost $185 million in November sales. This slide is largely attributed to an unusually warm weather pattern in the Midwest and along the East Coast. So far, this trend has continued into December, with outerwear sales plummeting over 30% in cities like Boston, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia.

Can Free Markets Repair a Broken Healthcare System?

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As a health services administration graduate student at the University of San Francisco in 2006, I felt like a lone voice among my colleagues in championing a free market healthcare system. Despite the release that same year of  Redefining Health Care: Creating Value-Based Competition On Results - a book by noted Harvard professor Michael Porter – the overall tenor and conversation around a competitive healthcare marketplace resembled the noise of crickets in the countryside.

Four years later, the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, was signed into law by President Barack Obama. Unsurprisingly since that landmark legislation, the U.S. healthcare system has continued to spiral out of control. And as of this writing, amid recent news of crumbling state healthcare exchanges and word of the largest insurer’s anticipated exit from the program, Obamacare is arguably on life support. This has led to calls on the part of a small but vocal lobby to discard this failing model and pursue instead a fresh set of free market healthcare strategies.

A friend of mine who was frustrated by the lack of affordable options, turned me on to TruPrice, a startup firm seeking to develop a real alternative to the current healthcare crisis. Founder and President Mark Gantner believes that the current ACA model is unsustainable and that without alternatives, it will result in louder calls for a single payer system. In his view, this represents a significant constitutional threat; one that has the potential to erode the basis of personal freedoms upon which this country was founded.