Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Phone’s Ringing. Anyone Know How to Work It?

Last week’s post, Time for a Technology Timeout? prompted a fair amount of feedback. Not everyone agreed with us, but I was pleased to learn I’m not the only one who takes a weekly “tech fast.”

Tim Voorhees, Principal Partner at the Costa Mesa, California-based estate planning firm Matsen Voorhees Mintz LLP told me he puts away his phone and computer from sundown on Saturday until sundown on Sunday.  “People may wonder if I am an orthodox [religious observer], but there is wisdom in the 4th Commandment,” quipped Voorhees. 
Tom Greve, Business Development Manager at B2B media company EMS World wondered: “Are we losing the art of conversation since young professionals can't keep their head up long enough to look you in the eye?”

Research suggests the trend isn’t likely to reverse any time soon (more on that in a minute). “Observe a group of teens or Tweens at the mall and every one of them has a phone in their hand, “lamented Greve. “At all times, they fear they might miss a text or a tweet or a snapchat etc. These are tomorrow's leaders and it scares me a bit.”

According to the GfK MRI Fall 2016 Survey of the American Consumer® , more than half of the 24,000 adults surveyed (52%) live in households that have cellphones but, no landline telephones—twice as many as in 2010.

As you might expect, researchers Millennials (born from 1977 to 1994) most likely to be living in cellphone-only households-- 71 percent, up from 47 percent in 2010. But, cellphone-only homes are increasingly common among all age groups:

·         More than half (55%) of homes headed by Generation Xers (those born 1965 to 1976) are cellphone-only, the report said.
·         40 percent of households headed by Boomers (born 1946 to 1964) are now cellphone only.
·         Even for senior citizens (age 65+) cellphone-only households quadrupled over the past six years, to 23 from 6 percent in 2010.
Speaking of polls, *** Don’t forget to take our latest InstaPoll about podcasting. See how you stack up to your peers with just one question.

Your clients—and children of clients—are increasingly on the go and using mobile devices not only to converse, but to access information and resources about their finances. Of course you want to make your website, blog, newsletter and other resources mobile responsive, but you can’t forget about the most effective communication channel of all—face to face.
Cecil Nazareth, CPA, principal of Nazareth Partners and a professor of accounting and finance at Fordham University is the father of two 20-somethings. He is also surrounded by Millennials at work and on campus. “Every student, client or person I interact with--I want to see them face to face,” said Nazareth. Even in today’s tech-dominated era, Nazareth said, “You need to look people in the eyes. What are their issues? What are their pain points? What are they uncomfortable with? It’s much more comfortable for most people when you’re face to face.”

Nazareth is a specialist in foreign bank account reporting. “It’s very complex with lots of sensitive information,” he said. “They often have issues. They’re not sure if they’ve complied with the law. You want to meet them in person and see what guidance you can give them in an environment that makes them comfortable talking and sharing information with you.”

Many professionals still believe that face to face conversation cannot be replicated via phone calls, emails or Skype. “It’s not just about the numbers,” said Nazareth. “You want to see people in person and see if they have integrity. You want to make sure they’re genuine and complying with the law.” That’s not a hang-up. That’s good business.
Tell us what you think.


TAGS: GfK MRI, Tom Greve, Tim Voorhees, Cecil Nazareth, cellphone only households

Monday, January 23, 2017

Time for a Technology Time-Out?

Lost amid the inauguration coverage, the anti-Trump demonstrations and the NFL conference finals, was the death of a young tech visionary named Levi Felix.  Just 32, Felix succumbed to complications from a brain tumor. Felix’s name may not ring a bell, but you are probably familiar with Digital Detox, the organization he co-founded to help people of all ages unplug from the grid and reconnect with each other and the real world. 

A self-described geek (“not a Luddite” he’d argue), Felix once lived the tech entrepreneur lifestyle—70 hour workweeks, guzzling Mountain Dew, always-connected, pulling all-nighters at the office and sleeping with a laptop under his pillow. That was until he was hospitalized for an exhaustion-induced esophageal tear and decided to change his life. “I love that technology connects us and is taking our civilization to the next level,” Felix told the New York Times in a 2012 interview, but we have to learn how to use it and not have it use us.”

Again, Felix didn’t turn his back on the tech world after his awakening. He simply felt that regardless of one’s age, we should be taking more time to reflect and experience what we’re doing instead of constantly sharing it, posting it, tweeting or pinning it. He also felt we should spend more time looking at each other’s faces, rather than our screens.
A recent Pew Internet study found that one third of Americans prefer texting to talking, and an international Time Magazine poll found these disturbing signs of tech addiction:

·         84 percent of respondents said that they could not go a single day without their cellphones.
·         50 percent of Americans sleep with their phone next to them like a teddy bear or a spouse.
·         20 percent of respondents check their phone every 10 minutes.

Houston. We have a problem here. As I’ve mentioned several times in this blog, I take a 24-hour “tech fast” every almost weekend from mid-day Saturday to mid-day Sunday. It’s not that hard, and the world hasn’t come to an end once during my weekly tech purges.

As (human) columnist Alexa O’Brien opined last week about artificial intelligence, Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and other on-demand personal digital assistants could be making us dumber as they get smarter. 
Through big data collection and analytics, these AI assistants “will come to know us in ways we can’t even know ourselves,” wrote O’Brien. “The platform offers endless choices, virtual connections and access to a world of information, but what this major-domo of the ‘internet of things’ may deliver is reductive banter, mindless consumerism and a universe of trivia.

*** Don’t forget to take our latest InstaPoll about podcasting. See how you stack up to your peers with just one question.

High performing companies consider technology a strategy rather than a department. For high-performing individuals, our contention is that technology should be considered a tool, not a lifestyle. Tell us what you think.

TAGS: Levi Felix, Alexa, Siri, artificial intelligence, Digital Detox, unplugging from technology


Monday, January 16, 2017

Are Sneakers the Next Alternative Asset Class?

Heat, deadstock, NIB’s and beaters. If your teenage sons or grandsons are throwing around this slang and avoiding eye contact with you, don’t be alarmed. They’re not referring to drugs, cults or punk rock groups. Most likely, they’re checking out your shoes.

Your shoe game (or lack thereof) confers the same kind of social status with younger Millennials and Gen Z that a Corvette, Camaro or Mustang did a generation ago. Sound ridiculous? Well, pairs of limited edition sneaks are going for upwards of $20,000 this week. More on that in a minute.

*** Don’t forget to take our latest InstaPoll about podcasting. See how you stack up to your peers.

As Saturday’s New York Times explained in detail, resellers of limited edition collectible sneakers generate $1.5 billion worth of sales in the U.S. alone. Much of that total is driven by a legal underground army of re-sellers called “sneakerheads” who camp out overnight or who create fast-bidding software programs (“bots”) to snag new releases of rare models from big sneaker brands. Since many of those high end “kicks” are sold in limited quantities, many sneakerheads quickly resell those shoes on eBay or reseller sites for a substantial profit. Rather than fighting the re-sellers, the major shoe brands have learned to use sneakerheads to create a buzz around their pre-release marketing strategies.

There’s even a stock exchange for sneakers called StockX co-founded by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Josh Luber, where shoe prices rise and fall like shares of publicly traded companies.
In fact, if you visit Stock X, you’ll see a scrolling ticker with abbreviated shoe model acronyms followed by dollar signs…sound familiar? We’ll get to the Cleveland connection in just a minute, but note that Bloomberg devoted an entire podcast last month to the subject--What Sneakers Can Tell You About How Financial Markets Work.

What’s more, sites like Kicksworth.com and SHOEFAX.com let you check prices or get appraisals and verify that a pair of vintage sneaks you’re interested in are actually legit. It’s just a matter of time before the government creates a FINRA or SEC to regulate the sneaker reseller market.

Still think sneaker re-selling is the purview of nerdy adolescents and under-employed 20-somethings still living with their parents. Consider this: Friday, Nike released a total of 23 pairs of Lebron (James) 14s along with another 23 pairs of the Lebron signature shoes from the NBA superstar’s rookie season. Who cares? Turns on plenty of folks do.

When the bidding war for these coveted limited edition kicks ends on Thursday, it will cost you an estimated $3,000 to $25,000 PER PAIR to get a piece of the sneaker world’s latest “initial public offering.”

I have two teenage sons who play sports video games and fantasy football leagues with as much gusto as they play on the real-life field and court. My 13 year-old Michael is especially into the sneaker reselling game. MB.Soles as he’s known in the Instagram world is on the younger side of teen/young adult male target demographic that athletic shoe companies covet. Is he obsessed? Perhaps, but he’s gaining shrewd negotiation skills, doing complex math on the fly, sweating out his receivables and learning to incorporate the latest tidbits of information into his pricing methodology. MB's also built a larger Instagram following than many companies have and he’s learned some hard lessons about overpaying, under-bidding and doing business with strangers from all corners of the map (i.e. his footwear counterparties). If nothing else, my son is learning the real value of money by calculating how many hours of yard work it will take him to earn enough to bid on a $175 pair of Air Jordan 1 high tops.

As long as he’s not getting ripped off—or ripping people off—and keeping his grades up, then the entrepreneurial lessons that he’s learning from his hobby should last him a lifetime.


Next time you see a teenage boy staring at your feet, don’t be insulted by his lack of eye contact. He’s probably sizing you up for a sales pitch or offering you a chance to get in on the next sneaker-IPO. You might want to pay attention.

Our blog has more as does the FREE Resources page of our website.

Tags: Sneakerheads, StockX, sneakers as investment, young entrepreneurs, Lebron James, Josh Luber, Kicksworth, Shoefax, Michael Berkowitz

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Why I Jumped Out of a Plane (and other Calculated Risks)

Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire founder of Facebook once observed: “In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” Risk taking seems to have worked out pretty well for Zuck….and for many of you.
Most of you reading this post are entrepreneurs, so by nature you’re calculated risk takers. The majority of you advise people about investing large sums of money, so they trust your calculated risk-taking instincts. I also know that many of you spent the Holidays skiing. That’s definitely calculated risk-taking. More than a few of you like to race cars. That’s calculated risk-taking.

But, so is driving down the highway, eating at a restaurant, even walking down the street or falling in love. With all due respect to those of you in the insurance business, you can’t protect yourself from every single bump on the road of life. Sometimes you just have to go for it and occasionally take your lumps. If you obsess about EVERYTHING in life that could go wrong or hurt you or embarrass you, then you might never get out of bed. You certainly won’t grow.
I’m not suggesting that you light yourself on fire, bet the mortgage at the casino or streak naked across the field of a sold out-football game. But, if you don’t force yourself to get out of your comfort zone once in a while—and start tackling that “bucket list” well before you’ve retired--then you’re just going through the motions and not living life. That might be the safer route, but it’s about as satisfying as taking a shower with your raincoat on.

Is sky diving safe?

I scratched a big one off my bucket list last week in Puerto Rico—skydiving with my son, Jake 10,500 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. Jake had just turned 18 and been admitted early decision to his first-choice college. His mom and I wanted to reward him for working so hard in the classroom, on the field and at the volunteer fire department where he trains. So skydiving was what he chose. Turns out even teenagers are making bucket lists these days. At the airfield, there’s a large poster of a bucket that you can sign, right before you pass through the last metal gate to get to the runway.

The 6-page release we signed included statistics about sky diving accidents. Out of roughly 3.4 million jumps in the U.S. every year, we learned there are typically a few hundred injuries and on average 19 fatalities. Statistically, those are pretty good odds, unless you’re among the unfortunate 19.
“Courage is the willingness to take the risk once you know the odds,” said renowned psychologist and author Daniel Kahneman. “Optimistic overconfidence means you are taking the risk because you don't know the odds. It's a big difference.”
I kept Kahneman’s philosophy in mind as our dinky crop duster of a plane huffed and puffed its way to the pre-advertised altitude two vertical miles above the tiny airstrip. I tried to ignore my doubts about the laid-back training session we had in a dusty hangar area where roosters, chickens and a limping bulldog outnumbered the instructors. I tried to ignore the memory of our pilot and instructors kicking the tires of the landing gear. After whacking it a few times with a wrench, they simply shrugged their shoulders and walked away.

Again, this “extreme” skydiving outfit was the only one on the island that had all the certifications and seemed to have the best online reviews. They had already charged our credit card, they had our signature in about 100 places on the release forms and I wasn’t going to wimp out in front of my son—especially after 2-1/2 hours of waiting.

Who needs extensive training?
In a mix of Spanish and Spanglish, instructors told us to check that our “toys were in the toybox” as they cinched the straps of our parachutes around our upper thighs. We practiced our “feet up” landing technique a few times, the cross-arm free fall position and then tried a few “Superman’s”--lying on our stomachs while mule-kicking our feet behind our backs so we could maximize our glide. So off we went. Straight up. Glad we opted to skip lunch.

At about 7,000 feet, we were above the clouds and told to squat execution-style to avoid hitting our heads on the low-slung roof of the plane. At about 8,000 feet, over the deafening roar of the wind and rattling engine, they did a final check of our chutes and harnesses. At about 9,000 feet, they told us to prepare to exit the plane’s tiny door left leg first, right leg second. At about 10,000 feet, they said to admire the view (“Admira la vista”). Then WHOOSH!
The door opens. You feel yourself getting literally sucked out of the plane into the open sky and watch your first-born son disappear like a speck into the stratosphere. You tell yourself to keep your wits about you, keep your arms crossed and your back arched during the initial free fall—6,000 vertical feet at about 125 miles per hour—with a few gut churning somersaults thrown in. Then shift to spread Eagle after the chute (hopefully) opens, enjoy the view and give a thumbs-up to the instructor who had cameras on his wrist and helmet.
It might have been helpful to know that our bored instructors would throw in some violent corkscrew dives and turns as we punctured the clouds during an otherwise gentle float back to Earth. But, where’s the fun (or personal growth) in that?

Despite the headaches and dizziness we felt over the next three hours, neither of us injured ourselves or lost our lunch or limbs during the landing. Better yet, we got the last jump of the day, just beating a fast approaching thunderstorm. While the word “AWESOME” is beyond cliché in today’s selfie-obsessed society, our skydiving adventure really was an awesome experience and provided some good father-son bonding time. Those of you with young kids will appreciate this someday.

Will Jake and I skydive again? Heck yea! Hooah!

Back at the hangar, I jokingly told one of the instructors that we didn’t get all that much instruction considering we were complete newbies to the sport of skydiving. “Dude,” he replied with a yawn. “We told you all you needed to know in the plane. People tend to black out during the free fall. If we told you anything else, you'd just forget it anyway.”

So, there you have it. It’s 2017. Let’s set some BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) this year and show the world what we can do. And if we fall flat on our faces once in a while, let’s take it a step further and show the world how quickly we can bounce back and get back on our feet….even if you feel like you just fell out of the sky.
Our blog has more as does the FREE Resources page of our website.
Tags: sky diving, calculated risks, bucket lists, Marc Zuckerberg, Daniel Kahneman