2015

Using food to pay a fine.

Published on: 07 Dec 2015

It’s never a good feeling when you receive a parking ticket. You may only be a few minutes late back to your car but if you’ve been issued with a penalty notice then there’s not a lot you can do apart from pay the fine. Similarly if you park in an illegal place and are issued with a penalty notice then again you’ll have to pay the fine.

So is this fair? Well I guess it is as you can argue that public authorities have an obligation to maintain parking order on the streets and police officers and traffic wardens in most countries have the power to issue fines for inappropriate parking.

But it’s December and the festive season is nearly upon us. Surely therefore there should be some festive spirit and there should be some leeway given on parking fines??

“Letting people off of a parking fine because it’s Christmas!” – well, that’s certainly a debatable point and I can’t see that happening in a lot of places.

Over in America though one Authority is offering a middle ground when it comes to parking tickets.

The City of Lexington Parking Authority in Kentucky has launched a “Food for Fines” scheme.

From 16 November to 18 December, anyone who receives a parking ticket issued by the Lexington Police Department or parking authority will be able to pay for it using cans of food instead of cash.

The food donated will be passed to the local food bank where it will then be donated to people in need (there are 4 food banks in Lexington and they provide over 120,000 meals a day to people across Kentucky).

For every 10 cans of food donated, $15 will be taken off of the parking fine.

This is the second year the scheme has been in operation and Gary Means, Executive Director of LexPark said “Last year, citizens brought in over 6,200 cans of food as payment for over 600 meter citations”.

That’s an impressive figure and I wonder whether the local shops will be stocking up on very small cans of food in anticipation of a similar number of parking violations…

Don’t upset your web developer.

Published on: 03 Dec 2015

Cash flow can be a real challenge for businesses. Smaller ones especially can find it very tough to get paid on time and bigger organisations can sometimes dominate the relationship.

After all, if for example you’re an individual freelancer and are negotiating with a large company for work you will find it tough to get short settlement terms. Also, if the big company is late in paying it’s very difficult for the smaller party to “force payment”. Going to court for payment of a relatively small amount of money isn’t cost effective as the legal fees would far outweigh the money owed.

Reddit user absando is a freelance web designer and recently posted a great illustration of how he dealt with things when a big company “forgot” to pay him.

He posted that ‘I used to do freelance translating work a few years ago and I finished a 1,200 word technical manual for an Indian client that had good reviews on their industry profile. Normally payment for freelance transitions can range between 30 to 60 days, and under my contract they had 60 days to pay the amount.’

Straight away we can see that absando has a tough time as 60 days isn’t a particularly short payment term.

Things got worse for him though.

He continued explaining ‘Fast forward to the 65th day since I delivered the project and I didn’t hear anything from them. After multiple phone calls, e-mails and Skype messages, I received no word from the client so I decided to give up, write a negative review and move on.’

Whilst a lot of people in that situation would have had to write off the debt, absando was lucky.

Six months later the same company got in touch with him and obviously forgot that they hadn’t paid him last time. This time the project was for some web design work and he played it really well as rather than ask for the money he was owed, he kept quiet about it and got on with the project.

In a stroke of genius though he completed the project on time but didn’t send it all in. Instead, he changed the lock screen to the fine piece of artwork shown above.

He continued: “Surely enough a couple of hours from the deadline the translation company was frantically trying to reach me, sending emails and even trying to call my American number. They were freaking out because the project was due for their client on the very same day, and if they didn’t get it they’d lose their business with them.

I gladly responded, saying: ‘Hey remember that freelancer you stood up 6 months ago, yeah that’s me. I have your project ready to go, but you need to pay me for my previous work PLUS interest.”

Needless to say the cash was deposited into his account within 30 minutes.

Nice work!

Cash is king but jewellery looks nicer…

Published on: 10 Nov 2015

Before cash came along, people used to barter. Somebody who had grown vegetables would exchange potatoes they’d grown with a baker who’d baked bread. A farmer would exchange a cow with someone who had grown rice. And so on…

This was all very well if you had lots of vegetables or lots of cows but exchanging 1,000 kg of potatoes for the latest Xbox or taking a cow with you to pay for cinema tickets was never going to work.

As a result, along came cash.

The Lydians (now part of Turkey) are widely believed to be the first Western culture to make coins and their first coins came in to existence way back around the time of 700 BC.

Since then things have developed.

Bills of Exchange were introduced in Italy in the 12th century (Bills of Exchange are paper documents which enable traders to buy and sell goods without having to carry cash).

The Bank of England introduced printed cheques in 1717.

The first credit card in the UK was issued in 1966.

Online banking was launched in the late 1990s.

Through all of this cash has remained and there are now 180 currencies recognised as legal tender by the United Nations member states.

Things are changing though and earlier this year Apple and Samsung both launched their contactless payment systems whereby money is loaded onto an app on your phone and payment can be made by scanning your Apple or Samsung phone at a contactless terminal.

The company Ringly are taking things a step further though and have announced a partnership with MasterCard which will enable you to pay for items with the tap of a ring.

The rings that Ringly sell (including the ring shown in the photo above) cost between $195 and $260 and use technology to link the ring to your phone to access the Ringly app. The app will then enable payment to be made. This is pretty impressive given that all the technology has to be fitted onto the surface of the ring.

The end result is that you will be able to purchase items via a contactless terminal by simply tapping your ring without getting your wallet or purse out.

What do you think?

Is this a genuinely useful idea or just a “gimmick”? After all, you’ll still need your phone with you to make a payment.

Either way, it’s a nice excuse if you were thinking of buying a new ring.

Oh, and if you are going to buy one, don’t forget to take your wallet or purse with you…

Would you do this with your job?

Published on: 06 Nov 2015

If a company outsources jobs, in some situations it can be seen as good business practice but if an individual outsources his own job then what is that seen as?

Outsourcing is where a company gets another organisation to undertake a job or business function that would have previously been completed in-house. This is often done for cost saving reasons and an illustration of outsourcing would for example be getting another organisation to maintain your payroll.

I’ve never heard of an individual outsourcing his own job though but that has just changed.

Verison is one of the leading telecoms companies in the US and their security team provided details of a case study where an employee by the name of “Bob” who was a top developer had actually outsourced his own job to China without his employers knowing about it.

In other words, he had received his salary from his employers but had personally paid for somebody else to do his job at a cheaper rate without his employer knowing about it!

He was paid in excess of USD 100,000 for his job and yet he was paying a Chinese consulting firm less than 20% of that to do the job for him.

According to Verison a typical day for Bob was:

9:00 a.m. – Arrive and surf Reddit for a couple of hours. Watch cat videos (!!)
11:30 a.m. – Take lunch
1:00 p.m. – Ebay time.
2:00 – ish p.m Facebook updates – LinkedIn
4:30 p.m. – End of day update e-mail to management.
5:00 p.m. – Go home

Despite not actually doing any of the work himself his performance reviews were excellent and he had been regarded as the best developer in the building.

So, in summary – he was paid a pretty good salary and all he did was play around on the internet.

All his real work was outsourced by him to a Chinese company. He paid them whilst his employer paid him 5 times the amount that he had paid the Chinese company.

Bob has now lost his job but it does raise an interesting debate as when a company outsources it’s seen as a clever move but when an individual outsources their own job they end up losing that job.

Anyway, whilst you’re thinking of that particular point I’d like to mention that the next blog article will be written by a Chinese company but please don’t tell my employer.

Meanwhile I’m off to watch some cat videos…

Adidas and Nike – who’s going to win this one?

Published on: 04 Nov 2015

What type of business would you say Adidas and Nike were in?

Are they sportswear brands, fashion brands or both?

I think it’s fair to say that they segment their markets pretty well and have both sports and fashion markets under control.

Last year Adidas spent more than 13% of their annual sales on marketing (the industry average is 10%) and they have just announced a “new signing” who is going to cost them a significant amount of money.

Kayne West, the world class sportsman renowned rapper will be the face of Adidas’s new Yeezy range of clothing and footwear.

Now, whilst you’re unlikely to see many top sportsmen wearing the Yeezy clothes and shoes whilst playing sport, Adidas are no doubt expecting to sell plenty of the Yeezy branded products to people who will be buying them for their cool factor (I appreciate that the definition of cool is a subjective matter and I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not you consider Kayne West to be cool…).

The amount that Mr West will receive has been kept confidential but it’s clearly not going to be an insignificant amount. He previously was an ambassador with Nike where according to sneakernews he was offered $4million per year to stay with them but he turned them down.

So, Adidas are using Kayne West to help promote their products to the “people who like Kayne West segment” but there’s another segment that is seeing some change.

The woman’s sportswear segment has to a certain extent been neglected by Adidas and Nike over recent years. Despite Adidas linking up with Stella McCartney (the famous designer and daughter of the Beatles singer Paul McCartney), competing brands such as Sweaty Betty and lululemon have experienced significant growth following their focus on the higher quality end of the ladies sportswear market.

To try to get a bigger share of the ladies sportswear market and to counter the threat that Sweaty Betty and lululemon are creating, Nike has announced a collaboration with Japanese fashion label Sacai (a brand I’m led to believe enjoys cult like status amongst certain fashion aficionados and as the images above from the Sacai Facebook page show, have very fashionable outfits).

Going back to Adidas and Nike, one thing is for sure and that is that both companies have changed beyond recognition from when they were set up.

In the 1920s in Germany, brothers Adolf and Rudolf Dassler set up a shoe making business but soon fell out with each other and went their separate ways.

Adolf (Adi) Dassler kept the original company but renamed it Adidas (named after his first name and part of his surname) whilst Rudolf left and set up the sportswear brand Puma.

Whilst Adidas and Puma were set up by brothers, Nike has an altogether different background.

Nike, was established in 1962 by Phil Knight, who incidentally was an accounting major, and is one of the best companies in the world in terms of getting its marketing just right.

That leads to my final observation and that is the fact that Nike do tend to get their marketing right. Will it necessarily be a bad thing for them that Kayne West has left them and is now with Adidas?

Is it a good idea to unfriend a colleague?

Published on: 12 Oct 2015

Are you Facebook friends with a colleague at work? Have you ever been tempted to unfriend them?

Whilst unfriending someone on Facebook only involves a simple click, the Fair Work Commission (an employment tribunal) in Australia has found that unfriending a colleague on Facebook was workplace bullying.

Rachel Roberts worked at the Australian estate agent View and alleged that the firm’s owner and his wife had subjected her to workplace bullying on 18 separate occasions.

Rachel Roberts argued that amongst other things James and Lisa Bird deliberately left her work unprocessed for more than a week and refused to showcase her properties in the business’s front window.

Perhaps the most interesting allegation though was that after a meeting between Ms Roberts and Mrs Bird where Mrs Bird described Ms Roberts as “a naughty little schoolgirl running to the teacher,” Ms Roberts tried to leave the room but was initially prevented from leaving by Mrs Bird standing in front of the door.

She eventually managed to leave the room and was sat in her car in a “very distressed state” when it occurred to her that Mrs Bird may make a Facebook comment about the incident.

Miss Roberts went on to Facebook to check for any comments but found that she had… (wait for the drama to unfold)… been unfriended by Mrs Bird.

Yes, shock of all shocks but she had been unfriended on Facebook…

Now, whilst a lot of you may well be thinking that being unfriended on Facebook isn’t a major deal, the Fair Work Commission specifically cited the Facebook unfriending in its decision, saying that it evidenced “a lack of emotional maturity and is indicative of unreasonable behaviour.”

Now, before everyone starts worrying about which colleagues they are friends with on Facebook and whether or not they should unfriend them, it’s worth noting that the Facebook unfriending incident in this situation was one of 8 occasions when it was considered to be “unreasonable behaviour”. In other words, it’s unlikely that unfriending someone in isolation would be considered to be bullying.

Improving productivity or big brother surveillance?

Published on: 08 Oct 2015

Is this a clever way to improve productivity or a big brother surveillance system creeping into corporate life?

Humanyze, a technology company, produces devices which monitor the activity of employees and one of the more well known companies that has used it recently is Deloitte in Canada where volunteers in their St John’s, Newfoundland office wore the devices which are like oversized ID cards.

According to Humanyze their “social sensing platform” uses a variety of sensors and is capable of capturing face-to-face interactions, extracting social signals from speech and body movement, and measuring the proximity and relative location of users.

They combine these with other data sources such as electronic communications, objective productivity metrics, and spatial analysis to provide insights on how complex work gets done in the modern organization.

CBC Canada reported that the Deloitte team in Newfoundland were changing from a traditional cubicle office layout to an open concept space and the Humanyze badges were used to measure how well employees were performing in the new layout.

The participation by the Deloitte staff was optional and they were provided with contracts that made them the owners of the data.

All the information was collected anonymously and the employees were given personalised dashboards that showed their performance benchmarked against their colleagues.

Silvia Gonzalez-Zamora, an analytics leader at Deloitte said that “The minute that you get the report that you’re not speaking enough and that you don’t show leadership, immediately, the next day, you change your behaviour. It’s powerful to see how people want to display better behaviours or the behaviours that you’re moving them towards.”

So, is this a clever use of technology or the first step towards big brother monitoring?

Either way, I guess it may help identify the office winner of the “who spends the most time in the toilet award”…

How much would you really take?

Published on: 05 Oct 2015

How much holiday would you take in a year if your boss said you could take as much as you liked?

If it were me, I’d become a virtual stranger in the office given the number of days I would be lounging about on holiday.

In reality though the few companies who are offering their staff unlimited time off are actually finding that their employees are taking fewer days holiday when they are given the option of taking as many days off as they like.

Bloomberg has reported that Grant Thornton, the 6th largest accounting firm in the US has just announced that they will be offering their US staff unlimited time off.

GT has launched a video of some of their staff being told the news and perhaps unsurprisingly they seem happy (possibly also, a little unsure as to whether the person behind the video camera had been drinking and was making the whole thing up…)

Bloomberg reports that When it comes to the Big 4 accounting firms in the US, KPMG LLP offers a maximum of 30 days, Deloitte LLP has a maximum 35 days and PwC has a maximum of 22 for management level staff, according to the companies. EY has a minimum of 15 days with additional days added with years of service.

GT though are no doubt hoping their new holiday policy will make them a more attractive employer and Pamela Harless, chief people and culture officer for GT said “This is a modern move for an industry where these types of benefits aren’t really common”. GT are “convinced it will help us to be far more attractive in retaining talent as well as attracting talent.”

What is perhaps surprising though is that for the very small percentage of companies who already offer their employees unlimited holiday entitlement, their experience has been that the number of days taken as holiday as actually fallen since unlimited time off was introduced!

Haje Jan Kamps, the founder of Triggertrap identified this problem and highlighted that “Because we weren’t explicitly tracking, people felt guilty about taking time off. It also turns out that there was a difference in the patterns for how people took time off: Some were taking a week here and a week there, but others were just taking the odd day.

The problem with the latter is that it seemed like they were always away. That’s OK, of course, but if other members of the team feel as if someone’s taking the piss, that’s bad for morale all around.”
In summary though, an interesting development for GT and well done to them for launching such an initiative with the aim of incentivising and motivating their staff.

One interesting final question though – if you could take as much time out of the office as holiday without it affecting your career prospects, how much would you take?

Does this winner only go out at night?

Published on: 01 Sep 2015

Imagine the scene. You want to go to a music Festival but the tickets are expensive.

What do you do?

I know. Why don’t you pay for the tickets with blood rather than money?

Now whilst this statement may sound a bit weird, some creative minds behind the Untold music festival in Romania have come up with an excellent idea which is a classic win – win situation.

In fact, rather than a win – win situation it’s more of a win – win – win situation.

So who are the three winners in this situation?

The organisers of the festival identified the fact that Romania has one of the lowest percentages of people who donate blood (Romania ranks second to last in Europe regarding the number of blood donors with only 1.7% of the population donating blood) and came up with a novel way of helping to increase the amount of blood donations.

They offered free tickets and discounts to people who donated blood.

It was reported that up to 500 people donated blood so all in all a very successful project.

The Blood Transfusion Service was a winner as it received more blood and importantly raised awareness of the need for more blood.

The organisers of the festival were winners as this was a very slick piece of PR for a first-time festival and despite having top DJs such as Avicii and David Guetta headlining the event it was great to have national and global publicity as a result of this.

The third winner were the individuals who gave blood and obtained free tickets.

Mysteriously though, was there a fourth winner?

It hasn’t gone unnoticed that the festival took place in Transylvania which is the home of Bram Stoker’s legendary Dracula.
Dracula survives by drinking fresh human blood.

Was this in fact a ploy to build up the stocks of blood for the mysterious Count Dracula…

Is it a load of bear or a load of bull?

Published on: 26 Aug 2015

The major stock markets around the world have had a rough ride this last week. The drop in share prices has been driven by the heavy falls on the Chinese stock market. At the time of writing the Shanghai Composite index (a stock market index of all stocks that are traded at the Shanghai Stock Exchange) has fallen by nearly 16% over the last week.

If you read the financial press words such as “bear market”, “bull market” and “correction” are being used a lot.

What do these phrases mean and where do they come from?

A bear market is where share prices are falling and is commonly regarded as coming into existence when share indexes have fallen by 20% or more. A market correction is similar to a bear market but not as bad (a market correction is where there is a fall of 10% from a market’s peak).

A bull market on the other hand is where share prices are increasing.

So, where do the phrases bear market and bull market come from?

There are two main views on the origin of these terms.

The first view is based on the methods with which the two animals attack. A bear for example will swipe downwards on its target whilst a bull will thrust upwards with its horns. A bear market therefore is a downwards market with declining prices whilst a bull market is the opposite with rising prices.

The second view on the origin is based around the “short selling” of bearskins several hundred years ago by traders. Traders would sell bearskins before they actually owned them in the hope that the prices would fall by the time they bought them from the hunters and then transferred them to their customers. These traders became known as bears and the term stuck for a downwards market. Due to the once-popular blood sport of bull and bear fights, a bull was considered to be the opposite of a bear so the term bull market was born.

Whatever the actual origin of the terms though I’m sure most people will be hoping for a bull market rather than a bear market.

The ExP Group