Category: Potpourri

Be Better at Relationships Than at Automation

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We live in a world where people have a hard time paying attention. Everyone is frazzled and overwhelmed to the point that their hands are on the delete key.

It’s a natural and understandable instinct. With more technology and convenience, we can use automation and transactional platforms to fill people’s inboxes to the brim.

Recipients have to figure out what is the signal and what is the noise. It’s a low ratio, thus, the natural survival skill is simply to ignore or delete most messaging that is not personal.

Automation can be lazy many times. Using triggers, templates and targeting scripts to save time can feel like savings, however, if most of your automation is being ignored, then why create such waste? It doesn’t work as well.

Part of this is that you may not dial in the timing, nuanced message and process flow to be frictionless and natural. That takes a lot of focus, study and care.

The other part is that there’s a big difference in having a conversation one-on-one with someone and simply broadcasting sales messages, transactions and updates. In the former case, you have cost. You handle other people with care in your words, interactions and mannerisms and they respond in kind.

In the latter case, you can easily miss without the feedback natural relationship building entails.

There are organizations that do automation extremely well. They use AI and have armies of designers, coders and UX people studying how you interact with their store, brand and messaging.

If you are small, can you apply that much resource consistently?

The better strategy is to build and maintain trust through relationships. Don’t do mass. Make every touch count in your communications and way you do business. That stands out when there’s an inbox filled with hundreds of transactional and automation messages.

People respond to people and this is important to remember when we are out there making connections and seeking to do business. Applying automation in a flow that demands personal connection simply misses the opportunity.

How can you get more relational and selective with your interactions?

How to Find a Healthy Outlet Away from Work That Improves Work Life Balance

For many people, it is easy to get stuck in the same daily routine where you wake up, go to work, come home, and go to bed. Of course, there is so much more that goes into your day, but how much of that time do you actually allocate for yourself?

Of course, when you work long hours and have other responsibilities such as taking care of your family, it is hard to carve out that time for yourself. However, as a working professional and the father of a child with special needs who requires round the clock attention and supervision, I am here to tell you that all hope is not lost.

While it is cliché to say, “When there’s a will, there’s a way,” I do believe that there are ways to maximize your time in order to provide a healthy outlet for yourself. The key is to identify those precious few minutes where there could be an opening for “me time” and then jump on it. It might not be every day you get these openings, but once you find where they are and do something for yourself during that time, you will feel like a weight has been lifted.

For example, I have identified Thursday nights after 8 pm as a time during my week where I am not at work and my wife is home from work and able to take care of our son. I have allotted those nights to playing in a volleyball league with friends. On those nights, I am able to have my adult time, I am able to get a great workout, and I am able to let loose and have fun.

Personally, there is nothing I’d rather be doing with that aforementioned “me time” than playing volleyball, and so that is what I choose to do. It makes me feel good to get out there on the court, to commiserate with friends, and engage in friendly competition.

Capri23auto / Pixabay

For her part, my wife has identified Friday mornings as the best time during the week that she can do things for herself. The outlet she has chosen is yoga and meditation, and she regularly takes classes on those mornings.

We have both found that having these pockets of time and doing something for ourselves make us feel refreshed, re-energized, and ready to tackle whatever is next on the busy home and work fronts. The other unseen benefit is that when you have that outlet, you will find yourself working at a more productive level because you were able to recharge so now you can be more focused on the tasks at hand.

The biggest takeaway from all of this once you realize there can still be a little bit of time for you during the week, it can make a world of difference. After all, once you realize there might be an hour one day or even just 30 minutes on another day, you can, in those moments, find the right healthy outlet for you.

Ultimately, I have found that the sense of freedom that comes with that realization can be priceless, and I am sure you will, too.

Ask the Readers: Are You Ready for Tax Season?

We’re already a few weeks into tax season! For many people with complicated returns, tax prep started well before January. But even if your situation is fairly simple, you would still need to gather documents, review your finances, and account for any big changes that may have happened over the past year.

Are you ready for tax season? What documents do you still need, if any? Are you filing your own taxes or hiring someone to do it?

Tell us whether you’re ready for tax season and we’ll enter you in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!

Win 1 of 3 $20 Amazon Gift Cards

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Tell us whether you're ready for tax season and we'll enter you in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!

4 ways to spend $100 today to be richer by this time next year

work meeting happy


  • A growing net worth is a good sign of financial progress, and it might not be as hard to accomplish as you think.  
  • Automatically putting money in a high-yield savings account, increasing your retirement contribution, and opening a brokerage account can all boost your wealth.
  • By making smart choices with even small amounts of money you have today, you’ll set yourself up for big changes over the long term.
  • Read more personal finance coverage.

If you’re starting 2020 with high hopes for your money, consider this: Building wealth is about making incremental progress, day after day, year after year.

Big wins — like getting a raise — are wonderful, but small wins — like choosing the right investment or savings account — are even better, because you have total control. The seemingly tiny habits you start and decisions you make today determine where you’ll be in the future.

With just $100, you can set yourself on a path to a rich life almost instantly. Here are a few ideas to get started increasing your net worth:

1. A high-yield savings account

A good savings account can do much more for your wealth than you may realize. Even though interest rates are down compared to early 2019, a high-yield savings account can still help you earn up to 20 times more on your cash than a traditional savings account. That means you could earn hundreds of dollars in interest for simply storing your money in the right place, completely risk-free.

Now, just opening a new savings account won’t make you rich. You need to save regularly to meaningfully boost your wealth. Consider an account like CIT Bank’s Savings Builder, which helps create momentum by rewarding you with its top APY if you set up an auto-deposit each month.

2. A meeting with a financial planner

Most fee-only certified financial planners charge between $100 to $300 for a one-time session, but many offer an initial no-cost consultation. Whether you meet once or set up an ongoing engagement, you’ll be able to get specific guidance on any aspect of your financial situation, including budgeting, retirement, investing, education planning, and estate planning.

According to a Northwestern Mutual survey, people who work with a financial adviser are more likely to know how to balance spending now and saving for later; set specific goals and feel confident that they will achieve those goals; and have a plan in place to weather economic ups and downs.

SmartAsset’s free tool can help find a financial planner near you »

3. An increase to your retirement contribution

Retirement may be decades away for you, but the best time to start building a nest egg is today. Whether you contribute to an employer-sponsored retirement plan like a 401(k) or tax-advantaged Roth IRA at a robo-adviser or brokerage, increasing your monthly or per-paycheck savings by $100 can have a big impact.

Of course, there’s no guarantee your investments will gain value in the short term. It’s nearly impossible to predict where the market will be a year from now, but waiting on the sidelines until the “right” time is a mistake none of us can afford to make. As long as you’re thoughtful about your asset allocation, risk tolerance, and time horizon, you don’t have anything to worry about.

4. An investment in a brokerage account

If you have money you want to grow for goals that are closer than your golden years and you’ve paid off any high-interest debt, it could be a good time to invest in the stock market.

Despite popular belief, you don’t need a ton of money to get started. For beginners, an online investing app like Betterment can keep your costs low and guide you toward investments that match your risk tolerance and your goals.

Again, there’s no telling whether your investments will gain or lose value over the next year, but if you don’t invest at all, increasing your net worth is going to be a far more difficult task.

Join the conversation about this story »

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Northstar is Running out of Time; is Hamamoto Outside the Tent?

REITWrecks: March 3, 2010

Whew! After a furious year of churning CMBS, repurchasing outstanding corporate debt and refinancing its bank loans, among other feats, Northstar actually ended the year with a little bit of cash. That’s the good news. The bad news is they’re going to need it.

Northstar now has about $238 million in cash, which includes the all important figure of $138.9 million in unrestricted cash. This is discretionary cash, the kind of stuff that Hamamoto can use to expense dinners at Bobby Van’s. The remaining $99.4 million is bottled up inside Northstar’s CDOs, and the ability to profitably reinvest that cash is diminishing by the day as credit spreads tighten and the CDO reinvestment periods expire.

If you strip out all the non-GAAP AFFO noise from NAREIT, you can see the nail-biting story unfolding: Northstar’s cash flows from continuing operations have been declining rapidly. It’s true, Northstar did manage to generate $54 million in cash for all of 2009, but that’s down from $88 million in 2008 and $102 million in 2007. Obviously, an almost 50% drop in operating cash flow is not the sign of a healthy business, but the fact that Northstar is currently in an unhealthy business should also come as no surprise.

The question is, what can Northstar do about it? In the short term, the answer is not much. Northstar’s portfolio is running off, interest rates are at all time lows, and Northstar’s CDO funding model is dead. 2009 interest income of $142.2 million was $70 million less than 2008, and $150 million less than 2007. As Northstar’s asset balances decline, so too have Northstar’s advisory fees and rental income.

The lack of good options may be why NRF is attempting replace this revenue with management fees, and in the meantime Hamamoto is generating a lot of work for his accounting department with the debt buybacks and CMBS trading, but all of this is clearly a stop gap, and it’s just not enough.

Not only that, management fees are not ramping up nearly as fast as Northstar needs them to ramp up, and at the current pace, they may never ramp up. Northstar Realty Income Trust, the new non-traded REIT, has not yet been declared effective by the SEC, and Northstar can’t start raising money in earnest until that happens.

However, judging by its new Reg D offering, Northstar Income Opportunity REIT I, Northstar’s shiny new Denver broker/dealer operation isn’t knocking the cover off the ball. The first investor commitment was made on September 24th, but as of early February, Northstar Income REIT I had only raised $3.1 million in equity. This is certainly not failure, but managing $3.1 million will definitely not pay the rent at 399 Park Avenue. Furthermore, starting a broker/dealer from scratch is neither cheap nor risk free. Northstar must now comply with a whole new raft of federal and state securities laws, and be exposed to the liability that arises from selling shares to retail investors through hundreds of rowdy, independent securities brokers across the country.

On top of paying rent on the 18th floor, dinner at Bobby Van’s, and the expense of starting up a brand new broker/dealer, under its new credit facility with Wells Fargo, Northstar must make $30 million in annual amortization payments. Also, through its loan book, NRF is on the hook for $80 million in future funding commitments, of which only $51.9 million will come out of the CDOs. $50 million in operating cash flow doesn’t create a huge margin for error in a capital intensive business, so Northstar will likely have to borrow most of the remaining $28.1 million using credit facilities.

So what is Hamamoto thinking? That’s unclear, but NRF is definitely walking a tightrope, and that may explain the management and board changes at the end of Q4. Curiously, REITs have collectively raised almost $30 billion of debt and equity capital since the crisis began, and Crexus, Colony Capital and Starwood Capital were among several Mortgage REITs to raise almost $1.5 billion. Somehow, despite the stellar performance of its portfolio, NRF just barely managed to squeeze $25.7 million out of this deluge.

Some portfolio managers I know have said that Hamamoto is not part of the “REIT Mafia”, and therefore he is not always invited to the REIT fundraising parties. This may or may not be true, but I’m not sure what else could explain NRF’s decision to throw a hail mary into the cesspool of Reg D offerings and non-traded REITs.

I spent all day reading the 10K in search of an answer, and it seemed to confirm the REIT Mafia conspiracy theory, as well as the fact that NRF has chosen a particularly rocky path to circumvent it:

“we cannot currently raise large amounts of corporate equity capital at attractive levels…we hope that our reputation in the marketplace will enable us to be early in raising corporate capital when market conditions improve.”

One thing is for sure, Reg D offerings and non-traded REITs won’t do much for NRF’s reputation, so shareholders may also want to hope there is a contingency plan brewing somewhere on the 18th floor.

How to Get Ahead With a 0% APR Credit Card

Credit cards have made it extremely convenient to get what we need — from online shopping to everyday purchases, not having to hit the ATM and use cash saves time, space, and energy. But having easy access to credit also means it’s easy to overspend — something you just couldn’t do when paying with cash. You can end up with a mountain of debt that can take years or even decades to pay off. 

One kind of credit card may be more likely to set you up for success, and this type of card can even help you save money on interest if you’re struggling with debt already. Balance transfer credit cards, which can also be called 0% APR credit cards, actually let you avoid paying interest altogether for a limited time. 

Two main strategies can help you get ahead with this type of credit card, but only if you use plastic with a plan and stay disciplined in your approach. 

Earn rewards on a big purchase

If you want to make a big purchase and pay it off slowly without having to pay interest, you should check out 0% APR credit cards that let you skip interest payments and earn rewards for each dollar you spend. This type of card typically works well if you need to pay for new appliances for your kitchen, a major home upgrade or repair, or even a semester of college. By charging the large purchase to your 0% APR credit card, you may be able to earn an initial sign-up or welcome bonus as well as rewards as a percentage of your spending. 

Of course, there are plenty of rewards credit cards that also dole out big initial bonuses and ongoing rewards while letting you avoid paying interest for up to 21 months. Make sure to compare rewards and cash back credit cards to see which ones might work best for whatever it is you need to buy and pay down slowly over time. 

Consolidate high-interest debt

If you have a lot of debt at high interest rates, you can also get ahead with a 0% APR credit card — provided you stop spending and start focusing on debt repayment instead. Balance transfer credit cards often let you secure 0% APR on balance transfers for up to 21 months, although some do charge a 3% or 5% balance transfer fee for the privilege. Even if you do pay a balance transfer fee, however, the interest savings can far outweigh the fee.

If you’re against paying a fee to transfer high interest balances over, you can look for cards that waive this fee for a limited time. 

How to choose a 0% APR credit card

Whether you want to pay down a large purchase without interest or save money by consolidating high interest debt at 0% APR, it’s crucial to make sure you wind up with a new credit card that offers the perks you want. Here’s everything you need to look for as you decide.

0% APR offers that give you the time you need

If you want to pay off a large purchase over time or consolidate debt at 0% APR, you’ll need to make sure you have enough time to pay off your debt entirely. Definitely compare 0% APR offers to see which ones give you plenty of time to accomplish your goal. If you don’t, you’ll wind up paying off debt at the standard variable APR, which will likely be very high. 

Don’t pick a card that might entice you to overspend

If you’re really trying to pay off debt, stay away from cards that offer big sign-up bonuses within the first few months. You should use your balance transfer credit card to save money on interest, but don’t use it for everyday spending. 

Make sure to take fees into account

Most 0% APR credit cards don’t charge an annual fee, but you should still compare balance transfer fees and other potential fees you may be charged such as late fees and over-limit fees.

Compare rewards programs

Finally, make sure you check out rewards programs if you want to rack up points on a large purchase. Some cards only let you redeem rewards for gift cards or cash back, whereas others let you cash in points for travel or transfers to airline and hotel partners. Compare rewards programs ahead of time so you earn the type of rewards you want the most.

How office design can catalyze an innovative culture

Which of these two photos, A or B, reveals an organizational culture that is controlling?

As institutions, large companies, and small firms dedicate tremendous resources to strengthen their innovation potential, many fail to realize that their office design can be a key building block or a barrier for achieving their goals. 

The Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Initiative on Innovation and Placemaking studies the role of well-designed public spaces in strengthening collaboration between people in innovation settings. As the majority of innovation occurs indoors—in offices, wet labs, and other spaces—this article highlights how office design influences organizational culture and a firm’s ability to innovate.

Organizational culture is commonly described as a company’s set of values, assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors, the invisible code that makes one company soar and another one sink.  Peter Drucker, management consultant for companies such as General Motors, General Electric, and IBM, put it succinctly: “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

In their book, “Change Your Space, Change Your Culture“, Rex Miller, Mabel Casey, and Mark Konchar argue that although companies may have departments or teams devoted to innovation, they often lack an innovation culture.  Like rungs of a ladder, innovation is tied to collaboration and collaboration is tied to engagement, and the first rung of an innovative culture is an engaging workplace, “the vital barometer and tool for creating that culture.” So even if companies go to great lengths to express a culture of teamwork, diversity, and empowerment, their designed spaces may express hierarchy, control, or even fear.

To fix this, new teams of thinkers have emerged to help firms find the right alignment between people, processes, and place. For instance, Workplace Strategies Inc., in Winston-Salem, N.C., helps companies think through changes in organizational culture as they undergo timely and expensive efforts to build office spaces.  Peter Marsh, Workplace Strategies’ vice president and principal project manager, told me: “We tell our clients that this is a unique moment in time. Large amounts of capital are about to be used and, for this reason, this is one of the most important leverage points to transform their culture.”

Marsh cites the Competing Values Framework as providing a useful tool. The framework, outlined in this brochure by the Haworth workspace design firm, sets out four quadrants—collaborate, create, control, and compete. Each represents a set of characteristics describing the culture types that commonly drive innovation and effectiveness.

The Competing Values Framework

The Competing Values Framework; Collaborate (Do Things Together); Create (Do things first); Control (Do things right); Compete (Do things fast)

In a control culture, an organization devotes considerable effort to “doing things right” through internal procedures and protocols.  Office spaces reinforce a control culture when they have fixed and closed individual spaces, which can be either high-walled cubicles or offices enclosed by drywall.  The answer to the quiz is Photo A, which illustrates a controlled environment where it may be difficult to catalyze creative, team-oriented work.

In a collaborate culture, an organization focuses on long-term internal development and team building.  Office spaces reinforce a collaborate culture through a more informal environment with few individual spaces and a greater emphasis on group areas.

In a create culture, an organization concentrates on differentiating itself from others externally with a high degree of experimentation and individuality or creativity.  Spaces facilitate a create culture with easy-to-change environments, more open spaces, and a low ratio of individual spaces.

In a compete culture, an organization is focused on a results-oriented work dynamic, with private areas for work and concentration but also informal spaces for rapidly sharing ideas and resolving problems collectively. Office spaces that encourage this include a medium ratio of formal and informal spaces, with a mix of individual and group spaces.

For companies serious about cultural change, workspace consultants guide employees and leadership teams through a phase of self-discovery, articulation of a desired culture, and, ultimately, an agreed-upon approach to realizing organizational change. Workplace Strategies blends field trips for staff into the mix.   “We take them to showrooms or to completed projects to show how different designs influence culture,” explained Peter Marsh.

Although profound cultural change can take years to achieve, altering the physical design of a company is an important catalyst in facilitating a desired organizational culture.  As Haworth notes, “Successful organizational cultures are intentional by design, not the product of default or serendipity.”




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