Younger Consumers Ditching TV

Millennials are dropping cable after leaving their parents’ home.  The trend appears to be related to lower incomes of younger consumers. A new Nielsen report, (covered by the New York Times, see link below) shows the trend is likely to reverse as these younger consumers start families.

smartphone-982563_640For us, the takeaway is that 1 in 4 consumers ages 18-24 without children are foregoing cable TV. According to the research, these consumers are using an antenna or the internet for TV.

For consumers under the age of 32, at least half of their TV watching is on computers, tablets or smartphones.

Not surprisingly, this growing trend underscores the necessity for advertisers to build their presence in digital media.

The entire text of the NYT article can be found here.

Key Purchase of First Niagara Will Make it 13th Largest in U.S.

Cleveland-based KeyCorp (KEY) agreed to buy First Niagara Financial Group Inc (FNFG) for $4.1 billion.

What Does It Mean?
Large bank deals appear to be back. Though they had slowed in the aftermath of the financial crisis, acquisition of banks over $1 billion in assets is picking up again. Key reports that the combined company will have over 1,300 branches in 15 states and deposits of almost $100 billion. The deal is the 2nd biggest this year and, when completed, Key’s purchase of First Niagara will make it the 13th largest bank in the U.S at $135 billion in assets.

First Niagara, a well-known brand in Western New York had fallen on hard times over the past several years. After a decade of rapid growth through acquisition, the company was just not able to adapt to the extended low-interest environment. Expenses were too high compared to its revenue. Other factors, including the announcement of a “process issue” and a $1.1 billion writedown of company goodwill spooked market watchers and eroded company credibility. For the past two years, rumors persisted that the bank was being prepared for a sale.

What Can We Expect Now?
In the protracted low-interest-rate environment of the past seven years, banks have had to focus on expense control to protect profitability. Because Key and First Niagara both have a presence in many of the same markets, tough decisions will have to be made about which offices to keep and which ones to shut down. Customers will be impacted by any such changes so bank decision makers will need to exercise care.

Rival banks like Buffalo-based M&T Bank will be doing their best to take advantage of the customer disruption that will come as Key blends First Niagara into its operations. In fact, it is expected that competitor banks will target affected customers with special offers specifically designed to lure them away from the disruption.

While some analysts are saying that Key paid too much for troubled First Niagara, only time will tell. One thing is certain–bank mergers appear to be back.

Maybe What We Need is a Monday Box

My wife and I have a large family. When our children were young, getting to church on time Sunday mornings was a real challenge. At the time we needed to leave, invariably one child would not have socks, another would have no idea were he left his dress shoes. Chaos would ensue as we ran around helping to locate our children’s missing items. Eventually, we would find everything and help the kids get ready for church. The process was not pleasant and it often resulted in us being late.

As we struggled with how to teach our children better preparation skills, we lit on the idea of a “Sunday Box.” We introduced our plan to the kids in a family meeting. They listened as I explained that success in anything requires us to plan, to prepare and then to work (though I think I started to lose them at “work”). Luckily, my wife was able to quickly get them enthused with an activity—they would each select a box and decorate it any way they liked and use it to hold the items they needed for Sunday. They were excited to proceed!

We immediately went down and rummaged through the boxes in our basement until each child had selected one they liked. Then, we all went to the store in search of contact paper, stickers and other decorations. Upon returning home, we spent about a half-hour helping the kids cover their boxes with brightly colored contact paper of their choosing. Finally, they used crayons, markers and stickers to complete their masterpieces.

The plan we had agreed upon with our children was that on Saturdays, as part of our household chores, we would each prepare for Sunday by “loading” our Sunday boxes. Socks, shoes, pants, ties, slips, bows, etc. would all go into the box on Saturday so Sunday would be smooth and stress free.

It worked wonderfully. The difference this little team exercise made in our family life was amazing. Gone were the strife and anxiety of rushing our kids to get ready for church. The awful tension was replaced by peace and harmony which put us in a much better frame of mind for church.

In our careers, we often struggle with being disorganized, rushed and anxious like my kids used to be before the Sunday boxes. What if we as working adults went about making a “Monday Box”? Could we set aside time on Saturday to review the previous week, to go over our appointments for the coming week, to think about what we really need to get done in the coming week, and to schedule time to accomplish the important things that we care about?

Plan, Prepare, Work

Plan The Week
A good plan requires that we know the lay of the land–a review of where we are relative to where we want to be. Think about people first—clients, direct reports, boss, colleagues—then, think about your goals, projects and other responsibilities. The goal of planning is to consciously decide what you want to accomplish in the coming week. Commit these ideas to paper (or bytes) and you have a plan. Now, move on to preparing for the week. Warning: Don’t shortcut the plan! Planning is about becoming aware. If you’re not aware, you can’t prepare.

Prepare for the Week
With plan in hand, prepare for the week. Get out your calendar and start inputting the tasks you need to accomplish to achieve your goals for the week.

Attending a few meetings?

Make time to read the prior meeting minutes and other materials to become informed beforehand. Do some research and come prepared to contribute.

Leading a meeting?

Make time to review minutes, assignments and other takeaways from the last meeting. Prepare an agenda. Connect with people and send friendly reminders about their assignments. Distribute the agenda well in advance.

Meeting with an employee, client, or boss?

Review notes from the last meeting to make sure you are progressing toward achievement of your goals. Make sure to complete any tasks agreed upon at the last meeting.

Working to achieve a goal?

Calendar the tasks you need to complete to move ahead toward accomplishment.

Monday morning will roll around before you know it. There will be plenty of distractions and temptation to avoid doing the things that will move you closer to achieving your goals. But, now is the time to keep your resolve to do better, to increase your effectiveness and reduce your stress. Stephen Covey encouraged us to be strong at these moments of decision and challenged us to exercise “Integrity in the Moment of Choice.” Stay firm and work your plan.

Earnestly “loaded”, the Monday Box will contain everything we need to have a productive, fulfilling week. Stress will decrease, accomplishment will increase and professional competence will be amplified. Taking the time to plan and prepare will actually take much of the “work” out of our work. I’m going down to the basement right now to find my Monday Box.

Citi Testing Screenless, Cardless ATMs

Diebold has created an ATM that is screenless and doesn’t use ATM cards. How does it work, you ask? You use your smartphone!

Using your smartphone you preschedule pickups of cash. When you get near the ATM it identifies you by the near field communication (NFC) chip on your phone. And then confirms your identity through other means, like an eye scan.

This new ATM is being shown at a trade show this week in Las Vegas and Citi has begun testing them in a few areas. However, it could be years before an ATM like this becomes the standard. Several banks have been trying to develop and test cardless ATMs for years. But so far none have done a large-scale test of such a machine.

Yet someday a screenless, cardless ATM may become the norm.

For the full article from Consumerist, and a picture of what one of these ATMs look like, click here.

The Parable of the Thermostat: A Lesson in Communication

Our company had just moved into a brand-new state-of-the-art building. It was constructed using green design principles with an open, organic feel and plenty of windows for natural sunlight. I was excited to move in!

Entering my new office that first morning, I noticed it was a bit too cool for my taste so I turned the thermostat up a degree or two. After unpacking a half dozen boxes and beginning my real work, I was still cold so I bumped the thermostat up again.

Throughout that first week, I continued to mess with the HVAC system to try to get comfortable. When I could stand it no longer, I called Maintenance. They explained that the system was computer controlled and that they would make an adjustment. I was satisfied that the problem was solved. It wasn’t.

After another week, I called back in desperation—“Please help me! I’m freezing!” The kind person on the line said she’d send a technician over immediately. When the technician arrived, he quizzed me on the situation. I told him I’d been freezing for two weeks and no matter how high I turned the thermostat, it just kept getting colder. He examined my thermostat and, without a word, he left!

As I sat there shivering, wondering why he had abandoned me, the technician returned to my office. Only now he wore a silly grin on his face as he yanked the Velcro attached thermostat box off my wall and disappeared again. He was gone 10 seconds and returned only to reattach the thermostat to the wall.

Reading the puzzled look on my face, the technician explained, ”Our HVAC controllers are wireless. It turns out that while you’ve been freezing for two weeks, the guy next door to you has been boiling. I just swapped your controllers—you should be fine now.”

It dawned on me–every time I had turned the thermostat up, the temperature of my next-door neighbor’s office had been going up. Because it was so warm in his office, he had been turning his controller DOWN. Literally, my office mate and I had been torturing each other as, little by little, we had each maxed out the one control we had our hands on.

Although comical in retrospect, there are many lessons in this true story turned parable. Here are five:

Lesson 1: Communicate
My own lack of communication prolonged my pain. If you see something in your workplace that isn’t right, speak up. Perhaps a critical tool is missing or doesn’t work, or maybe you or members of your team lack proper training. It’s possible that there aren’t enough hours in the day for the existing staff to get the job done.

Any impediments to getting your job done well should be productively communicated and now. Discuss the problem with your team.  Come up with potential solutions. Present the problem and your recommendation to your manager.  The best ideas and solutions come through understanding the problem. And, understanding the problem can only happen through communication.

Lesson 2: Adapt To Your Environment
I had a job to get done so I stayed with it. Because of the cold, I wore a jacket and then a parka (really). Sometimes our work environment is uncomfortable in other ways—high pressure, bad boss, demanding clients, uncooperative co-workers, etc. Whatever the challenges, you can’t just stay home. You have to try to make it work. If you’re overwhelmed, ask for help. If you’re under-skilled, get training. If you’re inexperienced, ask for coaching. Stretching yourself to meet the challenge will make you more capable, more productive and more valuable.

Lesson 3: Make Sure You Have Your Hands On The Right Controls
My high-tech wireless thermostat was impressive–it looked great and was designed well. It just didn’t control what I thought it did. Likewise, when we take action in our professional roles, we should be thoughtful and intentional in ensuring that we are focused on the right things and using the right tools for the job.

We should be purposeful in choosing what to focus on. The late Stephen R. Covey taught this powerfully when he said, “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”

Lesson 4: Act Quickly When Things Go Sideways
If I had called for help on day one, I could have avoided two weeks of misery for my office mate and me. In our jobs, perhaps critical materials haven’t arrived or the progress of the work isn’t on track. If you know you’re going to miss a deadline, you have to make decisions and act immediately–get more resources, expedite the order for materials, find an alternative supplier, etc. We do what it takes to stay on track.

If nothing can be done to avoid missing a deadline, communicate with management and/or your client ASAP. It’s always better to be up front. Distrust is worse than missing a deadline. If you’re honestly doing everything possible and the project is still going to be late, reasonable people will want to know so they can accommodate the delay in their other plans.

Lesson 5: Communicate
I’ve made communication the focus of both lessons #1 and #5 because professional and personal effectiveness begins and ends with it. Regarding the fundamental importance of communication, renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking said:

“For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

Effective communication is the most powerful activity you can engage in. It’s the most powerful skill you can develop. And it, along with honesty, are the most valuable character traits you can exhibit.

Do You Have Your Chip Card Yet?

EMV is here

Citi Chip Card small_optYour chip cards should have arrived by now. As reported previously, the EMV (Europay MasterCard and Visa) protocol takes effect tomorrow (October 1st) in the U.S. By now, your bank, credit union or credit card company should have provided you with a new card bearing a chip on the left side (see photo).

As shown in the cover photo, these chip-enabled cards have to be inserted into a card reader in order to securely pay for your transaction. The cards also have the old magnetic stripe on the back and can continue to be used (swiped) the old fashioned way.

So why all the fuss?

Simply put, chip cards are much more secure than traditional payment cards because they have a secure computer in them.  When inserted into a chip-enabled terminal, a link is established with the payment network. This link checks the authenticity of the card and uses a unique code to secure the transaction. To date, there have been no known fraud losses using the EMV standard.

In contrast, traditional credit and debit cards use a magnetic stripe to hold data. The data on that “mag stripe” (located on the back of your card) is read by a payment terminal when you swipe your card. It’s the exact same technology that’s been used in tape recorders since the 1930s.  It works like this: a magnetic medium (audio tape or your card’s mag stripe) slides against a “read head” that picks up the data. Instead of music, a payment terminal picks up your name, card number and other data from your card’s mag stripe. Technicalities aside, it’s fairly easy for crooks to copy your mag stripe data onto a counterfeit card.

One common way the criminals get their hands on your data is by installing a mag stripe reader (called a “skimmer”) on an ATM or other payment device. The creeps have gotten pretty good at making their skimmers look innocent–you may think you’re inserting your card into the ATM’s card slot, but that slot may actually be a skimmer (click here for our recent alert on skimmers). After they’ve captured the data from their victims’ cards it’s a simple process to record the stolen data onto the mag stripe of a fake card.

What happens October 1st?

October 1st is the date that liability for losses shifts to merchants.  Previously, when you notify your card issuer about what you suspect is fraudulent activity on your card, the issuer (your bank or credit union, for example) typically has to cover the loss. Europay, MasterCard and Visa developed the new standard (called EMV) and gave everyone time to prepare to shift to EMV compliant chip cards.

Beginning October 1st, liability for fraud losses begins to shift to the less secure links in the payment chain. For example, if a bank hasn’t issued chip cards, liability for fraud losses stays with them. Likewise, if a merchant isn’t ready to accept chip cards, the liability for fraud losses shifts to them. This liability shift is meant to be a powerful incentive for all industry players to upgrade to the new technology.

Is everyone ready?

Nope.  While most major banks have made the change, many issuers have resisted the cost and effort required to develop the cards and technology. Likewise, many merchants have not completed their upgrades.  You’ve likely seen new terminals in some stores.  They work just fine for mag stripe transactions but on many of these terminals, the chip reader is not yet functional.

If your bank chose to issue EMV cards before the liability shift begins, your new chip card should already be in your purse or wallet.  Although the new cards still carry a mag stripe and will work at any merchant, at some point merchants will begin to require you to use the chip function of the card.

With chip, you dip

Unlike a mag stripe transaction where your card is swiped through a slot, you insert the left edge of your chip card into a slot in the payment terminal. Again, look at the cover photo–it shows me inserting my Chase Freedom Visa card into a terminal this morning to pay for an oil change.  Once inserted, your card remains in the terminal for a few seconds to allow the terminal and card to communicate with the payment network. Don’t forget to pull your card back out and take it with you after the transaction completes! It’s very common for people to forget and leave their card there.  EMV may sound clunky, but you’ll get used to it quickly and we’ll all be safer because of it.

What happens next?

Here’s the schedule of the liability shift milestones:

October 1, 2015 – Liability shifts for Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover used at most stores you shop at (except pay-at-the-pump gas stations).
October 1, 2016 – Liability shifts for MasterCard used at ATMs.
October 1, 2017 – Liability shift for Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover liability used at pay-at-pump gas stations AND for Visa and AmEx used at ATMs.

I’m fortunate that my preferred cards have all been upgraded to chip cards and are ready for EMV.  If your cards don’t have a chip, contact your bank or card issuer and find out when you can expect new, more secure cards.