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Scams To Avoid During The Holidays

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The Holidays is a special time and makes us more aware of our blessings and the needs of other people. It is during this time of the year that many people choose to give a part of that blessing to people who are needy. Unfortunately for us, it is also the time for unscrupulous people to come out of the woodwork to take advantage of this generous spirit. Giving during the Holidays is good and it is encouraged. However, it is also better to be vigilant to ensure that the right people benefit from the generosity. Here are some charity scams to avoid during the holidays.

Fake Charities

During the Holidays, giving is at its peak. It is no wonder then that charities sprout like mushrooms during this time of year. While there are many legitimate charities, be wary of fake charities that aim to take advantage of people’s generosity. If you want to give to charitable institutions, give to those who make a public record of donations. The Salvation Army or Toys for Tots are good examples. In order to weed out fake charities, limit your donations to charities that provide financial statements. Check your local business bureau or the chamber of commerce for documentation.

Unfamiliar Websites

Just like fake charities, websites should be taken with caution during the Holiday Season. The FBI cautions shoppers not to shop on websites that look dubious, do not have SSL certificates, or have third party payment systems. Most of these sites are easy to spot since most of them offer products at unbelievable discounts. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a scam. The authorities also warn against wiring money as payment, because once money is wired, it cannot be recovered again.

Be wary of emails from e-commerce sites too. Some of them contain links that lead you to purchase products at big discounts. The problem occurs when you pay and they ask for your credit card information. These sites are setup to fish for information so that the scammers can use your financial information later on.

Social Media Mash Ups

Social media is a popular way to connect, which is why it is now a popular way to dupe people out of their hard earned cash. Social media is now being used by scammers to plant malware in your computer. Users of social media should refrain from accepting friend requests from people they do not know.

Aside from malware and viruses, scammers also use social media to monitor your whereabouts. If you frequently post what you’re doing or post purchases, they can use this information to track you down and possibly rob you. Think Kim Kardashian and France before posting anything sensitive online.

Apps

Did you know that downloading fake apps can lead to scams? When you download an app, it requests permission to access information about you that’s already stored on your mobile device. If you download a fake app, it can use this information such as your credit card details to buy products. To avoid downloading fake apps, use apps of trusted developers and to look for reviews before installing.

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Business

Solving The Labor Productivity Problem

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Labor productivity is a measure of a nation’s economic performance. It can be expressed by comparing output (the amount of goods and services produced by the nation), to input (the number of labor hours used to produce those goods and services). Growth occurs when output increases faster than input, and is measured as the difference between the two. For example, if output is measured as growing at 5 percent during a given business cycle, and input grew at 2 percent over that same time period, then overall labor productivity growth is said to be 3 percent. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, labor productivity fell by .2 percent in 2016. This was the first negative growth since the Great Recession of 2007-2008. While more recent numbers have shown short-term increases in labor productivity since then, the overall trend for the current business cycle indicates that the U.S. is in historically low growth as compared to every cycle since the end of World War II.

Why is Labor Productivity Flatlining?

While everyone agrees that labor productivity is historically low, no one can agree as to the root causes. You know the old joke: If you ask 10 economists a question, you’ll get 12 different answers. One theory is that our methods of measuring productivity are outdated, but measurement errors can’t in and of themselves account for the drops. Another school of thought posits that the downward trend is indicative of a slowdown in innovation rather than one in productivity, where today’s inventions lack the far-reaching effects of the industrial revolution and early 20th century electrification of the U.S.  Opponents of this view point out that those effects are measured with the benefit of hindsight, and that modern innovations such as the internet are still evolving. A correlating factor, these opponents claim, is that businesses have been too slow to adopt these new technologies, which has hurt growth. This claim dovetails into a root cause that researchers at the Brookings Institution believe could account for almost half of the drop in productivity all on its own: businesses are not investing in their own productivity.

When companies invest earnings back into the business—developing or purchasing better equipment, providing training and higher compensation to their labor force, adopting more efficient technology—it has a direct positive influence on net productivity growth. In the past decade, the domestic investment in GDP by U.S. businesses fell to the lowest point in over 60 years. A report released at the end of 2016 documented that the Fortune 500 companies were collectively holding $2.6 trillion in offshore accounts. Additionally, even as output has risen, wage growth for the middle and lower classes has stagnated. Having less money to spend means smaller revenue streams all around, which means less output and less investment, which contributes to the downward spiral.

Infrastructure And Personnel

Investing in your business is the key to boosting productivity. It really comes down to two areas: infrastructure and personnel.

Infrastructure, in this context, means tangible items that benefit your company. Things such as more efficient machinery and technologies, better logistics plans, or a more robust IT network are all infrastructure. Keep your business software up to date, embrace new practices such as distributed ledger systems, which keep all parties on the same page in collaborative projects, even getting better chairs for everyone can give you a bump in productivity. The more streamlined you can make your front end, the fewer mistakes and delays you’ll experience as projects advance.

You must also invest in your people. Develop your existing staff with specialized training, and retain them with good benefits and remuneration. Over the long term, as your productivity (and profit) increases, you will attract more employees, allowing you to branch out into other areas of production or take on bigger projects. You can also jumpstart your productivity boost by utilizing outsourcing companies that specialize in your field. For example, Indovance, Inc., in Apex, NC, provides expert CAD services for Building Information Management, architecture, civil and mechanical engineering, sign design, and pre-press services. Their “Twin Engagement Model” gives their clients immediate access to a highly-trained talent pool that’s ready to work on large projects. Their work can be rapidly scaled to meet changing demands without sacrificing efficiency or quality, and they quickly take on any company’s business goals and culture to be a true partner and extension of the team.  This is a great solution for business owners who want to boost their company’s productivity quickly, but don’t yet have an in-house team in place.

The synergy of investment

Positive labor productivity growth improves the standard of living for everyone. When a company (or industry, or nation) invests in itself to become more efficient, it can produce the same—or even more—goods and services with fewer labor hours, leading to larger capital gains and higher wages. More income combined with increased leisure time leads to more private sector spending and public sector revenue. This is not a zero-sum game, where a gain in one area automatically means a loss in another; this is a symbiosis, where thoughtful investment to increase productivity on a local level has a net growth effect that goes well beyond the boardroom walls.

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Venmo Debit Card Launches And Here’s How To Get One

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Popular peer-to-peer (P2P) payment app Venmo is testing physical debit cards that will allow its customers to shop at traditional brick and mortar stores using the funds their Venmo account. Square, a P2P competitor with Venmo, started marketing their own debit card. According to TechCrunch, Venmo is inviting users to a beta program that sends them a Venmo debit card that’s attached to their balance. That beta program was originally a pilot program for Venmo’s own employees back in June but is now being rolled out to normal users.

“We have started sending a limited number of beta invitations to test a physical Venmo card to some of our users. While we’re excited to hear what people think, beta features are not guaranteed to see a general release,” Venmo told TechCrunch.

From a revenue perspective, a physical debit card would allow Venmo to collect the merchant fees per transaction. This would in turn allow Venmo, owned by PayPal, to recoup the fees they pay the banks per transaction while keeping its core money payment services free for users. From a consumer perspective, this also provides a lot of convenience for people who prefer using physical cards. It also makes it easier to spend money that was just transferred into a user’s account without having to wait a day or two for the money to transfer to the user’s bank account. The money is immediately available to spend at places that have not yet partnered with Venmo.

The Venmo debit card is a Visa card issued by the Metropolitan Commercial Bank via Shift Financial. Shift Financial provides physical and virtual debit cards to payment providers. Like most debit cards, they come with a picture as a background and don’t appear to offer the customization that Square does with their sleek black cards.

The sign-up process is painless and free. Venmo users are notified about their eligibility when they open the app. Once the user’s identity is verified, the app asks to select a backup reload method in the off chance your Venmo balance doesn’t have enough to cover a purchase.

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Business

Lisha Davis Leads The Vanguard Innovation Studio

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Vanguard Innovation Studio

The Vanguard Innovation Studio is officially open for business at their Philadelphia location on 2300 Chestnut Street. Leading the studio is Lisha Davis, a longtime entrepreneur and innovator at Vanguard. The team is tapping into Philadelphia’s ecosystem of startups, tech entrepreneurs, educational institutions, and everything that the city has to offer in order to develop new ideas to better serve their clients. The team at the Vanguard Innovation Studio is focusing on human centered design while working cross functionally to develop creative approaches to a 42 year old business.

The studio itself is a brightly colored space with eclectic furniture and an open kitchen, mimicking the “startup life” feel. The facility is able to house 100 employees and partners to work solely on projects to move Vanguard in a more innovative direction. Unlike their conservative home office, the Vanguard Innovation Studio encourages a relaxed atmosphere, down to the attire. Their fishbowl styled conference rooms and open seating promotes open communication throughout the office. Although they are only a month into their grand opening, the Vanguard Innovation Studio is already bustling with activity. The conference room walls and windows are covered in post-it notes and the room is filled with eager spirits as they listened to the guidance of consultants, successful entrepreneurs, and advisors.

When asked about Lisha’s opinion on the path to entrepreneurship, she responds, “Often times they come from very diverse and different backgrounds. There’s no tried and true path to get to innovation, so to speak.” By building a collaborative space, Vanguard’s team hopes to produce innovative ideas that will help expand what they can offer their clients. A financial services company like Vanguard needs an Innovation Studio so they can work outside of the conservative atmosphere of their home office in the suburbs. Competition in the financial services industry is stiffening, and Vanguard is noticing. “Focusing on brand name and products alone was not going to keep us in our spot forever.”, says Lisha. “Innovation was the next thing.” The Vanguard Innovation Studio has received support from surrounding institutions like the University of Pennsylvania and sponsorship from executives like Bill McNabb. They hope to collaborate with students to help find and solve the problems that Vanguard may be facing. Not only that, but the Vanguard Innovation Studio will also be reaching out to startups from various industries in the Philadelphia area.

Lisha’s mindset is to stay connected with customers. Lisha’s career was heavily invested in business strategy and operating general management. She worked as a financial advisor and even ran her own practice for a number of years before entering Vanguard. Her different roles at Vanguard included a position as Business GM, where she rotated across different businesses and worked within the high net worth division. She began running service design and strategy 5 years ago, thinking about differentiation and sustainability in a way that Vanguard has not done before. The end goal is to help think through services and ecosystems they want to provide to financial advisors, and create the roadmaps to lead Vanguard in the right direction.

Through the efforts of the Innovation Studio, Vanguard is becoming more human centric. Together with the innovators and entrepreneurial leaders in Philadelphia, they hope to build a collaborative experience for those in the financial space. The Innovation Studio’s goals are outcome based, has a cultured mindset, and focuses on organization and coordination. By the end of this year, they hope to be able to experiment with the operating model that they are putting into place.

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