Dale Says

October 21, 2008

Bequests from beyond

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Dale @ 9:53 am

Note:  This article was published in The American Legion Magazine in November, 2008. 

As a boy growing up in the early 1900s in Baker City, Oregon, Leo Adler’s father advised him to forget about college.  “Let those other boys go, and you stay behind and work,” he counseled his son. “You will be four years ahead of them.”  Leo followed his father’s advice and sold magazines on a street in Baker City.  He worked diligently and eventually developed a seven-state empire with 2,000 outlets and annual sales of more than three million magazines.  When he died, he left virtually all of his money to the communities of Baker City and North Powder, Oregon.  Over the past three decades his bequest has helped fund numerous community projects and (ironically) provided dozens of college scholarships. 

Leo Adler’s generosity has made a significant difference to an untold number of people in northeast Oregon, all because of the thoughtful action of an ordinary man.  And he’s not alone. 

There were no pretensions to Tom Buckley, a wheat farmer in Western Nebraska who appeared to be just getting by. He was typically seen driving an old car and dressed in bib coveralls.  But in his will Mr. Buckley left an estate of more than $7 million to the small community of Chappell, Nebraska.  Today, the trust set up in his name dispenses over $600,000 each year to rural Nebraska communities, providing college scholarships and support to local community projects like nursing homes, fire stations, and sports teams. 

Leo’s and Tom’s stories are heart-warming examples of the type of legacies that have been left to communities throughout the U.S.  Many of these benefactors were ordinary, nondescript citizens who led quiet lives and didn’t appear to have a lot of money.  But in their wills, they left part of what they had to help others.   

Is there a town or organization you would like to help after you’re gone – maybe the community where you grew up, or a school or group that means a lot to you?   

An enormous transfer of wealth (as much as $41 trillion, according to one study) is expected to take place over the next fifty years as the Baby Boomer generation ages.  That’s an incredible amount of money, and even a small portion of it could do an amazing amount of good for America’s communities. 

You don’t have to be rich to leave a community bequest; there are many ways to donate, and many examples of people who have helped by leaving their house, or property, to help future generations. 

Dacie Moses is an example of someone who donated what she could to a cause she cared about.  Dacie, a long-time employee at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, was known for inviting students to her house for cookies and conversation. In her will she donated her house to Carleton College.  Today, two students live there each year, and her house is a favored gathering spot for students to bake cookies, share brunch, or attend music rehearsal sessions.

Mary Edwards of Grandby, Connecticut cared deeply about her hometown and was determined to help preserve its rural character. In her will, she donated land her family owned, known locally as “The Mountain,” to the Granby Land Trust.  Mary also wanted to make sure her gift was permanent, so she and her attorney structured a fund to pay interest income from her estate to the Land Trust, thereby supporting in perpetuity the costs of preserving the open space.  There are several options for making a bequest, including: 

Create a private endowed foundation Give to a community foundationEstablish a supporting organization

Develop a business or corporate foundation 

Each has advantages and disadvantages and all have tax implications.  Contact an attorney or tax accountant to discuss the best method for you.  Resources for creating a charitable bequest: 

Association of Small Foundations (www.smallfoundations.org)

Council on Foundations (www.cof.org) Foundation Center (www.foundationcenter.org) 

National Center for Family Philanthropy (www.ncfp.org)

Forum of Regional Association of Grantmakers (www.givingforum.org)

Foundation Source (www.foundationsource.com)

Fidelity Charitable Services (www.charitablegift.org) 

About the author: 

Dale Fehringer is a freelance writer and editor. His articles on people, places, and contemporary culture have been published in a variety of magazines and newspapers.  He lives in San Francisco, where he can be reached at 415.602.6116 or by email at dalefehringer@hotmail.com. 

October 20, 2008

CI in Financial Services

Filed under: Competitive Intelligence — Dale @ 1:34 pm

Note:  This was published in the book “Starting A Competitive Intelligence Function” by the CI Foundation in September, 2008.

Financial Services: An Industry in Upheaval 

Dale Fehringer and Melanie Wing 

 

The stodgy and traditional financial services industry your parents grew up with is gone. In its place is a fast-paced, high-tech, and highly-competitive business, which is in constant change.  

Several recent trends have substantially altered the financial services industry landscape, making it more difficult to decipher for both consumers and employees.  

  • Modifications to banking regulations have increased the burden of compliance and blurred distinctions between categories of financial services organizations.
  • Consolidation has reduced the number of organizations, increased competition, and produced financial service “supermarkets” that offer wide ranges of financial products and services.
  • Globalization has extended the reach of financial services companies across borders and introduced additional competition and layers of complexity.

 

Despite this turmoil, the financial services industry offers an ideal setting for competitive intelligence (CI). Rapid change and heightened competition imply the need for complex and crucial decisions – the bread-and-butter of a well-planned and well-executed competitive intelligence function.  But starting a CI function in financial services is tricky, as it requires hitting a moving target. The odds of success improve as you increase your knowledge of the industry and the transformations it is undergoing.  

This chapter provides an overview of the size and nature of the financial services industry and discusses implications of starting and running a competitive intelligence function in an industry in upheaval.  We discuss the major trends that are impacting financial services, along with suggestions for how you can deal with them.
A LARGE, DIVERSE INDUSTRY
 

The financial services industry includes virtually every type of business that deals with money and payments. That includes businesses such as banks that have long been associated with this industry and others not usually considered part of the financial services, like venture capital and asset management (see sidebar 1). 

Sidebar 1Financial Services Industry Businesseso        Bankingo        Insuranceo        Asset managemento        Investment bankingo        Securities brokerageo        Private equityo        Venture capitalo        Corporate lendingo        Consumer finance 

      Financial services is a major segment of the world economy and workforce. For example, in the U.S. it comprises more than eight percent of GDP (gross domestic product) and employs nearly seven million people, or approximately five percent of the

U.S. workforce (BizStats 2007 p1). That makes financial services the ninth-largest employment sector in the

U.S.
It’s also a rapidly-growing industry; from 1994 to 2004

U.S.
financial services employment increased 17% (see table 1).  

Table 1 

Total US Employment in Thousands (000)Source:  BizStats

 

 

Projected

 

 

COMPETITIVE INTELLIGENCE IS RELATIVELY NEW  

Today, most large financial services organizations have a CI function, although it’s a relatively new activity for many. Before CI was a formal activity, those companies typically performed some type of informal competitive monitoring, generally in a decentralized manner within a variety of divisions. Heightened competition made it necessary for financial services companies to develop a more formalized structure, often as a centralized competitive intelligence, business intelligence, or market intelligence unit located in the marketing, strategic planning, or other key organizational division.  

Typically, much time and energy went into planning the CI function, defining deliverables, and deciding out how to best serve a range of internal clients. Some financial services organizations created centralized units that serve the entire organization while others distributed CI responsibilities throughout several business units and maintained small central organizations to coordinate those activities.  

Today, some financial services competitive intelligence units are well-established and effective, while others are more nascent and struggle to meet the needs of their internal clients. Several recent studies bear this out.  

A survey of competitive intelligence professionals by the Competitive Intelligence Foundation (CIF) found that one of seven (14%) respondents worked in the financial services industry (CIF 2006, p130).  By comparison, the second-highest industry — pharmaceutical, biotech, healthcare — employed13% of survey respondents. 

The CI Foundation survey reported that many competitive intelligence functions are relatively small and support several types of business activities with an assortment of competitive intelligence tools and techniques. That is indicative of the typical financial services CI function, which is often relatively new, working with lean budgets and staff, and supplying a variety of services to several levels of internal management.  A recent Global Intelligence Agency (GIA) survey found that most financial services organizations have effective CI activities (GIA 2007 p17).  However, some struggle to obtain management support and fulfill management needs. The majority of respondents indicated their CI functions were good (nearly 50%) or satisfactory (20%); fewer reported they were excellent (10%) or poor (5%). 

CI in financial services organizations is conducted most often for top and middle management. A smaller number of respondents reported that CI is done for internal experts or other employees. The primary CI users in a majority of financial services organizations are strategic planning/business development and sales/marketing. A smaller numbers of respondents primarily support product/technology R&D, or other functions. 

CI provides a variety of benefits including “increased quality of information,” “higher awareness of threat and opportunity,” and “improved distribution.”  CI units in financial services use a variety of analysis tools including profiling (most frequent), benchmarking, SWOT analysis, and financial analysis. Critical issues for CI in financial services organizations include top management’s commitment and identifying critical information needs.
 
The Ostriches & Eagles survey of

U.S. companies placed several financial service companies on the list of organizations that make good use of CI (Outward Insights, 2005). That study’s top CI operations (“eagles”) included seven financial services organizations (Bank of America, Toyota Motor Credit, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo,

National City Corporation, and Fifth Third Bank). On the downside, financial services firms were less likely than the survey norm to:
 

·         make intelligence an integral part of the strategic planning process.·         have a process in place to deliver early warning of emerging threats and opportunities.·         use CI to anticipate and thwart competitor strategies.·         integrate likely competitor reactions into plans for product and service launches. ·         engage in scenario planning and competitor response modeling. 

 

In addition to becoming established in their organization, many recently-formed CI units are struggling to provide value-added services to clients in senior management and other business units, become integrated into the strategic planning process, and add value to the organization’s decision-making process – all with minimal staff and budget. Many of those CI units are also coordinating loosely-connected staff who work part time on CI in other parts of the organization, and identifying and filling the needs of a senior management in flux due to mergers and re-organizations. In addition, many CI functions are confronted with many significant trends that are collectively changing the nature of the financial services industry. 

FINANCIAL SERVICES INDUSTRY TRENDS  

The financial services industry is evolving from thousands of local, single-service companies to a handful of international firms offering a smorgasbord of financial services.  Added to the mix are a few specialty companies that meet particular customer needs. Over the last quarter century, the financial services industry has experienced several significant trends, including: 

  • Consolidation
  • Increased competition
  • Changing demographics
  • Burdensome regulations
  • Need for liquidity
  • Focus on customers
  • Globalization
  • Risk aversion
  • Outsourcing and off-shoring

 

All these trends have made it more complex (and more important) for financial services firms to establish and maintain effective competitive intelligence functions.  

CONSOLIDATION 

The past twenty years have brought unprecedented consolidation of financial services firms in many parts of the world. For example, during that period the number of commercial banks in the

U.S. dropped by almost half (46%). Ken Thompson, CEO of Wachovia Corporation, put it this way:
 

In 1982 there were 14,000 banks in the

United States. Today there are half that many. That’s astonishing. But even more significant … the share of assets held by the five largest banks has increased from 16% in 1990 to almost 50% today
. (Thompson 2006) 

Horizontal consolidation (within industry sector) and cross-category consolidation (among different types of financial institutions) are creating huge conglomerations of banking, insurance, and securities firms: 

Consolidation driven by client demands, technology, and the relaxation of financial regulations is creating huge conglomerations of banking, insurance, and securities firms – a development that is likely to continue. (Knowledge@Wharton 2001 p1)  

 

Consolidation produces larger companies, which have some advantages over small organizations, such as: 

·         A variety of financial products and services can be sold to customers.·         Diversification of businesses, activities, and risks.·         Less vulnerability to volatility, shocks, and risks.·         Reduced dependence on a few lines of business. 

There are disadvantages to being big, too, including a broader and deeper span of management control, larger downside risk implications, and complex management reporting lines.  

Consolidation in financial services is driven by internal and external forces such as relaxation of financial regulations, need for additional customers and a larger capital base, shareholder demands for profitability, and technological advances in telecommunications and information processing.  It impacts the nature of the financial services industry – both for players within the industry, and those who provide products and services to it.  

INCREASED COMPETITION 

Competition in financial services is intense – both within the market sector and from non-traditional rivals. According to Ken Lewis, CEO, Bank of

America,
 

Today, customers have tremendous choice. Not only can they choose from different kinds of banks offering different value propositions within the same market, they also can choose from a myriad of non-bank financial service companies both locally and nationally to handle any number of financial needs. (Lewis 2003) 

The removal of bank branching restrictions in many countries blurs the competitive lines between banks, insurance companies, and brokerage/investment firms. 

New entrants from other countries have also increased competitiveness in the financial services industry. ING Direct and HSBC are examples of international financial services organizations that have brought “no-frills, no-branches” approaches to the

U.S. and have taken market share from traditional banking operations.  In addition, the Internet and improvements to processing technologies have enabled new entrants to compete in the financial services sector as “online” companies sell banking, investment, and insurance services on Web sites, without having to build and support a brick-and-mortar infrastructure.
 

As competition intensifies, banks find it increasingly difficult to maintain margins, find growth opportunities, and differentiate themselves from competitors. Information technology, deregulation, and liberalization have dramatically affected the financial services industry. The struggle is to find quick, short-term profit, which leads to more efficiency, lower costs, and expansion of profit-making clients. Collectively, these competitive forces offer CI practitioners a rare opportunity to start a CI function in an industry that needs and values effective competitive intelligence. 

CHANGING CUSTOMER DEMOGRAPHICS 

Several significant customer demographic trends affect the financial services industry, including the ascendancy of minority markets (such as the Hispanic market in the U.S.), growth in the number of small and at-home businesses, increases in female business owners, and changes in the way health care and retirement are funded.  

But perhaps the most significant demographic trend affecting financial services companies is the aging of the baby boomer generation (people born between 1946 and 1964).  In the

U.S. alone, 77 million individuals became 60 years of age in 2006 (see sidebar 2). As individuals reach retirement age, they typically shift from accumulating money to spending it, and the impact on the financial services industry (especially on insurance and investments) is significant.
 

Sidebar 2 

Today, there are more people over 65 years old alive than all the people throughout history who were over 65. During the 20th century, the number of Americans 65 or older increased eleven-fold, from three million to 33 million. By 2050, that number will double again.”  Ken Thompson, CEO of Bank of

America  
 

Today, record numbers of consumers have money to invest, and many of them with financial savvy feel empowered to take control of their finances and aggressively manage their own money.  In response, financial service organizations are developing more innovative products and services to help their customers gain access to and control their funds.  

Changing demographics present specific challenges to financial services organizations, which strive to develop and provide products and services to their most profitable customers. And it presents equal challenges to CI practitioners who work for those organizations to take those demographics trends into account as they analyze how their organization and competitors deal with them. 

REGULATION 

Compliance with complex regulatory mandates such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, the New Basel Capital Accord (Basel II), the USA Patriot Act, and the Bank Secrecy Act particularly affect financial services firms, which have to invest significant money to understand and meet the requirements. The burden of compliance for financial service organizations contributes to significant cost increases and operational changes.  The following example is from

Europe:
 

The most tangible cost is the out-of-pocket expenses that firms run up in order to comply with the rules. The total compliance cost of HSBC, for example, is said to be US$635 million, up 60% compared with three years ago. And apart from the direct costs there are also the indirect costs of regulation, such as the diversion of productive resources and the potential negative impact on innovation, which are even more difficult to gauge.– Gertrude Tumpel-Gugerell, Member of the Executive Board of the  European Central Bank  (June 2006) 

Regulatory scrutiny of issues such as privacy, consumer protection (e.g., fee transparency), and international regulations specifically impact the ability of financial services companies to compete. CI practitioners starting or managing a CI function should closely monitor the financial effect that compliance has on their organization and on major competitors.  

NEED FOR LIQUIDITY 

Financial services organizations require adequate liquidity levels to cover withdrawal of deposits, differences in the maturity pattern of assets and liabilities, increases in demand for loans, shortfalls in projected cash flows, and unplanned expenditures.Financial institutions use a variety of techniques to meet their liquidity needs, including: 

·         holding cash and readily liquefiable assets.·         maintaining assured standby arrangements with other banks.·         developing and sustaining a stable core of deposits.·         maintaining a suitably matched maturity structure of assets and liabilities.  

The goal of most financial institutions is to maintain just enough liquidity to cover expected and unexpected situations, but not so much as to restrict profits. With the various trends pressuring them, it is increasingly difficult to determine the exact level of liquidity an organization should have. How successfully a financial service organization manages its liquidity has a direct effect on its profitability. CI practitioners must be familiar with the process and techniques used by their organization and their major competitors to handle liquidity.  

FOCUS ON CUSTOMERS  

Most financial services companies have sharpened their focus on customer relationships in an attempt to retain clients and increase the number of financial products used by each customer – a philosophy sometimes referred to as “protect and grow.” Strategies involve preserving customers through price breaks and additional services, and generating new relationships through expansion and cross-selling.  

Although it would be nice to attribute this focus on customers to an altruistic desire on the part of financial services institutions to treat their clients better, in reality the principal driver behind the trend is profitability. Financial institutions now calculate the net contribution of each customer relationship; and in a typical customer portfolio a small portion of accounts contribute most of the profits, while up to half actually generate losses.  

As a result, management in financial services organizations are changing the way they make decisions. At the structural level, they weave customer profitability into long-term decisions about market positioning and target markets. To change unprofitable relationships to profitable ones, they coax customers into service packages that include price incentives for using automated teller machines and other low-cost channels. At the operational level, banks base marketing solicitations on customer value data, selectively offering fee waivers and rate breaks to retain high-value clients and varying service responses based on customer profitability profiles. 

The Internet and increased access to information has changed how organizations sell to customers and how they service companies. This in turn impacts the economic model for the industry. This is particularly true for consumer-related companies, but it is becoming important in the business-to-business space as well. 

Basing decisions on customer retention and profitability is a relatively new activity for some financial institutions. CI practitioners should be aware of how, and to what extent, it is done both by their organization and by their major competitors.  

GLOBILIZATION 

Many larger financial services organizations expanded across national boundaries and their competitors now face opposition both from local institutions and multinational companies. At mid-year 2002, for example, foreign banks accounted for 27 percent of all

U.S. commercial and industrial loans.  (Encyclopedia of American Industries, 2007). Financial institutions from Europe, Australia, Canada, and

Japan
are reaching outside their borders to find growth opportunity, and are increasingly buying or establishing branches in other countries.
 

Cross-border issues can have a pronounced impact on the way CI is conducted by a financial services organization. Companies that have a presence (or are planning to have one) in other countries usually require current competitive profiles and competitive tracking of existing and potential competitors in those countries. When competitors from other countries begin to operate in a new market, CI staff add them to the list of direct competitors and begin to conduct profiles, analyses, and activity tracking of them.  

RISK AVERSION 

Allan Greenspan, former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, once said, 

It is the general human experience that when confronted with uncertainty, whether in financial markets or in any other aspect of life, disengagement is the normal protective reaction. (Greenspan 2000)  

This is true for many financial institutions. During unusual situations such as economic uncertainty, consolidation, or changes in regulation, financial institutions reduce their willingness to take chances on ethical issues, legal issues, and other business decisions. They increase their risk aversion, and replace deliberate trading strategies with caution. The outcome can be a tactical decision to set aside higher reserves to cover losses that emerge when investors suffer a loss of confidence. 

CI practitioners should understand their organization’s risk aversion level and compare it with the competitors’. Much of this knowledge can be derived from company and analyst reports, company earnings calls, and competitor financial statements. It’s also helpful to review tactical competitor actions and compare them with what the competitors say about their risk tolerance. OUTSOURCING AND OFF-SHORING 

Outsourcing and off-shoring have become increasingly popular in the financial services industry as banks try to improve efficiency ratios. Web services and service oriented architectures are forging a new era of information technology (IT) and service distribution, with common standards and components available via the Internet. Consequently, many financial services firms rely on outsourcing commodity functions such as IT and customer service as a way to lower costs, achieve greater standardization, and furnish 24-hour connectivity to customers, partners, suppliers, and staff. 

CI practitioners should be familiar with the extent that their organization’s major competitors use outsourcing and off-shoring, and the affect those activities have on their bottom line. Senior management of your organization should be made aware of any changes to those policies, and the effect the changes will likely have on competitor strategies and financial performances.
 

DEALING WITH CHANGE IN THE FINANCIAL SERVICES INDUSTRY 

The trends shaping the financial services industry have major implications for starting and running a competitive intelligence function. For each trend we provide suggestions for shaping a CI function so it will provide actionable, decision-relevant intelligence to help management navigate those trends. Consolidations provide a mix of opportunities and challenges to CI professionals.  

The result of a consolidation is often a newly-merged and re-structured organization that faces several major decisions. This setting is tailor-made for competitive intelligence. In such an environment, senior management may be so focused on integrating the merging companies they lose focus on the competition. A well-planned and highly-efficient CI staff can help management maintain focus and understand competitive opportunities and threats.  

In addition, a CI unit with broad perspective can watch other outside forces such as suppliers, customers, substitute products, and new entrants. In particular, an early warning system will give advanced notice of an impending threat or potential opportunity for the organization. The CI function can also help identify further merger prospects and help management prepare for or react to additional industry consolidations.  

Suggestions for the CI practitioner: 

1.      Meet with your management as soon as possible after a merger or consolidation is announced. Ask what you can do to help make the transition as smooth as possible, and what information is needed to help keep an eye on the competition. 2.      Modify CI monitoring techniques, companies watched, analytic techniques, deliverables, and distribution lists to meet the needs of the new organization. 3.      Regularly review management information needs and modify priorities and deliverables based on the feedback. 4.      Anticipate likely consolidation within your industry that doesn’t involve your organization, but which could impact it. Develop scenarios of likely mergers, the direction the merged organization could take, and how that would affect your company. 

Heightened competition makes CI more complex – but easier to justify.  

Regulatory changes now allow consumers to choose financial service products from several types and sizes of financial service companies. This cross-pollination is great for consumers, but challenging for financial service organizations. They now have a broader landscape to track, additional potential competitors to watch, and more competitive products to monitor. It also gives competitive intelligence staff more to do.  

Suggestions for the CI practitioner: 

1.      Find out which employees or groups in your organization are monitoring competitors or potential competitors. Meet with them and work out a clearly-defined division of responsibility. 2.      Review the list of competitors your organization regularly monitors. If appropriate, add new or potential organizations to the list and review the revised list of competitors with your management. 3.      Take into account all types of current and potential competitors and furnish a comprehensive evaluation of them to your management. 4.      Predict, track, and analyze competitive developments for your company from organizations in your existing sector, other financial services sectors, and potentially encroaching industries, and suppliers. 5.      Develop an Early Warning System that will alert your management to competitive trends before they become a problem. 6.      If your management is receptive to simulation techniques, develop a war gaming or similar technique to play out the impact of new competition. 

 

Changing customer demographics make life more complicated for management and more demanding for the CI function. 

The bargaining power of consumers is one of Porter’s “five forces” and an increasingly significant force in the financial services industry (Porter 1985). Changing demographics present extraordinary complications to financial services organizations as they strive to develop and market products and services to their customer bases. And it presents additional demands on CI professionals who must take demographics into account as they analyze how their organization and competitors deal with customers. 

In many financial services organizations monitoring and interpreting the effects of customer demographics is the responsibility of groups such as market research or marketing. However, the responsibilities of the CI function include monitoring and reporting how competitors respond to changes such as customer demographics. This dichotomy presents a challenge to the CI staff, who must devote most of their time to other CI functions and cannot focus the time and energy necessary to monitor customer demographics. But this trend has such significant competitive ramifications for the financial services industry it must be added to the activities of the CI staff. 

By partnering with the market research staff (or reviewing industry reports, if there is no internal market research function), the CI function can help management monitor how competitors are responding to changing consumer demographics and compare that with internal responses. SWOT analyses, competitive profiles, and analyses of competitive product sets are useful tools to help frame this type of comparison.  

Suggestions for the CI practitioner: 

1.      Work with your Market Research staff to see how demographic changes differ between your company and others in your industry. 2.      Examine the product set your organization offers versus that of major competitors. Evaluate where your company’s competitive advantages lie. 3.      Produce analyses that compare your organization’s products versus the products of major competitors and show how your company’s products and your competitor’s products correlate with specific, profitable consumer sectors.4.      Compare the marketing approaches toward key population segments of your organization versus that of your competitors; highlight strengths and weaknesses of your organization’s approach and identify the threats and opportunities they present. 

 

 

Effectively dealing with regulatory requirements can differentiate your organization from its competitors. 

A host of very complex regulatory mandates – most notably the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, the New Basel Capital Accord (Basel II), the USA Patriot Act, and the Bank Secrecy Act – post challenges to financial firms.  The question for the CI function is not whether your organization and your competitors are meeting regulatory requirements (everyone has to), but how efficiently each company is accomplishing it. Regulatory compliance is a drag on the bottom line for all financial service companies – the extent of which could be a competitive differentiation. 

Suggestions for the CI practitioner: 

1.      Read and understand the regulations your industry imposes. 2.      Analyze whether complying with regulations offers competitive advantages to your organization or to any of your competitors.3.      Monitor the financial impact of regulatory compliance on your competitors, compare it with your organization, and report any significant differences to management.4.      Be sure your Key Intelligence Topics include monitoring for new regulations, or changes to existing ones, that may impact your company’s strategy.  

 

Tracking how competitors manage their liquidity should be part of routine CI responsibilities.  

One goal for financial institutions is to maintain enough liquidity to cover expected and unexpected situations, but not so much as to restrict profits. How well each company does this liquidity balance can have a noticeable impact on their organization’s bottom line. If the responsibilities of the CI function include monitoring the financial status of competitors, it should also include tracking how effectively they manage their liquidity.  

Suggestions for the CI practitioner: 

1.      Regularly check and report how your competitors handle their liquidity by studying their financial statements, calculating liquidity ratios, and reporting trends and changes. Comparison of the same statistics and ratios for your organization will provide a baseline for your management.2.      If your organization has a group or division that already computes these competitive comparisons, include those statistics in your competitive reports and presentations. 3.      Be aware of your competitor’s need to have available funds and the increased pressure on profits. Watch for signs of financial difficulties and report them to your management.  

How well companies retain customers and cross-sell products and services can be a key competitive differentiation.  

As a CI practitioner, you can help your organization with its efforts to focus on relationships with customers by studying how (and how well) competitors are accomplishing it, and comparing their efforts with those of your organization. Study competitive marketing strategies and communications with customers, including promotional material, advertising, new and bundled services, cross-selling, pricing, etc. Compare those with the efforts of your organization. Highlight differences (both favorable and unfavorable) to your management.  

A SWOT analysis might be an appropriate way to start this comparison, as it will help frame your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and provide a basis for defining opportunities and threats.   

Suggestions for the CI practitioner: 

1.      Analyze how your organization’s major competitors are protecting and growing their customer bases. 2.      Help your management see where your competitors are trying to cross-sell to existing customers and generate new customer relationships. 3.      Compare the depth and breadth of your organization’s customer relationships with those of your competitors.  

 

Cross-border expansions present complex competitive analyses to the CI function.  

Globalization presents unique challenges to financial institutions, such as regulatory differences, multiple languages, and different cultures. While some of those responsibilities will fall on your legal and marketing staffs, competitive intelligence should also play a significant role.  

Suggestions for the CI practitioner: 

1.      Help predict and prepare your organization for the possibility of foreign institutions entering your organization’s markets. One analysis technique well-suited to this is Porter’s Five Forces analysis. (Michael Porter’s five forces include the bargaining power of customers, the bargaining power of suppliers, the threat of new entrants, the threat of substitute products, and the level of competition.)2.      Watch for organizations from other countries that may become competitors and develop an Early Warning System to alert your management about them.3.      Carefully monitor competitors from other countries that enter your market; analyze and report differences in their product lines, pricing, target audiences, and marketing approaches.4.      If your organization intends to enter another country prepare and deliver in-depth analyses of the major competitors operating in that country.  

  

The CI function can help management assess competitive levels of risk aversion, and can avoid causing risk by defining and adhering to a CI ethics policy. 

Financial services organizations have traditionally been risk averse, since they operate in an industry in which even small mistakes can cause massive over-reactions and loss of customer trust. The degree to which competitors are accepting or avoiding risk should be carefully monitored and reported. Also, you should help protect your organization by being diligent to define and enforce company and in-house CI ethics policies. Err on the side of over-checking rather than over-stepping when moral or ethical questions arise.  

Suggestions for the CI practitioner: 

1.      Monitor the risks taken by major competitors and report changes or deviations to your management. 2.      Define an ethics policy for your CI activities. Ensure that you and other CI staff carefully follow the guidelines in that policy. Review and update it regularly.3.      Establish a working relationship with members of your legal staff and check with them whenever you are in doubt.  

 

Outsourcing and off-shoring can have major impacts on a financial service organization and should be included in competitive analyses.  

In some cases, outsourcing is an emotional issue for an organization and management may be reluctant to discuss it. But the extent and effectiveness to which it is used can make a huge difference to an organization’s bottom line.  

CI functions should monitor and report the affect that outsourcing and off-shoring have on competitors’ ability to serve their customers, and on their financial situation.  

Suggestions for the CI practitioner: 

1. Watch what your competitors are doing in the realm of outsourcing and off-shoring. Measure how it affects their financial reports and convey that information to your management. Track it over time, as front-end announcements tend to be optimistic.2. Keep detailed and accurate records of the cost and resources dedicated to the CI function and of the analyses, reports, presentations, and other deliverables the function is producing. Be ready for your management to ask how much money could be saved by outsourcing part or all of the CI function and have a prepared response that shows the value CI adds to the organization. 

AN IDEAL ENVIRONMENT FOR COMPETITIVE INTELLIGENCE 

Today’s financial services industry is a complex but ideal environment in which to start a CI function. A well-planned and well-executed CI unit can provide significant added value to management in an atmosphere of turmoil, and those who provide that value will likely be well rewarded.  

However, starting a CI function in such a setting has its challenges. To offset them carefully plan the function, proceed thoughtfully and methodically, and adhere to a deliberate process that has been approved by key members of the management team.  

o        Be aware of management’s needs. Continuously work with management to assess whether CI is meeting their needs and adjust priorities and responsibilities to adapt to changes. 

o        Anticipate changes in your industry and react quickly when mergers or alliances occur. Early warning, scenario analysis, and simulation techniques (such as war gaming) are tools that help anticipate and react to consolidations. 

o        Develop effective interfaces between the CI function and other organizational divisions – especially market research and marketing – to anticipate demographic trends and help develop competitive responses to them. 

o        Help your organization deal with government regulations and accounting practices by understanding them, analyzing competitive responses, and clearly demonstrating to management how your organization compares with industry peers. 

Starting a successful CI function in an industry in upheaval is not easy, but the odds of success will improve as you concentrate on satisfying the needs of your key internal clients, increasing your knowledge of the industry and the transformations it is undergoing, and developing effective internal networks.   With focus and attention to the needs of key internal clients, you can be successful in providing actionable intelligence and added value to your organization.  

 

[can you give me a 45-60 bio for each of you to add to the author information at the end of the book?] 

Dale Fehringer started and managed a CI function for Visa International.  Today, he is a freelance writer and editor.  He is a regular columnist for Competitive Intelligence Magazine and his articles on people, places, and contemporary culture have appeared in a variety of publications.   He can be reached at dalefehringer@hotmail.com.
 
References 

RocSearch Ltd. (2005). U.S. financial Services Industry: An Analysis.  http://www.rocsearch.com 

BizStats.com (2007). Total

U.S. Employment by Industry 1994-2007.  http://www.bizstats.com
 

Competitive Intelligence Foundation (2006). State of the Art:  Competitive Intelligence 2005-2006.  Competitive Intelligence Foundation Research Report. www.scip.org  

Global Intelligence Agency (2007). GIA White Paper: Market Intelligence in Large Companies.  http://www.globalintelligence.com/news/whitepapers 

Greenspan, Alan (2000). Remarks Made at the Journal of Financial Services Research and the American Enterprise Institute Conference,

Washington D.C., April 14.  http://www.federalreserve.gov/BoardDocs/Speeches/2000/20000414.htm
 

Knowledge @ Wharton (2001). “From Consolidation to Regulation FD:  Financial Services Face a Major Upheaval.”  http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/results.cfm?searchstring=consolidations+to+regulations&x=19&y=14 

Lewis, Ken (2003). “Diversity, in All Its Wonderful Forms,” Remarks to the Executives’ Club of

Chicago, November.  http://newsroom.bankofamerica.com/index.php?s=speeches&item=47 

Outward Insights (2005). Ostriches & Eagles:  Competitive Intelligence Usage and Understanding in U.S. Companies. http://units.sla.org/division/dpht/meetings/annual2007/2007best-overview.ppt#262,1,BEST PRACTICES IN MANAGING A CI FUNCTION 

Porter, Michael (1985). Competitive Advantage:  Creating and Sustaining

Superior Performance. Simon & Schuster, 1985.
 

Reference for Business, Encyclopedia of American Industries, SIC 6081 Branches and Agencies of Foreign Banks, Reference for Business, Advameg, Inc., 2007.  http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/industries/Finance-Insurance-Real-Estate/Branches-Agencies-Foreign-Banks.html 

Thompson, Ken (2006). “Major trends in the financial services industry,” Remarks at the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank Structure and Competition Conference, May 18.  http://www.wachovia.com/inside/page/0,,134_10084,00.html 

Tumpel-Gugerell (2006).  “The drivers of change: regulation versus competition.” Speech at the ABI-SWIFT ‘SPIN 2006′ Conference on “The drivers of change: regulation versus competition,”

Rome, 15 June.  http://www.ecb.int/press/key/date/2006/html/sp060615.en.html
 

 

 

 

October 14, 2008

Dale Fehringer honored with industry award

Filed under: Profile — Dale @ 1:37 pm

News Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Dan Gibson
Director of Communications
703.739.0696
dgibson@scip.org

Dale Fehringer honored with industry award

Competitive Intelligence Society honors professional accomplishments

Alexandria, Va., May 1, 2007 –The Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) is honoring individuals for their contributions to the profession and the organization.

Dale Fehringer is one of two recipients of SCIP’s Fellow Award for 2007, which recognizes members who have made outstanding contributions to the competitive intelligence (CI) profession. They join an elite group of professionals who work on behalf of the field of CI. They can be described as learned individuals who are continually in pursuit of knowledge.

Fehringer, who lives in San Francisco, started and managed a competitive intelligence program for Visa International in 1996. He retired from Visa in 2003 as vice president of market intelligence, and currently works as a freelance writer and editor. His articles on people, places, and contemporary culture have appeared in a variety of magazines and newspapers, and he is a regular columnist for Competitive Intelligence Magazine.

Fehringer co-edited the first publication of the CI Foundation, Competitive Intelligence Ethics: Navigating the Gray Zone and served as primary author of the benchmark report in 2005, “State of the Art: Competitive Intelligence.” He is considered a “go-to guy” in the field of competitive intelligence, viewed by his peers as an experienced, senior CI professional, who is willing to share best practices, as evidenced by his frequent speaking engagements, published writing, and volunteer service.

“These are all great examples of the tangible, meaningful contributions Dale has made to the society and the profession,” says Alexander T. Graham, SCIP’s executive director.

“Acknowledging these top professionals is a way for our society to pay tribute to them for serving and contributing to our mission,” adds Graham. “The field as a whole is honoring their outstanding work and achievement. And by telling their stories, the society can educate others about the CI field and what it takes to be a true professional. Congratulations to Dale for this esteemed honor.”
Fehringer and other award recipients were honored during a special presentation today at SCIP’s annual conference in New York City.

About SCIP

The Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) is the only global not-for-profit membership organization for everyone involved with the development and use of competitive intelligence. SCIP’s mission is to enhance the success of its members through leadership, education, advocacy and networking. www.scip.org

Preserving a Landmark Hotel

Filed under: Profile — Dale @ 11:42 am

Restoring a hotel that has been in service for more than a century is a tricky business. That’s why San Francisco’s Hotel Majestic hired someone who knows his stuff.

Sean Francis has been in the business of managing and restoring hotels for more than 15 years, and he’s learned a lot about the process along the way. His current role as project manager of the legendary Hotel Majestic includes such diverse duties as investigating the hotel’s history, managing an extensive restoration process, and resolving leaks in the basement. It’s a demanding but rewarding job, which he loves.

Sean says it’s fun because “the owner is passionate about the property and its history. We want to make sure the hotel is preserved for future generations of San Franciscans.”

It’s a hotel worth preserving.

The original Hotel Majestic was built in 1901-1902 at the direction of Senator Milton Schmidt, a successful lawyer, railroad magnate, and California state legislator. (One of Senator Schmidt’s notable legislative accomplishments was to arrange financing for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, which celebrated San Francisco’s return from the 1906 earthquake.)

Senator Schmitt and his wife Helen lived at the corner of Sutter and Gough Streets in a sizeable home that was overshadowed by the nearby mansions on Nob Hill. But the hotel they had built on their property was conspicuous even in opulent turn-of-the-century San Francisco. The five-story Edwardian-style residential hotel had 58 bedrooms (including nine luxury suites) that were individually designed with a blend of French Empire and English furnishings, four-poster canopy beds, and softly-hued fabrics. Most rooms were equipped with coal-burning fireplaces and had romantic views of downtown San Francisco.

The Hotel Majestic billed itself as “San Francisco’s Leading Hotel,” and competed for well-heeled clientele with other up market establishments like the Palace Hotel. It had a first-class restaurant, which catered to hotel guests and the City’s elite. A typical luncheon menu in 1902 included caviar, rack of lamb for two, and strawberry short cake or baked ice cream.

Because the hotel is located two blocks west of Van Ness Avenue it escaped damage from the 1906 earthquake and fire. Following the earthquake, it was an interim home for some well-to-do refugees, including its architect, Albert Pissis (who also designed the Hibernia Bank, Emporium, and Flood buildings).

It served the City as a residential hotel through earthquake recovery and the 1915 Pan Pacific Exhibition, and then was converted into a commercial hotel in the 1920s. It continued to offer “affordable elegance” to San Francisco visitors through the Great Depression, the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939, and World War II.

Guests at the hotel included many well-known San Franciscans such as Nicholas Cage, and the actress sisters Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine who lived there for several years.

Eventually, the hotel suffered from neglect and misguided modernization, and by the 1960s it had fallen into a dangerous state of disrepair. The exterior was “modernized” — the facades were stripped of their ornaments and the decorative detail was covered with a flat stucco surface. In the 1970s, the hotel briefly served as a gay bathhouse.

A limited partnership bought the hotel in 1984 and decided to restore it to its original condition. Exterior renovation led by architectural firm Ramon Zambrano & Associates repaired structural problems, removed the stucco, and recreated and replaced the window sashes, wood facades, and decorative ornamentation.

Noted San Francisco interior designer Candra Scott oversaw renewal of the interior, which included English and French antique pieces, Austrian Biedermeier chairs, and a 19th century mahogany bar from a Parisian bistro.

By the end of 1985, the building had been meticulously restored — an effort that earned first place for Restoration Design in Commercial Restoration’s 1986 awards competition.

Twenty years is a long time for a hotel, which experiences heavy daily wear-and-tear, and the current owner decided it needed another face-lift. This round will cost several million dollars and take nearly two years to complete. It is being conducted diligently, one floor at a time. Francis says, “Doing it right takes time and care. The owner wants the hotel returned to its original splendor.”

Outside the hotel, more than two hundred decorative rosettes have been painstakingly recreated from historic moldings and applied to the façade. An ironworking specialist is crafting new awnings over the front door and restaurant entrances to re-create the originals.

Inside the hotel, new elevators and an up-to-date telephone system have been installed and new carpets are being put in throughout. Guest rooms are being updated to achieve a careful balance of historic reference and comfort. Fireplaces that meet today’s fire codes, for example, will be surrounded by antique fixtures and furnishings. Three rooms will be upgraded for wheelchair access.
Francis and the rest of the staff are making sure the hotel meets its original intent. “It was built to be elegant,” he says, “but affordable. We want to retain the integrity of a landmark hotel that has served San Francisco for more than a century.”

Not many hotels in San Francisco have gone through this process, primarily because it’s expensive. But doing everything in a historically correct manner is vital. Francis has spent countless hours researching records of the hotel on microfiche, making sure management knows everything that has been done in the past. A consultant and lawyer have been hired to research the hotel and to help apply for historic preservation status.

“This is a beautiful hotel with a wonderful history,” Francis says, “and we want to make sure it stays that way.”

Note: Much of the restoration has been completed, and the Hotel Majestic and Café Majestic are open for business. For reservations, contact them at (415) 441-1100, or www.thehotelmajestic.com.

About the author:

Dale Fehringer is a freelance writer, editor, and documentary video producer. He lives in San Francisco where he shares office space with his wife, Patty, and cat, Molly. He can be reached at (415) 602-6116 or by email at dalefehringer@hotmail.com.

October 10, 2008

On my birthday 2008

Filed under: On My Birthday — Dale @ 10:09 am

April 24, 2008

On my birthday, I’m 57 years old.

This has been another good year! I’m enjoying having more time for family and friends, travel, volunteer work, and pursuing my second career as a freelance writer and editor.

It’s now been more than four years since I left the corporate world and my life is very full and rewarding. Patty and I fill our free time with volunteer activities, travel, and trips to see our family and friends and I continue to volunteer for SCIP (writing, speaking, serving on the Education Committee), and have joined the board of directors of the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center.

We continue to travel for adventure and to see family and friends. We’ve been to Chappell several times the past year and I enjoy the trips and get a good deal of satisfaction from being with my parents. My Dad’s Parkinsons is very advanced and his quality of life is greatly reduced, but he is not in pain and he receives very good and kind help from the staff at Chappell’s nursing home. Mom’s heath has improved greatly since Dad checked into the nursing home and she is doing well. I’m proud of each of my brothers and sister’s efforts to go to Chappell to help Mom out.

We also go to Stillwater regularly and we’re making progress changing the house there into a second home for Allan, Patty, and me. We have friends we see each time we are in Stillwater and we bought bikes and ride whenever the weather permits.

And we’ve had some more terrific adventure trips over the past year, too! In May, we went to New York for the SCIP conference, and to Illinois to see Beck Diefenbach graduate from college. In July, we traveled to Oregon and filmed the Wilson family history. We spent time in Drakesbad in August and had a wonderful two-week trip to Chile and Argentina in November.

We’ve had lots of visitors, too, including the Zielinski’s (June), Linda and John Henry (August), Julie Wilson (September), John and Beth Spence (October) and Alan and Mary Chappel (November and December).

We were part of the Victorian Alliance House Tour in October, which involved more than 600 people touring our house.

I continue to be involved in the Dashiell Hammet Society of Studs, which is a social organization consisting of five studly friends (Lee Tyree, Geoff Noakes, Bill Diefenbach, Ken Monk and me). We get together for dinner every quarter, tell lies, and have a lot of fun. My job is to write minutes for those meetings, which are posted to the website (www.dhsos.com).

My career as a writer and editor is progressing slowly, but surely. I continue to write a regular column for SCIP, and have had success getting profiles and travel articles published. I took an advanced writing class and have focused my writing on travel, history, and profiles. I’m also doing more query letters now, rather than writing articles and then trying to sell them.

I’ve also realized that documentary videos, while fun to produce, are very costly, and I’ve reduced the number I produce each year to one or two. In the place of videos, I’ve taken on more editing jobs and consulting work, which earns money and keeps me focused.

I still have my office three blocks from home and I get a great sense of achievement each day from walking there and working on my writing, editing, and consulting jobs.

My health is generally good. In February I had a total knee replacement, which went well and has given me a good deal of pain relief. The surgery was a big deal and the recovery was a challenge, but now, three months later, I’m better off than I was before the surgery and have less pain. I’m walking without pain and without a limp, riding my bicycle, and have a little more flexion than I had before the surgery.

All in all, life at age 57 is good. I feel like I’ve been blessed with good fortune, a wonderful mate, and a terrific opportunity.

In the news, the biggest stories the past year have been the continuing the Iraq war, which has been going on for more than five years, and the U.S. presidential election, which is one of the most interesting in my lifetime. At this point, John McCain has wrapped up the Republican nomination, but the Democratic race is a very tight contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Imagine that – an African-American and a woman reunning neck-and-neck for the presidential nomination!

The Iraq war continues to be a horribly bloody, complex, expensive mess and there’s no end in sight. It’s now taking thousands of lives each month (including over 4,000 U.S. lives to date), is costing more than $10 billion per month, and has divided the U.S. population. It will take many years for us to recover from the expense and divisiveness it has cost.

The U.S. economy has slowed considerably and most economists think we are now in a recession. The main cause is a major mortgage crisis, caused by marginal variable mortgage loans that have increased as interest rates went up. Thousands of people have lost their homes, walked away from their loans, and given up. Banks and other businesses related to the mortgage industry are turning in huge losses each quarter, and we don’t yet seemed to have reached the bottom. The president and congress developed a tax “refund” that will involve mailing checks to most U.S. consumers – in an effort to stimulate the economy.

The price of oil has reached an all-time high ($120 per barrel yesterday) and it is causing a tremendous ramp-up of gasoline prices, which is affecting the cost of most everything. Gasoline is now selling for around $4.00 per gallon, and the cost of nearly everything is going up as a result.

Last year’s birthday story said “hi-tech is back, the stock market is hot, and Barry Bonds is about to break the all-time home run record.” Things are a little different this year, as the stock market is down, prices are up, and Barry Bonds is gone. But, like last year, life is good!

October 9, 2008

On my birthday 2007

Filed under: On My Birthday — Dale @ 11:29 am

April 24, 2007

On my birthday, I’m 56 years old.

This year I spent my birthday in Oregon with my sister Anne and her family. We had a great time with Anne, Buzz, and Ian, including a crab feed in Depoe Bay, a yacht club party in Newport, a visit with the Zielinski’s, and a day trip to Fort Stevens and Astoria. It was a wonderful way to spend my birthday!

All in all, things are going very well. I’m enjoying having more time for volunteer work, travel and family; getting along well in my second career as a writer and editor; and experiencing generally good health.

My life still feels very full because Patty and I fill our free time with volunteer activities, travel, and trips to see our family and friends. Patty is immersed in many activities that help friends and groups; including the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center (Tel-Hi), PEO, Theta, Metropolitan Club, and numerous friends and relatives that are incapacitated or under the weather. I continue to volunteer for SCIP (writing, speaking, serving on the Annual Conference Program Committee, and heading the Education Committee), and contribute to Project Open Hand, Friends of the Elderly, and Tel-Hi. This year, I will also begin serving on the Board of Tel-Hi, which I am looking forward to.

We continue to travel to family events and for adventure. I’ve been to Chappell at least six times the past year to see my Dad and help my Mom adjust to living alone. I enjoy the trips, and get a good deal of satisfaction from being with my parents and in Chappell. My Dad’s Parkinsons is very advanced and his quality of life is greatly reduced, but he is not in pain and he receives very good and kind help from the staff at Chappell’s nursing home. Mom’s heath has improved greatly since Dad checked into the nursing home and she is doing remarkably well. I’m proud of each of my brothers and sister’s efforts to help them.

We also go to Stillwater regularly, and are making progress changing the house there into a second home for Allan, Patty, and me. Stillwater is a nice town to visit and we have many friends there. And the family home is a tremendous source of comfort for Allan and Patty.

And we’ve had some more terrific adventure trips over the past year, too! Last October, Patty and I joined Kevin, Julia and family and friends for a wonderful week at a villa in Tuscany to celebrate Julia’s 50th birthday. We had a magical time exploring the hill towns of central Italy, and enjoying the fabulous food there. Patty, Allan, Cousin Tom and I then found our way to the Loire Valley and rode bikes for a week through the fabulous vineyards, castles, and villages in that central France region.

In March, we spent two weeks exploring Australia with the Tyrees and Diefenbachs. We stayed for four days in Sydney with Alan and Mary Chappel, then rented cars and drove north to Brisbane, exploring the coast, bush, and wildlife along the way. We climbed the Harbour Bridge, explored the Blue Mountains, rode an overnight train, and spent four fabulous days on Hamilton Island near the Great Barrier Reef. It was a trip to remember!

My career as a writer and editor is progressing slowly but surely. I continue to write regularly for SCIP, and last year I had several profiles and travel articles published. I have realized, however, that this is not the way to becoming a successful writer, and that I need to make an adjustment. I have signed up for an advanced writing class and may explore a book proposal over the next year. Meanwhile, I am focusing in American history as a genre for my article writing.

I’ve also realized that documentary videos, while fun to produce, are very costly at this point, and I’ve reduced the number I plan to do this year to one or two. In the place of videos, I’ve taken on more editing jobs, which earn money and keep me focused on proper writing techniques.

I’ve rented an office just three blocks from our house and I get a great sense of achievement each day from walking there and working on my writing and editing. It’s exactly what I dreamed of for so many years!

My health is generally good. At 56 I feel good and can do most anything I could do at 40 – though with a bit more pain. My right knee gives me fits, and I’ve been on a waiting list for cartilage replacement surgery for six months now. My bad knee causes me to limp, which has caused intermittent hip and back problems over the past couple of years. I’m trying to manage it with stretching and massage therapy, and I generally feel pretty good.

All in all, life at age 56 is good. I feel like I’ve been blessed with good fortune, a wonderful mate, and a terrific opportunity.

In the news, the big story of the year continues to be the Iraq war, which has been going on for more than four years. The U.S. is hopelessly mired in a conflict it can’t win, and they feel they can’t get out of. President Bush recently called up 21,000 more troops to stabilize Baghdad and surrounding communities. The Democrats have now taken control of the Senate and House and they are trying to force Bush and Co. to set a schedule to bring the troops home from Iraq, which he is resisting. The stated reason for invading Iraq has been refuted, and the country is now hopelessly mired in a civil war, yet for some reason Bush insists on maintaining more than 125,000 troops there, at an annual cost of more than $125 billion.

The U.S. economy is slowing, after a tremendous run-up, based on corporate earnings and speculation of continued growth. The housing market is down, however, and the auto, airline, and financial services industries are slumping. A recession is ahead; the question is how bad it will be.

The run-up to the 2008 election is underway. This will be an interesting election, as it will be the first in many years in which a sitting president or vice president will not be running. Top Democratic candidates include Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards; top Republicans are John McCain, Rudolph Giuliani, and Mitt Romney.

A terrible event occurred last week when a student at Virginia Tech University shot and killed 32 people and himself in an unexplained mass killing. The carnage and stupidity have left all of us depressed and sad.

Boris Yeltsin died today. He was the bear-like peasant who defended democracy in the Soviet Union during a Soviet coup and went on to become the first leader in Russian history to be democratically elected. On the same day, David Halberstam, an award-winning journalist and author died south of San Francisco in an auto accident.

Hi-tech is back, the stock market is hot, and Barry Bonds is about to break the all-time home run record. Life is good!

On my birthday 2006

Filed under: On My Birthday — Dale @ 10:50 am

April 24, 2006

On my birthday, I’m 55 years old.

At 55, I see life as half full. The past couple of years have been among the happiest of my life. I’m very pleased with our lives, our families and friends, and our home. Most of all, I’m very grateful to have Patty in my life. She helps me be more than I would otherwise be, and she steers me to a more positive place in my life.

I find that at this point in my life I am faced with an incredible opportunity. Two-and-a-half years ago I was laid off from the corporate world, and I am now working on my own as a free-lance writer and editor. It’s exciting and rewarding, and all-in-all it’s coming along just fine.

Mid-50s in general has had the usual ups and downs, and doubts and uncertainties that seem to accompany middle age. I’m trying to deal with it by focusing on the positive things in my life, and learning to deal with the negative.

Patty and I were both “down-sized” from the corporate world. Combined, we worked 39 years for a well-known global company, which rewarded our loyalty and commitment by prematurely ending our employment. Fortunately for us, they sent us packing with enough of severance package that we are able to get through to second careers, and hopefully to retirement.

At this age, we – along with most of our friends – are dealing with the anguish of aging parents. We lost Patty’s dear mommy in 2000, and her father last year, and we are learning how to deal with a world without them. My father is very bad with Parkinson’s and lives in a nursing home.

Physically, middle age is beginning to have an effect. It takes just a little longer to get going each morning, and I’m a little sorer after working in the garden. But I can still do just about anything I want, and can still push myself, so I’m learning how to deal with physical exertions.

I find that travel refreshes me. Each trip we take we meet friendly people and find terrific new places to explore, and we continually re-discover that we live in a wonderful world.

In the news, there is general unrest in the world, and lots of bad news in the newspaper each day. The world is trying to figure out how to deal with despots, and how to handle differences of opinion without killing one another. We’re also trying to figure out how to keep from destroying ourselves through nuclear war or global warming. And perhaps most urgently, we’re trying to figure out how to fulfill a relentlessly increasing demand for oil.

October 8, 2008

On my birthday 2005

Filed under: On My Birthday — Dale @ 10:44 am

For more than 20 years I’ve been writing summaries of what’s going on in my life and in the world around me on my birthday. Here’s an excerpt from 2005 …

April 24, 2005

On my birthday I’m 54 years old.

The past year has been a great one! I’m adjusting to being away from the corporate world and love the time available to spend with family and friends, traveling, and pursuing my dream of becoming a writer.

My love for Patty has increased over the past year, although the time and energy we are putting into our families is straining us. I’ve had to grow since leaving Visa, including in my relationship with Patty, and my appreciation and love for her has also grown. Each day I become increasingly aware of what a wonderful person she is and how important she is to our families, our friends, and to me.

We are very fortunate to still have three parents. Patty’s father has had his share of troubles the past year, but none has been fatal. He had an angioplasty and three stents in his arteries in December, and has had chest tightness with hospitalizations twice since. He had chest pains in May when we were all set to go on an Alaskan cruise, and we spent three days (including his birthday) in a Seattle hospital. Through it all, he continues to be steadfast and determined to go on, and his spirit is setting a wonderful example for the rest of us.

My father continues to slowly decline, both physically and mentally. He went through a period of hallucinations last November and December and he was occasionally uncontrollable. His doctors changed his medication and the result has been a much more controlled but forgetful person He has fallen several times the past year, including three in the past two months. So far, he hasn’t been hurt badly. He gets lost in his house now and he can’t carry much of a conversation. At this point, he is aware he is losing his memory and it drives him crazy. He is generally good-natured, though, and is grateful to be in his own home and for the help he gets.

So far, my Mom’s health has held up, although she had a health scare this year. Fortunately, it turned out to be a minor issue, and she seems to be better now. Between my siblings and us someone is in Chappell every other week, and I’ve gone neary every month the past year. Patty goes with me frequently, and Mom and Dad love our visits. We take them homemade things, and entertain Dad and cook for Mom, and we help them with projects around their house. Our hope is to keep Dad at home as long as possible.

Watchiing your parents go through this is tough, but we are constantly grateful that we have this time with them.

The group of friends we hang out with is very important to us and they provide a great deal of support and encouragement to us. We get together with them frequently and talk to them continuously. The husbands get together every couple of months for DHSOS meetings (Dashiel Hammet Society of Studs — a literary organization) and our wives get together for birthday dinners. Our annual trip to Drakesbad is an event we all look forward to. The week together this year was another great one, including a side trip to Ashland, Oregon and a leisurely stay at the guest ranch in August.

In October Patty, her cousin Tom, and I took an eight-day self-guided bicycle tour of Sicily. It was a fabulous trip! The scenery was wonderful, the history incredible, and the food remarkable. Sicily is now one of our favorite places, and the bike tour created a wonderful lasting memory.

Last May we took a Inside Passage cruise from Vancouver to Alaska with Allan and Paul. It was a terrific experience that included fabulous views, excellent food,, and a great family togetherness.

My grandfather’s Fehringer family got together in Estes Park in June for a family reunion. It was a great time and an opportunity for everyone to see each other. I filmed the reunion, made a video of it, and sent the video to family members.

For the past several years I’ve gone to sleep each night thinking about someday becoming a freelance writer, and now I’ve got the chance to give it a try. After a year and a half, I’m finding it tremendously rewarding — and a little frustrating. The reward of seeing your writing in print and getting good feedback on it is worth the frustration. I’ve found a catch-22 in this business: publishers don’t want to deal with you if they don’t know you, and it’s difficult to become known without being published. The secret seems to be to find and befriend small magazine editors, and I’m concentrating on that now. So far, I’m writing a column for Competitive Intelligence magazine, articles for SCIP.Online, and have had three or four travel articles published in small travel magazines. And I worked with my Mom to put together “Miss Lacy,” a tribute to her mother. I’m working on developing my writing “voice” and finding niche publications to carry my work.

I’m still making videos, and I love that work. Monique and I made four films the past year: Abaco (about our vacation in the Bahamas), Gathered Together (the Fehringer reunion), Arthur (a product promotion for my friend, Arthur James), and SCIP at 20 (for the SCIP annual conference).

Thankfully, the SCIP Annual Conference went off without a hitch. Attendance exceeded expectations and reviews ranged from “best conference in several years” to “best conference ever.” I worked very hard for a long time on the conference, and I used all my managerial skills to herd a group of 20 or so volunteers and 10 staff through the process of selecting and organizing 1,200 attendees, 90 speakers, and 60 educational sessions over a four-day period. It was a terrific transition between working full time and not working, and it helped me keep up my social and industry contacts and gave me a great sense of accomplishment.

Other than an occasional bit of anger over the way my exit from Visa was handled, I rarely think about Visa now. I feel good about my years there and am happy to be out with as much sanity as I have left. I’m grateful for the financial benefits and experience I had and am moving on with the next phase of my life. One surprise so far is how little additional time I have. True, I spend a sizeable chunk of time helping my parents and Patty’s father, and I’ve been very busy with SCIP activities. And we exercise and travel more. But I want to write more this coming year, and I need to set more time aside to do that.

In the news, the past year has seen a step backward for the world, as the U.S. continues to over-react to the terrorist attacks of 2001. As the only remaining super power, the U.S. is clearly leading the world, and it is leading it by imposing its sense of right and wrong on other countries. Unfortunately, that means waging wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. European nations are trying to find a way to work with President Bush and his bullying tactics, but the U.S. is increasingly finding itself alone on most international issues.

George Bush was re-elected last fall by a narrow margin. John Kerry ran against him, but Kerry didn’t come across as a strong leader and he didn’t connect with enough Americans. And the Republicans sabotaged him during the election by questioning his patriotism. So we’re stuck with four more years of Bush’s right-wing views and policies that further divide the country. Two of the hardest things about Bush are his arrogance and the type of people he surrounds himself with. Many are cronies of his father, while others are bullies with sketchy backgrounds. Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Carl Rove are among his inner circle and all will go down in history as corrupt intimidators.

The price of oil has soared over the past year and is consistently over $50 per barrel now. The high prices are dragging the U.S,. economy and hurting industries dependent on oil. The airline industry, for example, is in complete choas with some of the largest players in bankruptcy. The price of gas has risen too, by nearly $1.00 a gallon over the past year. We now pay $1.50-2.00 a gallon, which is stressing a lot of U.S. budgets.

The U.S. economy continues to grow (slowly), though is it being dragged down by record budget and trade deficits. And looming over it are the problems with social security and medicare. At current trends the social security system will run out of funds sometime in the next two decades, and medicare will run out of money before that. And no one wants to do anything about it.

Pope John Paul II died in April after 26 years as head of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics. He was well-respected by the whole world for his faith and fights for the poor. More than any other pope, he reached out to other faiths, and he touched the whole world.

In California, the glow has worn off Arnold’s crown. The bodybuilder-turned actor-turned governor has had to make tough choices when proucing a budget in a shrinking economy, and some of the groups who elected hiim got the short end of it. Most noticably, the state teacher’s union ran a series of scathing TV ads that say Arnold went back on his word. The criticism is starting to take its toll, and Arnold’s popularity is heading south.

In San Francisco our flamboyant mayor, Gavin Newsom, hit a few road bumps this year, too. His beautiful wife left him after just a couple of years of marriage, because their careers were more important than their marriage. And, after touting his support for same-sex marriages, Gavin has now taken a slightly lower profile. There’s now a feeling among many Democrats that he may have hurt the party in the last election by his public support for that controversial issue, and he’s now trying to tone down his act a little.

These are interesting times, and I’m leading an interesting life!

October 7, 2008

On my birthday 2004

Filed under: On My Birthday — Dale @ 11:54 am

For more than 20 years I’ve been writing summaries of what’s going on in my life and in the world around me on my birthday. Here’s an excerpt from 2004 …

April 24, 2004

On my birthday I’m 53 years old.

The past year has been a mix of good and bad, but overall it’s been one of the best for me.

On the positive side, I have the chance for a new beginning and an opportunity to pursue my dreams because after 22 years at Visa I took early retirement last September. This change allows me to spend more time with my family and friends, to travel, and to pursue a second career as a writer.

On the negative side, over the past year I watched my father and father-in-law get older and frailer and we lost more relatives and friends. I am also discouraged by the fact that the U.S. has engaged in another war, and I’m saddened that during my lifetime I won’t get to live in a world that settles its differences through peaceful means.

The past year was going along like most through August. Patty and I had taken several wonderful trips (including a summer journey to Portugal, Spain, and France; a family reunion in the Black Hills; my birthday in Oregon; time with friends in the Bahamas (Abaco) and at Lake Shasta and Drakesbad; ski trips to Lake Tahoe and Utah; biking in Portugal and the Waves to Wine; and family visits to Nebraska in September, December, and April and Oklahoma in July, September, November, December and February).

Then in September my job was eliminated and I was pushed out the door with 48 hours to clear out my office. It was an abrupt ending to what had been a great career.

I was determined to do nothing for three months except join a gym, work out regularly, and spend time with Patty and our families.

In January, I took on a big volunteer role with SCIP, leading the team that organizes their annual conference and writing a column for their magazine. I’ve also signed up for a writing class and made two documentary videos on Operation Deep Freeze and our trip to Abaco.

This transition has been wonderful so far, and about the only things I miss about Visa are the people and the paychecks. By now I feel like I’m well started on this second phase of my life.

In the news, the U.S. invaded Iraq last April and overthrew the government. A coalition of countries joined the U.S. and U.K. in this effort, but most of the world wanted the U.N. to deal with Iraq and many of them are now upset at the U.S. for usurping the U.N. The U.S.-led effort overwhelmed Iraq, occupied the country, and tracked down or killed the people that had been in power. Hussein hid out for weeks and was eventually found in a pit behind a farmhouse.

Now, months after the invasion, insurgents from Iraq and surrounding countries are fighting the U.S.-led troops, and casualties continue without much progress toward establishing order and local control. No weapons of mass destruction have been found, and President Bush is fighting to maintain credibility.

Presidential elections will be held this fall, and the primaries have begun. John Kerry is the likely Democratic nominee, after he beat our Howard Dean and several others. Kerry is likely to be a liberal and controversail candidate, and the presidential election this fall will probably be a costly mess.

October 6, 2008

On my birthday 2003

Filed under: On My Birthday — Dale @ 2:19 pm

For more than 20 years I’ve been writing summaries of what’s going on in my life and in the world around me on my birthday. Here’s an excerpt from 2003 …

April 24, 2003

On my birthday I’m 52 years old.

This stage of life seems to be filled with lots of ups and downs, highs and lows, joys and sadness. The past year has been very fulfilling, as I’ve traveled, built on my outside interests, achieved several personal goals, and spent time with family and friends.

We had a fabulous vacation in Ireland last July — bicycling and touring southern Ireland for two weeks. The weather was wonderful, the sights awesome, the people warm and welcoming, and the food surprisingly good. The bicycle tour far exceeded our expectations. We were with a group of mostly Americans of all ages, and a young Irish tour guide who added a good deal of history, culture, and fun. He took us on back roads to avoid traffic and by doing so we got to see more small towns and country roads. We stayed in bed-and-breakfasts, and the hostesses were charming and friendly.

During the second week, we drove across the southern coast of Ireland, with stops in Kinsale, Waterford, and eventually Dublin. While in Waterford, we spent a night with my third cousin, Phil Kennedy, who still lives on and farms the Lacy farm where my great-grandfather (Michael Lacy) was born and raised. We got to see the house where he was born, where he went to school, and where he sailed for America. Knowing where you came from is a powerful experience. Phil and his family are wonderful people, and it’s good to know you have nice relatives from way back.

We also spent time in Oklahoma with Patty’s Dad in February, May, and October and we visited Anne, Buzz, and Ian in Oregon in April. We did our usual trip to Drakesbad in August and had a wonderful tiime with our gang of friends. In September, we went to Cape Cod for four days and rode bicycles all over the Cape. We went to Colorado in October for John and Beth Spence’s wedding party, and spent a very snowy Christmas in Oklahoma with Patty’s Dad.

We went to Hawaii last November with Patty’s Dad, and had a great trip. Unfortunately, the last night there Paul fell and broke his arm. He spent a few days with us recovering, then Patty went to Oklahoma to help him. She was absolutely wonderful to him and I’m convinced without her help he would have had to move into a care facility.

The past year has also had its bleak times. Unfortunately, I’ve watched my father’s health go dramatically downhill. He has Parkinson’s, which has left him very bent over, slowed him down, and is taking away some of his short-term memory. He’s also lost most of his sight to macular degeneration and he can no longer read or drive, so his days are long and boring.

The U.S. got involved in another war this past year. After working with the U.N. for months to try to force Iraq to get rid of their outlawed weapons (now being called weapons of mass destruction) President Bush grew tired of negotiating and attacked Iraq with a massive arial and ground attack. Now, a month later, the U.S. controls Iraq and is trying to establish a democratic government. Meanwhile, more than 100 U.S. and British troops are dead, along with thousands of Iraquis.

My job situation has deteriorated over the past year. My boss, who I got along with, was fired in August. That was a blow, as no reason was given and it was devastating to her and demoralizing to me. Then in February my work group was transferred to another division, and I was assigned to work for a woman who is a control freak and who thinks the way I’ve designed my group is wrong. After two months, we are no closer to working out a compromise than we were the first day, so this looks like it is going to be a struggle. I no longer enjoy my job, and I no longer respect the people and company I work for.

Patty is flourishing in her retirement. She spends her time doing good things for herself and for those she loves. She is more involved in exercise, cooking, fund raising, her clubs, and her friends. She is setting a terrific example for me to follow when I am able to join her.

After procrastinating for several years, we finally re-modeled the room above the garage. Patty was in charge of the project, and she found, hired, and managed carpenters, plumbers, and electricians. It took six months and $50,000 and the end result is fantastic! We now have another bathroom, bedroom, and two additional closets.

At this age, I definately feel middle-aged. That is unsettling but not uncomfortable. I feel good about what I have accomplished to this point, but also feel there is a good deal more to accomplish. My priorities are right (relationship first, family and friends next) and that gives me a good deal of satisfaction. My goal for the next year is to sort out my work situation, write more, and be better to those I love. If I can do that, I will feel better about being middle-aged, and even better about myself.

All in all, life is very good at 52!

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