A Bit of History on The “Cash Cow”

“Cash Cow” or the ‘goose that laid the golden egg,’ has there ever been anything more profitable than the Automated Teller Machine (ATM)?  They have been in existence since the late 70s and were introduced as a means to save the banks money, which they did by eliminating tellers, not having to hire, train or pay their salaries.  At the inception of the ATMs, there were no fees involved and for a while some banks even charged their customers for not using them. This was especially true, if it was a transaction that could be taken cash cowcare of at the machine. These fees were known as “human teller fees.”

In the early stages, banks encouraged their customers and society in general to use the technology, but many felt anxious about putting their check into a machine for fear it would be lost or not retrieved timely; something that happened to me on one occasion.  Other folks were confused and wonder why a machine? Some initially refused the technology, fearful of being robbed while standing on the street taking money from a machine.

Nevertheless, the technology quickly gained traction; banks eliminated tellers and the associated overhead and began to ratchet up tremendous profits. The technology grew and gained the trust and confidence of ordinary people.

As times passed, more banks begin to see the advantage of the technology and in the early 80s formed the shared telecommunications ATM networks which allowed customers to withdraw money from other banks where they had no personal account.    The banks paid each other in the network a “switch” fee for each transaction.   The banks were also required to pay an annual membership for network use.    Later, these fees would be passed on to the banks’ customers.

In the 80s, not only did the banks save money, but their profits began to increase. The public slowly became comfortable with the new technology and realized the convenience. Banks seized upon the opportunity and begin charging fees. Those who had accounts with their bank were allowed to withdraw money without fees through what was known as the proprietary ATM Network; but those same customers were charged “off-us fees” when they used another bank to withdraw money even though they were already being paid by the network bank (double dipping) for same.

Once the cash cow had a solid footing, banks begin advertising that their customers could get access to their money from any bank within the network.   Big banks alerted smaller ones of the advantages and urged their participation in efforts to gain volume and fight off any emerging competitions. The more banks outside the network who joined, the more volume it meant, and the more volume, the more money earned from those who withdrew from outside their own banks.  Big banks had more of these cash cows than smaller ones which meant consumers paid lower fees and could even use international banks when traveling. ATMs were especially convenient since some liked the idea of not having to travel with cash in pocket.

Slowly fees begin rising, but some banks resisted the ATM surcharges while other bank fought to enact laws allowing them. Those banks that resisted did so out of fear that extra charges would cause some consumers to stop using ATMs, other feared political backlashes, still others thought that the double dipping was a bit over the top. There was also pressure from small banks and credit unions who offered lower fees. Nevertheless, in the mid-90s the big networks succumbed to the pressures and began to allow the surcharges. Many of the smaller banks and credit unions were adamantly against this but as time passed realized that they could profit from the surcharges that the new ATMs would bring.

It was the 90s and the “cash cow” was so common that most in society wondered what they had done for pocket change before they came into existence.

It’s now more than 40 years later and what started out as an effort to save banks money by letting them eliminate tellers and save on the cost of hiring, training, salaries, benefits has reap them billions of dollars in profits. Fees have now tripled, and there is a whole new generation that has never had contact with a bank teller.

The system is rigged to enrich all except you and me.   According to statistics, the average cash cow transaction fee is minimal, about $.035 and includes amortized cost of equipment, telecommunications and personnel to oversee operations.  There is a “foreign” fee which covers the cost of the “interchange” and “switch” fees also minimal, pennies on the dollars, leaving the customers’ bank to pocket the rest of each ATM fee that we are charged.   Imagine the billions of dollars made as millions of consumers withdraw funds daily from ATMs.

Nevertheless, banks continue to send millions to politicians in campaign contributions each year while their lobbyists continue to lobby Congress in efforts to impose even more fees on unsuspecting consumers.

What banks and their lobbyists won’t tell Congress is that not only are banks saving money by not having to hire tellers, train them, pay salaries and benefits, but they are “being more than compensated for the cost of the machines through the interchange fee that the non- customers’ banks are already paying them.”   They are being “compensated even if the non-customer’s bank doesn’t charge its customer an “off-us fee.” It’s “because the non-customer’s bank still” pays the so called “interchange fee” “to the network and the ATM owner, but rather than passing” these monies on to consumers, banks are pocketing these funds.

A service that was once given away for free to save the banks money is now a “cash cow” as fees have exploded. The ATM fees and other charges are so outrageous that it’s no wonder big banks are no longer considered trustworthy.  Because of this and the volatile state of the economy some folks have even returned to putting their money under the mattress.

Yirego’s Drumi, A Passing Fad or Here to Stay

Well, I guess you’ve already heard that Yirego, a Canadian design company has finally unveiled its new pedal powered washing machine.  It’s called the Drumi and it’s a compact washer which requires no electricity.  It’s exciting to know that it can even be taken it on a camping trip or a weekend outing.  The washer has great promise and is sure to be a favorite of those who want to lower that electricity bill.drumi

This new invention was funded through one of the most successful crowdfunding venture ever.  Last I heard, its shipping date has been set for August of this year, but it’s already available for preordering. The Drumi washer is reported to be easy to handle; is portable; has quicker cycles; will save you much valued time, and it’s a green technologies will reduce carbon footprints.  God knows that something needed.  But, here’s the kicker, it also uses less detergent and water and can be stored in one’s closet or even used as a hamper for those dirty clothing.

You can wash up to five (5) pounds of clothing in the Drumi in less than five minutes using an average of two gallons of water on each load. The washer is even attractive and it has a body frame that looks something like that of a beautiful trash can.  It’s accented in green to remind one of its green technologies.

If you are waiting to purchase the Drumi, I am certain your enthusiasm is high, especially if you live in an apartment and want to cut your electricity bill or take it on your next trip.  And, if you’re one of the individuals who participated in the crowdfunding campaign it must really be thrilling to know that you are a part of this new green technology.  Resource: Yirego

Finding a Good Tax Shelter

These days finding the best tax credits can also come in the form of a tax favored retirement plan. The tax shelter come in two types; the Roth’s, and the traditional. The majority of them are traditional 401-K and IRAs in which the tax on the income that you set aside in them is deferred. As usual, there is an annual limit depending on your age, but all earnings you make on your contributions grow tax-deferred.

At 59 1/2 you can start withdrawing it – something you tax sheltermust do when you reach the age of 70 1/2, unless you are still working. When you start withdrawing the money from the retirement plan at 59 1/2 or 70 1/2 those funds will be taxed as regular income. So that’s how it works no tax while you are still employed, but you’ll definitely be taxed later – when you are in a lower tax bracket.

On the other hand, the Roth tax shelter is different. They are funded with your after tax dollars and as your earnings grow they are tax free. Therefore, when you start taking the funds out of your Roth, it won’t count as income and be completely tax free. So if you don’t have a need for that money you don’t have to take it out. Your money can stay invested in a Roth retirement plan tax shelter free for the remainder of your life – here’s the kicker, your heirs can inherit that money tax free also.

Another advantage to the Roth plan, if you should need the money for any reason you can take all or just a portion at any age without paying a penalty.

The bad news, the amount that you can contribute to these plans is small, whether it’s the Roth, 401-K or an IRA. The maximum for 2016 is $5500, or $6500 if you’re over 50 years of age.
The government has also set a limit on income limit letting you contribute the maximum, if your annual adjusted income doesn’t exceed $117000. If you are married filing jointly, the annual adjusted income cannot exceed $184000. So here’s wishing you the best of luck in finding the best tax shelter!

FX’s Hit TV Show “Fargo”

Some say that Fargo, the FX hit TV series is going to go modern in its third season which was scheduled to premier later this year, but has been postpone.fargo

Some of Noah Hawley’s fans like myself are getting prepared for a different look on Fargo when it does return.   Hawley is such a great writer – thrilling,  and I am hearing the scenes will take place during the year 2010, which is recent – but it’s almost a decade ago.

However, FX boss John Landgraf just announced recently during the 2016 TCA Press Tour that we will have to wait until 2017 for the season to actually begin. In an interview with EW, Hawley jokingly remarked that there could be a return to “contemporary times” and hinted that we may be seeing some of the older versions of some of the characters who appeared in season one and two.

Landgraf expanded a bit on Hawley’s remarks, but did not say which of the former character(s) would appear or whether there would be one or more who might appear next season.  He did indicated that Hawley could change his mind.

As to whether or not we will ever know if those were really UFOs, on Fargo; some random ‘acts of Gods’ or some very unusual phenomenon’s that appeared during last season is still very much a mystery.  But that’s  what the show is, a huge mystery.  Mr. Landgraf alluded to our tiny size in the universe and hinted that it may be what the show is all about.  Maybe, we fans will never know – it’s now a game of wait and sees.

Photo Credit: fargo_tv_on_fx

Nadine, A Humanoid Robot

According to a recent university news release, Scientists at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have unveiled “Nadine,” a socially intelligent, human-looking robot complete with “her own personality, mood and emotions.”robot

The humanoid like “receptionist” was unveiled at a news conference late last year at NTU.  Her creator, Professor Nadia Thalmann, has predicted that “physical social robots just like Nadine will become more visible and popular in homes and office in the near future.

According to the NTU’s news release, Nadine was built to be a doppelganger of Professor Thalmann.  The news release went further to say that Nadine has life-like soft skin and beautiful “flowing brunette hair.”  Nadine also smiles when greeting individuals and looks them in the eye while talking with them.  She can also shake hands if offered.

Nadine “can be happy or sad, depending on the conversation” and she “also has a good memory” with the ability to recognize people she’s met and remember what those people have said before,” NTU said. The university added that the robot “Nadine is powered by intelligent software similar to Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana.”

Resource: ABC News – Avianne Tan

Planning A Dream Trip

Have you been planning to take that dream trip, but putting it off?  Make it a reality by touring with a group.  This is something many are opting for today, especially when visiting foreign places, and there is always safety in numbers.  During a group tour, most likely you would have a guide who speaks the language; something that could make the trip more enjoyable.  When visiting iconic places with an tripexpert guide it could make those photos you take more memorable. Your guide could even get you closer to the local cultures, those hidden places, more spectacular landscapes and other venues not accessible if you were on your own.

On a group tour you might even opt to do an excursion to a vineyard for wine tasting, visit other historic places, museums, check out an opera, nightclub for jazz or other music of your choosing as well as  explore other activities depending on the countries visiting.

Finally, group touring is less expensive, arranges transportation, finds the appropriate hotels/restaurants, provide more safety, gives one the option and balance of being included in activities with those in your party or customizing the trip so that you’re afforded the freedom to explore on your own.

Using Debit Card Vs Credit Card

Never use your debit card online to make purchases.  If you do, you are just asking for it. Why?  There is something your bank doesn’t want you to know, and that’s by using a credit card you get greater identity theft protection.  In fact, better protection than that of the biggest banks. If your account is hacked, your liability will be limited since your credit account isn’t linked to your personal bank accounts, savings accounts, etc.  Using a debit card, you get less than nothing and your money is snatched up immediately.credit card

Best advice, always use a credit card online, especially the ones that reward you in some form or another.  Using this type of payment is much better than paying cash, because you are getting something in return for making that purchase. Of course, it is great to have cash to spend, but why spend it if you can charge and get something in return.  If you can pay that bill off in full when it first arrives in the mail – then you are way ahead of the game.  You’ve got that great purchase, plus you’ve acquired something extra (extra cash, mileage, bonus points, etc.)

If you don’t have a credit card, then get one. It’s a great way to build up good credit, but please refrain from charging those big ticket items which will take you years to pay off.  The interest you pay overtime can amount to thousands of dollars, especially if you are fooled by paying the minimum payment each month.  Take for example; I recently made a charge of $4725.28.  The minimum payment suggested was $47.00.  If I had paid this amount each month it would have taken me 19 years to repay the debt and the total cost to me would have been $12,817.00 – or,  if I had paid $179 each month it would have taken me three (3) years to pay at a total cost of $6,428.00.  However, I was able to pay the total amount of the bill in just one payment; I earned reward dollars in the amount of $71.18 for the purchase which I could use any way I chose.

Of course, not everyone would be fortunate enough to pay a bill of this amount in one payment, but perhaps over a period of one to three months and still avoid the tremendous amount of interest that would be paid, if paying the minimum amount.  This is the solution to only put those charges that are within your reach of paying off each month on your card.  Stay out of debt – pay those charges off every month and maintain your good credit.

If you must use your debt card for groceries or other small purchases, then do so.  After all, you do have money in your debit account for just this purpose.

Finally, words of warning – never ever pay school tuition, medical bills or for your fancy wedding on your credit card. The interest you pay overtime could put you in the hole for the rest of your life.

Artificial Intelligence Using Chatbots

What’s next in technology? Well it seems Mark Zuckerberg, who started Facebook has made great progress on his goal of connecting everyone on the planet – not to people, but to robots. Yes that’s right, physical robots powered by artificial intelligence using Chatbots software in a messaging app.artificial intelligence

 

It seems the goal is to have each one of us using a robot that can perform our simplest task. For example, composing an email for us, making travel reservations; figuring out why the picture on the TV just went blank or making an appointment for us.

Who knows? Artificial intelligence and Chatbots may be the next big thing, after all Facebook needs to us billion or so users constantly occupied. Although, Chatbots have been around for more than two decades this will be the first time robots will be able to help us with those mundane chores that we don’t like to do or just don’t have time for. The latest news has it that Google and Microsoft have already invested millions into this new technology (AI) so expect it to be huge.

Who knows, perhaps using this new technology could eventually save our own life.  After all, artificial intelligence is the sort of thing that physicians use in their work on a daily basis? But for Facebook, I believe the biggest incentive is to keep us coming back. Each time we log into our account, we will probably see new ads that continues to heap up Facebook ‘s annual sales revenue.

This new artificial intelligence (Chatbots) will be available shortly for Facebook’s Messenger app to its 900 million plus users. For us, it will be like calling customer service and have the representative do simple tasks for us, but we’ll be able to text our questions rather than talking on the phone.  That’s going to be great for all of us who really don’t care to chit chat.

Virtual Reality Rides A Roller Coaster

Great news, for all those who are fans of the roller coaster; starting in the next few weeks – many of the Six Flag amusement parks around the country are partnering up with Samsung to introduce virtual reality to roller coaster rides.

If you like the idea and want to experience the thrill – you’ll have a Samsung VR virtual realityheadset strapped to your face just prior to getting on the roller coaster and going for the ride of a lifetime.

And, rather than seeing beams of steel from the sidelines of the roller coaster, you will feel as though you are flying thru the air – even more thrilling like you are off to fight space aliens. In some instances, you may even be able to fire off your virtual weapon at predator robots or aliens. The sensation and thrill of this reality technology will be intoxicating – more than one could possibly imagine.

However, there have been complaints by those who have tested the virtual reality gadget that wearing the headset made them feel nausea, dizzy or gave the false impression that their body was in motion while the individual was actually sitting or standing still. There is also the question of how comfortable individuals will be wearing the headset on a ride as intense as the roller coaster.

The virtual reality headset made its first debut late last fall and since that time many have been anxiously awaiting it. Now Samsung is giving away the headset to customers who preorder the new Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. However, one should be aware that the VR headset relies on the Galaxy smartphone in order to work.

The Samsung virtual reality headset runs on software made by Oculus, which is owned by Facebook (FB, Tech30).

Do Smartphones Really Deserve All The Hype

New technology and upgrades in smartphones and other technologies seems to be ubiquitous these days.  It seems every time I think I have the particulars of my newest purchase down pat the manufacturer want me to switch to something new and different; an upgrade they call it. smartphones

However, I am one who thinks that the first smartphones that I own worked better than all those that came afterward.  The first IPhone I own didn’t seem to have as many hic-ups, bugs or kinks as the most recent ones.  Even though there have been several fixes and updates with my  current smartphones, they still don’t seem to work as good as the first one I own. This leads me to wonder, does all this advanced technology really improve our lives or does it set us back?

And, then there is the latest controversy over whether or not Apple should unlock the smartphone of one of the terrorists who were involved in the recent San Bernardino  massacre giving them access to personal data.  My opinion on this is mixed.  On the one hand, I agree that authorities should have information relative to the terrorist’s attack.  However, I disagree with them having access to an individual’s personal privacy.

My fear is that once authorities are given access in this matter, if given – it will set a precedent and the flood gates to all our smart technologies will be open.  Our lives and individual privacies will be subject to investigation at will.  Who knows, it may even be your phone or mine next.  Where will it stop?  Even if we haven’t done anything wrong, we could be suspect because we know a certain person or if we’re associated with a certain group or religion.

The final decision on whether smartphones meets all the hype, and to give the government access in the latest controversy with Apple is one that I am certain many of us are anxiously awaiting.

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