« »

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Newsletter: Medicare insurance guide

Monday, September 29, 2014

How the UAE is dealing with its debt problem

The problem of debt in the UAE has been an ongoing battle, and a big one for some time now. The region comes down very hard on debtors dodging repayments, with jail terms and even in some cases contacting the debtor’s employers.

Loans in the United Arab Emirates
The National Bank of Abu Dhabi is one of several UAE lenders
At first, it was thought that these severe penalties were reserved for when the person in question had circumstances like losing their job, which meant they couldn’t pay back their debt. However, many people found they came into question for smaller debts, while still in employment. This can mean though that it can affect their job – especially if their employer finds out.

And there has also been the matter of people choosing to flee the country and leave their debts behind in desperation. However, this can catch up with them as overseas debt agencies can in these times we live in sometimes track down the debtor, carrying out proceedings in order to recover the money.

Think carefully before lending

The best advice from experts is that borrowing sensibly means you give yourself time to digest the amount of loan or credit card that you’re signing up for, and you ensure that you can manage the repayments on it.

The mistake a lot of consumers make is not appreciating that taking up a personal loan in UAE involves acompletely different set of rules. Therefore, as an expat, you should respect the process, and not treat it the same as your home country if the rules there are more relaxed about debt.

Changes suggested by the government

The UAE Civil Procedure code saw a relaxation in the rules for debt defaulters in May this year, however. It now means that pregnant women, minors, the terminally ill and the elderly cannot be jailed.

The UAE’s low ranking in World Bank Doing Business 2014 for resolving insolvency and enforcing contracts, was thought to be the catalyst behind the move.

It also prevents a debtor presenting a collateral agreement answering for the debt from going to jail, as well as those with debts of less than Dh10,000. The only exception to this latter rule being if the debt is a fine or maintenance paid by a court order.

The move has been praised by consumers and experts alike in the UAE, with statements highlighting its reflection of Sharia laws and a focus on helping families.

Try to resolve debts sooner rather than later

Banks are also trying to reassure consumers that if they get in touch with them to discuss settlement liabilities to try and repay the debt, that in cases where there is no police file made against them yet, it can often be resolved.

The UAE wants to be seen as progressive in finance management - as the industry certainly is that –plus ranking well for the way in which it manages debt and financial services. So these new rules are sure to be the first step towards trying to solve the debt problem, and helping consumers manage their lending so that they only lend what they can repay.

Image license: US-PD

How data caps are affecting Internet development

By Jodi Grant

Since the internet came into mainstream existence, one thing is for certain: there have been multitudes of innovations and many new technologies developed as a result. In fact, in just the last few years, growth and innovation online has been unprecedented. In addition to the highest-ever quality available for online video streaming, consumers can now pick and choose from a number of new digital platforms to access rich online content. The benefits of these innovations are virtually endless to anyone using the internet for any reason.

But the landscape is changing. Data caps have now come on the scene, much to the chagrin of internet customers who want to keep accessing high-bandwidth content without penalty. Some say that data caps are simply an engineered solution to a make-believe crisis, and that all they do is create a climate of scarcity, doing nothing to help the internet continue to innovate at the pace it was comfortably keeping.
Internet data caps and ecommerce
Internet data caps limit the available use of online bandwidth

An unmetered environment, and the data cap myth

Much of the innovation which has occurred online over the years was due to the fact that the internet was not controlled by caps and other limitations. But now, internet companies have decided to do what they can to curb their customers' usage of the service. And this is costing customers more. For the part of the ISP, they say that curbing usage with data caps is necessary, as the more traffic grows on their networks, the lower the quality of service their customers will receive.

However, the rationale behind using data caps to address network congestion is, according to experts, fundamentally flawed. Limiting customer usage does not appear to make sense, especially since the cost to provide service is declining for ISPs, and rapid technological advancement is allowing more alternatives to data caps to be developed than ever before.

Interestingly, the data cap makes no sense where a wired internet provider is concerned. This is because transmission speeds are being increased and costs lowered by network equipment manufacturers. And yet, consumers are paying the same, if not more than they used to for their internet service.

Cable industry comes clean

It was recently admitted that data caps have nothing to do with the congestion being experienced by consumers accessing the internet. And the person who admitted it was a former FCC chair. To an audience, this individual admitted that congestion isn't the reason for the imposition of data caps. Instead, they were a tool used by internet companies to help them more fairly monetize their high fixed costs. This is quite the departure from the data cap information that's being communicated from other sources. And so it would seem there are two sides to this story, the one that's being told to consumers, and the one that the companies themselves are telling with the purpose of fueling their own sustainability.

No competition = End of choice?

This is a tune that many have heard before; that without competition to drive the innovation that gives us variety in the internet provider arena, there will be no variety. What's happening now, according to many is that competition amongst ISPs is dwindling, which has caused the rampant imposition and usage of data caps by ISPs.

This practice has served to make the business of providing internet services an incredibly profitable one. In addition, the introduction of tiered pricing and data caps are also producing unprecedented revenue for those who offer mobile internet services. Of course, these tiered and capped models were introduced with the announcement that unlimited plans would no longer be available.

It is being increasingly believed that the introduction of data caps is a bad thing, both for consumers and for innovation. On the consumer side, it's about more than simply having access to rich online content for entertainment; it's about being able to access public, emergency, health and educational services online, something that may not be possible should data capping make internet access more difficult that it is currently.

Lack of competition will serve to stifle the innovation that has been occurring with the internet thus far. And this will mean fewer developments which attract and retain customers, which could have far-reaching consequences for everyone who counts the internet as a part of their daily lives.

About the author:  Jodi Grant writes on a variety of topics, particularly related to technology.  She recommends www.high-speed-internet-service-providers.com, a site dedicated to helping consumers find internet providers in their neighborhood through a unique and helpful methodology for comparing available options.

Image license: Smartphotostock.com

Saturday, September 27, 2014

How to make a good impression with your trade show exhibition stand

By Tom Cook

Trade show exhibitions have long been one of the best ways to showcase your business and attract new customers. It's therefore important that you get it right, as one mistake could send potential custom straight into the arms of your competitors. 

Business trade show exhibits
Appearance and interactive activities help build impressions
There are some things to bear in mind, but the look of your stand is going to be the most important. A good looking, clean, professional stand will not only attract attention, but it will help you to engage with customers.

 The frame

A good way to think about your exhibition stand is as a frame, showcasing something very important. That very important something is of course your business. So it is important that your stand is as sleek, modern and impressive as possible. There are a great selection of stands available for hire, and they prove a cost-effective way to showcase your business. However, if you are attending shows month after month, year after year, purchasing your own custom stand could be an option. It may be a big outlay, but you will save money in the long run, and have a stand that is directly catered to your company.

The technology

Another great way to draw potential customers in is to upgrade your technology. This will allow people to interact more directly with your display, and will show that you are a modern company. Plasma LED or LCD screens are a great tool – you can use them to play short clips and other promotional material. Tablets are also a great idea, allowing the customer to interact with your material in a different way (perhaps you have a website or an app?). Of course, there are always bigger and bolder statements to be made, such as an interactive table – but be warned that products like those can make a very big dent in your budget!

The pitch

Putting your facilities to good use and orchestrating a product demonstration is another great way to make a good impression. Curiosity will ensure that people come over to see what your visual display is all about. Your staff members can then demonstrate your product and talk about it, answering any questions from potential customers. Use your screens too – people who are far away might not be able to see your staff clearly with the naked eye, but a large screen relaying the action as it happens means that they can watch along too!

First impressions count!

There are other ways of making a good impression, of course. Polite staff, a clear idea on what to say to people, and an understanding of who is else is in attendance are all very useful too. It doesn't matter whether this is your first visit to a trade show exhibition or it is a comeback after unsuccessful events in the past. What kind of first impression you make is vital to the success of your time at the show, and by following our tips, you'll be seeing interest from many new customers. Once you have got the customer part sorted, then the rest is as easy as pie!

About the author: Tom Cook is the Director for the short-term trade show equipment rental company- Bircherley. Over the years Tom has learned what it takes to make a good impression and believes that having the right equipment can make all the difference.  

Image: Author owned and licensed

Friday, September 26, 2014

Prescription drug cards: A lifeline for the un-insured

Advantages of prescription drug cards
Pharmacy prescription discount cards are not insurance but lower costs
By James Sosa

Not all people are fortunate enough to be covered by insurance. Sometimes it is not offered through work, and sometimes you are self-employed and can’t afford insurance coverage. If you are one of those people who do not have insurance, it may be a financial burden having to pay full price for prescription medications that you need. Prescription drug cards offer uninsured patients a significant discount on the price of their medications. For some people, this discount can really help you stretch your budget and be able to afford to fill all medications for your family; the pharmacy discount card can be a lifeline for the un-insured.

Who uses these programs?

There are many reasons why people may need to use prescription drug discount cards. They may have a low-income, may be a single parent, or may be an elderly person living on a pension or fixed retirement income. In all of these situations a discount card can help to make prescription medication more affordable for these people that need it.

Some simple eligibility requirements

Prescription drug discount cards are not meant to be used in conjunction with insurance coverage. They are meant to be assistance to people who don’t have the financial means to pay for medications. Other than this, there are very few restrictions on the use of the card. The card is not only a lifeline for you; all of your family members are covered and can use the discount card.

Prescription drug cards can save you a lot of money

Most people who use the pharmacy drug discount card can really help to save patients money. In most cases people can save 20-80% on their prescriptions. Pharmacy drug discount providers contact and negotiate deals for their members with pharmacies to be able to pass the savings on to you. Most are partners with pharmacies such as CVS Pharmacy, Walgreen’s, Wal-Mart, Target, Rite Aid, Publix, Kroger, Long’s, Safeway, and Fred Meyer. If you already use one of these pharmacies, you won’t need to switch pharmacies to take advantage of the discount.

In most cases, the discount you will receive on the medication with the card is nearly equivalent to the price you would pay if you had insurance. Remember how we mentioned these prescription discount cards are a lifeline when you are un-insured?

Many drugs are included

Most prescription drug discount programs have extensive pharmacy networks and a long list of medications that are included under the scope of their card, even generics. This means the chances that the prescription you need will be covered under the card are good. Our list of covered medications is very comprehensive, but in some cases you can check online or in-store to see if the drug you need is covered under the card. You can even use it online, while out and about with your smart phone.

The medications are FDA approved

All medications covered under the discount card are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and most generic drugs are covered. This ensures that you and your family are getting medications that have been tested for safety and that you are not using questionable medications.

No need to shop around

One frustrating aspect of being on a tight budget is that you have to spend valuable time shopping around and comparing prices at different pharmacies. With the prescription drug discount card you are assured the best price and that you will save money every time you use it. This saves you a lot of time and a lot of headaches.

A pharmacy discount card is designed to assist people who do not have insurance and may not have the money to pay for their prescription medications. The pharmacy discount card can help people who struggle to afford their medications by providing the prescription at significantly discounted prices. You and your family don’t have to worry that because you are uninsured you have to go without your needed prescriptions.

About the author: This article was written by James Sosa, a healthcare writer, who believes that a Prescription Discount Card offers a win-win situation for both customers and pharmacies.

Image: NIH; USGov-PD

Thursday, September 25, 2014

How to save for retirement in later years

Retirement planning tips
Defined contribution plans help supplement Social Security Income in retirement

With capacity and will, planning for retirement in later years should not be impossible. An important thing to realize when planning for retirement in later years is that lack of retirement planning can lead to substantial unwelcome life style adjustments. To minimize these changes in terms of standard of living, a few key principles apply including maximizing safe return on investments, increasing percent of income saved, and eliminating controllable retirement costs.


A good way to save for retirement in later years is to invest in higher yielding financial instruments that are safe. For example, low-risk time deposits with higher yields can be invested in via international banking services such as the CITI International Personal Bank. Other places to obtain higher return on investment are fixed dividend paying stocks from stable corporations, and credible corporate or government bonds such as Treasury Inflation Protected Securities. 


The Financial Planning Association recommends saving 20 percent of annual income as retirement years approach. This makes sense as later years tend to be higher paying and there is less time until retirement knocks on the door. For late starters, increasing this percentage to save even more, and reach the maximum contribution limit on retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401(k)s helps catch up on missed contributions and increases employer matching when available. 

Tax strategy

Leveraging tax planning to improve retirement planning is also beneficial to later starters. This can be done in a number of ways including tax credits, and retirement plan deductions. For example, by saving or investing via a retirement plan, not only can tax bracket be lowered, but taxable income can also be lowered. Moreover, for low income earners, the Internal Revenue Service allows up to 50 percent credit of retirement contributions into qualified retirement plans. 

Social Security Income

There are a number of ways to maximize social security income before and after retirement. One of those ways to is to work until full retirement age. Another is to continue working after full retirement age is reached. This second method in effect increases retirement income without penalty. Moreover, according to the Social Security Administration, working and continuing to contribute to social security during retirement at a higher income level  increases retirement income even after retiring. 

Real estate

Not having to worry about where you are going to live is a stabilizing factor for any retiree as retirement income can then be used for other things. According to US News,  residential expenses typically account for approximately one third of a working person's income, not having to pay that one third of income after retirement counteracts the drop in income often experienced following retirement. In that sense, paying off a home or downsizing to a smaller one that is paid for can make a big difference to retirement living costs.

Images: American Advisors Group, Retirement calender; CC BY-SA 2.0

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Platinum mining and politics in Africa

Africa has the largest known platinum deposits in the world, and as with the diamond trade, political fault lines are a substantial risk to corporations that invest billions of dollars into the mining of such a precious resource. A key political fault line platinum miners face is industry nationalization. For example, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, Zimbabwe required platinum mining firms with values over $1 to sell 51 percent ownership stake to “indigenous personnel”.

African platinum mining
S. Africa holds 63,000 of 66,000 tons of world platinum reserves
South Africa has shown additional evidence of tectonic shifts in the platinum industry landscape. According to Reuters, even though nationalization of platinum mining was found to be a bad idea by a South African administrative consulting firm called ANC, that firm did recommend a 50 percent tax on the industry.

South Africa is believed to hold the largest reserves of platinum in Africa, and mined 139,000 kilograms of it in 2011 per the USGS.

Since so much of the world's platinum is in Africa, the world is largely dependent on African countries for platinum used in industry such as automotive catalytic convertors. Furthermore, despite the use of similar metals that aren't platinum, approximately 38 percent of annual platinum production is used in the automotive catalytic convertors and another 25 percent in industry per Resource Investor. If Africa's platinum supply were to be nationalized, the price of these automotive parts in new vehicles could increase substantially.

The politics of African nations can also be a problem for mining companies seeking to raise capital from investors per Mining Weekly. This is because investors fear they could lose money if an investment is exposed to a political risk such as nationalization. Moreover, when profit-making is at risk under a nationalization that does not facilitate the growth of platinum mining, this could disrupt future investment capital and world platinum supply.

Nationalization is not the only risk facing the platinum industry in Africa. Moneyweb Holdings Limited outlines several additional political factors that influence annual platinum production. For example, platinum mining is also subject to regulatory changes, legislative uncertainty, unforeseen political takeovers and infrastructural problems. In other words, the region as a whole is relatively unstable compared to countries where political change is subject to a slower moving bureaucracy.

For now, companies such as Anglo-American Platinum and Impala Platinum are somewhat protected by the recognition that liberalization and privatization of industry bring in valuable Foreign Direct Investment per the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. However, AIMM also hints at political dissonance at the notion mining regulation is falsely viewed as a technical matter repairable via governance, rather than a political, economic and social process that facilitates self-direction of the mineral industry.

Image: Images of Elements; "Two ultrapure platinum crystals"; CC BY-SA 3.0

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How to get free flight upgrades

Free frequent flyer miles
Overbooked flights are a basis for free upgrade
Several methods assist with obtaining flight upgrades; some of these methods are straightforward, some are more esoteric and others are creative. For example, according to Benji Lanyado of the U.K. Guardian, obtaining a “suitable for upgrade” stamp on a boarding pass can be achieved using a formula involving rendezvousing with key airline staff, optimal use of personal information, and doctor's notes. It is expressed as sfu=(pnr+whsr/osi+dvt), not including the exponent. However, that is one of the more complicated methods of upgrading flights for free.


When airlines over-book flights and everyone in coach class shows up, passengers sometimes get upgraded if seats are available in other sections of the plane. Showing up late for a flight increases the chance of a flight's coach seats being filled up and being awarded a free upgrade. Alternatively, Cheap Flights recommends the opposite, arriving early for an overbooked morning flight, then asking nicely for an upgrade when flight agents are less busy.


A creative solution to obtaining free flight upgrades is posed by Advanced Riskology. Moreover, Advanced Riskology suggests using frequent flyer credit cards that allow cash equivalent purchases to buy coins from the U.S. Mint. These coins increase fee miles on the card that is paid off upon receipt of the coins because they can be deposited into a bank account. Moreover, as long as purchase terms are followed and the card balance is paid off during the grace period, then the miles are free.


Another traditional method for obtaining flight upgrades is to redeem airline miles. For infrequent travelers who are not going to accumulate enough miles for a free ticket, this is an option to pursue before miles expire. Frequent flier programs vary however, and not all of them have miles that expire. The amount of miles required to upgrade to business or first class also varies and may not be as satisfying or rewarding for a 30 minute flight. Miles can be obtained via use of some credit cards, travel, car rentals and targeted shopping.


Timing of ticket purchases can also indirectly add up to the same amount as an upgraded flight. For example, tickets bought several months in advance often cost less than closer to the travel time. Using this logic, a more luxurious seat purchased well ahead of travel would cost closer to the amount of a coach class seat bought a day before travel. Flight timing is also a factor according to Listverse, which recommends booking flights outside of business hours because that's when the business section is less likely to be full.


Departure locations are also an interesting method for increasing chances of an upgrade per Safe Travel. This is because hubs, or airports that serve as home bases for specific airlines, are  more likely to have frequent flyers. These frequent flyers will often have a priority for seat upgrades, or at least increase the demand for such, making it more difficult to obtain one. In light of this, booking flights on airlines out of non-hub airports increase the chance of a free flight upgrade.

Image license: US-PD

Monday, September 22, 2014

Interview preparation tips for successive interviews

Multiple interviews allow employers to thoroughly review job candidates; the process often means they also have plenty of qualified applicants. This gives employers the advantage in the hiring process and can lead to extensive, and even wasted, time and effort on the part of career candidates.

Job interview tips
Each successive interview has different objectives
Applicants engaged with this process are faced with a potentially daunting process with no guarantee of a job; this can also be expensive and lead to frustration. Job candidates seeking to survive multiple job and panel interviews benefit from a sound job hunting strategy.


The goal of multiple interviews is to test candidate endurance in addition to suitability for the job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the total number of employee turnovers in February 2012 was 4.09 million on hires of 4.39 million. Since it costs money to initiate a new hiring process and train new employees, avoiding turnover rates as high as the BLS statistics makes sense for businesses. To avoid failing this process self-screening to determine if the job is really a good fit saves time and energy to focus on applications that make sense.


Multiple interviews are much better managed when prepared for in advance. This means knowing industry related questions and answers, job descriptions, employee names and backgrounds, and typical qualifications needed for specific jobs. For example, the Loyala University Law School  Office of Career Services recommends asking for interviewer business cards before the interview starts to assist with name recall. Being properly prepared also helps narrow down what interviewers expect from applicants, and helps ensure interviewee competitiveness in the screening procedure.


Presenting oneself at an interview is important for all parties involved. The presentation involves arriving on time, correspondence before and after the interview, what is said in the interview and how one conducts themselves during the interview process. NY Daily News suggests being natural and utilizing information gained from previous interviews to demonstrate familiarity with the company. Properly completing  paperwork neatly, legibly and without typos is also helpful to the overall presentation at multiple interviews.


Being professional involves more than just good presentation, it also involves being timely, honest and organized according to the Connecticut Department of Labor. Although ideally multiple interviews serve as gateways for careers that cater to aspects of individuality, that is not always a reality. When this happens, professionalism  enables candidates to answer interview questions in a way that effectively distances  job conduct from one's personal goals, opinions and beliefs.

Image license: Merlin2525/OpenClipart; US-PD

Sunday, September 21, 2014

How actual couples manage money secrets using real life communication

Money secrets are not uncommon. According to MSNBC, a survey of 23,000 people found 37 percent of men, and 56 percent of women keep money secrets. In a separate study by Smart Money, 36 percent of men were found to keep money secrets and 40 percent of women did. These money secrets come in many forms. For example, Dr. Regina Barreca of Psychology Today says even seemingly minor non-disclosure of financial information is deceitful and potentially harmful to a relationship.

Finance for couples
Money secrets can lead to bigger lies later on
Numerous reasons account for why people keep money secrets. Keeping money secrets is a way some people deal with differences of opinion and how others hide money problems. However, according to Judith Sills, a psychotherapist on Oprah, money secrets are harmful to relationships because they bury or avoid issues that could get bigger; they also  indicate a lack of trust or mutual understanding. Even though one partner thinks he or she is protecting the other from worry, or that a financial matter is a non-issue, it is still often something that should be dealt with together.

Fear of consequences or not knowing how to solve a money matter is not a valid reason to keep money secrets. Instead, the issues should be discussed maturely and reasonably using a “Money Huddle” according to the Money Couple. Moreover, using this technique helps keep other aspects of a relationship sane by airing out money concerns. If carried out correctly money huddles can also help prevent money issues from becoming overblown in addition to helping overcome the money barrier to a more functional relationship.

Being informed about how to talk about money is beneficial to the outcome of financial discussions.  According to research conducted by the Star Tribune, discussing money matters early in a relationship is a good idea. Aleksandra Todorova of Smart Money concurs and states a balanced approach is a good premise with which to approach financial discussions. For example, in matters of spending it is suggested that a budget be the primary focus, and not so much what each individual purchases with their share of the budget. 

After becoming informed about how to talk about money secrets, a way to deal with them is to develop a financial system. For instance, according to WebMd, a reference couple who developed a money method prior to getting married were still doing well as a couple six years later. They used multiple accounts that individualized and jointly distributed money in addition to discussing large money issues together. This approach also confirms the above recommendations of the Money Couple, Dr. Judith Sills and Dr. Regine Barreca.

Image: PDPics; US-PD

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ideas to help employers adapt to changing attitudes about marijuana

By Rebecca Short

The legality behind firing someone for testing positive for marijuana has been called into question recently because, Colorado and Washington both passed state laws declaring recreational pot legal.

Now that marijuana use is legal in these two states, companies are being faced with a new challenge. If an employee tests positive for marijuana at a zero-tolerance company in one of these two states, is it still lawful to terminate them? The Supreme Court recently ruled that it is, but maybe there could be amendments made by the employers in an attempt to compromise.

Fit the policy to the job

The basic, standard five-panel drug test used by most employers screens for marijuana, cocaine, phencyclidine (PCP), amphetamines and opiates. This panel looks for meth, speed, heroin, crack cocaine, ecstasy and angel dust, to name a few by their street names. One reason companies opt for the zero-tolerance policy is to avoid legal issues. If they adopt an all or nothing policy, legally speaking, it is clear-cut and not open for debate. However, thanks to the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington, the one-size-fits-all policy would appear to no longer stand. So, what to do from here?

No one would dispute that a significant reason these drug and alcohol policies exist is to protect the safety of other employees and clients in the workplace. How dangerous is the task at hand? Who and how many people would be affected if any accident occurred? Those operating heavy machinery are cautioned not even to take cold medicine if it makes them drowsy! It is no accident semi-truck drivers and airplane pilots are screened consistently; their jobs put them in positions where if anything goes wrong, it could cost some people their lives.

Zero-tolerance policies exist in these types of jobs for that reason. Come to work under the influence, people could die. So then what? What about all those people who take buses and trains to work and sit passively at desks or computer consoles during the day? Well, the truth is, alternatives to automatic termination are already in place. Many companies employ a warning system, which could lead to an eventual termination if an employee’s behaviors are not modified satisfactorily. Others choose to remove and suspend an employee from duty immediately pending a follow-up drug test and probationary period. Some use a variation of the two methods, depending on the infraction.

Hold out for alternative testing options

Maybe the real question should be “How do we incorporate legal recreational marijuana into our existing policies?” Any behavior that affects job performance usually leads to termination if it happens frequently enough. Drug use is not the only culprit. Alcohol and excessive illness or tardiness are also reasons. Scientists are developing a test similar to a Breathalyzer for detecting marijuana in real time. The main issue with testing for marijuana is it metabolizes significantly more slowly than alcohol, so if a person used the drug at any point in the past 30 days, the test could come back positive. That is even if the individual never came to work under the influence. If and when this test becomes available, it will be easier to separate actual recreational use of the drug from a more abusive use.

Forego random drug testing altogether

Human Resources departments recommend that one way to avoid legal troubles is to forgo random drug testing once an individual is hired by a company. Routine screenings for those working in high-risk environments are usually accepted, and they are also built into company policy. It would be in everyone’s better interest to only order a drug test if there is reason to believe an employee’s sobriety is compromised while at work. 

If recreational marijuana is legal off the clock and it is not affecting performance on the clock, then maybe we should do as the folks from Amsterdam do. Get rid of the marijuana element of the drug test in states where it is legal, but keep a stricter policy for those substances that are still 100 percent illegal.


About the author: Rebecca Short is the human resources director for her company and has to deal with setting policies on drug use and screening applicants. To help her with screening these applicants, she requires a reliable lab, and has found such a lab by going to http://www.workfloworlando.com. You can learn more about Rebecca by going to Google+.

Image: A7nubis; "Marijuana plantation"; GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0

Friday, September 19, 2014

Britain's big six energy suppliers continuing to lose market share

By Debbie Faulkner

New figures show that Britain’s ‘big six’ energy companies – British Gas, EDF, E.ON, npower, Scottish Power and SSE – are continuing to lose their market share. The large suppliers now have a 92.4% share of the market – a decrease from 99.8% five years ago.
The latest figures, from independent research group Cornwall Energy, show that 3.8m customers have accounts with small, independent suppliers. These energy companies have increased their share from 0.2% to 7.6% at the same time as the big six have taken a tumble.
big six energy suppliers
Independent energy suppliers are differentiating themselves as Earth friendly

Britain’s largest independent energy company, First Utility, has just announced it has reached over a million customer accounts and now has a share in more than 2% of the residential energy market. The utility supplier has seen a remarkable ten-fold increase in customer numbers in just under three years. Utility Warehouse is the second biggest independent supplier, with some 835,000 accounts.

Independents are differentiating themselves from the big six by underscoring their green credentials, technological advances, or market campaigns as well as offering some of the cheapest gas and electricity tariffs.

First Utility is just one of the smaller firms claiming to offer cheaper bills than those of the big six suppliers. The firm has been the cheapest gas and electricity supplier on the market for 23 out of 35 weeks in the third quarter of 2014, promising to save customers up to £213 a year. Co-operative Energy and Extra Energy also offered gas and electricity tariffs under £1,000 in Q3.

“The number of energy suppliers has almost trebled since 2010 thanks to Government action to open up the energy market and break up the stranglehold of the big six” says Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

“Reaching one million customer accounts is a fantastic milestone for First Utility. With over two million customers now signed up to independent suppliers overall it’s clear that households increasingly trust them and are benefiting from competition in the market.”

The latest data reveals that more people switched their gas and electricity supply to independent firms than the Big Six in May for the very first time. The news comes after the big six suppliers announced above-inflation price rises in unison and met an increase in customer complaints.

Representing the energy market, Energy UK said more than 225,000 households are switching suppliers each month. The figures indicate consumers are now more willing to switch and are more aware of the benefits of switching.

 “More and more people are voting with their feet and switching away from the Big Six to newer providers, chasing lower prices and better service. The Big Six need to raise their game if they want to keep customers,” says USwitch chief executive Steve Weller.

The declining market share comes in unison with an enquiry into the big six suppliers by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) after regulator Ofgem said the market did not allow fair competition.

The CMA enquiry, which is to examine the possibility of breaking up the big suppliers, is due at the end of next year.

About the author: Debbie Faulkner is an energy blogger who champions green energy and campaigns against the monopolisation of the ‘big six’ energy companies.

Image: Alan Cleaver, "Electric light", CC BY 2.0

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Employee fraud can cause major problems

By Andrew Reilly

While some people commit theft and fraud after a lot of planning and consideration, it is fair to say that many people commit these crimes because the opportunity arose. A person may not have considered themselves to be a criminal or someone who was likely to break the law, but because of circumstance, they found themselves in a position where there was an opportunity to commit a crime and receive some benefit.
Employee fraud
Fraud includes bribes, illegal transactions & extortion 

Many people will be faced with temptation and while it is fair to say that most people can resist this temptation, for a number of reasons, it may be that some people are unable to avoid this. While everyone knows that committing serious crimes like theft and fraud will have serious consequences, there is often a rationalisation that goes on in the persons head. There may also be some thought that they will not get caught, which means that they don’t pay much attention to the potential consequences of acting in such a manner. However, far too many people have found out that there are serious consequences of being caught committing a fraud, especially one of such a high nature.

This was the case for Christine Quinn, a 34 year old woman from Belfast, who pleaded guilty to defrauding a sum of £10,000. The victim was the Department for Social Development, who were employers. The period of time ran between October 2010 and March 2011, with the woman eventually pleading guilty to two counts of fraud by abuse of power, when she appeared in Belfast Crown Court. The crime was undertaken by making benefits payments, of a false nature, to her mother. Quinn also denied two other counts made against her in court, which were charges of copying a false instrument.

People in positions of trust need to be responsible

There are many positions of trust that people are placed into, and of course, there is an expectation for them to act above board in all manners. This is crucial and it is something that all employees will be told at the start and will be reminded of at various times during their career. It is not as though the law itself is enough of a reminder about what can and can’t be done by people who hold a position of power, there will be plenty of reminders that people in a position of power need to be accountable at all times.

The court heard that a total of £10,000 was paid into the bank account of her mother but before too long, these funds were transferred over to an account that Mrs Quinn held with her husband. The prosecution lawyer in court pointed out that under interview, Mrs Quinn stated that she was acting to help out her mother, and then the funds were transferred away from her mother. It was also recognised that the accused had submitted claims on her husband’s behalf, but there spotted and stopped before the money was paid. This means that there was a potential loss of £25,000.

There could be severe financial penalties to come

With the judge saying that money is expected to be paid back, there is a continuing need for Quinn to receive the best level of defence. Sentencing has been adjourned until the beginning of October with a report prior to sentencing being created. The fact that there is a dual element to the case, the sentencing and then likely a focus on the proceeds of crime indicates that there is a real need to have legal representation that is skilled and experienced.

The right sort of defence will be able to:
  • Effectively quote precedent
  • Provide reliable expectations at all times
  • Be fully prepared for what may come ahead
  • Will have experience of this style of case
  • Will prepare a client fully for questioning
  • Will be able to advise regarding appeals or follow-on cases
In this sort of case, it is possible that some clients will have one firm all the way through, while other clients may decide it is best to use to one firm for the initial case, and then to utilise the skills of another criminal defence team with respect to the amount of money that needs to be paid back,. Finding a single criminal defence team that can provide support for the entire case is likely to be of benefit but in some cases, it may be best splitting the matter into two, and then receiving the best level of support across the entire spectrum of the cases. 

About the author: Andrew Reilly is a freelance writer with a focus on news stories and consumer interest articles. He has been writing professionally for 8 years but has been writing for as long as he can care to remember. When Andrew isn't sat behind a laptop or researching a story, he will be found watching a gig or a game of football.

Image: Pixabay, US-PD

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Is it possible to learn forex from a trading coach?

By Luke Peters

Forex is known to be a highly volatile market and most traders need years of experience and learn from their failures to become true masters of the trading art. Most people think of trading as an art which is self taught and it often requires one to go through several trials and failures to be able to derive regular profits from the market. 

Although, trading is a fine mix of art and analytical science that develops and refines with time, the learning process can be essentially hastened through the help of a trading coach. It is pretty believable fact that it is possible to learn the art of trading through the guidance of a mentor who can help you focus on the right things and teach you the art of patience and discipline. Trading is not about doing what is requested but all about doing what is required and maintaining a trading psychology.

Why do you need a coach?

Forex trading tips
Forex trading is risky and requires know-how to lower risk
Why do aspiring athletes need a coach to develop their skills? The reason is simple. While an aspiring athlete has his youth and strength, the coach of mentor has experience in said sport. And it always takes the guidance of a suitable master to learn the major areas where one needs focus in order to maximize your performance. One way to receive guidance about forex trading is by signing up for and utilizing technical metrics such as the Tradeology forex tool on the right of this page.

In a highly unstable market like forex where more than 90% of the trades end in losses, a string of continuous initial losses can shatter the moral of even the most passionate traders. A coach or a mentor can essentially help you understand the basics of trading and the main areas that you need towatch out for and what situations to avoid. Having a highly experienced trading mentor, can not only help you learn the art of trading at a faster rate, but will also protect you from initial risk.

How to choose a trading mentor/coach

1. Make sure the coach screens you

There might be several people who would promise to teach you the basics of forex trading for a fee. One can always learn how to trade by reading books and taking the help of a fellow trader, but to master the trading art you need to determine whether you fit the master’s teaching style or not. Let the coach decide after a screening round whether he wants to take you under his wing or not.

2. Ask the coach to pinpoint the reasons for your losses

After months of anguish and frustration when you’re unable to make any progress in the forex trade, the flaw often lies in your approach. Ask your chosen mentor to show you and pinpoint your flaws and the various other factors why you lost money in the first place. Several new traders might start with an effective trading strategy while entering the market, but still end up losing money due to external factors. An experienced coach/mentor should be able to notice all the reasons why you as an individual, lost money in that particular trade.

3. Coach should focus on how you act out under stress

Remember, Forex trading and emotionsare mortal enemies and one needs to be ruthless yet alert at all times in order to take regular profits. Your natural talent might come in handy when spotting a profitable trade but it’s your emotions that come in play when faced with decisions where to take the available profits or sell your current position. Fear and Greed are the worst enemies of a successful trader and only an experienced mentor can help you control your emotions.

4. Coach should focus on developing a routine

The chances of success in forex trade highly depend about the number of hours spent in the market. Most people think of forex as a full time market due to it being open 24 hours from Monday to Friday and try to grab every possible trading opportunity. But most experienced traders are aware of the fact that in order to achieve regular long-term success in forex, it is very important to develop a trading routine.

Despite of trading being a highly intuitive business, the guidance of an experienced trading coach or mentor can help you come up the learning curve at a faster rate. A trading coach and help new traders cushion their entry in the live market resulting in fewer losses and more profits. 

About the author: Luke Peters is an active forex trader on various online trading platforms like Corner Trader and has written several articles on trading and finance. He likes spending his free time reading various books and other material related to finance, management and trading.

Image: Rodomontade; GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Newsletter: Problems with generally accepted accounting principles

Monday, September 15, 2014

Advertising with smartphones

Mobile advertising information
Augmented reality via smartphones helps generate interest
Smartphones double as mobile computers in several ways making any mobile Internet connection via a smartphone a marketing opportunity. According to Nielsen, 65% of U.S. households own smartphones.  Android operating systems dominate the U.S. market with over 80% of market shipments in Q2, 2014 per IDC.

The trend toward more sophisticated mobile apps with greater functionality adds to the utility of smartphones as marketing tools. Not having some form of mobile platform locks out access to a growing market. This is of particular relevance to companies that rely heavily on the same demographics that also comprise the greatest share of the smartphone market.


Gaining access to the smartphone market gives mobile marketers increased net exposure time to products and services, and raises the prospect of gaining a return on investment via monetization of mobile applications, hardware and advertising. When more individuals use smartphones instead of more traditional computing hardware to access the internet or applications, it increases the potential marketing opportunity for information technology service providers, advertisers, businesses public relations, and software developers. For example, according to Marketing Profs LLC, 14 million Americans used quick response or QR Codes to learn more about something in just one month in 2011.


The opportunities to market via smartphones are extensive, and limited only by what the designers cannot conceive within the hardware capacity of the phones and the computing capacity of the operating systems, which is substantial. Direct Marketing News says these changes to gain market share are not being taken advantage of as much as they could be. For example, many retailers do not have online purchasing options, websites with smartphone accessibility, or business specific smartphone applications. Additional examples of underutilized smartphone marketing mechanisms include free product or service sampling, online coupons, promotional content and real time social media interaction.


There are also obstacles to smartphone marketing; in particular, smartphones such as the iPhone are still primarily communication tools rather than computing devices. Furthermore, in light of this, the need for functional utility and enhanced communication ability provides the key to mobile marketing per iMedia Connection. This means mobile marketers are tasked with the challenge of creating a different kind of marketing that is communication based rather than content based as is more the case with desktop and laptop computing. Marketers must also be aware of product trends such as which operating system platforms to focus on, currently iOS and Android have the largest market share in the United States per 925 LLC.


The smartphone mobile marketing campaign is agile, flexible and understands its target market in addition to being able to gain that markets interest, trust and loyalty. The 2012 winners of the Global Mobile Awards illustrate how this can be done. For instance, Rovio Entertainment Ltd's  game “Angry Birds” was a winner of this award. This is a mobile phone application that entertains, occupies, and enhances the smartphone user's life in some way. Smartphones enable innovative use of smartphone technology to market at lower cost and with increased efficiency with the help of mobile metrics. However, they also mean the bar has been raised for marketing campaigns to reach their optimal

Image: Aboheshem; "Icodar Slide 1";  CC BY-SA 3.0

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Is property management easier with a smaller home?

Property management tips
Location of small properties is a significant factor in their management
By Andrew Reilly

When it comes to property management, it can seem like there is a million and one tasks to carry out to make sure that everything is in place. If you don’t know where to begin with property management, it makes sense to call on the services of experts that do it professional and who understand what needs to be done to ensure a property and client is being well looked after. Reliable property management firms will have checklists in place which will ensure that they know what needs to be done to ensure that a property is well maintained and looked after.

Of course, no two properties are 100% alike and even if they have been built from the same design plans, they may not have been finished or fitted to the same standard. This means that there needs to be a bespoke approach to every property that is in the portfolio of a property management firm. This means that some properties may be easy to manage and other properties may be very troubling and a drain on resources. This is why some homes and properties may be of greater benefit to a property management firm than others.

There are arguments for and against over property management firms using small properties

This raises the argument over whether a smaller property is more attractive for a property management firm to look after than a big property. Some arguments for the smaller property being of greater benefit include:
  • Less space to cover
  • Less likelihood of things going wrong
  • More realistic client expectations
However, it may be that a larger firm is of greater benefit to a property management firm due to:
  • More income being brought in
  • Similarities with other properties
  • Greater likelihood of property being part of a portfolio
  • Greater chance to develop a reputation
There are arguments for and against property sizes being of significance to a property management firm but with a number of smaller firms coming on to the market, it may be that property management firms need to develop their skills with respect to small properties.

If some people are looking to get onto the property market or are looking to make money from letting out a property, there is a lot to be said for buying anything you can in a good area, and this may mean that smaller properties are all that can be afforded.

An Islington property resets the bar for small properties in London

One property in Islington, which is so compact that the property owner has to sleep on a shelf that is placed above their kitchen has recently been added to the market at a price of £275,000. The property is located in Richmond Avenue in Islington and it has been described as the smallest house in London, clocking in at just 188 square feet. The property firm responsible for selling the property has referred to it as a “pied-a-terre”, which is clearly another cute term being used to take away from the fact that the property seems so small. While you would think that this sort of property is not suitable for a happy and healthy home life, it is likely that there will be someone willing to snap it up. This could provide a rental goldmine for someone because there will always be someone looking to stay in a great area and who only wants a place where they can enjoy the basics of life.

If you are working for most of the day and then like enjoying what London has to offer in the rest of your time, you only really need a secure place to sleep, wash, eat and store your belongings. It wouldn’t be suitable for many people but there will be some people that find this Islington property to be perfect for their needs and it could also be a property that a property management firm would love to have on their books.

The fact that it is a one-room house which has a toilet and shower, but no sink, will limit the amount of work that a property management firm has to do to maintain it, but there will always be a number of administrative tasks that have to be carried out, regardless of the size of the property, and this is where the real work of a property management firm will take place for a small property.

About the author: Andrew Reilly is a freelance writer with a focus on news stories and consumer interest articles. He has been writing professionally for 8 years but has been writing for as long as he can care to remember. When Andrew isn't sat behind a laptop or researching a story, he will be found watching a gig or a game of football.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Why businesses need to gain compliance to the ISO 27001 standard

ISO 27001
ISO 27001 helps ensure business data security standards
By Sarah Miller 

Technological advancement has also changed the concept of business protection over the years. Today, more and more enterprises include information technology security in their business plan because they recognize the critical importance of it. When customer data is stolen from your system, trust is in question and business reputation is damaged. The impact of this in profit is very imperative. All business, even new stores online can be vulnerable to security or IT attack. 

What are needed for information security today are carefully structured plans which can stand up to any possible attack. It is something that ensures enough and consistent protection to confidential data. For businesses to achieve this goal, governing bodies have introduced certain standards. How to comply with this has been described as well. The ISO 27001 standard is for managing information security.

The ISO 27001 standard

To improve your information security system, this international standard gives you a good framework. The best practice for your Information Security Management System (ISMS) is enabled here. All your policies, activities, processes, organizational structure, planning, responsibilities and other entities with information assets that need protection are defined. The ISO 27001 standard additionally offers requirements for application, set up and maintenance of your ISMS. The tools and steps for improving your system continuously are also given.

Because change is inevitable, there are revisions on the ISO 27001 as technology advances. While many pay attention to building security, others are also after how they could breach it. New threats to existing systems are needed to be addressed. One recent revision for this standard is the elimination of the requirement for PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act). To make sure of its performance, more emphasis is given to the evaluation and measurement of the ISMS. Vulnerability assessment and penetration testing may be included to check security systems.

The testing process

Testing is an important phase. Business must first determine the possible vulnerabilities before attackers will discover them. To do this, some organizations opt to hire skilled individuals to do the hacking. This so called “ethical hackers” will test the system. Several simulated attacks are initiated. They will try unauthorized access and infiltrate the system. Your ISMS should be able to stand up with this delicate and fundamental process, otherwise you need to redefine your security measures.

A section on the ISO 27001 includes the outsourcing measurement and evaluation processes. With this, businesses can safely check certified individuals who can do the penetration testing. Depending on organizational context, data or information security may vary. This means that there will be variations on security challenges as well. The importance of organizational context on data security is one focus of the revised ISO 27001.

Help for compliance 

Outsourcing a credible and certified security testing firm is the best way to make sure that your ISMS is well evaluated and tested. While you focus on your daily business operation, they will take care of the necessary assessment and testing so that you will gain compliance.   

Author Bio: Sarah Miller is a business consultant and a content creator. She writes articles about business management, business improvement, sales and profits, marketing and other topics about the business industry. She shares this resource https://stickman.com.au/blog/ for your business data or information security.

Image: Purple Slog, "Information Security Wordle: PCI Data Security Standard 1.2 "; CC BY 2.0

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How Congress attempted to attain income equality

The Paycheck Fairness Act was a piece of legislation aimed at tackling income equality between men and women. Even though income equality narrowed by 30.5 percent in nearly half a century per the Washington Post, it is still an issue that continues to favor male income earners over women. The law, also referred to as S. 3220, and sponsored by a Maryland Senate Democrat named Barbara A. Mikulski along with 36 cosponsors, was introduced to Congress on April 12, 2011. On June 5, 2012, the bill failed to pass in the Senate with 52 of 60 needed votes. After being reintroduced in April, 2014 the Paycheck Fairness Act failed to pass again, but with a total of 54 votes.

Paycheck Fairness Act
Women earn less than men in the same jobs
According to the Senator who wrote the Paycheck Fairness Act, women earn .77 cents for every dollar a man makes. Similar bills in the past have also attempted to address this issue. Specifically, H.R. 1519 sponsored by Representative Rosa L. Delaugro with 190 co-sponsors and S.182 sponsored by then Senator Hillary Clinton and 42 co-sponsors. National Public Radio reports Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller as going on record saying the bill is lip service. This is because when Democrats held a majority in Congress, similar legislation still failed to become law per the Senator.

Opposition arguments to the Paycheck Fairness Act claim it makes possible frivolous lawsuits more possible per Tamara Keith of NPR. Yet, on the other hand, the law would also protect women from employer retaliation such as termination of employment in the event a company were sued for income inequality. The bill also serves a political goal, particularly pre-election political maneuvering that forces votes defining GOP and Democrat positions on political issues. In this sense, the voting on such laws also defines party lines and current issues that are “on the table” or “in play”.

Rules advocating equal pay for women have also been played out in State government. Moreover, according to the Denver Post, the Colorado State Senate has noted unequal pay for female staffers in the White House and passed a unanimous joint resolution in April, 2012 that promotes equal pay within government, for-profit businesses and not-for profit businesses. This was the 17th time such a resolution was initiated in the Colorado legislature per the Denver Post.

Although, the Paycheck Fairness Act is focused on income inequality between sexes, it does propose issuing payment collection regulations based that also include race and national origin per GovTrack. Furthermore, even though the most recent Paycheck Fairness Act failed to become law, the persistence and consistent drum-beat of income equality is likely to remain if the past is any indicator. Such being the case, it will not be a surprise to see yet another Paycheck Fairness Act, or proposed legislation similar to it in the future.

Source: U.S. Senate; US-PDGov