Posts by Joe Weppler

The case for prepaid cards

According to a 2017 survey by the FDIC, 25 percent of U.S. households are unbanked or underbanked. That means a quarter of U.S. households either don’t have a bank account, or have an account but still use financial services outside the bank to make ends meet.

Of that 25 percent, more than half said they didn’t have enough money to keep in an account. Thirty percent said they simply don’t trust banks, and a further nine percent reported that banks are not in a convenient enough location to warrant using based on where they lived.

For these unbanked individuals, basic tasks like paying bills and cashing checks can be both difficult and expensive.

Enter the prepaid card, affording happy customers the ability to pay bills online, direct deposit their checks, and pay for plastic-only services and amenities – all without the needs for a bank account.

Prepaid cards allow you to load money onto them in advance in order to make purchases or transactions. Of course, that means you can only spend as much as the amount you loaded onto it – there is no line of credit involved. So what are some of the pros and cons of using a prepaid card over a traditional credit card or even cash?

The Bank Alternative

As mentioned before, prepaid cards offer the ease of card-based purchases without the need for a bank account. They come with routing and account numbers so you can even have your paycheck deposited directly to your card. Things like shopping online, renting a car or booking a hotel room can be difficult without a traditional credit card. Thankfully, a prepaid card can fill that void, even if you don’t have a bank account.

Perks of Plastic

Generally speaking, it’s not a good idea to charge something to your credit card you’re unable to pay off in full. That’s because credit card charges accrue interest, and anything you can’t pay off in full is going to end up being even more expensive in the long run. Of course, sometimes it can’t be avoided – which is why lines of credit exist in the first place.

Borrowing money can get anyone in trouble. By using a prepaid card, you’re never borrowing. And if you’re not borrowing, then you’re not owing, and you’re not spending beyond your means. Plus, you don’t need a credit check to get a prepaid card, so you can still use plastic even if you have a poor or nonexistent credit history.

Flexibility

Since you can’t get into debt using a prepaid card, the approval process is easy. Prepaid cards offered by the major carriers like American Express, Visa and MasterCard often carry liability protection to help keep your money safe. Plus, the funds in these cards are almost always held by a bank or credit union, which means they benefit from federal deposit insurance.

Most prepaid cards will allow you to access money from ATMs as you need it, preventing you from having to carry around physical cash on your person. That’s not to mention the fees associated with prepaid cards are often less than what you’d pay using a check-cashing service.

Fees and Cons

While you aren’t charged interest for your purchases on a prepaid card, the biggest downside of using prepaid cards are the associated fees. Depending on the card you choose, you could be charged when you:

  • Make a transaction
  • Reload your balance
  • Stop using the card over a certain period of time
  • Withdraw cash from an ATM
  • Attempt a purchase when you have an insufficient balance

Some cards even charge monthly fees. Often, these fees are predicated on how many transactions you make per month, and some carriers will waive these fees if you opt for direct-deposit on to your prepaid card.

Prepaid cards also do not report your payment history to credit bureaus, which means using a prepaid card will not help you improve your credit. They tend to have fewer billing protections than credit cards, and depending on the one you choose, can be more expensive than opening a checking account and using a debit card. You also miss out on the nice perks and awards associated with using a credit card responsibly.

In Conclusion

There are several benefits to using prepaid cards if traditional credit cards are simply not an option for you or you don’t put faith in the banks, but you’re still looking for the ease of access plastic provides.

If you plan on giving prepaid cards a shot, do your research first on the fees associated to make sure you’re getting the card that works best for you. Read the small print before using it so you’re not spending more on fees than you need to be. Also, consider confirming that the places you frequent actually accept your card of choice before swapping.

Prepaid cards can help you avoid debt, spend within your means, and manage your income. If you struggle with credit, prepaid may just be the solution to your problems.

Rogers rolling out Canada’s first 5G network

In a move that Rogers President and CEO Joe Natale called “the biggest technological evolution since the launch of wireless in Canada,” Rogers has announced that it is starting to roll out Canada’s first 5G network in downtown Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal to be ready for the release of 5G devices this year. The network is planned to expand to more than 20 additional markets by the end of 2020.

The Rogers 5G network has initially begun using 2.5 GHz spectrum in the downtown areas of these four major cities, but will expand to use 600 MHz 5G spectrum later in the year. This upgrade should lead to more consistent and high-quality connectivity in both dense, urban areas and across long distances.

So what does 5G mean for the average Canadian in these cities? According to the experts, 5G will transform how businesses and industries communicate, with massively increased speed and capacity, much more efficient use of the spectrum, an improved battery life and overall lower latency. It will also support a large increase in the number of connected devices, ensuring that you don’t lose connection due to overload in major urban areas.

While Canada still has a long way to go in terms of making 5G viable for all consumers, this rollout is a good start. Bell has also stated that it is ready to launch “early 5G service” this year as eligible hardware becomes available.

For more information on what 5G can do you for, check out “What does 5G mean for you and your business?”

Bad Weather, Telecom Outages, and You

Severe, bizarre, and downright crazy weather conditions make headlines every single winter, and we all accept the impact these conditions have on our travel, deliveries, and even our well-being. Yet we seem to take for granted that the networks we use to communicate will continue on uninterrupted.

The truth is that wind, snow, rain and storms can damage the fiber-optic gables that provide internet as well as conventional phone landlines. Immediate damage to communications networks aside, exposure to the elements – such as water and wind – can create long-term degradation that causes interference in our transmissions.

Weather can have a particularly bad effect on your mobile and network signals, as rain, snow, extreme cold and even heat can disrupt masts and towers. In order to fight against this, telecom companies often install signal boosters in local areas to try to keep users connected. In any case, a disruption in signal often requires engineers to fix the issue manually, which is often a slow process.

These coverage outages present a significant pain point for any business that relies on phone, wireless and internet services every day. Some of the larger or more specifically tailored companies have back-up systems in place to ensure the work pipeline continues in the event of an outage, but the vast majority of us depend on properly functioning lines, cables, transmitters and other data systems. Outages due to malfunctions in these systems can bring a company’s operations to a complete standstill.

Thankfully, some preparation can go a long way. So what can you do to prepare your business for the event of a major system outage? Here are a few tips:

Determine ahead of time how an outage will impact your business and plan for it. A Business Continuity Plan can help you avoid downtime and continue operations.

Every good plan needs a good team, so make sure you know who is responsible for what in the event of an outage. Does anything need to go manual? Can work continue with pen and paper in the meantime? Assign jobs and create and distribute checklists and physical templates that employees can use when their digital solutions aren’t available.

Another important aspect is making sure that you have a solution in place to communicate with employees, clients, customers and other locations. Depending on the size and arrangement of your business, that could mean anything from satellite phones to walking down the hallway.

If you have customers that might be impacted directly by your outage, your communication needs to extend to them and be in place well before the outage takes place. If your website has a status page, it should be kept properly updated and linked in key locations like your contact page, your support accounts and your help pages. You should also consider keeping your status page hosted on separate infrastructure, if possible, to minimize the risk that an outage takes it down as well. Studies have shown that recovering properly from a failure in your service can actually lead to a higher approval rate than never having a failure at all. By making sure your customers are informed on what is happening, what it means for them, and what you’re doing to solve the issue, an outage can actually have a positive impact on your customer’s perceptions of your business.

Peak Season Surcharges: What to Look Out For This Holiday Season

If you’re experienced with shipping using the major carriers, you likely know that, depending on the time period and characteristics of the package, you might be subject to peak season surcharges that can drive up your shipping costs during the holiday season.

For both UPS and FedEx, peak period generally starts for large packages around early October, and for additional handling packages by late November. These peak season surcharges usually come to an end in early January. This year, both FedEx and UPS are not applying peak surcharges on residential deliveries, which is great news for both e-commerce retailers and online holiday shoppers.

While peak surcharges for large and over-max-limits packages are fairly simple to understand, the major carriers also include a charge on U.S. Domestic, U.S. Import and U.S. Export deliveries that are labeled as additional handling packages.

These additional handling packages can take many forms, from oversize in weight, length or width to strange or irregular packaging. This could include packaging made of wood, metal, hard or soft plastics, and even Styrofoam. Cylindrical shaped items like barrels, drums or tires that aren’t encased in corrugated cardboard could also fall victim to extra charges. These charges are slapped on solely at the discretion of the carrier, so if your package isn’t being shipped out in a plain old cardboard box, you should be aware of the possibility of an additional handling charge.

If you have not received a missive of some sort from your vendor informing you of these peak season surcharges, you should visit their website and make sure you’re aware of any charges that might apply to you.

Depending on your shipping needs, peak season surcharges can add a fair bit to your small package shipping and courier bills. Most businesses can’t just stop shipping during the holidays in order to avoid these surcharges – in fact, many businesses do the majority of their shipping entirely within peak season. That’s why it is so important to pay careful attention to your bills and reduce costs wherever possible in order to compensate for the extra charges. If you don’t have specialized software that helps you keep track of the changes in your bills, these charges can slip through the cracks and come as a real shock when they come out the other side of accounts payable.

Of course, if it’s possible to ship your product before or after the holiday season, it could be something to strongly consider. Not only can the extra fees add up, but your packages are much more likely to be delayed, damaged or lost during peak season. Plus, bad weather can greatly impact your shipping plans, with winter storms having the potential to bring regular shipments to a halt. If you’re shipping in northern areas, it might be a good idea to build some extra time into your shipment schedules to account for the weather.

It might also be prudent to keep in contact with alternate shippers, just in case you need to exercise your options if your primary vendor runs into issues this holiday season.

Creating Your Business Continuity Plan

In our increasingly tech-driven world, connectivity is paramount. If a natural disaster were to cut power and wireline services to your building, would your business be able to continue operations, or would you need to shut down?  Here are some tips to help you create a plan that ensures you have the resources needed for business and revenue continuity in the face of a natural disaster.

Analyzing Critical Elements

The first and most important step to creating a working Business Continuity Plan is identifying the processes that are imperative to your company’s continued operation. You need to know what your critical processes are, what possible alternatives could take their place in the event of a disaster, and, failing an appropriate alternative, how long your business can operate without them.

These dependencies should be properly outlined and labeled, and they need to be ranked by the urgency of their restoration. Once you know exactly what you need to operate your business, you can begin putting processes in place to act as backups in times of crisis.

At this point, a Business Impact Analysis will help you measure the impact that downtime will have on your business, the cost of that downtime, and the legal and/or compliance issues regarding keeping your data secure.

Establish step-by-step recovery plans

A Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) should be included in your Business Continuity Plan as a set of procedures that reduce downtime and focus on the most effective route to recover your critical information. One of the most important facets of your DRP is properly defining your recovery points. By aligning your backups with your business needs, you can make sure that your DRP prioritizes the data that is critical to your business functions in order to get you back on your feet that much quicker.

Disaster Recovery Plans take into account two major steps for tracking your downtime in the event of a disaster. Your Recovery Time Objective is the desired amount of time after a disaster occurs that full data restoration is achieved. Obviously, the quicker the better. The Maximum Tolerable Downtime represents the maximum amount of time that your critical information and services can remain unavailable before you begin to lose business or irreversible damage is done.

Update and Test Frequently

Without regular testing and constant updates, a business continuity plan can become outdated and leave you completely unprotected when you need it most. If you’ve taken the time to analyze the critical elements of your business, you need to keep your business continuity plan in mind when making any changes to those elements.

Say you upgrade your client databases to account for your company’s growth, but you forget that your data backup system is still configured with your old database in mind. In the event of an emergency that results in data loss, your upgraded system results in that data becoming unrecoverable.

With frequent updates and testing, you make sure that your business continuity plan stays current, relevant, and effective.

Keep an Eye on the Outside

You’ve identified your critical elements, you’ve set your downtime targets and established recovery plans and redundancies to meet them, and you’ve tested, updated and re-tested your process. Now you need to take note of the things that are beyond your control.

Inoperable e-commerce platforms, outside data-networks, 1-800 service failures, provider downtime – by understanding exactly what can grind your business to a halt, you can prepare alternatives to keep you afloat. No business is immune to problems, but by being well-prepared, you can help mitigate the damage caused by worst-case scenarios.

Paper Waste Stats to Make You Think Twice

The average U.S. office worker uses around 10,000 sheets of paper per year. If that number alone seems like a lot, keep in mind that means we’re talking in the realm of just over 12 trillion (12,000,000,000,000) sheets of paper used in U.S. offices every single year.

Nearly 50 percent of that paper will end up in the trash. On average, 70 percent of the waste that most companies produce consists of paper. Let’s take a look at some more paper waste stats to better understand the issue.

Waste Not, Want Not

A lot of things are created with very little waste. Paper is not one of them. Now before you print out this blog to share with your coworkers, keep this in mind: Paper manufacturing is an incredibly wasteful process that necessitates a huge amount of resources.

According to Environment Canada, the production of one kilogram of paper requires 324 litres of water.  The paper industry is the 3rd largest user of fossil fuels on the planet. Over 40 percent of industrial logging goes directly towards paper production. Humanity’s demand for paper is one of the most direct causes of deforestation across the planet.

With the massive amount of resources required to create paper, it’s shocking to consider that, according to research, 30 percent of print jobs are never even picked up from the printer, and 45 percent end up in the trash by the end of the day.

We Don’t Have the Space

According to the US EPA, the material most frequently encountered in MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) landfills is paper. Paper waste accounts for more than 40 percent of a landfill’s contents. Despite the worlds continued embrace of digital media, newspapers alone can take up as much as 13 percent of the space in US landfills.

Biodegradable only goes so far in a landfill environment. Paper is much more resistant to deterioration when compacted in a landfill than when it’s in open contact with the atmosphere. In fact, a study by the Garbage Project showed that, when excavated from a MSW landfill, newspapers from the 1960s can be found intact and completely readable.

The “Junk” in “Junk Mail”

Humanity has devised a pretty silly pipeline for junk mail flyers. The flyers get printed on paper, they get put into your mailbox, then you take them and put them in the trash. Talk about efficiency.

Think about how often you actually hold on to a flyer you get in the mail. Now consider that four million tons of junk mail are delivered to landfills each year. According to the EPA, that’s more than 50 percent of the junk mail that gets made.

Junk mail aside, think about your bills – water, electricity, cable, phone, etc. Most of these are tossed in the same trash pile as your junk mail. Perhaps with even more vigor.

What Can Be Done?

Going 100 percent paperless isn’t plausible for every business. But it’s estimated that 50 percent of office waste that goes to landfills is recyclable.

Experts predict that, if digital document management systems were widely used, it would save around 1.4 trillion pounds of paper.

On a personal level, you can save huge amounts of paper with just a little mindfulness. You rarely use a phone book, but most cities continue to print them. If you and 499 of your closest neighbours recycle them instead of throwing them in the trash, you’ve just saved approximately 30 trees.

Go paperless with your bills. Opt-out of junk mail by calling the toll-free number listed on the ad. Think twice before you print something that you’re just going to mark-up and then throw in the trash. Sign up for online magazines and ditch the print versions. Use electronic storage and scan your receipts, instructions and forms. Perhaps one of the biggest things you can do is buy recycled items! Make sure you’re checking the packages of your books, notebooks, cards and household papers for the phrase “Made from Recycled Materials.”

Shipping Breeds Brand Loyalty

Shipping is more than just a necessary cost. In fact, when purchasing a product, the ease of delivery is right up there with the price when it comes to what is most impactful on a consumer’s decision to buy. No matter how many things go right, if the shipping experience goes wrong, you’ve likely lost yourself any repeat business from that customer.

Here are some tips to help you get your small package shipping right, the first time and every time thereafter.

 

Keep your customers in the know with package tracking

Consumers appreciate being in control, but when a sale hits the shipping phase, things become decidedly out of their control. That is why giving them the ability to track their packages is so important to their overall experience.

If your customer can log on and see where their packages are, it brings them peace of mind and allows them to better anticipate delays. Some companies like to offer a simple tracking number and portal combination, while others prefer to send the customer emails directly updating them on the whereabouts of their package.

Partnering with a courier that communicates with your customers frequently can be the difference between a happy and loyal customer and a disgruntled one-time shopper.

Keep your prices reasonable by offering the right services

Say what you will about Amazon, but it’s impossible to argue with the effect they’ve had on the supply chain. Today, customers want fast and free. Most companies can’t afford that like Amazon can – so how do they compete?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Expedited shipping is expensive, and unless your business is doing extremely well, you likely can’t afford to eat those costs. That means passing them on to the customer. And the customer doesn’t want to pay them any more than you do.

Weight, dimensions, destination, volume, speed – all these things affect the price of shipping. The most cost-effective solution if you ship multiple different products is to make sure you’re offering the right service for the request. While flat rates are convenient, they’re not flexible.

Choice is important. Give your customers the choice between fast or cheap. Don’t offer overnight shipping on products that people don’t urgently need. You’re only increasing your processing costs in the long run.

Be accurate, predictable, and accountable

Consumers hate surprises. They want to be in the loop every step of the way. They want to decide what is going to happen and see it go their way. And they should – after all, they’re paying for it.

The best way to avoid surprises is to have an accurate and effective way to keep track of your inventory. There is nothing worse than not being able to fulfill a customer’s order after the fact because your inventory wasn’t tracked properly. It is absolutely vital that you know exactly what you have, how much you have of it, and how fast it’s going out the door. And it’s equally as vital that you communicate that information to your customers accurately. One thing is for sure: a customer will always prefer to see an out-of-stock sign before they’ve paid opposed to after.

There are tons of factors that go into shipping – from return policies and processes to e-shop tools and packaging practices.

Fortunately, they’re all sides of the same coin. If you can keep your customers informed, offer reasonable pricing, and keep an accurate account of everything you’re sending out, the rest will begin to fall in to place.

Sprint, Verizon, AT&T waive fees for those in path of hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian is now a Category 3 major storm and is still gathering strength as it moves toward Florida, where it could make landfall as soon as late Monday as a Category 4 hurricane.

All of Florida has been placed under a state of emergency and authorities are urging residents to stockpile a week’s worth of food and supplies, with the governor warning that the storm could be a “multi-day” event.
 
As a safety precaution, some of the major telecom providers in the United States have announced that they are waiving fees for those in the path of Hurricane Dorian
 
 
Verizon announced they are offering unlimited call/text/data for customers in Dorian’s path. https://twitter.com/VerizonNews/status/1167506290626760704 https://www.verizon.com/about/news/hurricane-dorian-way-and-verizon-ready
 
AT&T announced they are waiving data overages in affected areas of Florida from 9/2 until 9/8. https://about.att.com/pages/disaster_relief/storm_dorian.html
 
Sprint announced that they are waiving call, text, and data overage fees for customers in the U.S. Virgin Islands effective August 28 through September 4. https://newsroom.sprint.com/updates-on-dorian.htm?linkId=72887125
 

Mobile Payments and Generation Z

The payments landscape has been evolving at a rapid clip over the past decade, thanks in part to massive demand for electronic payments and a quickly growing base of consumers who would rather pay for their goods with anything but cash.

That trend won’t stop anytime soon. In fact, by 2020, 40 percent of U.S. consumers will be made up of Gen Z. This demographic doesn’t remember the world before the internet, Amazon, and apps. They accept nothing less than digital, and they won’t be constrained by anything they can’t carry in their pocket.

When it comes to the demand for efficiency, efficacy, and immediacy, Gen Z is a tidal wave that will wash away any institution not willing to adapt. And the first place to undertake that adaptation? Mobile payments. Take a look below at some of the growing trends of the mobile payments industry – which is projected to become the second most common payment method after debit cards by 2022. 

Mobile Point of Sale

Imagine a store with no checkout, replaced by sales staff carrying mobile-point-of-sale (mPOS) devices. While not so viable in places where you’re buying a large volume of items such as a grocery store, stores that sell at lower volume and higher cost could benefit greatly. Your staff member is right there with the customer, answering their questions and pointing them in the right direction. When they make a choice, the sale is conducted right then and there and the customer gets to walk out the door with their purchase immediately.

These same devices can be taken out of the brick-and-mortar location as well and used at trades shows, festivals and food trucks. An mPOS can go anywhere your customer does, and accept payments from phones, watches and credit cards.

Social Commerce

People are on their phones constantly. Whether you think that’s good or bad, it’s incredibly important to take it into account when considering how you accept payments. Anyone who has spent any amount of time learning about online purchasing knows that the checkout cart is where most sales die. In fact, every redirection, click and new page that a customer experiences from the moment they decide they want an item to the moment they click “Confirm Purchase” is another hurdle to the final sale.

What if your customer could purchase directly through your Facebook or Instagram page without ever needing to redirect to your website? 60 percent of Instagram users claim they find new products they want to purchase on the app. The more streamlined your payment process is, the more impulse buys you’ll get.

Retail, Wholesale, and Automation

Over the next few years, retail and wholesale are expected to grow into interactive, highly-automated systems. Let’s make two assumptions.

First, payments and service development will continue to be customer-driven and focused on efficiency. Second, that these customer-driven systems will continue to innovate and change, embrace new technologies, and develop extremely tailored solutions for vertical markets.

Mobile payment solutions embrace this automation, and go hand-in-hand with the dream of worker-less stores. From epiphany to delivery, the entire sales process runs through your phone, no matter where you are. This leads to lower overhead and a faster sales process. And if Gen Z wants anything, it’s speed.

Biometrics

The old spy-novel standby is the trusty fingerprint scanner, but biometrics have evolved. Face recognition, iris and hand scans, DNA tests and voice recognition – they’re all real, and rapidly overtaking traditional methods like PINs and passwords when it comes to identification and authentication.

Fraudsters never stop innovating, and mobile payments must continue to combat them at every turn. Biometrics are a more reliable way for merchants to verify the identity of their customers in order to prevent scams.

When it comes to security, your phones built-in biometric security means that not only are mobile payments fast and efficient – they’re also very safe.

Billing Errors Aren’t Going Anywhere

According to Canada’s telecom and TV services ombudsman in April, incorrect billing charges accounted for 16.5 percent of all issues raised in 9,831 complaints to the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services over a six-month period. In fact, billing errors were the top issue for almost every type of service.

 

The second most common sore point? Misleading and undisclosed contract terms. Overall, complaints increased by 68 percent from last year’s mid-year report.

 

Studies have shown over 80 percent of telecommunications bills contain errors. Clerical errors, tax errors, contract discrepancies, double-metering… there are plenty of different ways you can incur billing errors – and you can bet they won’t be fixed unless you notice them and make a point of it.

 

Most professionals simply don’t have the time to do a thorough audit of their telecom bills. Instead, they employ the weigh it and pay it method – if the number is similar to the one from the previous year, they sign off. But what happens when that number has been wrong from the beginning? Or you’re just so busy you don’t notice a change? Here are a few of the most common errors to look for on your bill:

 

Charges for services you’ve never had:

 

It’s not uncommon to be billed for services you’ve never used. Maybe you’re paying for extra lines or voicemails when you don’t have enough phones to use them. Maybe it’s cloud services, call filtering or ring-back tones. Maybe you have an older plan that is charging you extra for North American roaming, despite calling in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico being included in your regular service package. While usually not hyper-expensive on their own, these services are billed every single month, which can add up quick!

 

Charges for services you used to have:

 

Being billed for disconnected services is another common source of billing errors. You’d think cancelling a service is a fairly cut-and-dry process, especially when you’re provided with a stop-billing date. Unfortunately, according to studies, at least 25 percent of cancelled orders continue to bill the client after the stop-billing date.

 

Incorrect rates:

 

Do you sometimes wonder why billing errors almost always go in favour of the provider as opposed to the client? While we might like to think the big bad telcos intend to take our money without providing the services we need, it’s not so simple. In reality, there are plenty of billing errors in favour of the client – but the providers are extremely vigilant when it comes to watching their profitability and correcting their mistakes. Unfortunately for us, they aren’t watching our bottom lines, so errors in their favour rarely get noticed. These errors usually go hand in hand with contract renewals and the installation of new services. It’s often a simple case of an error in the entry of your new rates.



There are tons of other places you might find billing errors – services not under contract, usage in excess of your plan, obsolete and outdated services, multi-account billing by the same vendor… the list goes on. Keeping an eye on your bills to make sure you’re paying the right price and getting proper credits for billing errors can feel like a full-time job, but it needs to be done if you’re hoping to maximize your bottom line!