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ATM fees continue to rise

Mon, 2014-09-29 02:00

Using the ATM can be convenient, and banking industry consultant Bert Ely says that when it comes to out-of-network fees, ease is where the problem begins.

“First of all, ATM machines are getting more sophisticated,” he says.

According to Ely, maintaining and upgrading ATMs to handle fancy new features, like video tellers, costs banks a lot of money. Meanwhile, low interest rates have kept profits down. 

“So, they look elsewhere for income,” he says.

They look, for instance, to out-of-network ATM fees. A new study from Bankrate.com and data from other research shows average out-of-network fees are up between 2.5 and 5 percent over last year. So while your bank might not be charging you, it's instead slapping customers from other banks with fees when they use its ATMs.

“The reality is it’s better for them to charge other banks' customers, than their own more," says Jim Miller, senior director of banking with market research company J.D. Power.

Miller says that unlike with overdraft fees, at least using another bank’s ATM is a choice — albeit, an expensive one.

So where are you likeliest to pay the most? Here are the five cities that have the highest ATM fees, on average:

1. Phoenix, AZ: $4.96

Alan Stark/Flickr

2. Denver, CO: $4.75

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

3. San Diego, CA: $4.70

Justin Brown/Flickr

4. Houston, TX: $4.67

Adam Baker/Flickr

5. Milwaukee, WI: $4.66

Joseph A/Flickr

 

Are you deep in debt? What's your escape plan?

Fri, 2014-09-26 14:40

We want to talk about escape plans. The average US household credit card debt stands at $15,607

What amazing things have you done, or are you planning to do, to get out of debt? Any debt.

Come commiserate, gloat, or just share your story.

Let us know on Twitter or email us, we'd love to hear your ideas.

Are you deep in debt? What's your escape plan?

Fri, 2014-09-26 14:40

We want to talk about escape plans. The average U.S. household credit card debt stands at $15,607.

What amazing things have you done, or are you planning to do, to get out of debt? Any debt, big or small.

Come commiserate, gloat or just share your story.

Let us know on Twitter or email us. We'd love to hear your ideas.

Google explores why everyone is a little bit racist

Fri, 2014-09-26 14:19

This will probably come as a surprise to no one, but Silicon Valley is dominated by men. In fact, it's dominated by white men. 

Google's workforce is around 70 percent male and just over 60 percent white, and New York Times tech reporter Farhad Manjoo says the company knows that's bad for business.

"The interesting thing about Google is it's working on problems that no one has ever worked on before," Manjoo says. "So the way to solve those problems is to get an extremely diverse group of people looking at them. [Google] feels like if they can get more women, more people from different parts of the world looking at these problems they'll have a better chance to solve them than if they have a bunch of people that live and work in Silicon Valley and look like the TV show 'Silicon Valley.'"

Manjoo wrote an article this week called "The Business Case for Diversity in the Tech Industry." He says Google has been promoting programs to try to draw more diverse students into software engineering, but it's also started tackling something below the surface. Manjoo says Google calls it "unconscious bias," and he attended a new diversity workshop put on by Google's human resources team.

"It was interesting because it's based on a lot of research in psychology about how people express biases in ways they don't know," Manjoo says. "Google's basic message in these workshops is that everyone is a little bit racist, a little bit sexist and the way to make sure you're not acting that way is to be conscious of what you're saying, to be conscious that this is a problem and not let your unconscious biases lead a meeting or lead the way."

Protecting yourself from fraud protection

Fri, 2014-09-26 13:54

We don’t want to make you paranoid. But these days, you have to be on the lookout for fraud, even via products that are supposed to prevent fraud. 

"It’s quite an irony that these identity theft products have been consistently found to be sold in a deceptive manner,” says Prentiss Cox, an associate professor of  law at the University of Minnesota Law School.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau just fined U.S. Bank in connection with identity protection and credit monitoring services it was selling. Customers were charged for credit monitoring by a company the bank hired, called Affinion. 

Banks need written permission to monitor a person’s credit report. But the CFPB says U.S. Bank started charging consumers before they signed permission forms the bank sent out. Their credit was never monitored, but they were charged anyway, according to the CFPB.

“The bureau determined that this conduct was an unfair practice and ordered U.S. Bank to repay consumers approximately $48 million,” says Deb Morris, the deputy enforcement director at the CFPB. 

Neither U.S. Bank nor Affinion would agree to an interview, but both sent statements. Affinion says it "proactively built and implemented a solution over two years ago to obtain the required authorizations upon enrollment to our service."

The U.S. Bank statement says the problem was with Affinion: "As soon as we became aware of the issues with Affinion, we took swift action to protect our customers, and ultimately, discontinued our relationship with Affinion approximately two years ago."

‘That’s that Bart Simpson defense," says Ed Mierzwinski, a consumer advocate with U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "I wasn’t there. I didn’t do it. You can’t prove anything.”

Mierzwinski says fraud in these anti-fraud products is widespread because they're profitable, and banks can automatically charge us once we sign up. Mierzwinski says don’t even sign up for stuff that’s free at first.

“The free trial offer only lasts for three or five days," he says. "And if you forget to or fail to cancel, they start billing your credit card on a monthly basis.”

The Bottom line: Depressing as it may be, always watch out for fraud even from those who offer to help for free. 

A social network with no ads?

Fri, 2014-09-26 13:51

You've heard the grousing about Facebook? It’s usually about the advertising cluttering up your feed or the fact that they’re mining users' data.

While that might cause some people to see red, a startup named Ello saw a business opportunity. The social media site promises not to show its users ads or mine their data. And Ello is striking a chord with consumers: The social media site said it's getting 45,000 requests to join an hour.

So that’s all well and good, but there’s the billion-dollar question? How’re they going to pay for all this?

Paul Budnitz, CEO and co-founder at Ello, says, unlike Facebook, the social media site isn’t trying to get everyone on Earth to sign up.

“It doesn’t have to be worth $30 billion to be successful. It can just be a good business,” Budnitz said.

Budnitz says Ello won't charge users. Instead, to make money, the site plans to sell special features, like the ability to manage multiple accounts. They could also sell emojis and stickers.

Roseanne Wincek, a venture capitalists with Canaan Partners, said there is money to be made in hawking those goods. But, she says, if Ello plans to accept the 45,000 invitations it claims to be getting every hour, the social network will need big money.

“I think it’ll be hard to have investors and a ton of users and a ton of data and then say you’re not going to use it” to make a lot of money, Wincek said.

Brett Kopf is the CEO of Remind, a messaging app that’s aimed at teachers and students. Like Ello, Remind doesn’t sell advertising or user data. Kopf said while it might be hard to get mass consumers to pay for privacy, there are businesses that’ll shell out money for it.

“Like in education and in health care, there are real privacy concerns,” Kopf said.

And if there are real privacy concerns, he thinks people will be willing to pay real money for it.

Rotten Tomatoes turns its Tomatometer to television

Fri, 2014-09-26 13:43

Matt Atchity is the editor-in-chief at Rotten Tomatoes, the website known for its film reviews and its signature “Tomatometer.” The site is now a year into featuring television reviews alongside its long-running film reviews. Atchity reflects on the reasons that TV has moved so much more into the spotlight in recent years.

People want more of it
Film watchers are passionate, but the buzz usually dies down after opening weekend. Atchity says television audiences don’t want the coverage to stop after a season premiere. They want to read and talk about the show episode by episode.

“People have really emotional relationships with the characters and you hear people talk about, ‘Oh god, did you see what happened with Walter White and his wife last night?’ It’s gossip. They invite these people into their homes because they’re invested in those characters’ lives.”

Television is the new film
Television series are increasingly filmed all at once, similar to the way feature-length movies are shot. Atchity gives "The Knick," a drama series from Cinemax, as an example.  “They shot that like a movie. That was a 70-day shoot.”

Beau Willimon did the same thing with "House of Cards," the series he created for Netflix. That’s also the way creator and director Jill Soloway shot her new Amazon series "Transparent."

When audiences are able to binge-watch 12 or 13 or even more hours of a television series, it can certainly feel like they’re watching a very long movie.

TV is more convenient
Atchity says Roy Price, the head of Amazon Studios, is right when he told Kai Ryssdal that TV should start when the viewer wants it to start. That’s a common theme among television services like Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go and Showtime Now.

Atchity also points out that younger viewers — like his 10-year-old son — are already comfortable watching 30- or 40-minute TV shows on their smartphones. The services and networks that figure out how to serve those audiences are going to win in the long run.

It's time to break out the decorative gourds

Fri, 2014-09-26 13:40

It's pumpkin-spice latte time.

What, you ask, does that have to do with anything?

Well, the good people — who clearly have too much time on their hands — at the Washington Post have run the numbers and figured out when peak "Decorative Gourd Season" is.

You know, pumpkins, squash and the like that show up carved and on people's porches and mantels this time of year?

Based on Google searches, Decorative Gourd Season runs from late August to early November. Specifically, the third Thursday in October is peak Decorative Gourd Day.

So, now you know.

Weekly Wrap: Inside Goldman Sachs

Fri, 2014-09-26 13:08

Linette Lopez from Business Insider and Cardiff Garcia from FT Alphaville talked with Kai Ryssdal about the week that was: The GDP is revised upward, what does it mean? What happens when the head of the world's largest hedge fund resigns? And we look at the report from "This American Life" on the role of Goldman Sachs and the New York Federal Reserve in the run up to the financial crisis.

Listen to their conversation in the audio player above.

What will TV be like in 25 years?

Fri, 2014-09-26 12:42

As part of "Screen Wars," our series exploring the future of television, we asked a bunch of the industry's brightest where they see the medium moving in the next 25 years. Here's what they said, some answers have been condensed for clarity.

Starcom President Amanda Richman, already exploring the possibilities of the second screen, focused on interactivity:

"Television will still exist but we'll think of it perhaps more as a screen that certainly has much more interactivity and opportunity for us to choose the shows that we want. Not through a remote control [but] more voice activated like, you've already seen with Xbox and Kinect over the last year. we'll be able to really program our old channels and that will be the biggest change. [TV] will look a lot more like the app world of mobile: choosing how you engage with the shows you want on an interactive screen."

Showtime head David Nevins looked to the future challenges of raising revenue without commercials:

"I don't think the demand is going anywhere. The challenge, the 'How do we get paid for it' challenge comes out of the captive audience [that] has to watch the 30 second ad. That's where some of the challenges are: There are other ways that people are demanding to see [TV], and some of them aren't so conducive to the 30-second ad. But I think people are rapidly figuring it out. I think as long as demand for television doesn't go away, we'll figure out the business model challenges."

Marlene King, showrunner of the very buzzy drama "Pretty Little Liars," said in the future the buzz around a show will keep up all year:

"This is the second golden age of television, I think it's such an exciting time to be in TV ... Netflix releases "House of Cards" or "Orange is the New Black" and it stays relevant — people are talking about it on social media — for about month, and then it kind of goes away until the next one comes out. What's next is finding a way to create a show that you binge-watch, but people keep talking about all year long. [You] find ways to stay out there in the universe. I think that's what people are trying to do, and I think in 25 years maybe there will be those types of shows."

Roy Price, head of Amazon Studios, said he's frustrated at scrolling through hundreds of channels and landing in the middle of a show he wanted to watch:

"My prediction is that everything or anything that you may find inconvenient or annoying about TV now is going to be innovated away ... I think we can do better ... With the exception of sports and live events, even the concept of coming into a show in the middle of the show will soon be part of the past ... It should start when you start, you should be the boss."

Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson had a few ideas, particularly about all the different places we'll watch TV:

We're going to see the nature of screens change in the home. It's not going to be a television anymore but maybe it will be a wall in your home ... that plays content that you deliver from your mobile device. You tell the wall what to play for you...Another place that I think we're going to be watching a lot of television is in our cars...It's early days right now, but a lot of estimates say that in 25 years we're going to see a lot more self-driving cars on the road. I think we're going to be watching a lot of TV while we are moving in vehicles. Not just as it is now, when you're sitting on a plane, but when you're sitting in a car doing every day things as you're traveling.

After asking all these guests that question for two weeks, Kai Ryssdal's prediction had gone full sci-fi. After all, who could have predicted all the advances in the past 25 years?

I am much more on the 'In 25 years we're all going to have chips in our brain' spectrum, and I'm only being a little bit factious... You heard Roy Price at Amazon say you're not going to have to scroll through menus and all that. I think we're going to be a step beyond that, and I don't know what that is...I think it's going to be much more innate, much more sub conscious, much more intuitive than actually having to decide to watch something. We're almost just going to think it and it's going to be there.

Finally, we asked you all to let us know what you thought TV would be like in the future. Most predicted that the platform won't even exist:

Weekend Brunch: The NFL's future, changing the climate and whither Olive Garden?

Fri, 2014-09-26 12:39

Joe Weisenthal from Business Insider and FT’s Shannon Bond chat about the week’s news. Click play above to hear them break down the NFL in pop culture and the market effects of climate change.

This weekend’s reading list:

New York Times: Roger Goodell Says N.F.L. Will Overhaul Personal Conduct Policy

Daily Beast: Capitalism Is Saving the Climate, You Hippies

Salon: Wall Street won’t save the world: Why “free-market solutions” are a recipe for disaster

Bloomberg Businessweek: A Hedge Fund's 294-Page Recipe for Fixing Olive Garden

Your Wallet: Getting financial aid, and getting out

Fri, 2014-09-26 10:16

This week, we learned that defaults on federal student loans declined in 2013 for the first time in years. 13.7 percent of student borrowers *who were in their third year of repayment defaulted on payments after they started coming due, that’s about a point lower than last year. But defaults are still far above what they were before the recession. Student loans can be scary and emotional… but key to getting an education.

How would you redesign student financial aid?

Here's what students at the University of Southern California had to say.

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this article did not clarify that this applies to borrowers who were in their third year of repayment.

Your Wallet: Getting financial aid, and getting out

Fri, 2014-09-26 10:16

This week, we learned that defaults on federal student loans declined in 2013 for the first time in years. 13.7 percent of student borrowers defaulted on payments after they started coming due, that’s about a point lower than last year. But defaults are still far above what they were before the recession. Student loans can be scary and emotional… but key to getting an education.

How would you redesign student financial aid?

Here's what students at the University of Southern California had to say.

The numbers for September 26, 2014

Fri, 2014-09-26 08:20

The news has been dominated this week by U.S.-led airstrikes on ISIS compounds in Syria, and today is no different. After a seven-hour debate, the U.K. parliament voted Friday to take military action against extremist groups in Iraq, the BBC reported. After being recalled by Prime Minister David Cameron, Parliament supported airstrikes beginning as early as Sunday, in a 524-43 vote.

Here's what we're reading — and some other numbers we're watching — Friday:

25 percent

The portion of auto loans made last year that are considered subprime — a number that has jumped in the last five years, and caught the attention of federal regulators. There's a side effect of this new subprime boom: More cars are being outfitted with a device allowing lenders to shut the engine down remotely if the owner misses a payment. These devices have become more and more common, the New York Times reported, and borrowers are raising serious safety concerns.

31,000

That's how many requests the much-hyped, invite-only social networking site Ello was getting every hour on Thursday, BetaBeat reported. Ello has billed itself as a sort of anti-Facebook, pledging to stay ad-free and never sell user data. The site's staff was blindsided by the high traffic and considered temporarily freezing account creation, but resolved to limit new users to about five to ten invites instead. 

50 percent

Half of all mercury found in public water treatment plants comes from discarded dental fillings, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday. To reduce waste, the EPA is pushing for dentist offices to use special devices that pull bits of mercury from water before it goes down the drain, the National Journal reported.

$6

Surprise album releases are the new endlessly hyped album releases. Thom Yorke just put out a new solo record, "Tomorrow's Modern Boxes," on BitTorrent for $6. That model is meant as an experiment, Pitchfork reported. Yorke's band Radiohead has done stuff like this before, self-releasing new music through a pay-what-you like model, surprise announcements and even an iOS app.

U.S. government releases a second revision of GDP

Fri, 2014-09-26 03:00

The U.S. government released a second revision to its key measure of economic growth for the spring quarter early Friday. GDP grew at an annual rate of 4.6 percent. Nearly every category, barring consumer spending, was up. Americans, at least last spring, were still leery of splashing out on big purchases, other than health care. Gross national product and later gross domestic product are the accepted indicators of economic health, but a growing body of scholarly research suggests we can do better.

The skepticism around GDP and GNP as measures of well-being goes back decades, and is present in an iconic speech delivered by Senator Robert Kennedy at the University of Kansas in 1968.

“The Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play,” Kennedy said. “It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages.”

And while GDP is easily measurable — an important characteristic for an economic indicator — growth can be deceptive.

“If we have higher divorce rates in a country, then you have lots more money being spent on legal services,” said Julia Kirby, an editor of the Harvard Business Review. “That looks good in GDP, but at a societal level, you wouldn’t say that’s good."   

Kirby says better measures of well-being include whether a country’s population is healthy, educated, happy and getting enough sleep at night. 

PODCAST: The price of AC cools down

Fri, 2014-09-26 03:00

First up, there's news that Bill Gross — the man who built California-based PIMCO into one of the biggest money managers in the world — is moving to rival Janus, effective immediately. In what must be an overstatement, PIMCO's biggest shareholder called this a "Black Swan Event," something so unlikely it wasn't worth even thinking about. We look into what has been the talk of financial markets this morning. Plus, 100 years ago, the Federal Trade Commission was born when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Trade Commission Act into law. Since then, the agency has played an outsize role in the U.S. economy, and it's fair to say it's affected all of us. And as Marketplace celebrates its 25th birthday this year, we are looking at the surprising,  sometimes delightful and sometimes destructive ways that prices have changed during that quarter century. Today, we chill out with a look at the price of AC units, and what their changing costs say about how energy consumption has evolved.

Silicon Tally: India is anti-‘Gravity’

Fri, 2014-09-26 02:30

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by Joe Hanson, a science writer and host of the PBS digital series "It’s Okay to be Smart."

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Silicon Tally: India is anti-"Gravity"

Fri, 2014-09-26 02:30

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by Joe Hanson, a science writer and host of the PBS digital series It’s Okay to be Smart.

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Taking patient ‘happiness’ more seriously

Fri, 2014-09-26 02:00

It's a great time to be in the hospitality industry... if you want to go into health care.

In case you haven't noticed, health care is becoming more consumer-focused by the day, and in a fight for our business, insurers and health care providers are hunting for executives whose business is customer service — making sure once we walk through the door, we stay.

Deedra Hartung with Cejka Executive Search says hospitals are starting to pay top dollar for "patient experience officers."

"The right background for a Chief Experience Officer can range up to approximately $250,000," she says.

The Chief Experience Officer is responsible for what you'd expect: making sure a patient feels good about their hospital stay. The challenge for health care providers, says Hartung, is to understand "what makes one facility more comfortable for a patient than another."

Hospital executives struggle to answer the question Hartung raises. Clearly, as long as prices remain hidden and it's nearly impossible to assess quality, the industry will have a customer service crisis on its hands. But with patient satisfaction scores now tied to hospital bonuses (and penalties), some health care organizations have started to take steps to improve the patient experience.

It starts with snapping up executives like Fabian Marechal, who runs Penn Medicine's new Musculoskeletal Center. Marechal's pedigree is impeccable; he cut his teeth with Marriott and Ritz-Carlton.

"You know, in my practices, you won't see magazines that are two years old or dead plants," he says, laughing. But Marechal's not joking.

Marechal says he's learned a lot from his time in the hospitality sector — one of the most important lessons is that people must feel cared for. So frontline staff greet customers like a doorman or concierge at the Ritz, and walk them over to the kiosk to help with registration. It's a little thing, Marechal concedes, but with big symbolic value.

"I think all of this helps patients be more engaged in their care. [It shows] people are going to listen to me, people are going to acknowledge me. It changes your mindset from the get-go. You are more open and you feel more safe and secure to listen to your caregiver," he says. Another lesson Marechal picked up along the way: Better customer service can turn that new customer into a repeat customer.

Health insurers have every incentive under the sun to improve their customer service. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans have begun to shop online through the public exchanges for their insurance coverage, and this may be the wave of the future for many Americans. The firm that makes online insurance shopping easy — okay, as easy as it can be — will have a significant advantage over its competitors.

Aetna's Dijuana Lewis, whom the insurance company hired away from Wal-Mart, says the message is clear.

"It's all about knowing the customer, what the customer wants and how they want it. Health care hasn't really been approached that way," she says. It sounds simple, and it can be.
But Harvard's Ashish Jha has seen plenty of missteps in the industry's rush to "know their customers."

"I've seen a lot of hospitals that have made big investments in things like having a pianist in the lobby of the hospital," he says. But pianos are easy. Jha says the hard work — the work that wins consumer loyalty — is training staff to better connect with their patients, and sticking with it long enough to change the culture.

Maybe, Jha says, an infusion of hospitality executives will bring that kind of dedication and a bit more humanity to health care.

Taking patient "happiness" more seriously

Fri, 2014-09-26 02:00

It's a great time to be in the hospitality industry...if you want to go into healthcare.

In case you haven't noticed, healthcare is becoming more consumer-focused by the day. And in a fight for our business, insurers and health care providers are hunting for executives whose business is customer service; making sure once we walk through the door, we stay.

Deedra Hartung with Cejka Executive Search says hospitals are starting to pay top dollar for 'patient experience officers.'

"The right background for a Chief Experience Officer can range up to approximately $250,000," she says.

The Chief Experience Officer is responsible for what you'd expect: making sure a patient feels good about their hospital stay. The challenge for healthcare providers, says Hartung, is to understand, "what makes one facility more comfortable for a patient than another."

Hospital executives struggle to answer the question Hartung raises. Clearly, as long as prices remain hidden and it's nearly impossible to assess quality, the industry will have a customer service crisis on its hands. But with patient satisfaction scores now tied to hospital bonuses (and penalties), some healthcare organizations have started to take steps to improve the patient experience.

It starts with snapping up executives like Fabian Marechal, who runs Penn Medicine's new Musculoskeletal Center. Marechal's pedigree is impeccable; he cut his teeth with Marriott and Ritz-Carlton.

"You know, in my practices, you won't see magazines that are two years old or dead plants," he says laughing. But Marechal's not joking.

Marechal says he's learned a lot from his time in the hospitality sector—one of the most important lessons is that people must feel cared for. So front line staff greet customers like a doorman or concierge at the Ritz, and walk them over to the kiosk to help with registration. It's a little thing, Marechal concedes, but with big symbolic value.

"I think all of this helps patients be more engaged in their care. [It shows] people are going to listen to me, people are going to acknowledge me. It changes your mindset from the get-go. You are more open and you feel more safe and secure to listen to your caregiver," he says. Another lesson Marechal picked up along the way: better customer service can turn that new customer into a repeat customer.

Health insurers have every incentive under the sun to improve their customer service. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans have begun to shop online through the public exchanges for their insurance coverage, and this may be the wave of the future for many Americans. The firm that makes online insurance shopping easy—ok, as easy as it can be—will have a significant advantage over its competitors.

Aetna's Dijuana Lewis, who the insurance company hired away from Walmart, says the message is clear.

"It's all about knowing the customer, what the customer wants and how they want it. Healthcare hasn't really been approached that way," she says. It sounds simple, and it can be.
But Harvard's Ashish Jha has seen plenty of missteps in the industry's rush to 'know their customers.'

"I've seen a lot of hospitals that have made big investments in things like having a pianist in the lobby of the hospital," he says. But pianos are easy. Jha says the hard work—the work that wins consumer loyalty—is training staff to better connect with their patients, and sticking with it long enough to change the culture.

Maybe, Jha says, an infusion of hospitality executives will bring that kind of dedication and a bit more humanity to healthcare.

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