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Marketing Seasons, Remembrance, Alberta Fiscal Health, UBI Behaviour, Oil and Gas

Posted By Thom Young, December 1, 2015
Updated: November 30, 2015

How Many Days until Christmas?

Now that the flap over Christmas decorations displayed before Remembrance Day is over, I guess we can enjoy the real beginning of the Christmas season, unless of course you celebrate American Thanksgiving. Before people protested that a change to the Christmas marketing season prior to Remembrance Day was disrespectful to veterans, they complained about Christmas marketing before American Thanksgiving. Historically, the fall decorations celebrating the harvest were removed during the last week in November, and up went all the Christmas decorations. Music in the shopping malls quickly changed to classic carols, and lineups to see Santa began. The current transitional marketing seasons seem to be working. The vast majority of shoppers don’t seem to mind that the seasons run together. If they didn’t like the atmosphere being created for them, they wouldn’t go to the malls.

Speaking as a veteran, I believe that if you took a moment out of your busy life on November 11th and thought for a minute about all those who have made a sacrifice for their nation, and if you wore a poppy in remembrance, then that “remembrance” is good enough for me. I wouldn’t be bothered a bit if you were putting up Christmas decorations while you did that. While I’m sure I do not speak for all veterans, most of the veterans I know feel the same way. In my youth, at eleven minutes after eleven on November 11th, buses and cars pulled over on the street and men stood with their hats off and their heads bowed, school was interrupted for announcements, and then all stood for a brief silent tribute in memory of all who served. This unified action of Canadian citizens was quite a thing to witness and participate in. Many of our citizens vividly remembered the horror of war as they were survivors of it, so the act of remembrance was very real to them. Still, after this short meaningful tribute was over, people got back in their cars or went back to their desks and got on with whatever it was they were doing. The practice of devoting a whole day and a civic holiday to remember our veterans came much later. Now that very few of the generation that participated in the 2nd World War are left, I sometimes wonder what they would have thought of the new generation’s take on this act of remembrance and the controversies that always seem to arise about it. For my generation of veterans, the seemingly endless attempt by others to find things that are disrespectful to veterans is both annoying and confusing. Lest we forget.

Interesting Times in the Fiscal Health of the Province of Alberta

So far the political transition for Albertans and especially for those of us who have business dealings with our provincial government has been interesting. On the energy side of things, no consideration has been given to any relief for this industry that is suffering from the steep decline in oil prices. As no one has any control over the price of any internationally traded commodity, no fault can be found with the government for the price of oil. However, as the industry once again goes into hibernation to await the return to profitability that increased oil prices will bring, some declarations of support and patience from our government would provide some confidence for both investors and industry leaders on what the future will hold. Instead, we see next to nothing of any substance and no leadership whatsoever. The capital risk takers will not likely have much incentive to take this opportunity to improve their operations while awaiting a market correction. The rumours persist that increased royalties and environmental restrictions are in the offing. Nothing like being kicked when you’re down, is there?

Our Albertan economy is not as tightly tied to the yoke of the oil and gas industry as it was in the mid-1980s when the collision of international price volatility and domestic resource policies saw capital flee and production grind to next to nothing. Still, the current situation is unsettling with the large number of variables at play here. Suffice to say that the oil and gas industry in Alberta is not very happy with the current competitive environment that will continue to slow down production and shelve large projects until confidence returns.

On a positive note, the surplus supply of labour and equipment has greatly reduced development costs. Perhaps now would be the time to put that advantage to work in repairing and improving the infrastructure of our province. Maybe another lane on that QE2 would improve safety and reduce travel times. An actual ring road around Calgary would improve the transport of goods. Highway 2 south still wanders through a half dozen little towns and would be improved with freeway completion. In the north, twinning completion on Highway 63 to Fort McMurray and Highway 43 to Grande Prairie would save many lives.

The distribution of oil and gas ties together economic and environmental considerations. Our country is self-sufficient in production of oil and gas but can’t find a way to reconcile the benefits of that reality with a distribution system that gets raw materials to the refinement centres and the product distributed around the nation. Instead, we compete for delivery of unrefined product from foreign sources that subject us to wide price fluctuations driven by international events. Whoever thought this plan up has to be asked why. Discussion of building a pipeline to deliver the product from source to market now results in a huge uproar about the environmental implications. This is confusing given that the oil going to those production facilities now is floating up Canadian rivers, rolling along on Canadian railroads, and being pumped through aging pipelines from the shore facilities. The potential for an environmental catastrophe in the current model is more pronounced than bringing the product to market on a new pipeline. Perhaps we should now ponder this mystery from an economic perspective, rather than the political one.

People Behave Better under Supervision

A recent report on the use of UBI in Canada observes that installing in an insured’s car a device that monitors driving behaviour produces better driving. Who’d have thought? A couple of years ago, I predicted that the main benefit of UBI to the public would be the change in behaviour (and thus fewer claims) that would result from this monitoring. The benefits of UBI continues to be an interesting philosophical discussion within the industry as, statistically, the benefits for the insurer in using UBI to select better risks may well now outweigh the use of UBI to make better risks out of the drivers using it.

This debate continues in the U.S., where UBI data have been collected 10 more years than in Canada. The active monitoring of underage driving behaviour in the U.K. has been producing huge benefits in both selection and the modification of behaviour of this class of business. The stellar results in regard to this class of business makes one wonder if its use should be mandatory.

Certainly, the continued development of smart technology is changing all facets of our industry. Most smart phones record continuous data on your location, speed of movement, and other information such as the temperature. The introduction of the data from these devices into trial evidence is now routine in both civil and criminal law. New automobiles are coming with built-in LTE Wi-Fi. Within the next 10 years, your new automobile will have all the features of your phone built directly into it and will sync with your phone whenever you enter your vehicle. Real-time video recording of all that is happening in and around your vehicle or what people are doing to it will be built right into the vehicle’s CPU, so disputes as to fault for anything will be much simpler to resolve. As this technology continues to develop, some people may not even see the fact that they are being monitored while using it, while others will increasingly raise public debate on where personal privacy ends within and without your home. In particular, we’ll all need to reconsider the authorities we give people to use our personal information and images as the significance of that license continues to change.

Looking into the Future Is Fun

While predicting the benefits of new technology on our business and society is interesting, we need to remember that many things change while others remain the same. Constancy is particularly true of human nature. Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero, born around 100 years BCE, influenced many things still felt today. Of particular note, his writing on the constitutional regulation of people’s rights and the division of power in a republic are still found in contemporary teachings on the subject. We often hear little snippets of his ideas on many things quoted to support opposing sides of a debate. On state funding though, his thoughts rarely deviated. I do enjoy one of his best quotes:

 "The Budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest Rome will become bankrupt.  People must again learn to work instead of living on public assistance."—Cicero, 55 BCE

Even today, I don’t think you will find too many tax-paying people who would disagree with this perspective on things. As we in Alberta ponder the irony of throwing out a fiscally irresponsible government and replacing it with a more generously philosophical group in protest, the teachings of the past should not be forgotten.

In Closing

I received a memo from my staff the other day reminding me that it’s time to get the annual Christmas letter done. In all the years I’ve been in business, I’ve written a brief one-page essay each Christmas to share with our customers and our business partners. For me, there is no greater reminder that the holiday season is soon upon us. The challenge to keep that message new, refreshing, and relevant is an interesting one. For now, the challenge of hosting American Thanksgiving is more pressing.

The news is focusing on roads closing due to snow storms and cold weather. Bundle up, people. Winter is just starting!

The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of IBAA.
Comment on this post below or email Thom Young privately. Thom also encourages suggestions for topics.

Tags:  budget  privacy  provincial economy  Remembrance Day  telematics  UBI 

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Plan, Budget, Forecast, and Prediction Differences; and Then Some Puns

Posted By Thom Young, May 5, 2015
Updated: April 22, 2015

What Is the Difference between a Plan, a Budget, a Forecast, and a Prediction?

I belong to several business discussion groups, and this question was recently posed in a LinkedIn blog from the Harvard Business Review (Harvard Business School). Usually, the issues are more pragmatic than philosophical, and I always gain some insights by following the interaction between people here. The forum is an international one as well, so the discussion isn’t as dominated as some by American perspectives on issues—not that American perspectives are bad, but discussions about the uniquely different aspects of American social structure tend to get off into the political realm, which, in my view, is irrelevant to the point of discussing business management and sales. Product development, sales distribution, human resources, and corporate culture transcend any kind of political structure. Producing a profit is a universal goal. The manner of getting there is the crux of the debate.

There is an old saying that “those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” The essence of business management is about planning. Budget, forecast, and prediction are very important parts of the planning process: you can’t have a plan unless you do the research necessary to put together a budget of the costs to achieve a goal, and you can’t prepare a budget without doing the research necessary to forecast results and make predictions in your budget. These interrelations are the essence of a proper plan.

Poor planning is better than no planning! Why? Well, if you have a plan and measure your progress against the plan, you develop a report card that allows you to change your method and correct errors in the assumptions made in putting the plan together. The result of doing this process properly makes your plan work. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? The whole of this process takes many years to learn, but learning it properly will make a world of difference in your life and give your business a much better chance of success.

The essence of planning is reviewing information relative to the goal. Setting the goal is the hard part. What do you want out of your efforts in life? Platitudes like “to be successful” or “to be happy” or “to live a good life” sound nice, but they don’t have much substance in the planning part of setting a goal. You have to get in front of that person in the mirror and have a long, hard discussion about what those platitudes mean. Then you can start figuring out how to achieve them. Success means many different things to many different people. The same can be said about being happy and living a good life. This hard heart-to-heart discussion with yourself has to quantify those things. Do you want a big house and lots of money? Now you’re getting to the nib of the matter, because identifying what you want is the first part of working out what you need to do to get it.

Many people think that luck forms a large part of the path to success. I’ve often said that it’s strange how hard these lucky people work to stay focused on their goals and keep on the path to achieve them. Business planning is no different than personal planning and, especially in our business, the component parts are easy to break down no matter whether you are the owner, a department manager, or a CSR. Your income and success are tied directly to your production results. Your market share or the size of the book of business you manage determine your income level. If you make your employer money, you make money. It’s not rocket science. You are a cost centre in which the biggest part of the cost is your earnings. Support and other component parts of your position—like premises, advertising, and administration—all form part of the costs of employing you. If those costs exceed the revenues you produce, you better have a plan to correct that or the matter will be taken out of your control. The only difference between receiving a commission on your work or a predetermined salary is that your performance review comes with every pay cycle if you’re on commission. The business owner is no different: if the revenues from operations fail to produce sufficient returns to keep the lights on and the employees employed, corrective action must be taken quickly or a total failure comes quicker than you think. Most sales-oriented businesses (which are virtually all business) have less than 90 days of working capital to keep the doors open if the revenues fall below the breakeven point. Fast action is necessary to protect the business if sales objectives aren’t met.

In my years in private business, I’ve learned the hard way about the need for proper planning and review of budgets and forecasts. The old adage that “wise people don’t make errors in judgement but errors in judgement often make people wise” sort of follows along the lines of “don’t make the same mistakes twice.”

I cannot stress enough that setting goals and preparing a plan to achieve those goals is the way to become successful. Decide what you want, and put in place the action plan needed to achieve it. Stop and review your progress at regular intervals, and determine both what has hindered you from meeting your objectives and what has helped you exceed them. Do more of the latter. Do this long enough, and you’ll find yourself surprised by what you have achieved. Others will notice your success before you do!

I could share much more with you on this topic and, as I have promised in the past, will revisit it again in the future!


Everyone Needs a Good Laugh Every Now and Then

After talking about such a serious subject, having a good laugh is in order! These posts have been circulating on the internet.

Here’s an amusing twist on words and puns.
  • How does Moses make his tea? Hebrews it....
  • Venison for dinner again? Oh deer!
  • A cartoonist was found dead in his home. Details are sketchy.
  • I used to be a banker, but then I lost interest.
  • Haunted French pancakes give me the crêpes.
  • England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool.
  • I tried to catch some fog, but I mist.
  • They told me I had type-A blood, but it was a Type-O.
  • I changed my iPod's name to Titanic. It's syncing now.
  • Jokes about German sausages are the wurst.
  • I stayed up all night to see where the sun went, and then it dawned on me.
  • This girl said she recognized me from the vegetarian club, but I'd never met herbivore.
  • When chemists die, apparently they barium.
  • I'm reading a book about anti-gravity. I just can't put it down.
  • I did a theatrical performance about puns. It was a play on words.
  • . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
  • I didn't like my beard at first. Then it grew on me.
  • Did you hear about the cross-eyed teacher who lost her job because she couldn't control her pupils?
  • When you get a bladder infection; urine trouble.
  • Broken pencils are pretty much pointless.
  • What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary? A thesaurus.
  • I dropped out of the communism class because of lousy Marx.
  • All the toilets in New York’s police stations have been stolen. As of now, it appears the police have nothing to go on.
  • I got a job at a bakery because I kneaded dough.
  • Velcro—what a rip off!

For me, Sinko de Mayo is truly a day to celebrate. Few people have come to know the “true” origin of Sinko de Mayo. I’m pleased to set the record straight. A little known fact is that, back in 1912, Hellmann’s mayonnaise was manufactured in England. In fact, the Titanic was carrying 12,000 jars of the condiment scheduled for delivery in Vera Cruz, Mexico, which was to be the next port of call for the great ship after its stop in New York. This would have been the largest single shipment of mayonnaise ever delivered to Mexico, but, as we know, the great ship did not make it to New York. The ship hit an iceberg and sank, and the cargo was forever lost. The people of Mexico, who were crazy about mayonnaise and were eagerly awaiting its delivery, were disconsolate at the loss. Their anguish was so great, that they declared a National Day of Mourning, which they still observe to this day. The National Day of Mourning occurs each year on May 5th and is known, of course as Sinko de Mayo. Go out on this day, grab a couple of slices of Wonder Bread and a jar of Hellman’s mayonnaise, and have a party. You know I will!

In Closing

If all goes according to plan, you’ll be receiving this on the 5th May. The date "is observed to commemorate the Mexican army's unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is sometimes mistaken to be Mexico's Independence Day—the most important national holiday in Mexico—which is celebrated on September 16” (Wikipedia). Le ruego a mis amigos mexicanos que me perdones por burlarse de su lengua.

The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of IBAA.
Comment on this post below or email Thom Young privately. Thom also encourages suggestions for topics.

Tags:  budget  business plan  economic forecast  economic prediction  economics 

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