The Unsinkable brian cork™

Brian Patrick Cork is living the Authentic Life

banks are the problem and the fed is their accomplice

February1

a benefit, I’ll submit, of coaching high-level decision-makers, is access to reliable information, offered or discerned.

I’ll define “reliable” for the purpose of this post as being relative to making informed decisions of my own, and helping you to pin-down a strategy.

a question being pondered by many, but with exposure all to rare in the media, is why banks aren’t being part of the solution and lending money. it’s fundamental economics. banks lend money to citizens and small businesses – and, the economy would kicks into a higher gear. I’ve touched on the matter before letting you know that banks count on Wall Street for direction. Wall Street want public companies to thrive so stocks can be touted (after Barons stake a claim, and before you do). so, Wall Street wants banks to drive cash towards larger companies. those companies don’t want competition from pesky (albeit inspired) startups.

so, banks are not lending money for three fundamental reasons:

1.  Wall street needs the cash directed towards public companies that don’t want competition so the stock can go up for insider benefit;

2.  banks are waiting for the Fed to raise interest rates; and,

3.  bankers and their regulators are watching the commercial real estate market waiting for the next (and it’s big) foot to drop.

NOTE: this information is corollary.

at some point I’ll delve into this with more details. but, although it would be great for citizens, at a cursory level, and the economy for the next seven years (why seven years?), it’s not to a banks advantage to offer a domestic loan at today’s current interest rates. for the moment, you need to make other arrangements. and, just so we are clear, Wall Street will send the signal when it wants interest rates to climb. it will be akin to a flare in the darkened sky lighting the path for their own insiders.

there yet remains great hope. follow the trends and look for convergence. for example, Apple is leading efforts to get “video any where and every where”. trust me on this. so, what industries and companies are needed to make that a reality?

think! do it!

hint… I’ve touched on that trend in prior posts. go look. do that as well!

this post is categorized under “good vs. evil”. my information is quite good, and I’m helping you against evil (rather like Green Lantern).

this is, in part, what Prudent and Optimistic Gentlemen do.

peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork

gold busted

September28

If you started thinking about buying gold back in 2001 when the world started smelling weakness associated with the US dollar, you were in good form. If you actually bought gold, then you are in terrific shape.

Since 2001, the US dollar has dropped in global value approximately forty-one percent (41%). That’s true, by the way… It’s right here, and in writing. Go verify it. Do it!

So, shorting the dollar, and trust me you can do that, might have also been part of an inspiring, if not rather unpatriotic, part of your mid-range investment strategy. Once the dollar begins that type of slide, our global debt is guaranteed to increase. It has certainly done that, almost on cue (damn you Goldman Sachs!). When the dollar weakens, gold strengthens. This thinking is fundamental, and it’s a great example of how economies work on scale.

Other than pontificating, here, one of my points is you’ve likely already begun to hear advertisements and other touting of gold.

That means it’s too late.

Economic-savvy insiders have already made the great run. Now they want to start a different type of diversification (so, you’ll read about how much money they made in about thirty months). They’ve already started buying things you’ll slap your forehead over in another thirty months.  HINT: It’s sure as heck not commercial real estate – especially in Atlanta. That looming disaster is one reason banks are hoarding cash from small businesses. But, more on that later.

So… Don’t buy gold today, or tomorrow. I don’t know that you should start buying the US dollar, yet (and, you can do that as well). It’s hard enough to just plain earn a US dollar, right now – especially with Obama, the ex-social-worker, and the Obamacrats, I mean Democrats, so resentful of wealthy people that have worked hard to get through college and maybe start a business.

My primary point, here, is simply a heads-up around gold. I’ll try and come up with some recommendation on what I think the global financial markets will push sooner than later.

Just standby for the word. Do it!

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork

bank on Brian

August25

Nicholas Johnson is often found in-and-amongst the companies I’m working with to change the world. I’m not clear what it is he is doing most days. But, some times he’ll haull-off and come up with a pearl worth sharing. For example, in a recent meeting with an uncertain conclusion, he announced the existence of an on-line service called www. billfloat.com. Apparently if you need to pay a utility bill, for example (and entrepreneurs, just like most people, do that) you can convince this shadowy organization to pay your bill up to thirty days in advance for a transaction fee of a mere five dollars. All you need is a viable bank account and the best hopes of the funds being in it by a later, albeit pre-determined, date.

This is different.

Voila!

I feel billfloat is an example of: “being part of the solution, and not the problem”. Five dollars is a reasonable fee for a greater peace of mind. Obviously living paycheck-to-paycheck is living on the veritable edge. But, that is the reality for a growing segment of our national population. Here, someone clearly came up with a solution that is not, in my hardly humble opinion, userous like many of those strip-mall situated paycheck loan (shark) services.

Or, the current banking system, for that matter.

I’m often asked something along the lines of, “If you weren’t running your current business (this is assuming they understand what it is I do), what would you work on, or be doing?”

There’s not a single answer to this question; it can change day-to-day. As I’ve stated on this blog, and through a great deal of public speaking, I could never have planned or anticipated my own career-path. But, in light of our global economic situation, and Johnson’s research, I think if you asked me today, I’d say I would like to start a bank.

There are very few people who really love their bank. I use a private bank and this means I don’t have to suffer the same inconveniences realized by most folk. For example, many are dealing with overage fees that stack up, misleading fine print, and a general malaise born of an apathetic sense of fatalism. However, there’s a unique opportunity in that mainstream contempt for financial institutions. And, concurrent with this is an incredible amount of government backing that essentially makes it a no-risk environment. People are simply hungry for anything different, something contrarian.

A David to the Goliath banking industry. If you will, something heterodoxal. This is where I often realize my best potential and opportunity.

The name of my bank would be something supremely boring, like SmartBank or bank on brian (In my businesses, I typically use small caps for my name because it’s not about me, it’s about what I do). The idea behind it is that bad behaviour in the banking – which is in truth, aligned with Wall Street – world has been largely inevitable because their compensation structures incented people to do overly risky things. the Bank of brian would maintain a reserve level 2-3x higher than Federal requirements, and any other bank. I’ll aspire to World Bank status as well and align myself with European protocols (have you bothered to wonder why the US doesn’t have any World Banks?). Bank of brian would have no bonuses unless goals such as preserving mortgages were met or exceeded and loans made to emerging culture companies based on best practices, carefully monitored milestones and accountability proliferated. I suspect critics would say this would make it impossible to attract top-shelf talent. But, every time the bank gets attacked we’d turn it into an advertising opportunity to emphasize why we’re different.

To wit:

“We can’t attract top-shelf talent? Go on…We take your money and put it in a vault. We don’t need the million-dollar bonus geniuses on Wall Street to do that. SmartBank. Bank, smart.”, would say I.

Bank on brian.

In fact, the first few years of SmartBank would be largely focused on acquisition through every trick in the book. At the very beginning pull a Gmail/WordPress.com strategy ,and make it invitation-only. I’m confident this will create a buzz and also allow you to give amazing white-glove service to the initial customers that want to catch that glassy-fronted wave, who will in turn tell their friends and create a tsunami. That’s called “viral” marketing and that always works when people like what they see and experience. Ironically that would represent a novel experience with banking today where the objective appears to be lining the pockets of bankers while stripping down customers. You can also target certain profitable segments and ultra-safe depositors at first, like Gmail users in San Francisco (using Firefox with an ad-blocker) who make six figures a year. There would be only one style of checks and debit cards and they’d have a distinctive design so if you saw one you’d say, “What’s that?” a-la the American Express Black or Plum card (I have both and everyone’s follow them through every transaction) products which would then start the whole conversation again about how SmartBank is different.

For the first two years you could also do things like not allow accounts larger than the FDIC-insured limit. No one has ever heard of a bank turning away money (unless you, ironically, have poor credit). But, you’d say that although everything SmartBank does is risk-free, it’s still a startup, and if people have more than the insured limit (today it’s 250k for single and 500k for couples) in an account, they should put the extra somewhere else. Again, statistically (and, those types of numbers in the right hands [like my own] never lie) this will impact a very low percentage of customers… And, everyone; everyone, I say, will think it’s naught less than remarkable. This tactical growth can be phased out after a few years; in fact, it would be yet another PR opportunity:

“We’ve been in business now long enough that we feel comfortable with larger accounts.” Boom, free coverage.

I’m not defined as a “tech guy”, but I am more often identified with successful technology, and the associated leadership. So, of course a lot of focus would be on the Bank of brian website. Imagine, if you will, something along the lines of an old-time vintage design aesthetic combined with a Google-like (web 2.0?) simplicity and attention to speed. All logins would be two-factor, with the default being SMS’d  to you with a one-time code to log in when you gave your email address (Just so we’re clear, I’ve given this a lot of thought, for good reason, done my home work, and already using consultants). A significant part of the website would be the blog. It would have a strong Ben Franklin-like common sense voice, with a Thomas Jefferson oriented pragmatic tone with a few cool savings or home management tips each week. And, in-line with my own cultural architectural views, it would cover at least one financial industry story a day that was relevant to historical examples alined with current events for perspective.

For example:

“Bank of America spent forty million dollars on airplanes last year. We spent forty thousand to develop an iPhone application so you can check your balance from anywhere.”  (the average useful iPhone app costs $2.99.). NOTE: Not Android, at first. I say this because quality control is crucial here – and Apple defines that, while Android is working on it.

“Here’s how to block advertising when you browse the web with Firefox; it makes the web faster and less annoying.”

“So-and-so Bank’s website requires you to use Internet Explorer. We insist that you don’t because there are way cooler and faster browsers like Firefox, Opera and Safari. Here are links to those open source browsers you can switch to today.”

“Goldman Sachs just paid out sixteen billion dollars in bonuses to their employees. If we had an extra sixteen billion dollars lying around, we’d put it in the bank for a rainy day. By the way… If Goldman Sachs had never paid out bonuses they never would have needed government intervention.”

Sixty eight Million Reasons Your Bank Sucks. That’s the amount Bank of America collected last quarter in needless ATM fees.” …well, needless to customers, any way.

That’s all made up, for now. The headlines would almost write themselves, and every time a financial institution is in the news it’d be an opportunity to contrast why SmartBank is different, and what the underlying philosophy is behind why it’s different.

I’m a Social Historian. I study and consider why things happen. And, then I do something about it.

As trumpeted above, all of the marketing would be on the web and viral the verbal, or word-of-mouth part would follow (like eBay and Amazon) – because it’d be an online-only bank like ING Direct. No storefronts (brick-and-mortar) where people have to wait in line, or risk a bad interaction with a disinterested teller, or get robbed and need insurance.

To be clear…Basically, a lot of the historical risk of running a bank could be eliminated. When you sign up it would have a: “tell your friends about SmartBank” address book (like LinkedIN) feature that would connect you to them if they signed up for an account, give you both money (I should make the point that Bank of America actually does have something like this, so I have to keep thinking about it because of the karma thing), and also make it easy to send them money, PayPal-style, if they have an account.

I’ll pause here and offer that you might see a trend in my thinking… I’m picking, showcasing and reflecting products and services that appear to be working, and adopting them as my own for your benefit. This can be referred to as “best practices”. And, we need o be all-in on that.

I suspect SmartBank would make money and reward shareholders and customers alike, which just might separate it from the likes of Bank of America, for example. So… How would the Bank of brian make money and also provide terrific customer service, you ask?

I think it wouldn’t touch anything risky on the financial side. However, it would be a data company. As it turns out, data is a hot industry as evidenced by hiring and investment trends (and, I’m a subject matter expert in both areas). The first three years the focus would be entirely on customer acquisition, marketing, PR, and establishing a world-class tech team building a rock-solid infrastructure. SmartBank would likely make less money than non-customer-centric banks currently do, but it would be more than enough to build an amazing product in a sustainable way, like Craigslist did with newspaper classifieds. After a certain milestone, say one-hundred billion in deposits, I would buy or clone Mint. SmartBank would have more (and accurate) data about its customers than almost any other company in the world other than credit card companies, so the online interface would have Mint-like lead generation offers that are based on accurate information. For example, if you spend one hundred and forty dollars a month on electricity, but if you switch to this new solar provider you’d save two hundred dollars a year. Think of it like Gmail (By the way… I’ll admit to referencing Gmail, consistently in this post, to honor Nicholas Johnson and his possibly being a catalyst for much of this) contextual advertising but based on where you spend your money rather than the words in an email. There also might be aggregate data opportunities for economic research or targeting, but I’m not sure if I like, or have a firm understanding of, the privacy implications there.

SmartBank probably couldn’t, and I wouldn’t want to raise Venture Capital, or anything like it, because having any sort of exit expectations, and the predatory influence that would reflect Wall Street, would completely kill the “safety story”. Like most of my businesses today, I would want to bootstrap, and after a few years would be hugely profitable. I understand the irony in this vision coming from a felon. But, there is yet another example of my being Jeffersonian, a heterodox, and the contrarian, eh.

By the way… The existence of bank of brian would also put significant pressure on existing, more traditional, banks and the Federal Reserve,  because depositors would be leaving in droves, putting pressure on their reserve requirements. Existing banks couldn’t compete in a traditional way because they have such a sordid history of customer apathy and bad PR. SmartBank wouldn’t be trying to capture their profits, so-to-speak. However, we would reflexively be unhinging them while driving much more revenue, but in smaller amounts, but a larger end-result.I think this would end up looking something like a credit union, but for the masses.

Thanks Nicholas. And, the rest you readers can thank us both, at some point.

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork

obama isn't picking his battles, he's choosing defeat

July26

According to the WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama on [Thursday] blamed immigration policy gridlock on: “political posturing and special interest wrangling.”

In a speech only a few weeks ago at American University, Obama took Republicans to task, in particular eleven (11) GOP senators who supported recent efforts to improve the immigration system. He did not name any in particular, but told his largely supportive audience at American University that those lawmakers had succumbed to the “pressures of partisanship and election-year politics.”

“Reform that brings accountability to our immigration system cannot pass without Republican votes,” he said. “That is the political and mathematical reality”.

“The question now is whether we will have the courage and the political will to pass a bill through Congress, to finally get it done,” the president said. “I’m ready to move forward, the majority of Democrats are ready to move forward and I believe the majority of Americans are ready to move forward. But the fact is that without bipartisan support, as we had just a few years ago, we cannot solve this problem.”

So… There is a touch of irony amidst Obama’s words. There is, perhaps, a question around impatience.

In my experience, and thusly, my view, great leaders are patient (think Founding Fathers) – and, they never cave quickly.

Many never cave, period.

For perspective, here, it took all of six months for Obama to abandon the health care reform Democrats have fought decades for. That kind of impatience is a surefire recipe for leadership failure: adversaries know they can get the better of you with little investment.

There is a paralysis by committee pervading his team(s). I seeing that one of Obama’s best definable failures as a leader is the homogeneity in perspectives and attitudes of those closest to him. His economic advisors – Larry Summers and Tim Geithner – share a similarly orthodox economic mindset. Numerous eminent economists have complained vociferously about being frozen out – they can’t gain access to Obama. Sound familiar? It should: organizational closure is the same mistake prior-president George Bush (“Dubya”) made  – he surrounded himself with neocons, and when their ideas failed, so did his presidency (you can argue it was like running a business on a spread-sheet and a Line-of-Credit), and the nation.

Leaders should identify and name adversaries. When anonymous forces derail you, it’s game over. Sun Tzu taught many of us that in College. Every great leader humanizes his opponents, because every opponent is a human with a human agenda. Obama’s now associated with “death panels” courtesy of Newt Gingrich (who now thinks he can be the president, himself), Sarah Palin, and Glenn Beck – but, Obama hasn’t traced the meretricious attack back to its source, which would effectively neutralize it.

Sell out, instead of buying in. Lately, I get the sense that Obama has confused leadership with salesmanship. Leaders aren’t salesmen because leaders aren’t sellers: they’re buyers. Right? They buy into shared interests instead of selling out to conflicting interests. In a way, that was the point of Arthur Miller’s play: Willy Loman ended up broke, alone, and defeated because he couldn’t lead anyone, anywhere, to anything – because he was too busy selling. Instead of buying in, Willy was selling out. I have gone into more detail around that with an earlier post: obama on selling high and buying low. Sound familiar? It should: striking deals that are riddled with pervasive conflicts of interest has become a hallmark of the Obama Presidency.

…now what?

I don’t have an immediate solution for Obama. I’ll submit that’s a tough job. But, I’m willing to walk with him. While doing so, I’d likely ask him to maintain a litany in his head that consists of: Communication, Alignment, Decisiveness and Accountability.

I coach that in business. I run my own businesses and family that way. I even coach my youth soccer teams under those tenants. More about all that to be sure. But, now we have the issues in the light. That offers scienter. So, we must, as a community rally one-to-the other, and our president, speak out and hold him accountable.

I’m raising my hand. I’ll help. And, I will try and live my own life by example.

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork

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What’s All This About?

"What am I looking at?", you might wonder.

Lots of stuff.

Meanwhile, here, I discuss events, people and things in our world - and, my (hardly simplistic, albeit inarticulate) views around them.

You'll also learn things about, well, things, like people you need to know about, and information about companies you can't find anywhere else.

So, while I harangue the public in my not so gentle way, you will discover that I am fascinated by all things arcane, curious about those whom appear religious, love music, dabble in politics, loathe the media, value education, still think I am an athlete, and might offer a recipe.

All the while, striving mightily, and daily, to remain a prudent and optimistic gentleman - and, authentic.

brian cork by John Campbell





photos by John Campbell

 

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