What a Business Stands for Can Mean as Much as What It Does

NewsUSA  |  2016-01-05

(NewsUSA) - If you've ever seen the 1980s movie "Wall Street," you probably recall Gordon Gekko saying that "greed is good."

He may have been a bit shortsighted. Times are changing and so are people's attitudes about corporate America. In fact, a recent survey conducted by the insurance company Aflac suggests Gekko's days are numbered.

Survey Revelations

Here are some of the things the study found:

  • 79 percent of consumers believe companies that stay true to their ethics and values outperform others in their field.

  • When it comes to millennials, who are 80 million strong with a $200 billion annual purchasing power, 92 percent are more likely to patronize an ethical company.

  • 81 percent of consumers are more likely to purchase from corporations that are active in philanthropic efforts year-round as opposed to only in times of need.

  • 60 percent of investors would sacrifice profit for ethical standards when making long-term investment decisions.

Companies Should Consider

So what is an effective corporate philosophy when it comes to social responsibility? In a day of instant access to information, consumers -- many of whom have been influenced by such much-publicized issues as Enron, bank scandals, high unemployment and recession -- have become much more observant of the actions of corporations, and they're skeptical.

To stay successful, companies are going to have to shift their priorities. Of course, profit is essential to stay in business, but there are presently impediments to profits that didn't even exist 25 years ago. For example, the study shows millennials have vastly different and stronger demands for corporate social responsibility (CSR) and philanthropy than do those who are over the age of 35. Interestingly, parents share millennials' desire to do business with companies that give back, while nonparents have greater indifference. These are important considerations in today's environment.

Combining a greater demand for social responsibility and the fact that the sustained program is preferred by consumers over the opportunistic donations in times of need, companies now must plan their approach to CSR. Companies that have lasting relationships with philanthropic causes (as Aflac does with fighting children's cancer) are viewed with favor by a growing portion of people affecting the nation's economy.

Corporate giving, however, is not the only determinant of a company's reputation. Respondents also see integrity as extremely important, so an effective CSR philosophy should promote the integrity of the company, which can manifest itself in many ways.

One such factor is diversity. In fact, 65 percent of respondents agree that the higher a company's ethical standards, the more diverse the workplace will be.

Protect Your Rep

In today's culture, businesses that make mistakes are often scolded on social media as being careless or unresponsive to the community. If a company is caught cutting corners or is seen as less than transparent, a steady drumbeat of criticism can threaten its very existence or cause significant costs to overcome the infraction.

After all, the old saying "a reputation is hard to earn but easily lost" is generally true. Companies would do well to heed it.

Learn More

For more information about the insurance company and its support of childhood cancer research and treatment, go to www.aflac.com.

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Financial Resolutions: Are You Saving For Retirement?

Brandpoint  |  2015-12-10

(BPT) - The start of a new year is a great time to look forward with a fresh outlook, as well as to set goals. As you think about what you want to accomplish next year, consider your financial savings habits. How much are you putting away for the future? Could you begin to save for retirement, or increase how much you’re saving? What financial actions have you put off because of lack of time?

Setting financial savings goals can be overwhelming, which may be why 31 percent of Americans report having no retirement savings or pension, according to a recent Federal Reserve Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households. Putting together a plan can make saving for the future much more manageable. Whether you haven’t started saving or simply want to challenge yourself to save more, use the following tips to make 2016 the year you focus on preparing for retirement.

  • If you aren’t already saving, start now. You’re never too young — or too old — to begin saving for retirement. Whether you’ve just completed high school and are working your first job, or your career is nearly complete and retirement is in sight, determine how much you can save and which savings vehicle is right for you. If your employer offers a company-sponsored retirement plan, take advantage of the opportunity to save automatically via payroll deduction. If that’s not possible, consider opening a myRA account, the U.S. Treasury’s new retirement savings program for individuals who don’t have access to retirement savings plans at work.

  • Seek opportunities to save more. If you’re already saving, that’s a great start, but you can always save more! If you earn an annual bonus, a salary increase, or even a tax refund, consider depositing it in a retirement savings account. You can contribute up to $5,500 each year to a myRA, Roth IRA, or Traditional IRA account (or up to $6,500 if you’re age 50 or older). Keep in mind that the more you save early on, the more time that principal amount has to grow interest. For example, if you have a balance of $3,000 in a savings account that earns three percent interest, adding a lump sum of $1,000 at the beginning of the year will earn an extra $30 in interest over the next 12 months, and that amount will compound even more as the years go by. Note that in 2016, you can elect to deposit all or some of your tax refund in a myRA account.

  • Make a plan and follow it. Resolve to make a financial savings plan this year and review your progress regularly. As a starting point for your plan, consider meeting with a financial planner, or take advantage of free planning resources at mymoney.gov or other reputable personal finance websites. You can use the retirement savings calculator on myRA.gov to estimate how much your savings may grow over the course of five, 10, or 15 years or more based on the amount you contribute each month. By setting up regular, automatic savings from your bank account or paycheck into a myRA account, this is a New Year's resolution you can make now and watch your savings grow throughout the year.

There are many options for saving for retirement and managing your finances. As you make your savings resolutions for 2016, do some research and determine which type of account or plan works best for you. With the New Year upon us, now is a great time to start or renew your savings habit. Visit myRA.gov for more information on how to get started.

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Card Fraud Protection in 2016

Brandpoint  |  2015-12-08

(BPT) - You may have already received your new credit or debit card equipped with a microchip. If you haven't received your new chip card, you most likely will by the time your card expires. The EMV chip technology is intended to help reduce debit and credit card fraud, and thanks to a collaboration between America's payment networks and card-issuers, you'll see many more merchants using EMV-equipped card readers over the coming months.

Chip-enabled cards store the same basic information that's already in the magnetic strip on the back of your card, such as the card number and expiration date. They add a layer of fraud protection by producing a single-use code to validate every transaction. While EMV technology is intended to reduce card fraud, it's still important to be aware of how fraud happens, what you can do to prevent it and what your card-issuer does to help protect you.

“Fraud prevention is a partnership between cardholders and the bank,” said Pam Codispoti, president of Chase Consumer Branded Cards. “By working together, we can help customers keep their accounts safer and more secure.”

Chase offers some tips to help you stay alert to fraud while you holiday shop and in the New Year:

  • Keep your contact information, including phone number and email address, up to date so the card issuer can contact you quickly if they detect signs of fraud on your account.
  • Review your card agreement to be sure you understand what anti-fraud measures the issuer takes. For example, Chase uses specialized monitoring tools to keep an eye on your account 24/7.
  • If your card company or bank offers it, sign up for account alerts to monitor your finances and keep your accounts safe. Most issuers will allow you to choose to be alerted to any unusual account activity via text, email or phone call.
  • Review your statements every month to ensure all charges are accurate and authorized by you. If you spot a charge you don't recognize, contact the card issuer or bank immediately. With the shift to greater use of EMV technology, if fraud occurs on your account and you have a chip-enabled card, the merchant will be responsible for the costs in most situations. Also, banks like Chase offer zero liability protection — you won't be held responsible for unauthorized charges made with your card or account information.
  • Monitor your credit reports. Although you're entitled to a free report from all three major credit bureaus once a year, checking your report more often can help catch signs of fraud earlier.
  • Opt for secure paperless billing. Theft of paper documents, such as from your mailbox or trash, is still a top way fraudsters obtain information. By going paperless, you eliminate an opportunity for someone to steal your statement and get your account information.
  • Switch to secure online or mobile payments to help protect your account information. Online payments add layers of security to your transaction and can help ensure you never miss a payment.
  • When using your card in a store, never allow the card out of your sight. If you have to enter a PIN number to use the card, be aware of who's standing around you and shield the keypad from view when you type in your PIN.

To learn more about how Chase partners with customers to protect against fraud, visit www.chase.com/fraud-security.

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3 Step Credit Prep for Homeownership

Brandpoint  |  2015-12-03

(BPT) - Homeownership is a dream for many Americans, and maybe it’s one of yours as well. Making this dream a reality requires hard work, dedication and the proper preparation. You must figure out where you want to live, what type of home you desire, what you can afford and also how your credit rating may impact your home-purchasing goals.

Your credit rating can play an important role in the home buying process, and your creditworthiness could also affect the amount that you can borrow, the interest rates you will qualify for and your ability to obtain a mortgage loan in the first place.

“A consumer’s credit is one of the biggest factors that goes into the mortgage-application process,” says Eric Hamilton, President of Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc. “Before applying for a loan, it is crucial to get your credit in the best shape you possibly can.”

To help you build good credit and increase your ability to obtain better loan terms, Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc. offers these tips for improving your credit:

Pay your bills on time

Late or missed payments on any of your credit accounts, such as credit cards, mortgages and other loans, could cause a drop in your credit score. To prevent this, make your payments on time. Making additional payments whenever possible and paying extra toward the principal balance will also help to keep a good payment history and decrease the payoff timeline. Using an Extra Principal Payment Calculator tool can also help you calculate the savings that come with paying extra – generating additional motivation to do so.

Minimize any outstanding debt and keep existing debt manageable

Paying your statement balances in full instead of letting debt accumulate can improve your credit scores, which may result in better terms being offered from lenders. Lenders often check your credit report when you apply for a loan and measure the amount of debt you’re carrying against the loan amount they've requested. Excessive debt is one of the factors that could cause a lender to decline your application.

Avoid applying for unnecessary credit

Credit applications can appear as inquiries on credit reports, which may suggest to lenders that an applicant is taking on additional debt. Be aware of advertising or sales promotions that offer purchase discounts if you apply for a credit card. Even these cards could show up as inquiries on your credit report. These inquiries remain on credit reports for two years. Instead of applying for additional credit, use your existing lines of credit to showcase your responsible credit management by paying bills on time and paying off the debt quickly.

"There are a lot of steps you can take to improve your credit, but it's important to remember that credit scores don't change overnight," says Hamilton. "It takes time to increase your credit rating, and while it may feel like a slow-moving effort, it is well worth the wait when you get to open the door to a home of your own for you and your family."

For more credit tips, you can check out the full Guide to Credit, and find other useful guides for homebuyers on vmfhomeloan.com.

NMLS Disclosure

Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc., 500 Alcoa Trail, Maryville, TN 37804, 865-380-3000, NMLS #1561, ( http://www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org), AZ Lic. #BK-0902616, Loans made or arranged pursuant to a California Finance Lenders Law license, GA Residential Mortgage (Lic. #6911), Illinois Residential Mortgage Licensee, KS Licensed Mortgage Co. (SL.0000720), Licensed by the NH Banking Department, Mississippi Licensed Mortgage Company, MT Lic. #1561, Licensed by PA Dept. of Banking.

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5 Tips for Businesses to Cut Energy, Save Money

Brandpoint  |  2015-12-03

(BPT) - Companies across the nation are looking for ways to become more energy efficient, and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are no exception. Reducing energy consumption is one of the top areas where SMB leaders need more guidance — up 14 percent from the previous year, according to the 2015 Cox Conserves Sustainability Survey.

Energy costs are among the largest business expenses for any company. Simple conservation efforts will go a long way to lower the power costs of your current operations.

"More companies than ever have said they want information on sustainability," says Cox Enterprises Executive Vice President Alex Taylor. "Our survey showed that some SMBs often find it difficult to make or justify the investment in sustainability programs or prioritize them over other demands and initiatives. From our own experience with the Cox Conserves program, I can confirm that sustainability is as good for our business as it is for the environment."

Here are some quick tips that can help any sized business improve efficiency and cost savings.

  1. Know your baseline. Your utility company can provide detailed usage records that show usage and cost totals, as well as helpful details like peak usage times. This data helps you measure your progress.

  2. Take advantage of savings. Government agencies offer a variety of tax credits, rebates and other incentives to support energy efficiency. Visit energy.gov/savings to find programs that may be available to your business.

  3. Pay attention. Take note of the natural energy sources specific to your geographic location. Sun or wind energy technologies may be great money-saving solutions. If the sun sufficiently lights your office or meeting room, make a point of keeping the blinds open and the electric lights off.

  4. Look at lighting. Lighting retrofits are a simple and effective solution that do not interrupt regular operations and often offer a short return on investment.

  5. Encourage employees. Turning off computers and other office equipment when not in use is an easy way employees can make an impact.

These tips can start your business on a journey toward becoming a more efficient and eco-friendly organization. The benefits start at protecting the earth and extend to enhancing the bottom line.

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Tell Congress to Protect Paper Investor Reports

NewsUSA  |  2015-12-01

(NewsUSA) - From encyclopedias to microfiche, we're surrounded by casualties of the digital age, relics of the era before the Internet revolutionized daily life. But even as technology has rendered many advancements, Americans still prefer -- and need -- important information on paper, especially when it comes to financial documents.

That's why Consumer Action is calling on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to abandon its efforts to make e-delivery the default method for important mutual fund investment materials. While such a move would lower mutual funds' operating costs, the true cost would likely be passed onto individual investors. We all need to tell Congress that this can't happen.

Despite the fact that the SEC's own study finds that 71 percent of American investors prefer to read shareholder reports in paper format, the agency approved and proposed Rule 30e-3, which would permit mutual funds to switch investors to electronic delivery of shareholder reports without ever receiving specific permission to do so.

Under the new rule, mutual funds would distribute a one-time notice, after which the burden would be shifted to investors to declare a continued preference for paper reports. If they don't take explicit action to request paper delivery of these shareholder reports, investors will only be able to access them online.

Shareholder reports are critical tools containing the information investors need to make informed investment decisions, and many investors prefer and need to see that information on paper. In fact, of the more than 700 comments the SEC has received regarding Rule 30e-3, 94 percent of them express objection to the rule and urge the SEC to rescind it.

While Rule 30e-3 reflects the broader trend toward digitization, the reality is that most Americans prefer to receive financial information in paper form, and, for many Americans, viewing shareholder reports online is simply not an option. Even though e-delivery of shareholder reports has been available for years, only a small minority of investors have chosen that option. In fact, a Pershing survey conducted in 2013 shows that 30 percent of investors do not use the Internet for investment correspondence due to concerns about security. And according to the Pew Research Center, 41 percent of Americans over 65 years of age do not use the Internet at all, yet 34 percent of this population owns mutual funds.

Rule 30e-3 could also disenfranchise many small investors across the country, including those in rural areas without reliable Internet and those with smaller incomes. After all, analysis of census data commissioned by the advocacy group Consumers for Paper Options shows that households with incomes below the national average are 18 percent less likely to have Internet access.

Even more concerning is the fact that the SEC has tried this scheme before -- with disastrous results. In 2006, the SEC shifted the mailing of proxy statements from paper to e-delivery, and from 2007 to 2009, proxy voting declined by 80 percent. E-delivery simply isn't a preferred, or reliable method for important investment information.

Consumer Action is asking Congress to ensure that the SEC cannot implement Rule 30e-3, and we urge you to join us. Visit www.consumer-action.org and use our Take Action Center to quickly write your members of Congress. We need to tell lawmakers that the needs of individual Americans should come before the desires of the financial services industry.

Linda Sherry is the director of national priorities at Consumer Action, a national non-profit organization dedicated to empowering underrepresented consumers nationwide through multilingual financial education materials, community outreach and issue-focused advocacy.

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Employment Growth May Be From Your Street

NewsUSA  |  2015-11-25

(NewsUSA) - There is no doubt the economy is healthier than it has been in quite some time. One has only to look to the news to discern that the U.S. is in the midst of an economic growth spurt.

Underscoring a strengthening economy is that as of last month, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 3 million more Americans were earning paychecks, compared with 12 months ago. And yet, even as unemployment rates are at an all-time low and at levels not seen in six years, there are still those who are struggling to find a job.

If this is the case for you or someone you know, opportunity may be closer than you realize. Here's why: Currently there are approximately 500,000 U.S. companies with annual revenue between $5 million and $25 million dollars -- companies that have succeeded in getting start-up financing with the help of families and friends, but have since grown into needing more capital to continue.

"Today 80 percent of investments in private companies are made within a 50 mile radius of that enterprise," says YourStreet Funds CEO Stephen H. Watkins. "The problem is that Wall Street struggles to find these companies in an efficient manner."

That's where the YourStreet Funds Independent Sales Organization (ISO) members come in. The sales member identifies these "faceless" companies who are on target for growth, but have capital needs too small to attract the attention of Wall Street, yet they typically need more capital than friends or family can spare to continue their growth.

These companies, Watkins says, are where the "economic and employment growth for America will occur if given a chance."

"Unfortunately, this void of companies, this chasm, has few resources and places to go for continued financing," he says.

The answer, according to Watkins, is a joint effort between YourStreet's ISO network identifying those companies in need and the regional and community brokers and sales reps across the nation.

"Mortgage brokers in every community know all the companies that fall into this category, as well as the CEO's and presidents of these growing companies," says Watkins. "Through the ISO network, the YourStreet Funds reach a large number of profitable companies across the nation, companies who would like growth capital for their business, so that in turn, they can hire more employees."

For more information, visit yourstreetfunds.com.

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