Tag Archives: financial

Big business rip-offs


Here in Australia we are at the tail end of a Royal Commission into our banking and superannuation sector.

Shock, horror, surprise, they were all ripping us off by charging excessive fees, charging fees for nothing, and cost us all thousands by not investing with our best interests at heart.

The penalties? Fines, with possible repayments to customers.

Here’s the thing. They gained billions of dollars and will have to pay back a couple of billion. Net result, billions in their pockets.

Why isn’t there a very simple law? Rip off your customers and you have to repay them double what you charged, and the onus is on the business to locate every affected customer or they pay back triple the amount.

Easy, simple and a deterrent large enough to make them think twice about expanding their bottom line at the expense of integrity.

It can apply to any business, large or small.

If these penalties are considered ‘excessive’ by anyone, please consider the hundreds, maybe thousands of people who lost their homes because of perverted financial advice born from greed.

Imagine having to pay back double the price of a lost home. How many times would this happen before behaviour changed?

Not many, I believe.

Quite simply, make the punishment fit the intention as well as the outcome of the crime.

Is there too much white collar crime or are we lucky there isn’t more of it?


We live in a society where white collar crime has never been higher, or more well protected.

Just read any book on the GFC or High Frequency Trading. You will quickly learn how so many became so rich at the expense of the hard working lower and middle class. Like you and me.

And no-one has been charged with committing any crime.

In the GFC companies (driven by individuals within them) made junk loans to people they knew were never going to pay them back. They then packaged them up and called them A+ secure, sold them to other investors for huge commissions then bet on those same junk loans defaulting.

And yet we still listen to those corrupt ratings agencies, Standard and Poor and Moodys, and the ratings they put on investments today. Why? Because the corrupr at the top welcomed them back with open arms as being fellow greedy and unlawful money makers, just like them.

They made millions, some billions, and yet no-one was held accountable.

Indeed the senior ezexutives of companies they knew were going to collapse, sold their company for a bargain price but not before they votes themselves huge bonuses. These bonuses were then paid by the US government bailout funds. Tax dollars of individuals put to good use…NOT.

As soon as the GFC was exploding around them the same firms started high frequency trading. I will not attempt to explain it in detail here, because not even some of those who participated do not know how it works. Suffice it to say that the big end of town were making stock trades that made them hundreds of millions while the average investor, often their own clients (people like you and me) lost everything.

Given these are only two situations that we actually know about, there must be many, many more. The current Royal Commission into the finance sector here in Australia has revealed much, but only because the Australian Government was forced kicking and screaming to agree to setup this investigation. They were trying to protect their mates.

Is it a coincidence that our Prime Minister made a fortune as a merchant banker and therefore would have countless contacts, friends, amongst the senior executives now being investigated?

As disgusting as all these examples are, I now believe that the ease that people and businesses can make themselves richer and the poor (us) poorer, we are actually fortunate it doesn’t happen more often.

If you read enough books, and get a pool of money together through friends, family and a few acquaintances you too can rip people off to your benefit.

So as bad as it is, and it is pretty damn bad, I actually believe we are lucky more people do not succumb to this temptation.

Corruption in our society starts at the top with heads of big business and political parties, and as proven many times over the fish rots from the head. So they are setting us all an example that we could easily follow. That example is greed.

Yet approximately only the top 5% do so. It should be more widespread but I do not believe it is. Why? Because the majority of people have ethics and morals that prevent them from acting as decedantly and greedily.

Yes, we live in bad times like never before as the gap between rich and poor grows by the hour.

However I like to believe that it could be a lot, lot worse and will stand with those trying desperately to shine light into dark corners.

Because greed is not hard wired into our system, helping others is.

I just hope there are enough of us to stem the growing tide.

Bonuses – why they should be banned


Awarding bonuses is something I have read much about, taught and experienced firsthand in my career.

They are almost always misused. Instead of encouraging better performance from employees the only thing it encourages it greed, lies and discontent.

Bonuses are usually paid from middle management on up, and therefore breed discontent and envy from everyone below middle management.

Why?

Because the success of a business rests upon every employee performing at their best, not just a select few.

There is now a whole industry that has been built around team building, team bonding and trust, fuelled by bonuses. This is because bonuses are 95% of the time given to individuals, not teams.

This conflict, and disconnect between performance and reward breeds nothing but bitter rivalry.

It also encourages illegal activity, such as we in Australia have seen recently with the Royal Commission into banks. The corruption that bonuses perpetuate has also been evident for a long time and played a significant role in the Global Financial Crisis.

Bonuses are mostly put in place by people who want to motivate their employees, and so they can argue for a bonus system for themselves.

If middle management are given the opportunity to earn a bonus, then surely those above them should be offered one as well! And so it goes, to the very top.

This is where the rot really sets in.

For example; there is a team of five salespeople and it is coming to the end of their reporting year. Three of the salespeople have passed their performance benchmarks but two have not, but they are not far behind.

As the salespeople get a bonus only if their overall targets are met the three salespeople who have already qualified will start to allow the credit for their sales to go to the other two. This way they have a chance of meeting their bonus targets.

It is now just two weeks from the cutoff date to achieve bonuses and one salesperson is still behind. If this remains the case no-one will get a bonus for the past twelve months work.

The senior salesperson has been keeping the Sales Manager aprised of what is going on, because of course the Sales Manager wants his/her bonus as well. They have also been getting more and more phone calls from their Regional Manager who also has a bonus, but theirs relies on the Sales Manager hitting their target.

And so it goes up to the CEO.

So in order to achieve their target, and therefore achieve a bonus for everyone, the leading salesperson goes to the Sales Manager with a proposition. What if they create a fake sale that will meet their target, and everyone elses?

The Sales Manager goes to their Regional Manager and over a coffee proposes the sales person’s idea. Because the bonuses get larger as you go higher up the corporate ladder the Regional Manager will lose far more than the Sales Manager if they just fall short.

So the Regional Manager agrees to let it slip through.

Their Manager might realise it is a fake order when it comes across their deak, but they of course approve it because they want their bonus. After all it is the salesperson and Sales Manager who will take the fall if anything happens.

And so it goes, all the way to the top where the CEO’s bonus could be worth up to a million dollars or more (disgusting but true, just read the financials of the big banks, or any of the top ten companies in Australia).

So everyone gets a bonus that year, everyone is happy…until next year.

This year has been particularly difficult, and it looks like only one salesperson will meet their target. But now they have a ready made solution, and because all levels of management let it go last year, surely they will let it go this year?

So a much larger fraud is committed, but again who is going to complain? If anyone did they would all lose their bonuses.

Although a somewhat simplistic example, this is exactly the way bonuses work. If you set a team bonus the above scenario will occur, and if you set team bonuses (sales team, regional management team, product management team) internal resentment occurs because the top salesperson earns just as much as the salesperson who is lazy and doesn’t care.

You also alienate the people in customer support, who are talking to customers all day, trying to make them happy. Surely the salespeople wouldn’t get their results without the help of customer support? And what about the staff that key in the orders, shouldn’t they receive a bonus for accuracy, because it costs the business a lot of money if they slip up?

Now you have discontent between departments.

Bonuses should be banned altogether. I believe they do nothing but create friction in the workplace and sanction greed.

In my own experience with bonuses I was awarded a trip overseas. I didn’t deserve it on my own because I had a great salesperson and also because one customer placed a huge order that year, the only year they did. What eased my conscience was that my salesperson went as well.

I also was a Regional Manager when our region won a table tennis table. I was told by my immediate boss to take it home and enjoy it. I would have loved to, but I knew it was because of the sales in our Western Australian branch that got us over the line. So I told my boss to send it to the WA office. On my next visit there they were still struck dumb as to why I would do such a thing, and sadly my response of “because it was fair” was considered unsatisfactory.

As I have said, bonuses are like a cancer to a business as they only encourage greed and false reporting. Everyone knows it, which is why my WA team couldn’t believe I had behaved fairly.

If no-one believes bonuses are fair, even if they are rewarded by one, then surely it is game over?

One final thought. If you have to offer someone a bonus to motivate them, are they worth employing?

GST payable on all items purchased overseas – WTF!!


From the 1st of July, courtesy of the Federal Government who has once again bowed to big busines, lobbyists and those who provide large donations (to both political parties) another tax will be forced upon us.

This new tax will apply to all online purchases under $1,000, where the items come from overseas.

This is the result of extensive lobbying from big business (Harvey Norman, Myer, David Jones et al) who claim their declining sales have been caused by these types of purchases.

Basically they are saying it is not fair for an overseas retail business to provide the same goods they sell but at a better price and with better service.

If you believe that, then you are a big business wearing blinkers to stop you from seeing reality. The reality is that in Australia we receive poor customer service and are ripped off by their suppliers pricing models.

Allow me to explain. But first a quote from an Australia Post study published in 2017*;

Online retailers are a blessing for many Australians – especially those living remotely, or in areas with limited access to conventional bricks-and-mortar stores. Increasingly, customers are heading online to find their everyday essentials at better prices, with buyers in remote
regional locations and tourist towns shopping online the most.

So if shopping online to get the best deal is so important to us, why are they going to tax it?

The answer is in the question, as Governments are always looking to increase taxes. Or, in this case, impose a brand new one. It pays for their perks and helps to fill holes in their budget created by overspending on shiny new infrastructure in marginal electorates.

This new tax goes against the findings of the report quoted above and is weak, pathetic and completely unjustified. Do local businesses really believe that an increase of 10-15% on the price we pay for an item overseas is going to somehow force us to buy local instead? Maybe, if they offered free shipping instead of charging $10-25.

I can buy one book a day for a week (or a month!) from the UK and have free shipping on each one. I can also buy almost anything from China with free shipping. And yet Australia Post would charge me around $20 for me to send one book interstate (including packaging).

I would hate to get a quote from Australia Post as to what they would charge me to send just one book back to the UK!

Local businesses need to be better negotiators with Australia Post, or use someone else (Startrack).

And then there is the ‘Australia tax’.

The ‘Australia tax’ is another way of saying suppliers (Apple, Samsung, HP, Sony, LG and many, many more) rip us off because we are “just a small market” so their costs are higher. Since all their products come from the same factory I find this argument hard to swallow. Again, local businesses need to lessons on negotiation.

So overseas companies sell their products to Australian retailers at up to 30% more than their very same goods sell for overseas. Books, DVDs, medicines and computers to name but a few.

On a visit to the US in December of 2015 my family saw bottles of 500 ibuprofen tablets (yes, 500!), possibly the biggest selling painkiller in Australia, on sale for $10 each. Here $10 buys you about 48 tablets, or ten times the price of the same product you can buy in the US! The same whopping price differential can be found on many everyday medications and vitamins.

A pair of Rockport shoes is half the price if ordered from overseas compared to my local shoe store. The exact same product from the same supplier from the same factory.

I think you get the point.

In addition there are some products you cannot buy here at all, so you have to purchase them from overseas. This includes many excellent vitamin supplements and other health care items. Why should we be punished because we have to buy these from overseas?

There are many, many more examples, especially if you do a quick search for technology, clothing and health products. Many of these overseas sites have free shipping (as per the above examples) and arrive within days. This is mainly because they do not use Australian Post, who take longer to deliver everything and charge you three times the amount for the privelidge.

So because Australia Post cannot get its act together (except when paying their CEOs very large bonuses despite losing money, in which case they are extremely efficient) and large businesses cannot negotiate properly they blame overseas purchases for their declining sales.

Actually we buy online simply because we want the best price and the best service, and unfortunately businesses in Australia cannot compete in most cases.

So we will be paying the government a brand new tax of around 15% of the value of the items we now buy online.

Fifteen percent? Yes, because GST will not only apply to the price of the item you purchase online from overseas, but also on any overseas taxes (such as the VAT in the UK, their version of our GST) and shipping. So you will soon be paying up to 15% more for those items you buy online today from Amazon, Book Depository, iHerb, Alibaba and many, many more.

The same Australia Post report quoted above says most of our purchases online are with largely domestic businesses, not overseas ones;

“Despite international access, domestic purchases still make up the majority of online spending in Australia. At the end of 2016, domestic spend represented 79% of the online market, showing a growth rate of 11% compared to 7.3% for international spend.”

So why did businesses here complain so much about it being unfair? Because that is easier than competing or trying to negotiate better pricing from their overseas suppliers.

The report also states that overseas spending accounted for 21% of purchases. The vast majority, 79%, being purchases from Australian online sites, so they can get it right if they want to. The only unknown factor is how many of those overseas online purchases were under $1,000, the target of this new tax. My guess is around 70%, but we will use 50% to be conservative.

Given that Australian households in 2016 spent $21.65 billion (according to Australia Post whom I don not believe as I shall explain shortly) in online purchases, collectively we will be paying an additional $341 million in tax each year.

It gets worse if you believe Roy Morgan Research over Australia Post (I would) as their study states that we spent $37.8 billion online during the 2014-2015 financial year”**. If we use their figures, we will be paying a total of nearly $834 million a year (using the same numbers as above) on this new tax.

No wonder the Government chose to listen to big business over common sense. However doesn’t the Federal Government keep saying they should let market forces decide pricing because competition is a good thing? At least that is what they say about the electricity market.

So not only are we currently paying far more locally for many hundreds, maybe thousands of items because of the Australia tax, we will soon be paying 15% more for those same items.

My suggestion is that local businesses lift their game and then we would gladly buy from them, as many studies show we want to buy Australian. To do this they need to significantly improve their customer service, have far better web pages, make it easier for people to buy online (have you seen the David Jones and Myer websites? Complete rubbish) and improve their Google search score.

Much easier to blame someone else, and it’s free too.

However, within this rant of mine I do concede that some big businesses here are viewed as quite minor in sales by their global suppliers. Therefore they cannot negotiate lower pricing (Samsung, Sony, Apple to name a few). I suggest they make this fact publicly known so we can decide what to buy with all information on the table. A nationwide boycott of certain brands might even get them to lower their prices.

Oh, and also go to war with Australia Post over their rediculous delivery charges.

When an overseas online book retailer in the UK can send me a $12 book with NO delivery fee, and I can buy a product from China that is worth $5 and get it delivered FREE, we are being ripped off by local freight charges.

In summary GET RID OF THIS STUPID TAX! Businesses have to learn to be more competitive, improve their customer service, maximise profits, make sure they can be found by Google and have great websites that look good on a phone. Pull your socks up folks, do some targeted marketing and stop blaming everyone else.

The retail market has always been tough, so learn what works for your business, keep experimenting.

You must keep up with technology and react quickly by constantly making changes to your product or service.

Or we could all just pay hundreds of millions of dollars in a lovely new tax.

* Inside Australian online shopping, Australia Post and Startrack, 2017

** According to Wikipedia there were 9 million households in Australia in 2016

*** The state of Australia’s $37.8b online shopping landscape, Roy Morgan Research, 2nd December 2015

The Decaying Morality of Big Business in Australia


Once upon a time…yes I am using a fairytale opening, because big business and morals in this country has now become a fairytale concept.

With the Royal Commission into Banks, who would be naive enough to think that all the other big publicly listed businesses actually do the right thing?

Why would they?

Their advertising says that you, the customer, are the most important thing to them when in fact it is hitting targets to gain bonuses. They couldn’t care less how they achieve their bonuses just as long as they receive them.

When was the last time you heard of a major Australian public company contributing to a crowdfunding campaign for someone in desperate need? I cannot remember one.

Small businesses have, however, and enjoy a far better image as a result.

The four major banks should have an ‘Humanitarian Budget’ which is allocated to the worthiest causes as judged by senior, or even middle management (remember them?). They can, and should, by any moral or ethical argument put some of the Billions of dollars in profit they make each year towards dozens, perhaps hundreds, of worthy causes. Their bottom line would barely be affected.

The one stupid, contrary argument (and unfortunately it is law) is that as publicly listed companies they must put shareholders interests first. In other words they must maximise shareholders’ dividend payments.

As mentioned they could easily give away $10M each and split it up into hundreds of worthy causes. However their shareholders would rightly ask “Hey, by law you have to put us first and by giving that money away I got $10 less in dividend income!”

With the law on their side unfortunately it is a circular argument, a Catch 22.

As long as that law remains as it stands, profits will always be put before helping people where public companies are concerned. Perhaps a ‘tweaking’ of the law is required?

Many large private companies (but still too few) are well known for their generosity. I argue it is because they decide what to spend their profits on, not a horde of needy shareholders.

At this stage I must put my own hand up, and reveal that I have owned shares and as a shareholder I lived for those dividends. Yes, I am two faced but at least I admit it and am ready to discuss badly needed change.

The big four banks might point to a number of charitable donations, but they seem to only contribute if they can place a huge logo on it, in order to achieve a return on investment for their marketing dollars. Yes, they call helping people in need “Marketing”.

Westpac used to have a lovely rescue helicopter flying around but only because it was saturated with their logo. Then they did some analysis and ROI (return on investment) calculations and ceased funding this rescue helicopter. Not because they couldn’t afford it, but because they need to put shareholders first followed closely by their bonuses (or is it the other way around?).

Putting bonuses ahead of helping people is disgusting and definitely unAustralian. Which is ironic because had they helped more families they would have received more favourable media coverage and may not be facing a damaging Royal Commission right now. It would definitely would change our perception of them.

But there is one final problem, and this is the biggest and by far the most difficult to understand. Almost everyone hates the big four banks, and will complain about them ad nauseum but they will not close their accounts and take their business elsewhere! The big four easily have 85% of the total market, so there is no incentive on them, at all, to change their ways. In fact it encourages them to behave badly because their customers do not leave them.

So, in the end, it is your own apathy and unwillingness to follow through on your complaints that makes them so comfortable. It also creates the perfect environment for corruption, because they know that no matter what they do their customers, by and large, will stay with them. So up go fees, down goes quality of service and contributing to the community.

Well done Australians, you reep what you sow.

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Centrelink – epic fail!!


Centrelink is there for the needy, sick and disadvantaged, and yet provides the worst service of any government agency.

The top level of management needs to be sacked immediately, along with their middle management that publish outrageously incorrect phone answering statistics.
Then, and I know this will cost us, but there needs to be a Royal Commission into the whole Department and the policies currently in place. It could easily be a case of the right people being tied up by stupid beaurocracy. Until such a public, complete investigation is done those most in need of help in our society will continue to be treated with disdain.
We should all be ashamed (especially the policy makers who make it so difficult for Centrelink staff to do their job) for treating our people so badly.

$Billion Bank Profits yet they sack workers!


So NAB announce a full year $5.3bn profit and at the same time the sacking of 6,000 staff.

Absolutely disgusting! With the $5.3b profit they should be hiring people to take care of the community, not firing 6,000 and potentially destroying 6,000 lives!

I know legally they have to put shareholders first, but surely the time has come for social responsibility to outweigh and extra couple of cents dividend per share! Oh, and I am sure executive bonuses will go up as people are shown the door carrying their careers in cardboard boxes.

We desperately need a change in corporate focus!