Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (S 151) – Approximately 58.5 billion robocalls were made in the United States last year, a 22 percent increase over 2018. That works out to an average of 178.3 robocalls per person, per year. Perhaps it’s no wonder then that this law was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress. The legislation requires that phone companies ensure all calls come from real numbers, do not charge extra to block robocalls, and authorize government regulators to punish scammers with fines of up to $10,000 per call. This legislation was sponsored by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Frank Pallone Jr (D-NJ); it was signed into law by the president on Dec. 30, 2019.
Building Blocks of STEM Act (S 737) – This bill modifies National Science Foundation (NSF) grant programs that support STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to promote the role of teachers and caregivers in encouraging participation by female students in STEM activities. Specifically, the bill authorizes the development of gender-inclusive computer science enrichment programs in pre-kindergarten through elementary school. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV). It was introduced on March 11, 2019, and signed into law by the president on Dec. 24.
Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act (HR 2333) – This legislation requires the Government Accountability Office to report on the responsibilities, workload, training and vacancy rates of suicide prevention coordinators. The bill responds to reports that coordinators are overworked and unable to keep up with their many responsibilities, particularly in light of the recent increase in veteran suicides. The Act was introduced on April 18, 2019, by Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY); it passed the House in May, the Senate in December and was signed into law on Dec. 20, 2019.
Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (HR 1865) – This annual appropriations bill sets government spending limits for the current fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2019, through Sept. 30, 2020). Among a myriad of provisions, the bill extends funding for various health-related programs; deters pharmaceutical companies from blocking lower-cost generic alternatives from entering the marketplace; and repeals the Cadillac tax on expensive employer plans, the medical device excise tax, and the health insurance fee that was initially imposed by the Affordable Care Act. The final version of the bill was passed by the House and Senate in mid-December and signed by the president on Dec. 20, 2019.
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (S 1790) – This $738 billion defense bill authorizes fiscal year 2020 appropriations and policies for the Department of Defense. Provisions include authorization for a sixth, stand-alone branch of the U.S. military service (Space Force); guaranteed 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers; a 3.1 percent pay raise for active-duty personnel; allows for Liberian nationals living in the United States under Deferred Enforced Departure to apply for permanent residency; funding for improvements to military housing and health care; funding to purchase 60 F-35s for the Air Force; and a dictate that prohibits Turkey from participating in the F-35 program as long as it maintains a Russian-made missile system. Note that passage of this bill does not provide budget appropriations, which is authorized in subsequent legislation. This bill was passed in both the House and Senate on Dec. 17, 2019, and signed into law on Dec. 20, 2019.
FUTURE Act (HR 5363) – This bill permanently authorizes funding for historically Black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions, and increases appropriations for Pell Grants. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC) on Dec. 9, 2019, passed in both the House and Senate on Dec. 10, 2019, and signed into law on Dec. 19, 2019.
Previously we looked at the key technology trends in accounting to watch out for in 2020. Among the trends are big data and data analytics, which can have a great impact on businesses.
Business data has existed for a long time, whether in filing cabinets, ledgers or storage devices. But today businesses both large and small have to deal with huge collections of data every day. This has seen the rise of data analytics trends that include deep learning, machine learning and dark data.
Unfortunately, small and medium businesses (SMB) have to struggle with making a decision on implementing data analytics. This is largely because many SMB owners assume that data analytics is strictly for large organizations – especially because of the expectation that it’s expensive and complicated.
Luckily, reduced tech costs have made it possible for small and medium businesses to afford technologies that were previously only cost-effective for big organizations.
Is the Cost and Effort Worth It?
Before the advent of big data analytics, customer data was collected using surveys or customer feedback forms. Analyzing such data is tedious, and it’s possible to miss out on important trends.
Also, imagine running marketing campaigns and having no way to track how effective the campaign was. If you do this in your business, you have no way to know who saw the ad or even the response.
Enter big data and analytics and the whole marketing landscape changes. With big data, a business has clear insights about customer behavior. This is possible because we now can track visitors to a website, the time a visitor spends on a given page, action taken such as making an order, the location the purchase came from and so many other details that help a business refine its marketing strategy.
Is it costly? You’d be surprised to know that you don’t need to purchase expensive software. You’ll find, for instance, that you can take advantage of data collected by the QuickBooks accounting software. And depending on your business needs, the software can be connected with low-cost platforms that enable more detailed analytics.
You also can get free platforms such as Google analytics to analyze website traffic and gain insight into consumer behavior. Whatever your company size, you can take advantage of big data insights to better understand your customers.
Here are some reasons why it’s worth it:
- Analytics help to launch effective marketing campaigns that result in better ROI.
- Analytics help to track the customers in their sales cycle.
- It’s possible to track the outcome of business decisions, such as promotional strategies.
- You get to know which suppliers or other business partners to work with.
- Provides insights on customers who are likely to pay on time based on historical payment data.
- Improves customer service. This is possible when customer conversations from different channels are analyzed.
- It helps to improve the product or service offered by a business.
- Identifies trends and patterns. For instance, you can track frequently asked questions and then create a page to handle the common questions.
- Helps create a strong bond with customers. By understanding customer interests, a business will then engage with their customers by creating personalized offers and campaigns.
- On the tech side, big data is being used to detect and prevent fraud.
- Analytics identify problematic areas of a business, and this makes it easier to come up with a response quickly before the problem escalates.
When used correctly, data analytics can help a business gain a competitive advantage over other businesses. At the same time, it will also boost your business conversions and revenue. But collecting just any piece of data can be overwhelming and even a waste of time. The secret is in collecting data that will help you reduce business costs and increase your revenue.
For the most part, smartphones are your lifeline to the world. You connect with friends and family, shop and update your status on social media. However, you also store all your personal information on them and, these days, use them to do your banking. That’s why you need to take precautions. Here are a few critical things to do to make sure your information isn’t compromised.
Protect Your Smartphone
Your desktop and laptop are secure with anti-virus software and firewalls; the same should go for your phone. Here are five basic things you need to do ASAP: 1) Use a 4-digit PIN to lock your screen. If your phone is stolen, it’s harder for a thief to unlock it. Also, check to see if your phone has a feature that allows you to locate and remotely lock or erase data, should you lose it. This is called a “kill switch.” 2) Back up your data. Kind of basic, but it’s always important to be reminded. 3) Use location-based software to find your lost phone. 4) Install an antivirus app and software to erase the contents of a lost phone. And finally, 5) Update your apps to the latest versions and when downloading them, only choose those from publishers you trust.
Create a Strong Password
This is a no-brainer, but it’s imperative. Don’t use any part of your name or numbers from your birthday, or anything remotely personal. Make your password as complex and obscure as you can. Thieves can be smart. Don’t give them any chance to wreak havoc in your life.
Don’t Use Public Wi-Fi to Access Your Bank
Public Wi-Fi doesn’t have heightened levels of security, so make sure you use your phone’s data network or a secured Wi-Fi network when accessing sensitive information. If you don’t do this, you become vulnerable to hackers. You can never be too careful.
Don’t Save Usernames and Passwords in Your Browser
Sometimes, browsers give you the option to save your username and password. As convenient as this is, don’t do this. It could be easy for someone to gain direct access to your bank account if your phone is lost or stolen.
Don’t Follow Links
If you get an email or text from your bank, don’t click. It could be a phishing scam and could lead you to a “spoofed” website, which is a fake site created to look just like your bank’s official site. Always go to your bank’s site directly. Enter your bank’s web address into your phone and bookmark it. This way, you’ll avoid bogus sites and keep your money safe.
Log Out After Use
Even if you haven’t saved your credentials, it’s always important to do this when you’re finished banking. While this is convenient for the next time you do your banking, it’s leaving thieves an easy way in to steal all your assets should you leave your phone unattended, or worse, if it’s lost or stolen.
In a world that’s getting more and more digitized every day, shoring up your personal banking information just makes good sense. No one wants to put all that they’ve worked so hard for in jeopardy.
As we progress through life, we find there are certain things we can control and others we cannot. However, even with the things we can’t control, we can exercise good judgement based on facts, due diligence, historical patterns and a risk/reward calculation.
These strategies play an important role in retirement planning. When it comes to accumulation, spending and protecting your nest egg, financial analysts rely heavily on safety and probability planning strategies.
For example, a probability-based approach generally refers to investing. In other words, prices of stocks and bonds will vary over time, and as investors we do not have control over the factors that cause those price swings – such as poor company management, a dip in sector growth, an economic decline, political instability and even global economic implications. We basically have to do our due diligence to ensure the securities we invest in are stable and well-managed, but in the end it’s a bit of a leap of faith. The markets will inevitably rise and fall and our equity investments will be impacted.
When it comes to retirement, financial advisors often recommend the following probability-based investments because they tend to be more stable and reliable:
- Investment-grade bonds
- High dividend-paying stocks
- Real estate investment trusts (REITS)
- Master limited partnerships (MLPs)
On the other hand, the safety side of the equation involves insurance products. Note that all guaranteed payouts are backed by the issuing insurer, not the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or the U.S. Treasury Department. So even though insurance products represent strategies that we consider “safe,” they are only as secure as the financial strength of the issuing insurance company.
Insurance contracts are based on insurance pools. This means they spread the risk of losing money across a wide pool of insured participants, betting that a portion of that pool will die early while others live longer. However, that risk is managed by the insurer instead of the contract owner, who is guaranteed to get paid no matter what happens in the investment markets or how many people in the insurance pool live a long time.
Among safety-based vehicles, you might want to consider a long-term care insurance policy to cover expenses should you need part- or full-time caregiving in the later stages of your life. Like homeowner’s insurance, this type of contract leverages manageable premiums to pay for expenses that you might otherwise not be able to afford.
Another safety contract is an income annuity, which offers the option to pay out a steady stream of income for the rest of your life and the life of your spouse – even if the payouts far exceed the premiums you paid. This is a way of ensuring you continue to receive income even if you run out of money.
A retirement plan doesn’t have to rely on safety or probability alone – you can combine these strategies. Many retirees feel more comfortable knowing they have a growth component in their portfolio to help offset the impact of long-term inflation. And within the safety allocation, you can even combine strategies. For example, a hybrid life insurance policy that offers a long-term care benefits rider allows you to draw from the contract if you need to pay for your own long-term care, which simply reduces the death benefit for your heirs. This way you don’t have to pay for coverage you don’t need, but it’s there if you do.
According to a Jan. 16 press release from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, within the first six months of 2020, the federal department will begin issuing a 20-year Treasury bond. This is the U.S. government’s attempt to maintain and support the federal government’s ability to borrow into the future. This action will also have an impact on the markets going forward, especially when it comes to the Federal Reserve and its monetary policy.
The Federal Reserve’s many purposes include promoting stability and growth in the economy by keeping prices stable and healthy employment levels. The ways The Fed does this is by influencing short-term interest rates, being active in Open Market Operations (OMO) and impacting reserve requirements.
The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis details that along with providing banks with loans from the federal funds market to support adequate reserves and liquidity, it’s important to understand how Open Market Operations function.
Much like individuals and institutions can buy or sell securities, The Fed can buy or sell securities, including U.S. Treasury bonds. The buying and selling are the operations portion. The open market refers to the fact that The Fed doesn’t transact directly with the U.S. Treasury, but works on the open market via auctions through the Trading Desk of the New York Fed.
Assuming there’s a modification to the federal funds rate’s target range by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the directive starts the reaction to either purchase or sell government securities to meet the new target. The OMO is one way the Fed adjusts its two-pronged mandate of promoting employment and maintaining target inflation.
If the Fed wants to stimulate the economy, it can do so through Treasury bond purchases. This occurs when the Fed makes a deposit into the seller’s bank account via the Trading Desk. This purchase increases the reserve balance of the bank offering the Treasury bond for sale, which increases the bank’s ability and willingness to lend.
In the opposite scenario, the Fed can reduce the amount of money available that banks can use for lending. This time the Fed sells government securities, prompting banks to remove money from their bank accounts, reducing the amount available for lending. As pressure on the federal funds rate increases, rates will go up, making loans cost more for borrowers and incentivizing savings.
During the financial crisis, the FOMC engaged in quantitative easing (QE) after it brought the federal funds rate to near zero. This approach consisted of buying longer-term U.S. Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) through open market operations. As the St. Louis Fed explains, in exchange for the Fed buying these securities, banks receive a credit that increases their reserve balances above reserve requirements. While this was far more prevalent during the financial crisis, the 20-year U.S. Treasury bonds will undoubtedly make QE easier to re-engage in.
While the government may benefit from the direct investment and its ability for the Fed to guide the economy, there are a few potential risks for those who invest in U.S. Treasury bonds. Compared to many other investments, Treasury bonds have lower yields, which are even lower when inflation runs high. Another risk is that when rates rise, the value of the Treasury bond goes down, creating less attractive debt if the owner wants to sell it.
The Jan. 16 press release noted that more details on the 20-year bond will be available in the U.S. Treasury’s quarterly refunding statement on Feb. 5. Only time will tell the level of interest among investors and how effective this instrument will be in creating further cash flow for the U.S. Treasury.