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I’m taking a robo-advisor out for a spin…

We’re getting a crack at new technology: a retirement plan robo-adviser.

My colleagues and I have a 401(k) administered by Vanguard, the local mutual-fund giant. A few weeks ago, we got letters in the mail saying we’re eligible to try out Financial Engines’ “Retirement Evaluation” tool free for a few months.

If we sign on – and I’m going to road-test it – Vanguard charges 0.40 percent annually, more expensive than just indexing. (Currently, I have my Vanguard savings in one low-cost index fund). I’m not crazy about the extra fee, because it seems antithetical to Vanguard, but personal advice costs money.

Vanguard clients’ uptake on the Financial Engines tool has been so-so (about 7 percent of all plan participants), but I’m willing to see what the tool suggests.

The evaluation includes a phone call, if desired, to go over other assets such as Roth IRAs, annuities, and the like.

I’ll report back with results from Vanguard and Financial Engines in a few weeks. They’re crunching my measly portfolio to see whether I’m on the right track, style-wise.

If I don’t like the advice, I can quit the service before the deadline and pay nothing.

We’re probably late to the robo-adviser party – Financial Engines partnered with Vanguard in 2001.
Like Vanguard, Financial Engines is a quiet giant. Founded in the 1990s, it boasted $104 billion under management in January, compared with $88 billion in January 2015 – an increase of 18 percent.

Vanguard’s own hybrid robo-adviser, Personal Advisor Services, had $31 billion in January 2016. (It launched in 2015.)

Rivals include Charles Schwab’s Intelligent Portfolios, launched in 2015. As of January, Schwab’s robo-adviser assets stood at $5.3 billion.

Vanguard remains the juggernaut, attracting almost $29 billion to long-term mutual funds and exchange-traded funds as of March – more than all competitors combined, according to Morningstar. Having built its reputation on low fees, Vanguard was the leader in estimated flows to both actively managed funds as well as those that track indexes.

The shift toward passive investing has accelerated in bonds, too. Vanguard’s collections in March represented 59 percent of the money the entire industry gathered during the month.

BlackRock’s iShares unit attracted almost $15 billion to its ETFs. Losing firms included PIMCO and Franklin Resources, with net redemptions during the month, according to Morningstar.

Vanguard’s $24.7 billion Intermediate-Term Investment Grade Fund had the largest inflow, more than $1.6 billion, to any active fund in March, Morningstar reported. About $1 trillion of the $3.2 trillion Vanguard oversees is in actively run funds.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20160418_Taking_a_robo-adviser_out_for_a_spin.html#KXPhUwLTUX4qaKq8.99

SEC Philly Office Head, Sharon Binger, on Priorities and Cases

The Securities and Exchange Commission has a relatively new cop on the beat here: Sharon Binger, director of the Philadelphia Regional Office.

The Philly office oversees enforcement and examinations for the mid-Atlantic region. Binger joined it from the SEC’s New York office in 2014, where she was assistant regional director.
Sharon Binger became director of the Philadelphia regional office in 2014, after working in New York.
In an interview, Binger outlined some recent cases and priorities, first highlighting the one filed last week against Paul-Ellis Investment Associates, which the SEC examined at the firm’s offices at 1818 Market St.

In a suit filed against Joseph Andrew Paul and John Dee Ellis Jr., both of Philadelphia, the SEC alleges that the men orchestrated a fraud of a dozen retirees that totaled $3.9 million.

From 2010 through December 2012, the SEC’s suit says, Paul and Ellis raised the money through free-dinner seminars at which they promised double- and triple-digit returns annually. One Paul-Ellis employee claimed the investment strategy was “performing as expected in the 2 percent-4 percent weekly range.”

“These kinds of cases are our bread and butter, which is investor protection,” Binger said.

“It’s important to understand who you’re investing with, and we have resources to consult before you invest your money,” she said.

The fact that an investment firm is registered with the SEC “provides investors with more transparency,” she added.
Paul and Ellis marketed themselves as experienced money managers with a phone track record, a prospectus, and some glossy marketing materials to supplement the free meal.

Yet just a few minutes on the FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) and SEC databases reveal that Paul had multiple disciplinary incidents and fines years before the recent case.

Ellis also was a registered representative with a disciplinary record.

To research a broker or investment adviser, check http://brokercheck.finra.org/. Similarly, https://investor.gov/ is a great resource for due diligence.

By July 12, 2012, Paul-Ellis investors’ funds were gone, the SEC suit says, and it notes that an investigation showed the two spent the money.

I tried reaching their office in Center City, and the number no longer works.

“When we are promised returns that are too good to be true, we may have a tendency to suspend common sense,” Binger said.

The SEC exam team went to Paul-Ellis “to make sure they were following the rules. They identified areas of concern and referred it to enforcement,” she said.

To track insider trading, Binger’s team uses technology.

In January, it won a verdict in a U.S. District Court trial in Philadelphia against Nan Huang, charged with insider trading on information obtained from his employer, Capital One Financial.

Huang and another defendant searched Capital One’s credit-card activity for millions of customers at corporations. He then traded in advance of the public release of those companies’ quarterly sales.

Binger is proud of her office’s ability to freeze assets quickly, including in cases where defendants may flee the country, as Huang did, flying to China.

“We’ve gotten asset freezes in a number of cases, including the Huang case and in the hacking case” by accused insider trader Vitaly Korchevsky and 41 others, she said.

Last year, Korchevsky was indicted on charges that he helped orchestrate an insider-trading scheme regulators said netted $100 million. He was arrested by the FBI at his Glen Mills home as part of a group that tapped corporate press releases before they became public.

“There’s the concern the money will go quickly,” Binger said. “In the Huang case, one defendant fled the country shortly before we filed our lawsuit, and the other fled the day after. We were fortunate to freeze more than $1.6 million before it left the country.”

If you have questions or concerns about your broker or money manager, you can contact the local SEC office by email at philadelphia@sec.gov.

Or you can call the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy at 1-800-732-0330. Additional contact information can be found at http://www.investor.gov/contact-us.

Ken Springer, a former FBI agent, runs a firm called Corporate Resolutions that educates high-net-worth clients, including professional athletes and doctors.

“It’s like wearing a seat belt. You need to vet your investment manager,” Springer says. “Look at what these people did in the past, at the track record, and ask other investors if they’ve done background checks and gotten referrals.”

He uses resources such as World-Check, an international criminal database; LexisNexis, for news and court records, and PACER for civil, criminal and bankruptcy court filings. All are available to the public for a fee.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20160411_SEC_s_local_chief_outlines_her_priorities.html#RiCGRGmyqLujdQJl.99

If the IRS calls, texts, or emails… relax, it’s a scam artist!


Tax filer: Don’t worry if you get a phone call, a text, or an email from the Internal Revenue Service.

It’s not the IRS. It’s a scam artist.

This year, the criminals are putting a new twist on an old script. They call saying they already have your tax return and just need to verify details to process your refund.

The scammers try to convince you to give up personal information such as Social Security number, driver’s license details, bank account numbers, or credit-card numbers.
Hang up the phone. Don’t click on that email. The days of giving out information unsolicited are over.

“These schemes continue to adapt and evolve in an attempt to catch people off guard just as they are preparing their tax returns,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement last week.

“Don’t be fooled. The IRS won’t be calling you out of the blue asking you to verify your personal tax information or aggressively threatening you to make an immediate payment.”

Scammers claiming to be IRS officials may demand that you pay a bogus tax bill by sending cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. They may leave “urgent” messages by phone or via email.

They may politely ask you, the taxpayer, to verify your identity over the phone. They may try to bully or intimidate you. They may even threaten to arrest or deport you or revoke your driver’s license if they don’t get money.

One reader said he’d been called by someone claiming to be an IRS agent who demanded that they meet in the parking lot of a local Walmart to exchange cash.

Often, scammers alter caller IDs to make it look as if the IRS or another agency is calling. They may use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They may even have your name and address to make the call sound official.

To repeat: The IRS will never:

Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you several bills.

Call or email you to verify your identity by asking for personal and financial information.

Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.

Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.

Ask for credit- or debit-card numbers over the phone or email.

Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups if you don’t pay.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money or to verify your identity, do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.

Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report the call. Use the “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” webpage (www.treasury.gov/tigta) or call 1-800-366-4484. If you know you owe on your taxes, or think you owe, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. Tax planners and accountants confirm that scammers are hard at work this tax season.

“I have had four clients call me since the beginning of the year with IRS scams, and I’m sure there are more who just ignored them, as I told them,” said Mary Lew Kehm, certified public accountant in Whitehall Township.

“Their script now attempts to validate, as oppose to threaten,” said Michael A. Gillen, director of the tax accounting group at Duane Morris law firm in Center City.


215-854-2808 @erinarvedlund


Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/personal_finance/20160322_If_the_IRS_calls_you__it_s_a_scammer.html#WUxXa1p2EGJbcJKm.99
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Human-Animal Bond? One Lawyer Retires And Devote His Life to Fostering Dogs, Cats of Veterans

Buzz Miller has evolved — from legal to beagle.

Miller founded PACT for Animals, a nonprofit that finds foster homes for pets of service members and more. His next project will pair animals with retirement-community residents.

Miller, 74, retired as a lawyer and businessman and founded PACT for Animals, a Montgomery County, Pennsylvania nonprofit that will find a foster home for your pet.

PACT for Animals matches your companion animal with a foster family if you are heading off to serve in the military, have a long-term health crisis, or enter a hospital. And it’s free.

Miller’s next animal adventure? Working with retirement communities whose residents, he says, “would be perfect to serve as fosters for animals.”

“People over 55 are perfect: They’re settled, they probably don’t want to raise animals for another 20 years, but they can handle short-term companionship. And they don’t have kids.”

A West Philadelphia native, Miller graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and University of Pennsylvania Law School, then received a master’s degree in tax law.

In the 1970s, he was a swinging single lawyer who didn’t want to settle down – until he met his girlfriend’s dog.

Then everything changed.

When they split, Miller gave the ex-girlfriend his car and “bribed” her two sons with a television and a motorcycle. Miller kept the canine.

“That’s when I learned about the human- animal bond,” he remembers.

By 2007, Miller had married and made enough money to retire. He and his wife, Judi, opened a retail pet store on the Main Line, Buzzy’s BowWowMeow, specializing in free adoptions of shelter dogs and cats.

Ultimately, they sold the Narberth business to focus fully on nonprofit work. (Buzzy’s is now a Doggie Style store.) In 2010, they formed the nonprofit PACT for Animals, part of which stands for People + Animals = Companions Together (pactforanimals.org).
The inspiration: A friend of Miller’s elderly mother adopted a mixed breed named CiCi headed for euthanasia. The woman had just lost her husband, and her daughter had cancer.

“That little miracle dog made her life worth living, turned her mental state around completely. CiCi showered her with unconditional love during her time of profound grief,” he says.

Today, PACT for Animals offers assistance all over the country.

“People drive and fly their companion animals from as far as California, Texas, Florida, and Idaho,” Miller says, in order for their pets to be placed in PACT’s more than 150 approved foster homes in the Philadelphia area.

Foster families sign a contract promising good care; PACT pays expenses and veterinary bills.

Foster parents are “usually middle-class people. They aren’t the people who live around here in Gladwyne,” Miller says, laughing, in the basement of his house – PACT’s offices – with his employees, many of whom are undergraduates at Bryn Mawr College.

“Every home in this neighborhood is worth a million bucks – all of them could take a healthy animal. But people with money rarely volunteer to foster our dogs and cats.

“But,” he adds with a wink, “they can write checks.”

By 2015, PACT had doubled in size: number of animals fostered, to more than 300; paid employees, four; volunteers, more than 45, who check foster-home quality and take pictures of the animals to send to their humans.

Miller and his wife live in an expansive house with a parrot, several cats, and a few dogs. Recently, Miller and his wife felt the pain of losing Chloe, one of their favorite dogs.

“Chloe was by my side for the last 10 years. Her love and cheerfulness sustained me on a daily basis through a world which gets uglier, sadder and more superficial,” he says.

“She was my rock through daily heartaches. I learned years ago never walk out of your front door without telling all those you love, both two- and four-legged, how much you care for them. It reminded me that the sudden loss of a loved one can occur any time,” Miller says, with tears in his eyes.

In the fourth quarter of his life, Miller knows he’s more interested in helping other people and their animal companions than in “chasing such goals as big money and power, which I sometimes was driven by in my legal and business career.”

PACT became a national organization faster than Miller anticipated.

“We are the only group really solving this problem with each family, each foster, and with each companion animal we save,” he says.

Today, he and his wife want for nothing material, he says.

“That gives me the freedom to continue my life’s mission – the human-animal bond. I am at an age when so many of my friends are leaving. The time to do my most important work is now.”


Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20160214_Giving_a_Woof.html#1yYtExdMJdXsEPwo.99

ABC Madoff mini-series airs Feb 3-4; Richard Dreyfuss inhabits the role of Bernie Madoff to a scary degree. What’s missing? Any remorse on the part of the family…

Roughly 15 years ago, I wrote an article about a notable Wall Street figure and his secretive investment fund that never, ever lost money.

His name was Bernard Madoff.

The dot.com bubble had just burst, yet Madoff’s hedge fund earned 10 percent that year, without missing a beat.

In May 2001, I wrote about some red flags surrounding Madoff’s hedge fund: eerily consistent returns and no losing years even when the stock market crashed, no due diligence allowed by investors, no independent brokerage statements, and odd threats that investors could not return to the fund once they had cashed out.

Madoff himself gave me a brief interview by phone, then metaphorically patted me on the head and told me to go away.

Never did I expect that the article, which came out in May 2001, would appear in an ABC television series airing next week.

(At the time, I was a writer for Barron’s magazine, a must-read for Wall Street types.)

For a look into Madoff’s sociopathic mind, tune in to the ABC prime-time mini-series Madoff, airing Feb. 3 and 4 (8-10 p.m.).

Academy Award-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss stars as Madoff, with Blythe Danner as his wife, Ruth. Madoff follows the decades-long rise of the former investment guru and NASDAQ chairman, and his abrupt demise in 2008.

Best part of the show? Real investors, including Philadelphia-area locals Michael DeVita and his mother, Emma, talking about the devastating effect that Madoff’s epic lie had on their lives.

No one, including me, knew Madoff was running a classic Ponzi scheme – paying off old investors with money from new investors – to the tune of $65 billion. His theft is considered the largest financial scam in U.S. history, and the impact was global. Vaporizing billions of dollars worldwide, including the funds of philanthropies, charities, celebrities, and ordinary mom-and-pop retirement portfolios, Madoff used some simple con-man magic tricks to pull off a monumental fraud.

For those unfamiliar with the scheme, Madoff’s fund never invested a single dollar in the markets (emphasis mine).

Instead, the money sat in a checking account at JPMorgan Chase. Madoff and his crew of flunkies never made a single real trade. Instead, they created profits out of thin air, then printed and mailed out phony paper statements to clients every month, starting in the 1970s.

Among those who helped perpetuate the decades-long crime were right-hand man Frank DiPascali Jr. (played by Michael Rispoli), assistant Annette BonGiorno, two computer programmers, and clerical workers with high school degrees.

Frank Whaley plays skeptical competitor and whistle-blower Harry Markopolos, whose boss could not understand how Madoff kept churning out double-digit returns.

Markopolos warned regulators for years that Madoff was a fraud, and he ultimately testified before Congress about the SEC’s failings. (Harry’s best line in testimony: “The SEC couldn’t find their ass with their own two hands.”)

The mini-series also features Charles Grodin as Carl Shapiro, one of Madoff’s longtime investors, who was forced to return millions. Jeffrey Picower, the largest investor, returned $7 billion.

Picower and other billionaires were complicit in Madoff’s scheme, as I detailed in a subsequent book, Too Good To Be True (Penguin 2009).

Linda Berman and Joe Pichirallo produced the ABC film, and I spoke with Pichirallo last year about a few details to include. I’m no film critic, but Dreyfuss inhabits the role to a scary degree.

What’s missing? Any remorse or guilt on the part of the family, and the roughly $300 million in salary, bonuses, and properties that the Madoff family ripped off for themselves. The properties, including son Mark’s mansion in Connecticut, son Andrew’s apartment in Manhattan, multiple boats, and the beach house in Montauk, N.Y. , were later auctioned off to repay investors.

Others I won’t forget: the woman at Madoff’s sentencing who resorted to Dumpster-diving for food, and Nobel Prize-winning author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, whose foundation lost $15 million to Madoff. Incredibly, Wiesel said afterward: “We have seen worse.”

And the DeVitas, of Chalfont. Emma, now 88, and her son opened accounts with Madoff in the early 1990s, believing the fund was a retirement savings opportunity.

On Dec. 11, 2008, Madoff was arrested. The DeVitas’ life savings vanished.

“We did nothing wrong other than listening to the agency that is tasked by Congress with protecting me against this type of fraud,” Emma DeVita told me. “The Securities and Exchange Commission failed me.”

That’s the final missing piece from the ABC series. It’s up to us not to fall for more Madoffs and to do our own due diligence. We can’t count on the regulators to catch them first.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20160125_Madoff_mini-series_tells_a_cautionary_financial_tale.html#PR2OwdRJGJEfwMSj.99

A former Interdigital millionaire leaves $6.5Mln to his alma mater… via a retirement vehicle

Beneficial Bequest
DECEMBER 20, 2015
Ridgely Bolgiano, a 1959 graduate of Haverford College, left the school $6.5 million. He he was able to increase both his retirement income and the amount he left the college.
With a net worth approaching $25 million, Ridgely “Ridge” Bolgiano this year left his alma mater, Haverford College, a $6.5 million gift using a relatively obscure form of retirement savings and philanthropy that benefits both the charity and the donor while he’s still living.

The vehicle in question – a charitable gift annuity – increased both Bolgiano’s retirement income and the amount he left the college.

And they aren’t just for the wealthy – the rest of us can use them, too.

Bolgiano graduated from Haverford in 1959 and, until his death at age 82 on Oct. 3, he lived in Gladwyne, Pa. A confirmed bachelor, he had no spouse or children.

He was an inventor and technology millionaire who made his fortune with InterDigital in King of Prussia, Pa. He was a physicist who owned more than two dozen patents, one of which is central to our everyday lives, the means by which a cellphone signal is transferred from cell to cell in a service provider’s network.

As he approached retirement, Bolgiano set up a “deferred” charitable gift annuity.
Such annuities are relatively unknown because banks, stockbrokers and financial planners don’t sell them. Only 501(c)(3) charitable organizations can offer them, according to Chris Mills, a spokesman for Haverford College.

Eileen Heisman, president and CEO of the National Philanthropic Trust, calls charitable gift annuities “great giving vehicles.”

They are complex on the inside, but fairly easy to set up.

A charitable gift annuity is a contract between you and a university, religious entity, hospital, or other charity. You can fund one with a gift of just $10,000 in some cases.

The benefits: Your annuity payments may be treated as partly tax-free income. You receive an immediate charitable tax deduction for a portion of your gift. And if you fund your charitable gift annuity with appreciated securities, there are no up front capital gains taxes.

Steven Kavanaugh, director of gift planning at Haverford College, explains that donors get an Individual Retirement Account-style tax break when they fund the gift annuity, and income plus partial return of principal from the start date they specify until their death. At that point, the rest passes to the charity.
In Bolgiano’s case, Haverford was the lucky charity.

“You can never outlive this type of annuity because the charity is obligated by law to make the income payments to you until your death,” Kavanaugh says.

A portion of future income payments are tax-free (typically about 25 percent).

“These also work for middle-class people because a donor can fund one at a modest level and get the same benefits,” Kavanaugh says.

How they work

Transfer cash or securities to your favorite charity. That charity then pays you a fixed income for the remainder of your life. What’s left passes to the charity when you die.

How much will you earn annually?

That’s the key. The charitable gift annuity rate is based on your age.

The older you are, the greater your payment. Annuity rates are based on guidelines established by the American Council on Gift Annuities, and they change often. For updated payout rates, visit http://www.acga-web.org.

Unlike IRAs, which are subject to rules about payouts and drawdowns, you can choose the age at which you would like your payout to begin.

Bolgiano’s annuity was a special case.

At age 70, he funded the annuity with $500,000 but deferred the income payments until he reached age 78. His delay resulted in the annuity compounding for years.

“When he finally did initiate the payout, both the amount he got and the amount available to Haverford upon his death were much greater,” Mills says.

Because Bolgiano deferred payments, he got a higher current tax deduction and a rate of return of about 8 percent, Kavanaugh says. In the year he made the gift, Bolgiano’s tax deduction totaled just over $279,000.

Had he started to receive the payments immediately, returns would have been about 5 percent annually, with a deduction of $195,000.

“It’s a good option for people who have charitable intent. Whether you fund at $25,000 or more, the reality is you are better off financially if you just go out to the marketplace and buy a commercial annuity, not a charitable annuity,” Kavanaugh says.

“But what this arrangement does, however, is if you have some charity you love, it allows you to make a charitable gift that costs you less money.”


Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20151220_Beneficial_Bequest.html#FUh3T5or9pJsiLA1.99

Selling your gold & silver? Here’s what to know about precious-metal buyers

Your Money: Sellers, beware of precious-metal buyers

Erin E. Arvedlund Published Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 3:01 AM

The killer drop in the price of gold last month prompted plenty of readers to ask about buying and selling the yellow metal – not only their investments, but also the actual gold bullion.

Marco Gigliello weighs recently purchased gold pieces at Erlton Cash for Gold in Cherry Hill. DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer
Marco Gigliello weighs recently purchased gold pieces at Erlton Cash for Gold in Cherry Hill. DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer

Over the last 12 years, the prices of gold, silver, and platinum have soared and then corrected, and, as a result, fraudulent buyers and sellers have popped up as well – urging us to clean out drawers of old or unused gold and silver for sale at top-dollar prices.

But precious-metal prices are also extremely volatile. The price of gold in 2011 briefly touched $1,900 per ounce, and last week it closed at just over $1,470 an ounce. Gold’s 9.3 percent plunge on April 15 was the biggest one-day drop since March 1980.

Many metals dealers come from out of state and set up shop in hotels for a weekend (you may have seen their ads in newspapers and elsewhere). But before you decide to sell, AARP’s Mary Bach, chair of the lobbying group’s consumer issues task force, warns that you should become familiar with some basic guidelines defined by Pennsylvania laws and regulations.

Start by having your items examined, appraised, and weighed by a local jeweler to establish a baseline weight and value, says Dean Ely, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Weights and Measures (www.pawam.org). Only after that should you approach a dealer.

When you visit a gold dealer’s premises, ask whether it is licensed with the county sheriff. Pennsylvania law requires any person dealing in previously owned metals to be licensed with the sheriff, and if the staff says no or they don’t know, “walk away,” Bach says.

Similarly, if they don’t post current prices for gold, silver, or platinum, go elsewhere.

If you do sell to a dealer, make sure his or her scales are visible, so you can watch while your items are weighed, and make sure the scale bears a current seal of approval (again, this is only if they are Pennsylvania metal dealers). Most people aren’t familiar with the metric or troy system of weights for precious metals, so dealers must post a conversion chart so consumers understand what they are being offered.

If you’ve found a buyer who meets all these criteria, and you finally decide to sell, make sure you receive a complete and descriptive receipt. Pennsylvania law requires the dealer to give a receipt with the name, age, address of the seller; a description of the item, including weight; and a receipt copy that must be submitted to the county district attorney within 24 hours of the transaction.

“It is never advisable” for you to send your precious metals off by mail to an unknown dealer, Ely added.

If you do have a problem or need to lodge a complaint about the selling of your metals, contact your state’s attorney general’s office or, in Pennsylvania, the Weights and Measures hotline (1-877-837-8007).

(FYI: The Philadelphia Inquirer has set up a new pay wall for subscriptions. Read more at: http://www.inquirer.com/business/20130507_Your_Money__Sellers__beware_of_precious-metal_buyers.html  ).

Older workers are key to her success

Successful businesswoman says older workers one key to success…

Claudia Timbo has no intention of retiring. At 64, she’s just founded her third start-up company and wants to work at least another decade to make it grow.

Another bonus of starting this venture? She likes hiring retirees – even preferring retired or “mature” workers to millennials. That’s unusual for start-ups, and doubly unusual in a labor market with a low participation rate by older workers.

“I’ve probably created over 1,200 jobs through my companies, and I like hiring mature workers because, well, I wouldn’t want to stop working, either!”
“Change makes the phone ring,” Timbo says, whether it’s new Medicare benefits, the Affordable Care Act, Sarbanes-Oxley investor-protection reforms, or new campaigns for TV-sold products. And that means new clients for her Blue Bell, Pa.-based call center, CompanyVoice, which serves a diverse clientele including health-care, insurance, and security firms.

Timbo is living what many dream about: starting a business in retirement. Here’s how the serial entrepreneur does it.
Soft-spoken but in constant motion, Timbo got her first taste of entrepreneurship as a telemarketer while working with her husband decades ago. He was expanding business for a company in the Midwest.

“I started scheduling appointments for him when he was traveling, and, ultimately, we got hired by one of their competitors as a team.”

Progress Bank hired the husband-wife duo to build a sales team of loan officers and train them on the phone. By 1997, the Timbos had built their start-up to $16 million in revenues. They sold it to the bank in 2000.

“You need to offer services or a product you know people want. People need to make appointments and need help with their insurance or other benefit plans by phone, and that’s a service clients will pay for,” she says.

First, Timbo says, she enlists employees and her advisory board as investors. Many are eager to invest with just 1 percent of the company. For example, CompanyVoice’s comptroller, Genevieve Bongart, worked for Timbo at a previous start-up, and she’s now an investor.

Timbo’s track record helps: She has made some serious money for her prior investors, whom she credits for getting her start-up CompanyVoice off the ground.

“We have 20 investors, and 15 of them are women with 1 to 3 percent investments,” she explains. Timbo wants to distribute dividends to her investors as the company hits profitability.

One who invested in her last company put in an initial $60,000. Ultimately, that returned $2 million when the company was sold.

“You can see why investors follow me,” Timbo says.

Second, the advisory board she names includes, in addition to friends, experts in their field who can help the business: real estate brokers, attorneys, and human-resources executives.

Timbo’s head of HR, Nanette Carney, helped in the last start-up with recruitment, and is also an investor in CompanyVoice.

Third, many of Timbo’s workers are older or already retired from their first careers. She pays for them to obtain any licenses needed to handle insurance clients, for instance.

She matches former engineers with engineering clients, teachers to academic clients, and former claims adjusters with insurance clients.

“Ours is a soft-sell service. They’re working with their peers, not with kids bringing in balloons saying, ‘I just turned 18!’ And that’s why I prefer to hire mature workers.”

Why don’t more employers share her view on this?

“I don’t know,” she says, shaking her head. “I get tremendous value from them and less turnover since they stay longer.”

CompanyVoice offers a flexible work schedule, as well, she says.

Fourth, Timbo networks relentlessly. She’s a member of the Association of Women Entrepreneurs and the National Women Business Owners Corp., and has won the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame award as a champion of older workers.

Finally, her start-ups have mainly been self-financed or financed with the assistance of her private investors.

“Banks only want to lend out secured loans,” she says with a chuckle. A half-dozen of her advisory-board members personally secured the first loan, and that helped fund expansion in the early days.

Timbo, the mother of three grown children, says they have watched and learned from her about building start-ups. Now 42, 33 and 30 years old, her kids are involved in different industries – fitness, biopharma and advertising – but they all carry the entrepreneurial DNA.

When will she sell CompanyVoice? Not for a long time, she says.

“At least not until the company hits $25 million in sales annually.”

CompanyVoice is expanding to a third location and is looking for space in Lansdale. Currently, its sales for 2016 are projected to total $10 million.

“That should keep me busy until I’m at least 75,” she says.


Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20151115_Successful_businesswoman_says_older_workers_one_key_to_success.html#klKZ7GP7GVb0x7Jz.99

Party? Parade? Instead, Thank a Veteran By Doing Business With Him or Her…

This Veterans Day, want to thank a veteran? Instead of offering charity, choose to do business with a veteran.

Patronize a veteran-owned business, and you invest in the veteran’s family, as well.

In honor of Veterans Day, this week the Greater Philadelphia Veterans Network is highlighting companies such as Berwyn-based JDOG Junk Removal & Hauling.

JDOG awards franchises exclusively to military veterans and their family members. Founded by Army vet Jerry Flanagan and wife Tracy, “our model is based on the idea that, given the choice, Americans would rather do business with a veteran-owned firm,” says Flanagan.

Michael O’Neill opened a Main Line JDOG franchise in his hometown of Narberth. He did so well that he left his full-time job and bought a second Center City franchise. He now employs six veterans.

“Why use JDOG? First, our service is usually cheaper than the competition because of the business model. We work for ourselves and not a big corporation. So we pass the discount on to the customer,” O’Neill says. “Second, you know who’s coming into your home – veterans who’ve had FBI background checks. Most people want to help vets, they just didn’t know how – until now.”

He adds, laughing: “Vets are like sled dogs. We love to work.”

O’Neill wasn’t always so upbeat. After returning from the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan, he worked as a therapist treating other vets, and to cope started self-medicating with alcohol and “barking commands at my kids.”

“Finally, I just broke,” he says. “I became suicidal, and my wife checked me into the emergency room.”

After treatment, he quit drinking and left his profession as a forensic psychologist. One day, in the office of City Hall’s Veterans Advisory Commission, he saw an advertisement for JDOG.

“Everything they do makes sense – giving vets an opportunity to be their own boss with low entry cost. I use a laptop, a cellphone, and my truck.”

Franchises cost $25,000 initially, and owners hire only other veterans. Unlike other franchisors, JDOG charges a flat royalty fee instead of a percentage of revenue, which allows vets to keep the majority of the profits.

“Jerry and Tracy Flanagan want franchisees to keep most of the money they earn to hire more veterans,” says O’Neill, 50, a father of four.

Donations of food and other assistance help temporarily, “but then the vet doesn’t have anything they can live on. If people are looking to help veterans, we’re asking for the opportunity to do what we do best – and that’s work,” he adds.

“Just getting back to normal is the most powerful thing you can do. Paying our bills and taking care of our families, paying taxes, that’s what we want.”

The brokerage firm Drexel Hamilton is another local business owned by a veteran. It was founded in 2007 by Lawrence Doll, a disabled Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam and received two Purple Hearts.

Doll wanted to support other veterans, so in 2010, he hired Cauldon “Cal” Quinn as chief financial officer.

A Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Quinn was about to quit Wall Street for good before joining Drexel Hamilton in Center City. He has expertise in electronic equity execution services, and program and algorithmic trading.

As CFO, he has helped the firm grow – it had three people in 2007 and almost 100 today – half of whom are veterans. He estimates $25 million in revenue this year.

“It’s extremely difficult for veterans to break into finance. They often don’t have Ivy League pedigrees and don’t get in the door,” said Quinn, a 1997 Naval Academy graduate.

“Give the veteran the ability to provide for their family. It’s something so much more to take their dignity home with their paycheck. We need disabled veterans to be restored as leaders in their families.”

Instead of sending veterans to the Super Bowl or offering gifts for the holidays, find them in your community, Quinn advises, “and give them your business.”

How do you find them?

First, explore social-media profiles, such as the ones on LinkedIn, to see whether a business owner served, says Alex Archawski, head of Greater Philadelphia Veterans Network.

Databases are run by the National Veteran Owned Business Association (www.navoba.com) and VetBiz.gov, compiled by the Veterans Administration. Their websites are not complete but offer a starting point.

ID cards, for vets starting businesses or seeking work, can be obtained through the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, http://www.dmva.pa.gov, and through individual New Jersey counties.


Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20151109_Thank_a_veteran_by_doing_business_with_a_veteran.html#zah7YitFLUIEO0qp.99

Small Business Owner Paul Downs “Drops His Pants in Public”… Pens New Book “Boss Life” (Penguin 2015)

Paul Downs Cabinetmakers in Bridgeport, Penn., was founded by Paul Downs in 1986, right after he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. After almost 30 years, it’s still in business, but he has news for small-business owners – it doesn’t get easier.

Downs, 53, contributed to a now defunct New York Times blog about the trials of a business owner, and this year published a book, Boss Life (Penguin). It follows a year in the life of his workshop and his obsession with cash flow that all small-business owners will recognize.

Downs makes custom conference tables and office furniture – especially high-end boardroom tables. He kept the business alive during the financial crisis, the ensuing recession, and workers’ screwing up or even leaving.

All the while, he and his wife, Nancy, were raising three sons, now college-aged. One son, Henry, is so severely autistic and physically threatening that his wife refuses to leave the house with him. Henry’s needs play a heartbreaking role in the book, and even change the way Downs runs the business. (He started leaving the office sooner.)

“You can’t understand a boss without knowing what he goes home to,” Downs writes. And yet, he discovers, “keeping the barrier between my work and home lives was a mistake. When my wife had a clear picture of the situation, she became an ally instead of an adversary.”

Boss Life works best as a narrative, each chapter detailing one month in the business during 2012. We witness sales suddenly explode, or vanish; the running net cash-flow tally (mostly negative) and thoughts swirling in Downs’ head, such as Why am I so afraid to fire people when they don’t perform? Why am I such a bad salesman? Why are we paying Google so much money for AdWords? Is that really what a good boss does?

Readers will hold their breath as Downs succeeds, then barely survives, month by month.

The book was born out of Downs’ unusually blunt and disarming contributions to the blog “You’re the Boss” for the Times. It ended in December 2014, but is available here: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com .

“For a few years, I was dropping my pants in public. Most business writers are rich and smart. I’m not rich and I’m not smart, and that gained a following among readers,” he recalls with a laugh.

“It was 2009 and my business was about to fail. I was looking online for what do you do, and I wrote a letter to the editor, saying ‘You have nothing on businesses that are failing. My business is about to fail. I’d be happy to write about it.’ They took me up on the idea.”

Most business books are written by “the success stories. My life isn’t like that,” he adds.

“I’d never seen a book that talked about the very complex life of the small-business owner. All these problems arrive at random and you have a constant need to get money in the door. I’ve never seen anyone lay it out there.”

In 2009, the company was at death’s door, and he rarely had more than a week’s worth of cash on hand. In 2010, he came within a day of running out of money. A partner and mentor abandoned him. A new customer prompted the design of a U-shaped conference table. Then the customer couldn’t pay.

Downs waded through which health insurance to buy, negotiated the lease, restarted the server, shooed away birds invading the shop, and even vacuumed the office.

Owning a business, even one with millions in revenue, has not made Downs a wealthy man. At points in the book, he stops paying himself a salary, or loans the business money.

He also learned important lessons, such as how to go about firing an unproductive employee.

“Bad employees made good employees feel bad. Seeing a coworker get away with sloppy work and laziness is a slap in the face,” he writes. “They hate it.”

Downs also sought out help from a sales guru, who teaches him and his team to stop wasting time and drop accounts that require too much maintenance for minimal profit.

The best result of writing the book for Downs? Small-business owners have flooded him with email after reading Boss Life.

The book “made me, and I’m sure others, feel a lot less lonely sitting here in the decision-maker chair,” one reader wrote.

As of last week, Downs employed 16 people, after having just laid off two workers, a process he loathes. His 2014 new contracts totaled $2.53 million and revenue $2.92 million. But new contracts are flat this year and revenue is going to be way down for 2015, he estimates.

Still, “there are 30 million businesses in America with under 20 employees,” he notes.

“Small business isn’t an easy road to success. They’re not dot.coms like Facebook. They are pizza parlors and hairdressers. We rely on them to make our communities vibrant.”


Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20151026_Learning_from_small-business_failure__from_one_who_knows.html#W0hvZHxDw0rr21iU.99

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