Saturday, August 22, 2009

A virtuous bank?

The travails of the current recession have had the thinking public looking for the source. While the list of culprits is long and varied the popular voice almost uniformly heaps the lions share of the blame on Wall Street and the financial sector. Whether or not this disdain is fully justified is a question for another day but the current actions- think AIG and Goldman Sachs bonuses- within this sector have only strengthened the anger.

But new forward thinking businesses are emerging out of the malaise created by the greed of the previous generation. Whether or not this latest iteration of businesses can succeed will probably depend on their ability to reign in the universal drive for excessive lucre. Among the companies leading this new charge is none other then organization from the oft hated Financial Sector, Spanish bank Caja Navarra. It is this bank and its unique business model, referred to as "Civic Banking", that I want to showcase.

Since 2000 this bank has been quietly and effectively turning a healthy and guilt free profit in Spain. Their motto, "Future financial institutions will be civic...or they won't survive" not only explains their Raison d'ĂȘtre it also serves notice to the other financial institutions that they are harvesting a new wind of change.

Picture this. I have a bank account and I receive a monthly statement that details my charges and what I've made in interest. Pretty standard stuff. Caja Navarra does this but they also will let you know exactly how much money they made off of you and they give you the ability to designate 30% of those profits to charity. So we now have increased visibility and incredible corporate responsibility.

The bank is now poised to enter the US Market. They have met with institutions such as Columbia, Wharton, and Thunderbird evangelizing their message of corporate responsibility. The way the public currently perceives the suits on Wall Street this type of move couldn't come soon enough. We need more organizations and corporations that think beyond themselves and, hopefully, this will inspire more of them to follow suit.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thriving in the new economic reality

Let me borrow from Mr. Huxley by calling the current job market a “brave new world”. The current economic conditions, technology, and geography are conspiring to create a whole new paradigm for the next generation work force. The younger generation is catching on; the seasoned vets need to take note that the game is changing.

First, let’s define what is taking place….

Companies are restructuring in an effort to cut costs and streamline operations. The typical byproduct of such activities is layoffs and unemployment. Because Arizona is so reliant on industries that have been specifically pummelled by the recession- think construction/real estate- we find ourselves in especially dire straits. According to the US Department of Labor the unemployment rate in Arizona has doubled over the past year to 8.9%.

Second, let’s illustrate how proactive people are responding to this trend….

We have a very educated and resourceful job base, despite the numbers. There might be fewer formal jobs but that doesn’t mean that are no opportunities. Things are evolving and we, taking a page from Darwin, are adapting to the new changes. Companies still have work to be done, just not enough to justify full time employment. Smart people are engaging these companies and contracting those specific services. For those of us who are not up to speed on this trend go and do yourself a favor and read a great book like Free Agent Nation.

So companies still have work but just not enough to justify bringing you on. What do you do? Smart people are becoming “free agents” and selling their expertise to multiple companies. In a strange mutual fund sort of way this approach builds additional stability by diversifying your streams of income. It also provides for increased flexibility.

As more and more “free agents” enter the market it creates a need for cheap or free workspace like Gangplank. It is one of several locations valley wide that is popping up to provide entrepreneurs and other free lance workers with the traditional amentities of the office. That and the company is far better. One of the great side effects of such an arrangement is that it provides job seekers and entrepreneurs with the chance to interact and create synergy.

People are also taking advantage of opportunities to find affordable ways to further their education. For profit universities like The University of Phoenix and Grand Canyon University are all seeing growth as education tends to act in the reverse of the economy. Places like Training to You are able to use government stimulus money to provide professional training in areas like computer programming and project management.

In short, times are tough. But smart people are heading the words of Churchill and vowing not to give up. Smart people are taking a page from Darwin and changing with the times. Eventually things will turn around but it will be the people who are adapting now who will be in the best position to profit.