What’s the password?

How easy is it actually for a criminal to figure out your online passwords and how can you stop this from happening? In this week’s blog I’ll unpack my own personal journey of password purification.

Welcome to part 2 of the series around personal cyber security. My friends at the SA Insurance Crime Bureau (https://www.saicb.co.za) published this wonderful graphic last year to explain how easy it is for criminals to figure out your password.

How long it takes to crack your password depends on length and complexity

In other words, if you have a password with less than 10 characters, without combining numbers, letters and symbols, you might as well just post the password on your social media pages along with your bank statements.

Someone asked me in a talk I was doing a few weeks ago, “Tell me oh wise LiabilityGuy, how is it possible that a ten-digit password can be cracked so quickly?” They may not have said it exactly like that but actually it’s not as simple as hackers just letting a super computer program run, inputting millions of combinations although the technology is definitely available. This is because most, well-maintained websites will generally have lockout features so after a few guesses, the user will be prevented from more than say, 5 consecutive incorrect guesses.

So if the hacker only has 5 guesses at time to try a possible 10 billion combinations it would take a lifetime to derive the key. That is of course if the hackers were simply trying to access the database through the front-end login page.

Incidentally, since I posted my previous article about my attempted hack a few weeks ago, there have been almost 1300 brute force attacks on this site. Those are attackers trying to guess my administration password.

Brute force attacks often employ the use of stolen passwords and email combinations rather than just guesswork.

It is quite unrealistic to expect that hackers will try millions of passwords, waiting between lockouts, to get into a site. That’s like buying one cigarette at a time after each lockdown. Whenever you read about large-scale hacks, what has almost always happened is that hackers have stolen the entire database and then will use automated tools offline to “guess” the passwords in a copied database. Working offline they have as much time as they need to crack your well thought out password and username combo.

This brings me to the real reason for my blog. You see having a well-structured, complex password is only half the battle. Making sure that once it has been cracked, that it can’t be used in multiple attacks on other sites is the other half. If you reuse your password on many other sites, those brute force attacks become so much easier for the cyber criminals.

Credential re-use is a huge problem amongst internet users. Depending on which survey you look at, the range of lazy internet users who reuse their passwords is anywhere from 50% to 65%. Surprisingly a study done by DataProt in February 2021 showed that Gen Z users (age 16 to 24) are the biggest culprits with well over 70% using the same password and user combos across multiple sites.

The reason why we do this is simple, or rather it’s our need for simplicity that drives this reckless behaviour.

Even though I have some knowledge of cyber risk, I too have been guilty of this. In fact up until recently I would say that I was a habitual password regurgitator. I wonder if there is a support group for us? Fortunately this habit came to an end late in 2020 when I received one of those dreaded heads-up messages from Google to say the password I use on my account had turned up in one of the recent hack attacks.

If you set up google alerts in your security settlings they will let you know if any of your saved passwords or emails have been stolen.

This was the push that I needed to rethink my approach to my own cyber risk management. That inspirational moment was quickly followed by massive dread – how the hell would I remember which sites I have signed into over the years, let alone change the passwords?

A little LiabilityGuy disclaimer: I haven’t tried many methods but the one described below is working for me. If by the time you read this, I have subsequently been hacked…delete my profile from your memory and buy a typewriter and a telefax machine.

  1. If you use Mac OS then chances are you’ve allowed Safari to store your passwords in your keychain. You’ll have to sign into the Keychain with your mac password to see the list of sites and the user name, password combos. This was the category I was in.
  2. If you use Firefox, Chrome, MS Edge or Internet Explorer you may have allowed your browser to store the passwords. Those can all be found by clicking on the settings in the browser and then going to the security and passwords section. Easy.
  3. If you use Internet Explorer may I suggest you seek help from a mental health professional and join the 21st century as soon as possible. Just kidding, there is actually a video here
  4. If you haven’t allowed your browser to store your passwords then the only option available to you is to mine through your old emails and search for account registration emails that have been sent over the years. Try using phrases like “account confirmation” or “registration email”. I also recommend drinking heavily if using this method.

Number 4 above is a very painful exercise but don’t let this deter you on your recovery journey from pathological password peddling. I had actually registered for many different online services over the past decade so I determined that all I really needed to do was focus on the ones I had used most frequently over the past few years. I figured that my credit cards expire every 3-4 years so that sort of data probably wouldn’t have much value on the older sites and I’d changed my physical address a few times in the longer time span. In other words, I perceived the risk as lower on those accounts and dismissed them.

I was pleasantly surprised that most of the password storage options in browsers these days do have features that allow you to generate unique random passwords, some will even tell you on which sites you have reused passwords. If you aren’t going to use a separate password manager app, these browser solutions may be enough for you to sleep at night.

For me, I just felt that having all my data sitting in the browser database (even if it is encrypted) didn’t feel like enough so I opted to use a standalone password manager app. There are many available online. If you want a list of the top ones you can check this site out.

After checking out the costs and features I settled on Last Pass – perhaps the term “Ease of Use” in the ranking, sold me on it. I haven’t tried the rest so please send me your thoughts if you choose another.

Once you have the list of sites and passwords you can load them into the password manager, then you have to visit each site and change the password to a more complex unique one generated by the app. Its a pain but less painful than having your identity, money or reputation stolen from you.

I think Password Managers are excellent because:

  • You only need to remember 1 password. That’s the one you use when you start up your browser.
  • You can set up multi-factor authentication to protect the password vault. So you can use your Google Authenticator or any of your other favourites.
  • You can use the password manager to generate random, extremely difficult passwords.
The Last Pass app allows for combinations of passwords up to 99 characters and you can choose how complicated you want it to be. If you don’t have to remember it – go big!
  • They have dashboards that will alert you if any of your emails are compromised and appear on the dark web. Interestingly when I was doing this blog an alert came in today:
  • You’ll be notified if you accidentally reuse your credentials again. You also get told if they are weak. Don’t take this personally. Just change them. Be strong.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing. I started the project in December 2020 whilst on holiday but quickly realised that it’s a mind numbing exercise to change all my passwords. Rather than doing it in one sitting I resorted to changing the core sites first and then slowly added the others as I logged into them over the subsequent months.

I also discovered that you need to turn off the autofill features in your browser after you load the password manager otherwise, old passwords get entered by accident and you get locked out of whatever site you are trying to access. This actually happened on one of my bank accounts and I had to go verify myself in person but that’s a story for another day.

I’ve completed the process now and I’d still give LastPass 8 out of 10 and I do believe I’m safer online now than when I started the exercise.

I’m the LiabilityGuy.

This article was originally called “what’s the $**&%# P@55word?” but the URL kept bombing out.

Smile. You’re on Hacker TV

A few months ago I received an email from myself. Strange you may think to be sending mail to oneself? That’s what I thought too although perhaps more disturbing was the content of the mail. The email was from a hacker:

This talented social butterfly had purportedly gained access to my computer and had apparently recorded me whilst I was checking out some adult content. A split screen video had then been created with one half showing what I was viewing and the other showing me, well…scrolling with one hand I guess?

I apologise for the graphic imagery and let me help regain your composure by stating that this never happened. The email is real but the content had been carefully crafted to apply to a significant portion of the population. According to PornHub they have over 120 million daily viewers. Multiply that by the innumerable adult sites and you have an exponential number of potential targets for this particular email.

The scam relies on our overwhelming need to to preserve our dignity and to keep our internet browsing habits secret at all costs, or at least at the cost of $653.

I ran the bitcoin address through the Bitcoin Abuse Database and discovered that it had been reported 133 times and had accumulated 0.900351BTC which at todays rate is about R700,000 in 8 transactions. Now I don’t know how many of these emails were sent out but given the low work effort required to send emails, the return on investment is significant.

Would anyone actually pay? Well in this case 8 people actually did and you may wonder why? Is it a guilty conscience that drives this? I somehow doubt it. What is more likely is that some of these emails would contain your email address and perhaps a password that looks familiar. This convinces the victim that the hacker must have access to their computer or network. The coincidental viewing of adult content is just the kicker that pushes the hapless pornosseur over the edge to pay the ransom.

So where do the email and password combinations come from?

Every year hundreds of millions of emails and passwords are stolen in cyber breaches. In fact a week before I wrote this blog, it was reported by several cyber security sites that a database of 3.2 billion emails and passwords had been exposed on 2nd February. Its estimated that is around 70% of global internet users. It appears that this database is simply a compilation of stolen data from other breaches that have happened over past few years. It is in such data dumps that hackers obtain these valuable nuggets of information to either convince you that they have you inflagrante delicto or to hack into your other accounts.

In a 2019 Google Survey, it was estimated that over 65% of internet users, use the same password on multiple accounts. Don’t do that or you’ll find yourself the victim of something far more sinister and serious than the sextortion scam I’ve spoken about here today. Try not to watch porn either.

If you do re-use your credentials as I have before, in the next edition I’ll be sharing my experience tightening up on my own personal cyber security and making the leap to unique and complicated password management. The easy way.

I’m the LiabilityGuy.

Stand and Deliver – the true cost of fast food delivery service

Would you stop ordering food from UberEats or Mr D if the cost of delivery was 20-30% of the meal cost?

Before I begin let me start by saying:

  • I’m a huge fan of technology and an even bigger fan of the companies that are driving Industrial Revolution 4.0.
  • I intended initially to look only into UberEats, as that’s the service I’ve used most frequently but after commencing with my research I felt it only fair to compare the prices with Mr D (aka “Mr Delivery” to those of you older than 25). 
  • I don’t begrudge any company making a profit for great service delivery through technology but I am a strong proponent of transparency. Digital transformation gives businesses a great ability to be open with their customers.
  • I work in the insurance industry in South Africa which is heavily regulated with a major focus on Treating Customers Fairly (TCF). This has shaped my thinking about transparency, service delivery and disclosure of information to consumers.

Uber changed our lives

Uber conducts business in a way where one can only marvel at the digital transformation driven into the taxi industry. Uber’s ride hailing app is easy to use, safe, reliable and works in just about every major city in South Africa and indeed, across the globe.  My wife and I both commute between Johannesburg and Cape Town almost every week and without Uber, our lives would have been much more complicated and expensive. Another factor in Uber’s favour is the cost. It’s generally cheaper to take an Uber than to take a metered taxi as was revealed in the BusinessTech report published in 2017.

BusinessTech report dated 26 July 2017. https://businesstech.co.za/news/motoring/187531/uber-vs-metred-taxi-prices-in-south-africa/

The fastest food…

I’ve literally taken hundreds of trips every year with Uber since they started trading in SA. Off the back of this long-standing relationship, when UberEats launched in SA in September 2016, I was very keen to give them a whirl. The whole model just made a lot of sense, using the drivers who weren’t too busy to do deliveries of fast food and using the kick-ass Uber technology to facilitate the transaction. What a win! Admittedly I was a little slow out of the starting blocks and the first time I used the app was actually not in SA but in Paris. Christelle and I had just finished the Paris Marathon and our need for carbo-bomb-infused junk food trumped our ability to walk the streets to seek it out. I downloaded the app and had ordered pizza and drinks within just a few seconds. The user experience was very smooth, much like I expected from Uber. And so my trusting relationship with Uber continued.

For me, when using any sort of delivery or courier service there are only two factors that are important; cost and delivery time. I already knew that Uber have an awesome track record on the time element so the remaining factor was that of the cost. As soon as you are ready to order through the app you are told what the cost of the delivery will be. This may vary depending on the distance but given that the app only displays restaurants that are close by, the cost is around R10,00. That is for most people, a very reasonable delivery charge. On the surface, UberEats deliver a great service at a very low delivery cost. In my blended family there are six of us and we are privileged enough to have more than one Uber account between us. This means that controlling the expenses each month is paramount and everyone has to make sure they don’t blow the collective budget. It was in this monitoring of costs that I started to notice something strange when using the app.

So is it more expensive?

My daughter recently took a part-time job in a restaurant. I had ordered food via UberEats from that particular restaurant recently and I commented on how expensive the meal was. She looked puzzled as she took a copy of the menu out of her purse. The cost of the very same meal was around 25% higher in the Uber Eats app. I have since discovered that some of the food prices on the app are between 20% and 30% higher than they are in the restaurants themselves. This is however not consistent amongst the various eateries. I conducted research on Colcacchio, Nandos, Steers and Simply Asia as they are all in the area closest to me. The results appear below. In summary, two of the four brands charge the same on the delivery apps as they do in their restaurants.

Col’Cacchio do not offer their own delivery service but the difference in the costs was quite substantial between the delivery service providers and the restaurant’s own menu
Nando’s pricing was consistent regardless of how it was ordered.
Delivery was “free” from Mr D.
The pricing from Steers was also consistent regardless of where the order was placed. Uber charged the lowest “delivery fee”
Much like Col’cacchio, the prices from the delivery service providers were inflated. There did not appear to be delivery option directly from Simply Asia although calling them directly would mean roughly 20% discount.

But who is controlling the prices?

According to an article in Forbes Magazine entitled “Why Uber Eats will eat you into bankruptcy” the restaurants pay about 30% to have their products listed in the app. Interestingly the article goes on to say that Uber doesn’t allow restaurants to up their prices to cover this.

Uber Eats charges a restaurant 30% of their listed prices for the privilege of delivering their food. For example, Bob’s Deli charges $10 for a burger. Uber Eats would take $3 dollars as a fee for delivering their food. Also, Uber Eats does not permit restaurants to increase their prices to “cover” Uber’s cost.

Cameron Keng (Forbes 26 March 2018)

This does not appear to be the case in SA as is evident from the examples above. In fact in SA, it appears that the restaurants have discretion as to how these platform fees will be levied. Remember this isn’t just about UberEats, Mr D charges the same prices. That would indicate that the prices are indeed being set by the restaurants and not by the service providers.

I confirmed this with UberEats, using their chat facility:

Is there a duty to disclose the other fees and charges?

I met with a friend who is a consumer lawyer in the food industry to discuss whether or not there is a duty to disclose these hidden charges to the public. The Consumer Protection Act in SA is the primary piece of legislation that governs the relationship between businesses and consumers. Section 27 of the Act deals with Intermediaries. This section would appear to apply to the food delivery services in question. There are a number of regulations (Regulation 9) pertaining to the information that must be disclosed by an intermediary. Of particular interest are these two points:
“An intermediary must in the manner and form of delivery agreed to with the consumer –
(i) disclose any information, at any relevant time, which may be relevant to the consumer when deciding whether to acquire the service rendered by the intermediary, or whether to continue with an existing service;
(j) disclose commission, consideration fees, charges or brokerages payable to the intermediary by any other person;”

Are these other charges disclosed?

The T’s and C’s are difficult to find on both Mr D and UberEats websites/apps.
There is also no mention of any other fees that the service providers charge.

The short answer is no, they aren’t. In fact the part of this exercise that is particularly concerning to me as a consumer is that there is a delivery charge that is disclosed when you check out and pay in the apps. This led me to believe that that was the only charge being levied.

If you had ordered three gourmet pizza’s from Col’cacchio using Uber or Mr D, you would have in fact paid just over R100 on a R500 bill for delivery.

I posted something on social media last week when I started looking into this to gauge the response from consumers. A few things became evident from the responses:

  • Most people did not appear to know about any other charges being levied other than the “delivery fees”. They were not happy with this. If the delivery fee itself was not mentioned, people probably wouldn’t have minded the loading
  • Some people (particularly those in the tech industry) did not see anything wrong with the service providers charging an additional fee for the delivery although many agreed that more disclosure would have been better. Tech lends itself to greater disclosure in fact
  • Some responses indicated that Uber and Mr D were entitled to charge whatever they like and were not obliged to disclose their fees any more than the local retailer has to disclose their cost of sales to customers. The difference is that the platforms are intermediaries and not retailers or manufacturers – they do not buy the stock and resell it.
  • Some comments simply reflected the view that, if you don’t like the prices on the platforms, get off your ass and go to the restaurant. That is true, but if you don’t know the pricing difference how can you decide whether to move your ass off the couch?

So what’s the verdict?

As consumers we can decide who gets our hard earned cash based on whether the convenience and efficiency of a service provider justifies the additional expense. Of course one would need to have all the facts to be able to make an informed decision. On the current basis, the customer has to first Google the restaurant and then compare the price on the app.

There is no consistency as to how the hidden charges are levied so the consumer never knows which prices have been inflated to cover the platform costs.

Is the service provided by UberEats or Mr D worth the extra charge? In my opinion it probably is but then why not simply advise the consumer during the ordering process that the prices for specific restaurants have been inflated? I think most of us agree that a delivery charge of R10,00 to R15,00 isn’t sufficient to cover actual delivery costs. To charge a heavy delivery fee on 3 items going to the same address also does not sit right with me personally. Technology allows for much greater interaction with customers, creating several touch points where critical information can be shared. That surely creates a more sustainable business model. Or do we have to wait for the disruptors to be disrupted first?

To charge a heavy delivery fee on 3 items going to the same address does not sit right…

TAKE THE POLL…
Coming Soon
Did you know about the higher prices in the delivery apps?
Did you know about the higher prices in the delivery apps?
Did you know about the higher prices in the delivery apps?
Coming Soon
If a service provider disclosed a 20% to 30% surcharge, would you still use them?
If a service provider disclosed a 20% to 30% surcharge, would you still use them?
If a service provider disclosed a 20% to 30% surcharge, would you still use them?

I’m the LiabilityGuy please feel free to comment or share your thoughts on this issue.

Driving blindfolded (and other tales of mystery)

Are you a nervous passenger? Would you drive with someone who clearly couldn’t see the road ahead? I have two children who have been driving for a short time so I have learned to steel myself against automotive anxiety without gouging my fingers into the dashboard. Yesterday, however, I was pushed to new limits. My good friend, Larry Soffer, is a mentalist and he wanted to drive his new BMW…blindfolded.

I’ve been mates with Larry for a while now. My wife, Christelle, introduced us at a corporate event she was hosting almost seven years ago. She figured we’d probably have a lot to chat about because he’s a performer of mentalism and I’m an underwriter. Now on the surface that may seem like a complete paradox of job specs but actually insurance folk and mentalists are very similar. We both make money out of predicting the future, or at least thats what we try to do. Larry is just better at it than most.

The reason she brought us together really had nothing to do with insurance. You see I’ve been an amateur mentalist for about 20 years. Yes, that’s a long time to be an amateur at anything but the reality is that at some point in life, hard choices have to be made – you have to ask if are you going to amaze people with your unbelievable intellect and profound abilities, causing women to swoon and men to puff out their chests defensively, as you enter the room, or are you going to be a mentalist. Yes insurance is all of those things but this blog isn’t actually about the world of risk management, it’s pretty much about the opposite.

With my lovely wife out of town, you’d think I’d be out drinking with the boys at Mavericks in Cape Town but that’s not how we practitioners of psychic prestidigitation roll. Larry came over to help me with my metal bending abilities and in return I said I’d take a drive as a passenger in his new car while he practiced driving without being able to see – just a very ordinary Saturday afternoon you might think?

Bending spoons was made famous by an Israeli fellow called Uri Geller in the 1970’s when the whole world was a bit mental. He’d been stopping clocks with his mind and bending forks and keys for years. Branded as a true psychic, then a charlatan and finally as a brilliant entertainer, the guy really led an interesting life. I recommend you read up on him if you don’t know who he is.

I’d been messing about with metal bending for a while in my teens although it was only when I met up with Larry that I saw the real entertainment factor in it. So after spending the day spooning with Larry (????), we decided to try something a little more challenging, even dangerous. I’d heard of psychic performers doing a blindfold drive before but I’ve never actually seen it done. The technique basically works on the remote-viewing premise. Remote-viewing was conceptualised in a US government experiment in the 1990’s, known as the Stargate Project and involved using psychics to see things from great distances, or as would be the case in our adventure, to see through the eyes of another. I can’t do remote-viewing but I can see you shaking your head right now – has the LiabilityGuy lost his mind? I can’t tell you to believe any of this stuff, just think of it as entertainment if that’s most acceptable to you. What I can tell you is that I took a trip in a car, with a blindfolded driver and after giving him a few prompts at the outset, he drove the car as if he had 20/20 vision. I won’t lie, I was terrified but it really is remarkable.

Larry will be performing this live at the Killarney racetrack, at higher speed on the 22nd of September 2018 in Cape Town. Check it out.

Stupidity insurance – why your business needs it?

People do stupid things all the time so why shouldn’t you be able to get insurance for that? Or maybe you can? Read on to find out if you need Stupidity Cover today.

Thank you to everyone that read my last blog. The response from brokers who are interested in liability has been quite amazing. I thank you for that. All 5 of you. So now that we all understand what a liability is and who the mysterious third party is, lets get real here. Let’s just tell it like it is; liability cover in many ways is just human stupidity insurance. Nine times out of ten, either someone has done something stupid in the business, which leads to a customer getting injured or the customer has done something stupid which leads to them suffering some kind of harm. Its a circle of idiocy.

Many product liability claims stem from a moment of sheer Darwinian brilliance where a consumer imagines that they have found a better way to use a product other than that specified by the manufacturer. Take for example the genius in this video clip:

A drill should not be used to eat a mielie (that’s corn on the cob if you’re reading this outside SA). Nothing is foolproof, because the fool is extremely inventive. Without the fool we would have far less content on Youtube, the social media platform built upon the broken bodies of individuals who push the boundaries of stupidity, for our entertainment every day.

In SA, like many territories around the world, we have some pretty robust consumer protection legislation. This means we are protected, often even when we’re being stupid. The Consumer Protection Act places a big responsibility on manufacturers and many others in the supply chain to ensure that the instructions and warnings on products are clear. See this article on the subject.

Fortunately most product liability insurance policies do recognize that the label is a part of the product, so if the injury happens as a result of poor labeling, the claim should still be covered. There is of course an onus on the supplier – don’t you love the word “onus“? Sounds so…anatomical. If you don’t observe the onus, you could soon see your anus. I’m the master of lavatorial digression, please forgive me.

As I was saying, there is an onus on the supplier to comply with local legislation when putting the product into the Republic of South Africa. Businesses that are importing stuff from say, China, shouldn’t assume that their insurers will pick up the tab every time someone chokes on a squidgy because the label was in Mandarin. Mandarin is a language spoken in China to those of you less travelled. It is also a type of fruit. Labels cannot be in Chinese or Fruitese in South Africa.

So obviously warnings and instructions need to be in a language people understand in that territory. SA businesses do not produce manuals in all eleven languages. I remember buying a TV set once and after removing the set from the box, discovering an operating manual the size of a phone book. The book weighed almost as much as the TV and just before I panicked and handed it to my teenage son for interpretation, I realized that the instructions in English only made up about 5 pages. The balance of the tome was in a language from almost every country in the world. To be honest, I may as well have read the Greek section.

I really love this bit in our CPA. The part that tells you about plain language reads:

“For the purposes of this Act, a notice, document or visual representation is in plain language if it is reasonable to conclude that an ordinary consumer of the class of persons for whom the notice, document or visual representation is intended, with average literacy skills and minimal experience as a consumer of the relevant goods or services, could be expected to understand the content, significance, and import of the document without undue effort, having regard to:
– The context, comprehensiveness and consistency of the notice, document or visual representation;
– The organisation, form and style of the notice, document or visual representation;
– The vocabulary, usage and sentence structure of the notice, document or visual representation; and
– The use of any illustrations, examples, headings, or other aids to reading and understanding.”

Plain and simple right?

The bottom line is that businesses have to assume that their customers are going to do something stupid and should factor that into the instructions and warnings. They also need to spend time thinking about the way in which the information will be presented. 11 official languages in SA do present a logistical problem but as the CPA suggests, diagrams are a useful alternative to text. That is why some businesses have cleverly done away with wordy labels and instructions and have instead opted for pictures. Nowhere is this more evident than in the air travel business. Airlines have to contend with a whole host of language problems so they very effectively use pictures to get their message across clearly:

Keep it plain and simple. I’m the LiabilityGuy.

Note that as I am the LiabilityGuy I have to include a suitable disclaimer so please don’t treat any of these blogs as legal or financial advice. Be sure to chat to your broker if you’re a policyholder or if you’re a broker yourself, chat to your favourite insurance underwriter (follow my eyes) to get some detailed training or product information. The opinions expressed here are all my own, written in my personal capacity.

What the hell is a liability anyway?

Setting fire to the neighbours property, kids bouncing off jumping castles, cosmetics that burn your face off…. What the hell is a liability? Who the heck is a third party? Whatever happened to the second party? These and other conundrums solved in the first blog in a series that demystifies my world of liabilities.

A lot of people ask me what on earth a liability actually is? If you’re an accountant, too much liability is not a good thing. In the financial world a liability is the other side of the balance sheet; the dark and scary side that keeps you up at night. For many South Africans it’s the only side of the balance sheet unfortunately. Debts and sacks of money owed to other people often make up the bulk of financial liabilities.

By now you are thinking, “I knew this blog was going to be crap, if I wanted to be reminded of my financial woes I’d check my shares in a certain furniture and clothing retailer” I know you are thinking this because as I am writing it, I too am contemplating a much needed root-canal treatment rather than completing the blog.

Fortunately the type of liability that I am involved with, has nothing to do with accounting. Sorry bean-counters, there’s no ledger-porn to see here. I am the Liability Guy and welcome to the wondrous world of legal liability. This you’ll soon find out is much more exciting because it is here that we deal with:

  • Killer cosmetic compounds that want nothing more than to give your customer that permanently surprised, “where are my eyebrows?” look.
  • Erratic and irresponsible employees that light up more than a cigarette in your client’s warehouse whilst having a sneaky fag in the no-smoking area.
  • Clumsy customers who fall down the stairs in your shop because they’re more into WhatsApp than watching where they are going. If you break it, you buy it doesn’t count when the damaged goods are your client’s legs.
  • Sugar spiked toddles on a such a high in that play area at your restaurant that they bounce right off the jumping castle and straight into Mrs. Mathebula celebrating her 80thbirthday. Maybe that’s why they call them off-spring?

You may be wondering what all these ridiculously, tragic scenarios have in common? Well the truth is they will all probably result in a lawsuit against the owner of the business. There is of course insurance that can cover these events and the source of claims against these policies are generally those that have resulted in injury or damage sustained by a mysterious group of people we call, “third parties”.

“A third party”, I see you raise both eyebrows. “I’m always up for a party, maybe even a second party but a third party? Will there be beer-pong, balloons, a cake or a cow on a spit? Three parties though. Who has that kind of staying power?” you may wonder.

Again, you’ve been misled, just like our accounting friends earlier in this article. The kind of third parties we talk about in liability insurance circles have nothing to do with people drinking and carrying on like teenagers, unless the business being sued is a bar. By the way, if you get drunk in a bar in some parts of the USA and cause an accident, the injured parties may actually sue the bartender for getting the driver drunk. True story, and similar things are on the cards in South Africa in proposed amendments to our own liquor laws.  Did you see what I did with the word “parties” there?

The third parties we talk out in liability insurance are the hapless group of individuals (or even other businesses) who seem to have zero luck and are always on the receiving end of dangerous goods or poor services, inevitably leaving them out of pocket , injured or worse. We call them third parties because they are not a party to the insurance contract directly. The first party is the policyholder (the butcher, baker, candlestick maker or whomever had the foresight to buy the policy), the second party is generally accepted as the insurance company although you will never hear mention of the second party. We don’t ever talk about them. Are they are like the uncle who gets drunk at the family dinner and tries to get amorous with the garden gnome on the front lawn?  Or are they the invisible heroes who want no credit for saving us from financial ruin? That I suppose depends on whether the claim gets paid…

In any event, this tale is not about the invisible second party. Just remember that the third party is the disgruntled, injured and often litigious individual who wants to take you to court. Unless you are a former president of a beautiful country at the tip of Africa, in which case a whole country may want to take you to court.

 

Don’t get me wrong, many third parties have good grounds for litigating and it is possible that the business actually did something to warrant being sued. Accidents do happen and someone is generally to blame when they do. If it’s not obvious whodunnit then both sides may have their day(s) in court. That’s generally where things get expensive and legal liabilities quickly start to turn into financial liabilities. Lawyers of the world rejoice. Accountants, you are back in play.

It’s these expensive processes in court and the fact that the business may have to compensate the injured third party that warrants buying liability insurance. This is also the primary reason why I have a job. So if you’re a broker, please sell more liability insurance.

Over the next few months I’ll be writing more about the wonders of liability so please be sure to follow this blog.

Note that as I am the LiabilityGuy I have to include a suitable disclaimer so please don’t treat any of these blogs as legal or financial advice. Be sure to chat to your broker if you’re a policyholder or if you’re a broker yourself, chat to your favourite insurance underwriter (follow my eyes) to get some detailed training or product information. The opinions expressed here are all my own, written in my personal capacity.

Related article on this blog : Coffee Cups, Ladders and Vibrators

The most disgusting thing you’ll ever eat

When I travel to a foreign country, I like to sample the local dishes but whilst we were in Paris and Rome earlier this month, something happened to me that made me question my adventurous nature and the way in which Google and Wikipedia conspire against unsuspecting travellers. This blog was written the night after this life-changing event…

“Last night Christelle and I visited this quaint little bistro outside our apartment in Paris. To put things in context, we’d spent the entire morning in transit from Rome, then walked about 16km exploring the city, as one does when one is living in an actual postcard world. Earlier that day, at lunch time in fact, we had this incredible vegan meal (I see you raise an eyebrow, vegan? LiabilityGuy? Never). But yes, I actually ate a vegan burger from this place called Hanks and it was so good. I’ll definitely have another if given the opportunity.

But I have to say that being raised in South Africa and not having consumed meat with my mid day meal, left me feeling, well lets just say a little unpatriotic. So last night we stopped in at the bistro down the road from our apartment. I was pretty hungry and didn’t fancy the usual array of French nouvelle cuisine. That’s when this dish caught my eye; a local delicacy called andouillette. It’s pronounced Andoo-yett apparently. I spotted it on the menu and did a quick wiki search. I didn’t open the full wiki page on my phone so this is what I saw:

“Andouillette is a coarse-grained sausage made with pork, intestines or chitterlings, pepper, wine, onions, and seasonings.” Admittedly I should’ve been a bit grossed out by the intestines bit, and I had no idea what chitterlings are but they sounded cute. I also thought “aren’t all sausages encased in some sort of intestines?” So I ordered this traditional sausage. 

Christelle and I engaged in some holiday chatter while we waited. We’d really been having the best time and not a single bad meal. Until now.
Let’s just say the sausage announced its arrival by a peculiar aroma not dissimilar to that of a dead, rancid wild boar’s butthole. Not that I’ve been that close to a pigs ass, except this one time when I visited parliament on a school tour but that’s a story for another time.

In any event this freaking sausage arrives with string on both ends. You know to hold all the goodies in. And by goodies I mean intestinal stuff and get this, it’s actually the colon. No not the punctuation mark, the part of a creature that processes actual crap. The smell emanating from this dish was so disturbing I was transported back to my school days and was reminded of how when your mom had packed you an egg sandwich, you felt obliged to tell everyone that you had an egg sandwich so they didn’t think you farted when you opened it.  I almost apologised on the spot to everyone in the restaurant in the hope that they didn’t mistakenly think I’d had shit my own pants. My inability to articulate this in French, held me back. As well as a strong gag reflex.

So I’m sitting at a tiny French table with my vegan wife and this 12 inch smelly sausage. (I’ll let you think about that image for a bit before I move on). Ok?

Being a die hard Anglo Saxon warrior there was no way I was not going to eat this thing. At 18 euros it had an appeal that almost surpassed my desire to throw it out the window and alert the authorities. Almost. Fortunately the pungent porky also came with chips and some lettuce with a weird dressing so I figured I’d be able to mask the flavor if it was as bad as the scent.

If you’re a human being you’ll know that much of what you taste is processed through your nasal passages, this being one of the reasons why you can’t taste your food when you have a blocked nose. As I dissected the beastly banger, the smell seemed stronger. And it was at this point that I noticed my wife holding her nose. I digress here to remind you, the reader of this tale of gastronomical woe, of the fact that my wife is a vegan. Her sensitivity to strange carnivorian scent cannot be over emphasised. I should also mention that the size of the average table in a Parisian bistro is just slightly larger than a postage stamp. She could not have gotten closer to this meal even if she had ordered it herself.

The smell definitely appeared to be getting worse as I cut into it. I contemplated sticking some fries up my nose to conclude my meal without gagging but instead opted to eat them the traditional way, hoping to use the dish they came in to cover the sausage, blocking some of the putrid aroma.

Fortunately this was not necessary as the waitress appeared and I indicated for her to remove the leftovers (1/2 of the sausage). We paid and left the restaurant. On the way home whilst being subjected to ridicule and disgust by my wife, I went back into Wikipedia and read the entire post which goes onto say, “True andouillette is rarely seen outside France and has a strong, distinctive odour related to its intestinal origins and components. Although sometimes repellent to the uninitiated, this aspect of andouillette is prized by its devotees.”

I’m the Liability Guy and I have just two pieces of advice:
1. If something tastes and smells like crap, it is quite possibly crap. Don’t eat it. Or you may die with actual crap in your mouth.
2. Wikipedia is not the lazy reader’s friend. If you don’t open the whole page you may land up in shit (or shit may land up in you).”

Setting your Out-of-Office message without being a douche

I bet you’re one of those lucky people. You’ve never been this organised. You’ve probably run through the checklist, making big swishy ticks like an eager driving test invigilator whose palm just got greased.

  • Leave applied for a month ago (and approved) – check
  • holiday booked – check
  • desk relatively clear – check
  • email inbox up to date – well as much one can be up to date. It’s a bit like trying to stop running water with a sieve.
  • Out of office message engaged – ah…

I’m only going on leave next week and I still have a bit of time to formulate the perfect “out-of-office” message. Is there such a thing as a perfect out-of-office mail you may ask? The answer to this age-old corporate conundrum, is in this masterpiece of literary genius you are already reading. Ok I’m not sure if the question is actually age-old but the literary genius bit is definitely true.

Perhaps a good starting point here is to explain the Out-of-Office facility, just in case you live in the Outer Hebrides and have never owned an email address. In fact if you live in the Outer Hebrides you probably won’t be reading this on a phone or computer, more likely then you are reading this in hardcopy as a tattered, yellowing, piece of parchment with a treasure map on the other side which you extracted from a dirty beer bottle floating past the island you’ve been marooned upon. If that is the case, read no further, turn overleaf and start digging.

The Out-of-Office (OOO) message was invented by Microsoft in the 80’s although rumour has it, it was called the OOF back then. Mysteriously no one knows what the “F” stands for although anyone who has returned to the office after a month off, is likely to have determined their own definition for the “F”. Perhaps it should be renamed the WTF message once you turn it off after your vacation?

I think we can all agree that it’s actually Bill Gates’s fault that most of us suffer under the tyranny of an inbox throughout the year so I guess in a moment of extreme guilt he thought it’d be a good idea to create an automatic message that helped remind your customers and colleagues that you actually don’t give an “F” about them. It’s an amazing tool that allows you to delegate and irritate two different sets of people at the same time (your co-workers and your customers).

I’ve always felt that the OOO or OOF was a cruel automated gloating system. You’re wading through a quagmire of mail, looking for some way of moving your own pile of electronic despair to someone else’s. You’re lulled into a false sense of security and achievement as you press the send button. Then, almost as if you fired a boomerang shaped missile into cyber space, it bounces right back into your digital mailbox.

“Hi there, I’m sorry but I’m out of the office at the moment. I’ll return in 3 weeks. If your mail is urgent, please forward it to (insert name of hapless colleague). If not, I’ll attend to it when I return. Have a great day. Regards.”

There are hidden meanings in this email that may be invisible to the average email slave. Let me help you decipher this. Think of me as the enigma machine LiabilityGuy. The true message appears with the hidden meanings in red below:

“Hi there, I’m sorry but I’m out of the office at the moment. Hey asshole. I have no idea who you are, hence the reason for this impersonal, automated salutation masked as a friendly greeting. I’ll return in 3 weeks. Note that I’m not openly telling you I’m on holiday but unless people take lunch for 3 weeks at a time in your company, you can assume that I’ve probably saved up all my leave for this extremely long holiday. I’m gloating at the fact that you, mere mortal, used up most of your leave with a day here and there during the year, and now you have to work and read this, the electronic equivalent of being “flipped the bird” in the traffic. If your mail is urgent this is important because if you are like 90% of the contacts in this mailbox you’ll email me for any old random shit that you could probably resolve on your own within a few hours, let alone weeks, please forward it to (insert name of hapless colleague) As a bit of a joke, I’ve forwarded my mail to a colleague that has absolutely no idea what I’ve been working on for the past few months. This means that you’ll spend 3 weeks trying to explain yourself by which time I’ll be back at work dealing with this in person. If not, I’ll attend to it when I return. See previous comment and note the clever way all choices have a single outcome Have a great day. Regards. As I’m typing this glorious message I am laughing loudly. Not just any laugh but a deep, taunting, gloating, belly laugh at the fact that by the time you read it, I’ll be tanning my cheeks somewhere exotic (which means anywhere but in the office where you need me)

I realise we all need a break and that the OOO is probably the best way to make sure people know you won’t be attending to their mail within the usual 5 seconds of receiving it. You know those people that email you and then call immediately afterwards to make sure you received it. That call is important because in spite of major technological advances in digital communication, these individuals assume email is as reliable as the homing pigeon or the stagecoach postal service. Bandits lurk behind every data boulder, ready to jump out screaming “Stand and deliver”. Hands up if you thought of Adam Ant a second ago (if you don’t know who that is, go and ask your mom).

Seriously though, if you think about it, the Out of Office message could use a bit of an overhaul. I’ve compiled a list of do’s and don’ts :

  • Don’t forget to update the message to cater for the current period you’ll be away. Nothing worse than receiving an out of office message from someone that suggests they’ll be back from leave, 6 months ago. Really, do you own a time machine and you’re actually going to come back before you leave?
  • Don’t forget to change the content of the message to keep it current. Ladies, if you were on maternity leave 3 years ago, your clients and colleagues do not want to be reminded of this historical fact every December. This is not Facebook moments…
  • Do tell your colleagues if you are forwarding mail or redirecting senders. Most people receive way too much mail already. Adding another mailbox to one person’s load unexpectedly is evil. Dante would’ve allocated a 10th circle of hell to this, entitled Inbox Inferno if he lived in the 21st century. I’m not sure if one can prepare for an email avalanche any more than one can prepare to be shot in the face but I guess its just common courtesy.
  • Do explore the latest Microsoft advancements in the “Auto Reply” video. There are some good tips that will help you avoid upsetting clients and colleagues.

Above all, remember that unless you manage your Out-of-Office effectively, you are really turning the company’s problem (of you being away) into the sender’s problem. Not a sustainable solution.

I’m the LiabilityGuy and I’m out of the office…

Does kak weather really come from Cape Town?

Why do people think all kak weather is made in Cape Town?

I was at a cocktail party in Joburg the other night and one of the other guests spent a good fifteen minutes going on about the dodgy weather in the Cape. He rounded off the conversation by demanding an explanation as to why this terrible weather not only existed, but also why we, the people from the Cape, insisted on bringing the miserably, inclement, climatic condition to Johannesburg. Basically that all cold and wet weather came from Cape Town in some sort of magical suitcase of cloud and cold miggie-piss (for those of you outside SA, this translates to “midge urine”). I wonder if that would need to be stored in the overhead stowage bin on the plane or in the hold?
Of course as we were having the conversation, it happened to be a glorious spring evening in Jozi. I enquired as to whether the Cape was also to be blamed for that glorious weather. “No that comes from somewhere else”, he mumbled as he stuffed another hors d’oeuvre in his mouth.

One doesn’t expect to meet a qualified meteorologist at a financial services soirée yet they do seem to be scattered about the place at practically every insurance function, lurking undercover until some unsuspecting Capetonian makes themselves known.
As you may know, I am from Johannesburg originally so I may have engaged in this western-province-bashing pastime loved by so many Egoli residents, before I moved. It is for this reason I thought it’d be worthwhile doing some research on the origins of the weather in our country, with a view to uncovering the source of our problems. A bit like Livingstone trekking through the bushveld in the early 1800’s. Perhaps providing travellers from the south west of the country with some ammunition for fending off aggressive armchair weathermen.
fre
So it turns out that the unique climate in South Africa is primarily caused by three factors;
1. The warm Benguela current on the east coast of SA
2. The cold Agulhas current on the west coast of SA
3. The relatively high altitude of Johannesburg 
When a cold front develops, it actually starts out at sea and then moves through the Cape and up across the country often bringing cool, even wet weather. Do we make this weather in the Western Cape? Actually not, we do make a great many strange things such as wine, fruit, cheese and Helen Zille. But not the weather. The Cape is really the first place to receive the cold oceanic  weather that hits South Africa. It then does its best to warm it up as it travels inland, saving the rest of the country from certain death due to hypothermia.
Conversely when it is warm in Johannesburg this weather often originates in the north. No not Sandton but actually in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe makes all the warm weather for Johannesburg in Harare. “Thank you Bob” or as they say in Shona, “Ndinotenda asshole”.
I’m sure you’ll all agree that you’d rather have the locally filtered and ever-so-slightly warmed, democratic weather than the imported, dodgy, dictatorial stuff.
I trust this puts the meteorological matter to rest once and for all. 
You’re welcome.
LiabilityGuy

A tale of two cities – the life of the corporate commuter.

It’s been almost 3 and a half years since I moved to Cape Town from Johannesburg. Read my earlier blog, the Jozifugee when you have some time.

A lot of people find it strange that I don my suit every Monday and head off work. Not because I’m going to work of course, nor because I still wear a suit (even though most of the profession I work in have gone for less formal attire). People find it strange because I live in Cape Town and have my office in Joburg. Whilst many South Africans file into the traffic on our congested roadways, I squeeze myself into a cigar tube with 200 strangers who are doing the same thing I am. We are the corporate equivalent of a migrant labour force.

So what’s it like, and why do I do it?

I’m a liability specialist by profession and they need those more in Jozi than they do in Cape Town. I see you scratching your heads trying to figure out how someone could be an expert in liability. I mean you’ve heard of asset managers. And assets represent the other, nicer side of the balance sheet right? I’m in insurance. The kind that companies buy to protect themselves against law suits. Kind of like a paper Barry Roux. I put it to you.

I digress. I do that a lot so bear with me. I moved to Cape Town to be with my wife. Well she wasn’t my wife at the time but my courtship plans were being seriously hampered by the 1400 kilometers between us. So I left my job in Jozi and set off to the republic of Cape Town. Regrettably my time in the mother city was marred by beautiful scenery, friendly people and a generally rewarding lifestyle. “Awful”, you must be thinking. “I could see why he’d want to start working in Johannesburg again.”

Jozi, the city of gold. The place I grew up in and have spent 91.5% of my life. Now I see you thinking, “What a precise fellow the LiabilityGuy is, he must be good at his job, lets place all our liability business with him.” The number is actually accurate as I spent the first 3 years of my life in the UK and then a year in Cape Town before the commute started. So guess you could say I’m working  back in my home town.

“Hey what about the girl, the one you semigrated for?” you may ask. Well she’s a commuter too now. We both take the red eye to Jozi in the morning on Monday. We don’t however travel on the same plane. Joburg, being the brilliant, sprawling metropolis that it is, has two main airports and we travel to different ones. I recall when we first started doing it, the strange looks from fellow passengers as we kiss and say goodbye on the airside of the security checkpoint. A regular scene from Casablanca. Here’s lookin’ at you.

The advantage of spending unusually large helpings of time in an airport is that you get to know people. I’m on first name terms with some of the security people. I mean if a dude’s gonna feel you up twice a week, and he’s not your doctor, might as well introduce yourself. Speaking of airport security, here are some tips:

Stuff

  1. Make sure you put all your metal shit in your bag so you don’t have to frantically pat yourself down looking for the phantom coin that keeps setting off the scanner. Your fellow travellers will love you.
  2. For goodness sake, don’t lock your laptop in a case that requires you to input a Fibonacci sequence and a retinal scan before you can remove it at the X-ray machine. Your fellow passengers will not love you.
  3. In SA for domestic flights you generally don’t need to remove your shoes at security check points. That’s a foreign thing and is likely to attract undue attention, particularly from the sniffer dogs that are likely to think you’ve got hidden quantities of anthrax in your socks. The security people will not love you.

Life on a plane isn’t too bad if you’re organized. I’ve got the very good fortune of having the wonderful Stef in our office who always gets me the emergency exit seat. This I’ve learnt gives you loads of leg room but does generally mean you’ll be seated next to a giant, the kind of person you secretly curse when they sit next to you in a normal seat, “why don’t these meaty monoliths sit in the emergency exits?”. Well they do actually.
I tolerate this, being a slight person myself. Firstly because I’m grateful for the leg room and secondly because I don’t want to get thrown out the exit in mid flight by a giant.image-1-3 Incidentally, I’ve noticed that most of the giants would not be able to squeeze out of the little emergency doors, blocking people from leaving what would probably be a flaming cigar tube in a crisis. The airline crew always ask if you’re willing to assist in an emergency but they don’t tell you that involves stuffing the 200kg Neanderthal through a veritable eye of a needle before you can avoid certain death by incineration.

About 4 months ago we also got an apartment in Joburg. This really has made life a lot easier as I no longer have to travel with a suitcase. That suitcase really was a source of much irritation. Lugging around a small house like a tortoise. An endless cycle of packing and unpacking every week. The circle of bag-life. Furthermore I found that the wait for my bag on the conveyor was almost as long as the flight, only without the comfy chair and sweaty giant.
If there’s any advice I can give to anyone commuting, its that you have to get a home base where you can keep your clothes and recharge your batteries. Unless you’re a politician and can afford to stay in the presidential suite of your hotel, an apartment is the way to go. Furnished is ideal so you don’t need to worry about buying two of everything. We found this great place close to my office. It comes with this old, retired caretaker guy who insists on calling me by the name Colin. I corrected him a couple of times but now I’ve just settled on Colin. Colin Colman. His name is Charles but I call him Fred for that is a good name for a caretaker.image-1-4

 

I also have no car in Jozi. I recall a few years ago, not having a car in Joburg meant you were stranded with perhaps the only upside being the reduced likelihood of being hijacked. If you wanted to go somewhere you’d have to put your life in the hands of a taxi driver. This privilege of being nearly murdered in a twisted, mangled mess of metal would also cost you a small fortune. Thankfully this is no longer an issue.

Uber is the most brilliant service I’ve encountered. It’s really made an enormous difference in my life. It costs me about R60 a day to get to and from work. For 4 days a week that’s just R240. I can’t buy a car for that and I was spending more than that on petrol. I also get to chat to a different driver each trip. Here’s an interesting stat. I’ve done about 250 trips so far this year and have never had the same driver. It’s a shame really because the most engaging conversations are always cut short by the end of the journey. This does get irritating because it’s a bit like watching an episode of a great series and then never seeing what happens next. “You see sir the only way we’ll be able to sort out the economy and government is…ok here you are, bye” or “I’m so pleased to meet you sir because I think I know the true meaning of life and it’s …ok here we are, have a good day”. Again my advice is get an apartment as close as possible to your office and use uber. Your life will be better.

So if you ever find yourself in the position of travelling constantly between these two spectacular cities (or any others), don’t complain, embrace the privilege and be the best Jozifugee you can.

I’m the LiabilityGuy.

The whole tooth and nothing but the …

I really had a fabulous week. It all started with breaking my oral accoutrement. That’s nothing dirty by the way, I’m just hoping if I use the word oral in a blog, I’ll get loads of Google hits. I lost a tooth.

Actually the broken tooth thing started several months ago. I was eating a box of smarties (next time, empty the smarties out of the box first, I hear you cry). Anyway, I was eating smarties and one just cracked my tooth, a right incisor. Surprisingly there was no pain. Pain, I’ve learnt is the sole reason I visit my dentist. The absence of which I took to mean said visit was not required.

This assumption of course was coupled with the ridiculous notion that I have the miraculous ability to heal myself and even grow new teeth in my mouth, a bit like that invincible cheerleader in the tv series Heroes.

img_0831-1
No not Debbie from Texas. That cheerleader had the somewhat miraculous ability to grow many things in her mouth, none of which were teeth.

img_0832
So predictably my tooth did not heal and eventually decided that it was time to leave my mouth, like a teenage upstart moving out of home. I pray it has gone to a better place. Perhaps being ground up and sold as an aphrodisiac to endangered rhinos in the Kruger park?

Losing a tooth at my age (forty something) got me thinking about politics. I’ve had full control of my dental constituents for well over three decades. Of course I realise that my enamelled friends didn’t elect me after I spent billions on campaigning but that doesn’t mean they didn’t rely on me for their wellbeing. I’ve been more than happy to use them every day, even posing with them in full view for the occasional selfie. But, in many ways I guess I’ve taken them for granted, often ignoring their problems, imagining that they’ll somehow fix themselves and that they’ll be with me forever no matter what. The reality however is that once a few unattended cracks started developing, it was only a matter of time before the system crumbled and the once loyal inhabitants began their exodus.

Blured text with focus on PROTEST

If I don’t take action and invest in the wellbeing of my gum-dwellers now, I’ll be a lonely, old toothless wonder, desperately trying to remind whomever will listen about the glory days when I could smile confidently without drooling all over myself.

Fortunately my dental quandary can be remedied before the rest of the pearly voters start planning their exit strategy. Granted, the lost tooth will be replaced by a 3D-printed ceramic implant and no-one but you or I will know that it’s not part of the original team but I guess that’s what makes for an interesting coalition.

I’m the @LiabilityGuy and its never too late to care…

 

Time to say goodbye – Treating Employees Fairly

You know how to recruit good people right? But do you know how to say goodbye to them?

I read an article recently about changes in the employment environment over the past 10 years. The author wrote that he’d attended a corporate presentation and the CEO was talking about how he’d been with the company for 25 years. Two younger men in front looked at each other and commented about how awful that must’ve been. Practically a life sentence.

The message in the article was clear;  millennials (age 20 to 30 aka Generation Y) probably won’t stick around in a job for as long  as their Generation X predecessors, and a business can only expect to keep top performers for as long as they feel they are being challenged and are making a difference in the world. Money is a factor in making any job more attractive to any age group but there is a growing body of articles and studies to suggest that to the younger generation in particular, remuneration is a bit further down the list than it may have been for their parents.

We must accept that our rising stars in business are probably only going to be with us for 3-5 years even if they’re presented with growth opportunities and told how much the company values them.  A recent report in Fast Company found that 60% of millennials who leave their jobs in less than 3 years, do so because of a poor cultural fit. It is also true that this group of employees place a lot more stock in being treated like valued individuals and not just heads in a corporate office plan.

As employers perhaps we should be acknowledging that this new relationship could be relatively short term, certainly by prior standards. By 2020 this group will make up half of the workforce in most countries. If we’re going to find ourselves in a new era of shorter term engagements, a more transient workplace perhaps, then businesses should prepare for how they conduct themselves when departure becomes imminent. Not only does every business require a strategy for attracting talent but it should also have a clear idea as to how it says goodbye to its good people.

You may ask why? Why should an employer care how an employee feels after they log off the network for the last time?

There are a number of reasons why this matters in the 21st century. One should remember that if a good employee moves on, then its the right thing to do to send them off with a blessing. When we talk about sending them off with a blessing that includes the way they are discussed internally after the move. Poor leaders, and I’ve witnessed this myself, do not support employees moving on and the worst kind will often set about trying to sully the reputation of the soon to be former-employee, during the notice period and in fact long after their departure from the business. This actually reveals more about everything that’s wrong with the business rather than any previously unnoticed shortcomings that the former employee may have. This also guarantees that re-employment in the same business will never happen in future.

Don’t get me wrong, not every employee is a loss to the business but when a high performer moves on, any attempt to chip away at their reputation will only be perceived as “sour grapes” by the remaining employees. They may very well be left wondering if its worthwhile giving their own best efforts, if they too may be the subject of such treatment in future. I know some organizations where merely mentioning the name of the dearly departed employee is frowned upon, almost as if the moniker itself conjures up the Voldemort of the office.

Its natural for remaining employees to engage in a bit of blame shifting. They may genuinely be frustrated with the additional workload that could come their way or perhaps the training burden that will inevitably be foisted upon them when the replacement joins. Junior staff and other former colleagues will of course largely take their lead from the seniors in the team and it would be massively inappropriate and unprofessional to see character assassination from the CEO or other high ranking employees.

Hard work and committment in the preceding years can’t and shouldn’t be erased as a method of dealing with the exit. In my own experience true leaders do not take the loss of a once-loyal employee personally. It’s not an affront that an ambitious employee seeks greener pastures or more challenging terrain. Even the case of employees joining the opposition it is actually a tremendous compliment to the business when the organization is viewed by competitors as a fundamentally sound training ground.

The best attitude any business can have is to let good workers go with best wishes and the hope that they’ll continue to be ambassadors of the brand long after they leave, even if they’re joining a competitor. Remember that as an employer you may never get the good ones back again but the ones that have left may end up sitting next to your next star performer in their new office environments. A business reputation isn’t just about earning the respect of a customer. It’s also about attracting talented stars of the future.

Death by rumour

Social media exposes a lot of employers. Millennials in particular know how to research the online profile of a business before they join. Most prospective employees will engage with others who may have worked at the business before. The modern day job seeker may not only provide references to the prospective employer but may in fact do their own research by communicating with former employees. Simply typing the name of the business into the LinkedIn platform produces a goldmine of reference points, both past and present. Type in the name of your company and you’ll be presented with a long list that includes the staff who’ve moved on.

Managers with a modicum of emotional intelligence shouldn’t need to be told about this. Its about doing the next right thing and encouraging people to grow, even if you aren’t around to enjoy the future benefits of their work.

Remember that if you continuously destroy the fruits of a great worker’s labour, you will eventually land up with way-more compost than fruit.

I’m the LiabilityGuy.

http://www.fastcompany.com/3043370/hit-the-ground-running/how-to-stop-treating-your-millennial-employees-like-enigmas

http://www.zenworkplace.com/2014/09/how-you-treat-employees-after-they-quit-matters/

(watch the Apple video below which appeared in the original article by Zen Workplace)