As I am writing this, I should be
wrapping up our departure plans and packing suitcases to head back to France for
some family business. However, another life form, a virus, decided otherwise.
Many of you, like me, have been
spending the last few weeks trying to figure out what is fact vs. fiction about
the Covid-19 virus (a.k.a Corona Virus). What precautions and measures do we
need to take without falling into the panic buy frenzy?
The situation has not only been fluid
but has been escalating with exponential proportions. When I booked our tickets
in January I had no idea what was unfolding, first in China and rapidly across
the world. The epicentre of the epidemic has now shifted to Europe. In the last
48 hrs, France closed its borders and ordered confinements of its population. Yesterday,
Australia announced a ban on all travel to the EU and the Schengen area for the
next 30 days under a Level 4 threat.
With my trip now cancelled, I
ventured to my local supermarket in an attempt to get some fresh supplies, (since
we had focused on clearing up freezer and pantry before our trip). All I was
met with were empty shelves and dismayed shoppers trying to grasp what was
going on. Most items are now limited to two of the same type per transactions. I
praise the decision to limit bulk buys but it clearly came too late. It is also
a bit of a joke given the check out attendant offers to bypass the restriction
by purchasing the items under a second transaction.
This morning our Prime Minister was stressing the importance of “social distancing”. Personally I prefer to call it “physical distancing”. We are blessed to have mobile technology, high speed internet. This is the time to get closer, virtually, to our families, friends and neighbours. While the grand children cannot go and visit grandparents, they can still keep in touch daily with phone calls, Skype, Facetime and Whatsapp calls. This is a time to show compassion, pull our resources initiatives together, show initiative and be innovative.
In that context, I want to share
two websites my sister sent me. The first
one is from Johns Hopkins University (JHU) and shows data about the
cases on Covid-19 around the world.
While I do not have medical
training, my degree in Biological Sciences taught me the value as well as the
pitfalls of data collection. Realistically, confirmed cases are only the tip of
the iceberg because:
The asymptomatic aspect of the virus, means
people can be carriers but show no symptoms for many days or weeks
Similarity of the symptoms with flu means that
people might not seek medical advice for several days
Confirming a case requires testing. Most
countries do not have enough test kits. Testing is still very sparse. As
testing ramps up, we should expect numbers to increase even further.
The bottom line is that there is
a delay between someone being actually infected and being confirmed positive. Over
that period they will infect many people.
This brings me to the second
article my sister sent me:
I urge you to read that article,
and take time to let the data and projection sink in. Pay particular attention
to the mortality rates and its drivers. There is some valuable advice on what
actions each one of us needs to take now. This
is particularly important for business leaders and owners.
No health system in this world
including Australia can sustain the onslaught of this epidemic. While it shouldn’t
be lethal to children and healthy people below 60 years of age, it’s our
ability to carry and spread this disease that we need to stop, and we need to
TL;DR: Start physical distancing TODAY, not tomorrow.
For starters, Gamigo had only planned to open 3 servers per regions:
Tyrenos, Wynn and Denistrious
Alexander, Halnaak and Belstrom
write today we now have 6 servers on NA and 5 on EU. While this reflects the
interest of the gaming community towards the game and is a healthy measure, it
also brings some red flags to me, more on that later.
Depending on who you read or listen to on YouTube and Twitch, you’ll hear that the launch was a smooth and successful one or that it was terrible. I let you be the judge of that but here was my experience and on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it a 4:
1st red flag: Name Reservation
Gamigo offered Founders the ability to reserve a spot and name on a server of choice on Saturday 12th October (this was delayed by a week).
Being Australia based, that 10am PDT on 12th was 4am on 13th for me; and
as a true committed Aussie gamer I got up early so I could reserve my name and
spot on our chosen server: Wynn.
Within 20 minute of the servers opening up, I was horrified to see some races and then West faction locks being activated. The consequences: two of our friends who were still stuck in a very long queue (into the thousands) were not able to create their characters on the same server as us. About 1 hour later the whole server was in lock down. Shortly later so were Tyrenos and then Denistrious.
2nd Red flag: Servers locked
This made no sense to me. Why? Because all the people who were there were Founders. Gamigo knew exactly how many accounts that represents. With up to 2 characters per account they should have know those servers were going to fill up fast. They should have opened at least 4 servers per region.
The only thing they would not be able to measure, was how many characters created on a server were there as place holders vs. genuine players. Some guilds had instructed their members to create one character on Tyrenos and one on Wynn for example. Others were to create a character in each faction (one being an alt). Faction balance is very important in an Open World PvP game. Gamigo knows that and attempted to ensure balance. As it turns out, that same effort contributed to the faction imbalance currently experienced on Wynn and other servers.
Instead of adding 4th servers before the official launch, Gamigo chose to re-open the doors at the same time on the Sunday and Monday. Once again, those doors shut within 10 min while people were stuck in queues, including our friends. By then rage and outrage was building up across Reddit, Discord and Twitter. How could they miss the mark so much?
When we got to launch day, October 15th (4am ob 16th for me), most of us started to experience what was going to become our daily frustration: Queues.
I experienced queues closed to 4000 every day. What has been the most frustrating has also been the frequent server connections loss. No warning, no error message. You have to stare at the number in the queue to see if it is still ticking down or not. If not, I have to exist and start all over again. Gamigo promised us grace period that would allow people to rejoin the queue rather than be thrown at the back. Sadly, that has not been implemented yet. Even when it does (hopefully soon!), there is no certainty this will help much because of the lack of warning when losing that server connection.
The impact of these queues has been beyond frustrating. It can take me 9 hours to get in game. During which time I need to be careful not to create any kind of lag on my PC and risk another disconnect.
3rd Red Flag: The ArchePass
To remove the P2W model, the ArchePass provides the means to earn Diligence coins. These coins can then be spent in the in game store to buy critical items such as labor recharge and inventory space. So it is clear that the ArchePass is at the core of AA Unchained.
We didn’t get the opportunity to fully test it during the 2 weeks on PTS. The issue that had transpired at the time was to have to re-purchase the dailies when switching between ArchePasses. The irony is that this cost might have limited the number of people who exploited the ArchePass’ weak design. These people re-rolled the World Boss daily quest by switching ArchePass and were earning 50 gold per quest, up to 800 gold a day! Ultimately, this earned them a ban (more on that below). Maybe the ArchePass shouldn’t have had any gold rewards in the first place!
The ArchePass came with such limited pool of dailies that it would hand
out the same quests over and over, including the World Boss one. Even those people that did not technically exploit made a
lot of money from this as well as acquired Labour Rechargers and Diligence
Coins. Good on them but the damage is done because most people did not. This results in significant faction
imbalance and a two tier economy. We have now more people top gear score
because they had the gold and labour to do it. They also have the Gilda
coins to get the warships and can now do Abyssal and Ghost ships, which are big
money makers and will further deepen the gap.
In the meantime, people who didn’t know about this ArchePass flaws have been growing Cedar trees and crops on their farms. They’ve been mining and doing a few trade runs and making 50g a day and their gear score is half that of the top players.
4th red flag: The Bans
Due to community outcry about how the ArchePass was being “used” by some guilds and faction, Gamigo assessed the situation. On 22nd October they issued a hotfix to reduce the World Boss quest reward from 50g to 10g. They also announced that 200 accounts were being banned, including some high profile streamers. The problem is that a few hours later an unknown (yet seemingly large) number of those bans were lifted because Gamigo admitted they couldn’t ban people who did not actually intentionally flipped between ArchePasses to re-roll the World Boss quest. While I agree it isn’t fair to ban people for game design flaws, doing a ban and then back pedalling on it, results in a huge loss in confidence and credibility.
Then on 24th October, Gamigo decided to disable the ArchePass for an undetermined period. The community is divided on this decision. Some say that without the ArchePass people now won’t have a chance to close the gap. Others want it removed until it is returned into a better, fairer and balanced format. The ArchePass dailies also had turned into a time consuming demanding activity that took away the sandbox aspect of the game.
Where are we at now?
Yesterday, Gamigo announced that they will offer a one time claim per account of 300 diligence coins. They also announced Maintenance across all servers, today 30th. They are also wisely considering granting that 300 Diligence Coin overtime rather than as a lump sum.
The queues are about half of what they were a week ago, but the server time out is frequent and discouraging. A few people have re-rolled on lower populated servers and quite possibly a few have given up. Today’s patch should improve queue grace handling while grace period is still being tested and not fully implemented.
ArcheAge is still the best MMO I have played. The graphics are stunning. The look of the different regions is diverse and breathtaking in some cases. The immersion is awesome and the combat mechanics and effects are the best I have experienced. Yet, the shape of the ArchePass when it is returned will most likely define the fate of ArcheAge Unchained.
How Gamigo sets expectations and manages a rather aggressive community will be critical. In all fairness, their handling of the issues has been professional and quite transparent. They recognised their errors and are committed to fixing them. Khrolan, the Executive Producer, has taken ownership and has been hands on during the whole process.
If you want to give ArcheAge a shot, make sure you go to the most recent server, join a guild and learn the ropes with them. Otherwise wait a few more weeks or months to see how things shape up. This is a game where knowledge is power. There are a lot of resources available on YouTube and Discord channels but beware as some are out of date or inaccurate.
Archeage is an open world PvP MMORPG developed by XLGame in
Korea and originally distributed in NA/EU by Trionworlds exactly 5 yrs ago.
While the game, and especially Trionworlds, generated a lot of controversies and polarised its community, it still remains in my own opinion, one of the most beautiful, versatile and addictive MMO around. If you did play ArcheAge at some point, whether that was at launch or more recently, then you would know exactly what I mean.
The hype for ArcheAge Unchained is out there and the fear of missing out is growing. You might be asking yourself:
Should I try ArcheAge Unchained?
What is ArcheAge unchained?
According to Gamigo (who acquired
Trionworlds in 2018) this is the version of ArcheAge the gaming community has
been waiting for. Note however, that the original ArcheAge still remains active
on Legacy servers in its present F2P format. Unchained however, with its
totally different commercialisation model, will be run like a totally separate
game. Unchained is not another Fresh Start server. It will be released on Oct
15th with the same new 6.0 content (Shadows Revealed) as on legacy.
This includes the new Swiftblade melee skillset, new Naval Combat Arena and
access to all zones. It will also be released on the new 64 bits client and with
updated graphics for many zones.
So what’s better?
First and foremost, the primary intent is the removal of the Pay to Win (P2W) aspects that caused so much damage to the game from day one. Unchained is Buy to Play (B2P) model.
No more Apex (these are still available on legacy). The controversy with Apex was that they can be bought for $10 and sold in game for gold, which means it was a “legalised” gold selling option.
No more Free to Play accounts. No subscriptions. Just a one off purchase. Current Founders packs start at $25.99. F2P accounts provide a lot of opportunities for gold farmers and sellers so now the bar is a lot higher.
No Loot Boxes or RNG Boxes
No Labor potions available for credits
No P2W items, most if not all of the MarketPlace items are cosmetics and bind on pick-up.
Less Alt-age. Unchained has put a cap of 3 accounts per person, only one client running per PC, so multi boxing is pretty much gone. I am cautious with that statement because we know that where there is a will there is a mean. There is only so much Gamingo and XLGame can do to prevent people from owning more than 3 accounts and from running several clients across several PC. However, with an entry level of $25.99 and the risk of account(s) getting banned…
Better protection vs. hacks and cheats not even mods like FoV are allowed. Gamingo announced they were armed and not scared to use it. The Community will be watching this space closely, because hacks and cheats are still used on Legacy and will quickly unbalance the economy and players on the servers.
As someone who made a career in software sales, my first question is: so how will Gamingo make their money? And I do want them to make money so they can keep the game going for a long time.
Game sales: as mentioned the current pre-order Founders packs start at $25.99 with a Gold Pack at $49.99 and Archeum pack at $79.99. Of course as the servers fill up and mature it would be more difficult for new players to join in.
Currently Gamingo as confirmed 3
Servers for each region (EU and NA) with potential 4th to be
NA: Tyrenos, Wynn and Denistrious
EU: Alexander, Halnaak and Belstrom
So I suspect in a few months
time, based on community interest they might add additional servers and get
some extra revenue that way.
ArchePass. The ArchePass is a seasonal battlepass type system that opens up to the players a dozen of dailies with a variety of rewards. There is a free basic/intro level ArchePass available to everyone for 1 copper in game currency, but with a slower progression pace. It has an optional higher reward path that cost 10 gold. Then there is a “premium” ArchePass that cost 5 gold to buy but its higher reward path cost $10 to upgrade ( or 1500 credits), per season and per ArchePass . As I write this, it seems to last around 90 days. There are 3 types of “premium” ArchePass to cater for different play style (PvE, PvP and what I would call lifestyle such as spending labor on crafting). So if you wanted to complete all 3 tracks you have roughly 31 days per track, which is quite a commitment.
Cosmetics. ArcheAge has some of the nicest as well as “raunchy” outfits available in an MMO. They also have a huge stack of pets, mounts, gliders and housing decorations. I’ve always seen people eager to get the latest outfits, mounts and pets; some are extremely creative and talented at decorating their houses.
The commercialisation model appears to be sound and ethical. The game is celebrating its 5th anniversary so it isn’t new, but the 64 bits client is giving it a facelift. This is a MMORPG that has a lot to offer still. My only warning to new and old players is that it will most likely be commitment hungry. There won’t be any option to swipe and pay your way into progress or quality of life items. So, to go back to the big question:
As recounted in a previous article , losing a parent for those of us living overseas carries some extra challenges. During my own ordeal I learnt some hard lessons that I wanted to share.
In Part 1 “laying the foundations” I outlined how my sister and I leveraged off available technologies. This allowed us to scramble and start ordering and saving valuable information we needed or would need, at the time our father fell ill.
This article however goes a bit deeper into the kind of information gathering that we wished we had been able to do, long before the whole nightmare started.
The irony in our story is that
back in 2016, both my sister and I attempted to get a plan in place with Dad to
avoid problems down the line. We both had had personal experiences that highlighted
to us the importance of having some basic knowledge and elements in place.
However, trying to get Dad to act was impossible. All we got was “not to worry,
it was all taken care of”, or, that he was going to or had made an appointment
with his Notary, which of course never happened. I wish I had been more
forceful and proactive at the time. Hindsight is such a great virtue!
My recommendation is to start
with what you know or can find out on your own. That will help you to have a
more specific conversation with your loved ones as well as identify what you
don’t know. For example:
Find out what your responsibilities are in your home country towards your parents? E.g
Are you expected to pay for their medical bills
Pay for a retirement home/home care
Pay for their funerals
If your parent was to become unable to look after themselves or even make decisions:
What can you do now to have the authority to act in their behalf and protect them and their assets?
E.g. In France we used a Mandat de Protection Future
What services and help is available to them (e.g. home care, nurses visits etc)
If your parent has to be institutionalised, what are the options? Costs etc?
Get to know the succession laws in your home country
Is a Will needed or not
what is the max timeframe between death and funeral (this is important if relatives have to travel from far away)
What are your legal requirements
Who has to be notified and when (in some cases, it is within 24hrs)
What is the succession process, milestones, timeframe and costs
Understand how Taxes (income, local, state, succession etc) work and when returns need to be lodge
deadlines and timeframes
Consequences of missing deadlines
is there online access
Local office contact details
Tax agent used by the parent(s), if any
What taxes and cost are associated with successions
How much do funerals cost?
Consider your options carefully; some are merely payment plans with very high interests’ rates.
What is your parent wish (e.g. cremation or inhumation? Religions?)
Does the family own a plot in a cemetery? Where? Is there room?
Do you have someone, local to your parents, that you can entrust with a Power of Attorney, should the need arise?
By no means is the above list
definite, if anything it shows how one question leads to another.
Information you might have to get
from your parent(s):
This for us was the biggest
hurdle and a complete failure. We tried to get some information out of Dad back
in 2016 and it was like asking a teenager to do their homework.
If your parents are open to the
conversation then make the most of it. The more you know and understand, the
better prepare you can be and have everything in place. Also you will discover
what you don’t know and need to know or act upon. This will not only save you
headaches and money but will give you the most important thing: time with your
parent, when it is needed.
The other sad reality is that
when it comes to elderly care, cost and availability are key factors that
define what choices are available.
Generally speaking, nobody wants
to talk about death. Some parent might also be reluctant to discuss the
repartition of assets between siblings, or even some of their wishes. At best,
all you can do is stress the importance of having a family notary or lawyer and
to have a Will or at least some clear instructions. This is important not only
after death of course, but also long before that, should they become unable to
make decisions or express their will. Some decisions about care etc will have
to be made and that responsibility could most likely fall on you.
Some of the details to get from
your parent include:
Contact details of their General Practitioner
If possible, get to know these people, or make
sure you are known to them
Contact details of the family Notary/lawyer and
Again, try to know these people or be known to
Discuss what legal measures can/should be put in
place (e.g. in France a Mandat de Protection Future)
Where are the bank accounts with?
Banks may need a specific document signed
despite having Power of Attorney
If a Will is in place, ensure that it has been
properly registered and is valid
Contact details of the executor of the Will
If a Will is required but nonexistent, then you
will need to press for this to be done
Where is their pension(s) coming from
Health insurance (Private mutual)
Medicare or equivalent
Home & Content Insurers
Life Insurer, if any
Local Tax office
Get added as a contact/authority under key
accounts such as:
Ideally, use/setup online access to those
accounts for your parent(s), especially if you live some distance away
Last but not least, make a list of their friends
and contact details
Then there are those delicate
What are your parent wishes, for example DNR, retirement home, palliative care
What is your parent funeral wish (e.g. cremation or inhumation?), Religious or not?
It might sound self-serving to ask parents what their assets are. However, when someone passes away a Notary will have to aggregate the deceased assets and liabilities and identify who is entitled to the succession. Accepting a succession may, as it does in France, means you also accept responsibility for the debts of the deceased, so this is no trivial matter. There also are a number of methods parents, while alive, are able to donate assets to their children without incurring taxes of fees. This is worth investigating when you consider that one of the most common family assets being the family home. Over the years it might have significantly increased in value and inheriting it might result in significant succession costs and/or tax bills.
Overall, while getting some of those answers can be
challenging and emotionally draining, having this in place will be a blessing
when the time comes. The key word here is “time”, our most precious asset.
Lastly, when someone passes away
it doesn’t all end there and then. Successions can be a lengthy and costly
process that also includes emotions and tough decisions. Managing that process
when living in a different country and with time zones is a challenge. Any
pre-emptive preparations will lessen the burden significantly.
Disclaimer: I do not provide any kind of legal or financial advice. You should seek counsel from professionals on those matters to ensure it suits your situation. The advice provided is purely based on personal opinion and experience.
First published on my LinkedIn profile on 13 June 2018
Of all the places I have visited in my life so far, Mackinac Island holds a special place. Those of you who know of my French heritage, would be forgiven to think this is a place off the Brittany coast in France; but no…this is a small island in north Michigan, on Lake Huron, right next to one of the longest bridge in the world: Mackinac Bridge.
I confess I would never have picked Michigan as a holiday destination, although those great lakes have always fascinated me; the thought of a cottage on a lake shore in the middle of nowhere during fall has always had some romantic appeal, but having family in Michigan certainly helped with discovering the region.
My first visit to the island was some two years ago in October 2015, just as the trees were turning golden and crimson, the sun was lower and the season was ending. I promised myself that I would return in spring in order to experience one of the island attractions: Lilacs in blossom. So this past weekend I had the delight to walk the streets of Mackinac Island, under a warm spring sunshine tamed by a fresh breeze carrying the scent of hundreds of blooming Lilacs.
Another quaint characteristic of the island is the absence of cars and combustion vehicles of any sorts (except for an ambulance I caught a glimpse of, at the medical center). All transport is either by horses & carriages or hundreds of bicycles readily available for hire. Access to the Island is by Ferry, which run every 30min at this time of the year.
Despite the natural consequences of using horses and their never ending capacity to produce fertilizer, a team of efficient street sweepers on bicycles are pacing the streets back and forth, keeping any “unpleasant” smells and sights well under control.
There is no shortage of places to stay to meet any budget although the Grand Hotel holds the lead role; even if you don’t get to stay there, it is possible to enjoy their renowned buffet lunch and dinners as well as access to the hotel grounds. You can get a virtual tour of their rooms on their website too.
So if you happen to be in Michigan and a bit at a loss as to what to do, why not head north on Interstate 75 and hop on a Ferry. We used Sheplers Ferries, who offers good value bundles that include parking, ferry crossing and island activities. Say “hi” to Mark, our friendly Taxi driver; the 70th Annual Lilac Festival is on and there is a big parade on Sunday 17th June.
As recounted in
a previous article , losing a parent for those
of us living overseas carries some extra challenges. During my own ordeal I learnt
some hard lessons that I wanted to share.
This first step is
about laying the foundations for information safekeeping and sharing before
anything happens. This is not about the emotional turmoil and dilemmas you
might be facing. In our case, our father was
diagnosed with terminal cancer without any previous warnings; we were not
prepared; we had to scramble. I was faced with the decision of staying with him in France or going back to
my life in Australia, I chose to stay with him. The process does not end when
someone passes away either, as another starts. For that it was a few more
months before I could return to Australia.
The first step is to start collecting information and documents and keeping them in a central location as early as possible. For that, we leveraged technology. Getting started before anything happens to your parent will free up precious time and resources at a time when they’re most needed. This is even more so critical if you have siblings or live at distance. This of course assumes that like my sister and I, you have total trust and are open to share information.
technology perspective we needed to securely store documents as well as be able
to access them at anytime, from anywhere and with any device.
We also discovered that internet speed in our hometown in South West France was abysmal. We only had ADSL at home and poor cell tower coverage outside the main towns. It was at time very frustrating. So being able to have offline access was critical.
Local cell phone/SIM Card to have a local number and data access (it
might be easier to have one added to your Parent existing account if overseas,
more on this in future article)
A Skype subscription and credits and even
getting a Skype (VOIP) number or similar. This allows you to get calls
redirected to you overseas at a lower cost and send SMS.
Excel to start keeping tracks of bank accounts,
loans, investments, expenses
In France, the first stage of a succession is for
the Notary to collate the deceased assets vs. liabilities. Having already done
this gave us a head start.
Keep a spreadsheet of who is spending/paying for
what (this is important between siblings too)
Create Word templates for emails and letters with
your contact details as well as the Notary/Will executor contact details. Being
consistent in communications is important. We came to realise that we were not
a fluent in French as we were in English!
Keep a good size USB key on your key-ring; you
never know when you might need to copy something (remember to virus scan!)
In my next post I will look into the facts
finding or discovery that you can do remotely, long before anything goes wrong. In the meantime, feel free to drop me a line or comment below.
By no means is the above meant to be an exhaustive list, and everyone’s case is
unique. I hope it can guide you to being better prepared.
Disclaimer: I do not provide any kind of legal or financial advice. You should seek counsel from professionals on those matters to ensure it suits your situation. The advice provided is purely based on personal opinion and experience.
This article is a bit long, because there can be no cutting corners if I want to give justice to the last 18 months.
You know that feeling, when you think you have it all planned, sorted, under control, all ducks are lined up, you’re going full steam ahead, and then, bang, something totally unexpected comes from left field and throws you right off track…
2018 started full of hopes and plans and rapidly turned into a horrible year. I found myself powerless and even hopeless; I had to make some hard choices and heartbreaking decisions. Nothing I could do could have changed its ending.
When we are immersed in our busy lives, it easy to lose track of time and to forget that our parents are getting older. This is particularly true when those parents are living some distance away, or like me, in a different country (France). If you are in that same boat, you might use Skype or FaceTime, and have a clock either in the house or on your PC set to Mum & Dad’s local time. No matter how often you call and chat, the reality is that at distance, it can be hard to detect signs that something is wrong.
In our case, Mum passed away 9 years ago at 66, and both my sister and I were relieved to see Dad bouncing back; he was involved in the local community in our South West of France village, and even started his own B&B in the family home. Weekly Skype calls were the norm. When Dad somehow in late 2017 “broke Skype” as he called it, things got a bit more difficult, and weeks would pass without a chat. Yet, I was not worried, each time we spoke, everything was always “great”.
In 2018, I decided to take the plunge and start my own business as a freelance content writer/creator. But before I got too busy, I figured that it would be a good time to visit Dad and spend a few weeks with him. My partner had never been in France, so this trip was going to be awesome. We all had planned tons of things to do, people to catch up with, places to visit, restaurants to eat at.
It was during the trip planning process that a few things rang alarm bells. Dad often forget our previous day’s conversation, and even became unable to perform simple email tasks. He would also cut the phone calls short on some pretence, especially when I would asked new questions. Then I noticed he would re-hash the same “canned” conversations… something wasn’t quite right.
Then by some lucky coincidence, I was able to talk on the phone to a friend visiting Dad that day; she whispered that there was a problem. He hadn’t been talking his diabetes medications, he had had falls. The situation turned from holidays planning to emergency intervention. We had to Google search for his doctor’s contact details and make calls and write emails in the middle of the night. Time was of the essence. Distance brings that sense of powerlessness. Time differences seem to lengthen any attempts to resolve a problem.
Dealing with a different country’s medical field and administration, became a mountain difficult to climb. I also came to realise that my French was somewhat limited. It is one thing to have a conversation with Dad and another to talk to a doctor, bank manager or insurer or to put something in writing in my mother’s tongue.
We finally managed to get Dad to check-into hospital for a 2-days health check but we did not know then what was going to hit us all very hard.
The 2 days health check turned into 10 days hospitalisation. Tests revealed the presence of a cancer and even the early onslaughts of dementia. When we arrived in France, Dad was still in hospital; I found him confused and restless; eager to get out and go home. Yet, detached and unaware of his situation and condition. In his mind, there was nothing wrong.
From that moment on, I became his carer. I was so unprepared. Dad’s condition, especially mental, was a lot worse than expected. Yet, at that point, we could still have a “normal”conversation.
Thanks to the help of the French social services I was able to navigate my way through organising some homecare to take care of the daily injections and medications. Each day was another doctor’s appointment or some tests. Within a week we got confirmation that Dad was suffering from colon cancer and the tumour was blocking his intestine. The risk of an occlusion was high; surgery was critical and urgently needed. Dad was at times cognizant of the seriousness and risks and had agreed to have the surgery, but at other times, he was in denial because he felt no pain. The surgery however represented another problem: the anaesthetic would most likely accelerate the dementia. There was no alternative. While my sister and I understood the dangers and most likely outcome, Dad was rather oblivious and detached (a common behaviour with dementia, as it turns out). If I can stress anything here is: get your colonoscopies done. This cancer is sneaky and Dad had no symptoms, or none that could directly point towards this cancer.
The day of the surgery came fast. It was a warm sunny summer day in the Basque Country. Dad was tired but he insisted in pulling his small suitcase across the hospital car park; he had refused being dropped off at the front, but ultimately had to accept my help when he started struggling. It hit me at that point how much he had changed and how weak he had become. This man who used to own and run a business with over one hundred employees, had driven trucks across Europe, made deals and haggled with suppliers in Tunisia and sailed boats across oceans, this man, my Dad, needed my help.
Unfortunately the tumour was huge and had spread into the duodenum and the surgeon was unable to remove it. All she could do was create a bypass with a colonostomy bag; there were metastases in the abdomen, lungs and liver. Stage four. No way out. No treatment. I clearly recall sitting in that “family room” at the hospital, my partner (who doesn’t speak French) by my side, two doctors in front of me. My sister was still overseas so she was on Skype, on speaker. The conversation was very factual and clinical. The French surgeon was talking in her jargon; good thing we are educated and could ask clarifying questions to understand it all, I thought.
The plan was to let Dad recover from the surgery in hospital and then to relocate him to a palliative care centre a few km away. It was rather surreal. A few weeks earlier we were planning our holiday together, restaurants to eat at, places to go. A few days earlier we had watched and celebrated France win of the Soccer World Cup. Now the doctors are eluding his days are numbered. Yet, they won’t give us any timeframe nor any indication as to what the speed of evolution is.
Two days after the surgery my sister arrived in the evening and I took her straight to the hospital to see Dad. While he was awake and in no pain, his lucidity fluctuated. Our frustration at the time was with the surgeon because she had not yet explained to our father his condition and prognosis. It took a few more days before we were able to press her to talk to him. We felt it wasn’t our role to explain the outcome of the surgery. This aspect of the French medical field threw us, as we weren’t accustomed to this in neither US nor Australia. His mental state fluctuated from total detachment, to despair and everything in between. The dementia was a blessing and curse. Each day we found ourselves having to re-explain to Dad why he was in hospital, it was heart breaking.
I recall taking his cell phone and going through the contact list. Calling his friends, letting them know what was going on, and organising visits. The uncertainty over the speed of decline created this sense of urgency.
The transfer to the palliative care was seamless and straight forward. Dad was still very weak and had been bed ridden more than a week. The next day he wasn’t even conscious. That Friday morning will be etched in my mind forever. My sister and I were with Dad, each one on either side of the bed, holding his hands, watching him struggling with each breath. We looked at each other tearfully. The doctor’s words still resonating in our heads; he had eluded that based on his current condition Dad might only have 3 weeks left.
So we decided to activate the Mandat de Protection Future, a legal document that our father had agreed to sign days before the surgery. That notarised document, along with a medical certificate from an approved doctor, and counter signed by a judge, was giving me the powers to act on my father’s behalf at all levels. This was necessary, because unknown to us before our arrival, Dad had stopped taking care of his finance and other matters since ~ mid 2016. At home, there were piles of documents, letters etc. At the post office, I was handed a crate full of mail going back to April. We had our work cut out. At a time when we needed and wanted to be with him, we had to step up and resolve problems we didn’t even know existed.
While Dad recovered from the surgery, his mental health did not. He slept during the day and at night would try to get up and fall off his bed. His behaviour was also an issue as he became more aggressive and verbally abusive towards the people looking after him. In his mind he was a prisoner, and all he wanted to do was go back home. The dementia had become a bigger problem than his cancer.
Each day we would take the 50 minute drive to the hospital unsure of what state of mind he would be in. Some days he would be telling the staff and us some amazing imaginary stories. Some other days he wouldn’t even wake up to eat his dinner. Some days he would agree to do physiotherapy to regain his strength and mobility and then refuse to move from his bed minutes later. Yet, all he wanted to do was going back home. This request seemed innocent enough but the logistics and implications were not.
First, Dad needed full time care. Whilst he was in no pain and in need of little medications, he had lost his mobility. He would forget about that detail, and then try to get up, and fall; the risk of injuries and fractures were very high. He needed 24×7 monitoring. Homecare assessment concluded his condition and state precluded a return to the family home. Staying in the palliative care centre was no longer an option. We needed a solution. Once again, the French Aide Sociale was great. They helped me find a a retirement home capable to look after Dad and his condition. In the middle of August, in regional France, this is no easy feat. I discovered that many families place their parent(s) or grand-parents in Homes so they can take a holiday break in the summer. This meant my applications were being rejected or added to a very long waiting list.
Eventually, after a month of intensive search, we got a place in a Home, 45 minutes drive from our home town. It was in a beautiful area, overlooking a river. A nice small house, surrounded by a garden and flanked by corn fields. A small unit, with around 20 residents, where Dad received all the care and attention he needed, up until his last breath, late last year. Dad was 73 years old.
Due to the long distance to the retirement home, I ended up at odds with a lot of his close friends. All I can say in my defence, was that I did the best I could, for him. His care and comfort were my priority, nothing else. A good friend of mine had warned me: after a while, people stop visiting because they can’t handle seing the deteriorations.
My time in France last year was challenging. Yet, I was blessed to have had the economic capability to take more than a year off work and to have spent that time with my Dad during his last few months.
In hindsight, there are many things I wish I had done long ago, to be better prepared. My main regret is that so much of our time, and head space, was consumed with dealing with administrative and legal matters. They detracted us from the most important part: Dad. It is true, that dealing with someone terminally ill and who has dementia is testing. Dealing with those administrative matters provided needed distractions at times. Nonetheless, we could have done without them.
I have now returned to Australia, to my house, my life. I am busy laying the foundation to my new business but I am also reflecting on what I have learnt from this.
Over the coming weeks, I will be posting some check lists, and tips, of the lessons learnt. I hope that in there, you will find something helpful to be better prepared and free up that precious time that can be better spent.
As J. R. R. Tolkien said through Gandalf: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’”
I have been watching the rise of the robo-advisers for about 18 months or so. Only over the last 3 months have I seen that word come up in articles and conversations in Australia.
Yet, in places such as the UK and US, a number of start-up robo-advisors have made a dent in the industry and are starting to put some pressure. The incumbent response is generally that of either dismissal and denial. A few rare ones e.g. Charles Swabs, see this as a new market opportunity and have embraced the concept. They cleverly created their own robo-adviser and fenced it just enough so it doesn’t cannibalise their traditional market. This is where I personally see the opportunities lie.
I attended the advisors Innovation conference; this was my first and I wasn’t sure what to expect. From the agenda, however, I could tell that the advisors community is hungry for some tech in order to keep up with customers’ demands and expectations as well as lower their cost and modernise their operations.
The registration to the event was so popular that the organisers had to relocate it to a larger venue. During that day, robo-advisors were mentioned frequently by speakers as well as the audience.
However, I observed a general consensus from the audience: generally speaking, robo-advisers were not seen as a thread but more as a fad as most advisers would say they focus on high net worth individuals, therefore a different market. This was despite the repeated efforts from presenters to raise not only awareness but create a sense of urgency that the wolves had passed the gate and were now heading in fast.
While I appreciate that there is a multi-tiered market and the appeal of focusing on high net worth individuals, I also believe there are significant opportunities in the medium and low end of the market for those who have found a way to provide quality advice at low cost.
Are robo-advisors really a threat and enemy?
I take the pragmatic view when looking at robo-advisors and see them as a frenemy. The reality is that they are here, available, and their numbers will grow. I also believe that they can bring to the consumers access to investments capabilities at a low cost, convenient (web based, so anywhere any time), and with little engagement or effort and will appeal to a number of people, and not just the gen Y or millennials. Robo-advisors could be the answer for that medium and low end of the market.
In Australia specifically, it’s fair to say that consumers have lost faith in the financial advice area. Too many horror stories of people losing most of their savings have been heard. The consumers are finally realising that if the advice is free then it’s quite likely that the advice might be biased, yet, we in our naive minds, we still expect to get personalised, unbiased advice for free. How are advisers expected to make a living then if not from the commissions of the products they sell?
So here may lay the source of the problem some thought, hence the report recommending significant changes in advisors remunerations.
In the midst of those battles and debates, no wonder robo-advisors are becoming an attractive alternative not only as a business model (low cost sales) but also to the consumers: low or no fees, simple process, few options clearly laid out. All done online and without having to interact with another human-being.
I am also of the belief that a robo-advisor should be one of the option a financial advisor firm should offer; why? Because of the customer’s journey and lifecycle. I look at a robo-advisor as an incubator to a long term relationship between the client and the advisor. While someone might start online with a small investment at low or no cost; overtime that person’s need will change based on different life events at which point they will most likely need to reach out to someone for some face to face advice. Wouldn’t that be easier if they could start with an online chat and then book an appointment with the same firm who’s managed their investment for a while now?
Robo-advisors are essentially one form of sales channel suitable to some specific persona; with the use of suitable technology and analytics to detect the triggers, the client’s journey can take them from one engagement model to another seamlessly, whenever the time is right.
The challenge might be in selecting the suitable technology. Any “pre-fabricated” robo-advisor platform would most likely only provide similar outcomes and customer experience no matter what the brand is; which would make the ability to differentiate somewhat difficult.
To differentiate, the platform has to have significant breadth and depth of capabilities to allow the organisation to “program” its DNA and “secret sauce”; yet, it must be user-friendly enough to allow the business users to change and tune that “secret sauce” as the market demands evolve constantly. This is where I foresee the downfall of a number of robo-advisors platforms. It is quite likely that a lot of the “smarts” are deeply ingrained in the application and would require programmers to make changes. The other limitation, for those operating independently from main stream financial advisors, is that they only focus on a few persona and won’t have the means to cater for the needs of people when those change over their life cycle. This most likely will make the use of those robo advisors as a tactical decision by consumers.
There is no doubt that times are changing fast in the financial advisors sector and that disruptions are only just starting. The pro-active ones will embrace it early and leverage technology to their advantage, even if only for a short while; but the smarter ones will pick carefully the right technology partners to architect together a unique platform that will not only give them the agility and velocity needed to meet an increasingly fast and demanding consumer but also one that leverage their own industry expertise to guide their clients throughout their life journey. Those I believe will be the clear winners.
No matter what industry you operate in or what your role is, it is pretty clear that we live in a fast pace world where customer experience is primordial and mass customisation / personalisation is a given. If you happen to be involved with the sales of products and services and are at the cold face with the customers then you would also know how much “sales” has actually changed. The biggest driver behind that change has been the Internet, not only its existence but most importantly, its availability and mobility through the use of smart devices.
20+ years ago, when I started my sales career in B2B software sales, we would generate our leads through series of mailers and cold calls, advertising in in-flight magazines and attending big trade shows. We would send expensive brochure packs, and host breakfast briefings to educate our target market. Our days were filled with activities related to understanding issues and working out solutions. We would listen to their pains, tactical and consequential and we would formulate a solution aligning our products and services perfectly so our path was the best one to solving their problems and meeting their KPIs.
We were solution selling. We were the golden boys and girls of sales. We had the knowledge and knowledge was power.
As a consumer, I would also turn to a financial advisor to help me pick the right insurance products and superannuation plan because he was the expert, he had the knowledge. And for pretty much everything, that’s how commerce functioned; we would turn to experts in the field to get the advice, recommendations, or even just being pointed in the right direction.
The new world
The internet and Wi-Fi have turned that model on its head. Now, I can go online and get a few quotes for income protection insurance for example and compare them side by side. I can Google search a model of washing machine and compare prices online, while standing next to a same one in a store.
Knowledge is truly at our fingertips, anytime, anywhere.
As a sales person today, our target market educates us; and for many of us, it’s a hard lesson to learn.
The reality is that customers don’t need us the way they used to.
The rules of engagements have been changed, not by us, but by the customers. Customers are informed; they have access to information and can formulate possible solutions and shortlist possible providers on their own.
The expectations on sales people on the other hand haven’t. Organisations still need to return shareholder value, and they need a sales team that performs and achieve its targets.
What’s sales effectiveness?
If you are not too familiar with sales then you need to know that essentially sales is a process, each step is an opportunity to succeed or fail to move to the next step.
Sales effectiveness is about a sales team ability to successfully align their sales process to the customers buying process and to win each stage and ultimately earn the business within an acceptable timeframe and at an acceptable cost of sales.
There are some very important elements in this definition:
This means that the sales effectiveness is not solely the results of the action of the sales team, but in fact of the whole organisation. It combines methodologies, processes and soft skills in management. Most particularly of course, it focuses on sales but also on marketing, because marketing generate those warm leads that fill up the sales funnel.
Sales effectiveness strive to increase the organisations revenues through customer acquisitions, increased sales volumes through existing and new product, and but cross and up selling to existing clients.
Sales under the new paradigm and the Sales Quota
There is no doubt that the new rules of engagements described above are representing a significant challenge to businesses and especially to sales professionals. New methodologies (such as Challenger) are gaining ground. New processes and touch points that leverage technology and new services are also coming into play, e.g. social selling, using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc… and this applies to B2B as well as B2C models. People talk about Sales 2.0 and inbound marketing. CRM platforms have grown multidimensionally to encompass activities related to marketing, services and social media.
However, some aspects of sales and their impact on the Sales Quota haven’t changed. Customers are still looking for value for money and low risks and they still need to understand what they are buying. If you want to impact your Sales Quota you should listen to what they want.
So with all the emphasis on the new toys such as social selling, etc. it is easy to get sucked into the hype vortex and forget the obvious.
With a customer far much more well informed and who has formulated a solution it is even more important for a sales person to have a deep understanding of that customer’s needs, and in a B2B situation, the industry trends and challenges, and be able to present alternative solutions that will give better returns and long term shareholder value for example.
In financial services situation for example, the amount of product choices and options is enormous. For consumers, it has become information overload. The responsibility of selecting the right product and options is now on the customer and even with access to information on the web, it is no easy task to compare like with like and make the right choices.
Providing an accurate quote, proposal or statement of advice in a timely manner should be a given, yet, again because of the multitude of options and variations, errors are easily made. Such errors can have devastating consequences, e.g. in a case of under insurance.
But there is hope!
The sales process hasn’t totally change in its entirety
Over the recent years, there has been a significant growth in the use of technology in sales. From lead gen, to eCommerce and CRM. One piece of technology, referred to as CPQ (i.e. Configure – Price – Quote) has been experiencing significant growth and gaining momentum.
As its name indicates, CPQ software focuses on those critical and often complex steps of the sales process, where a customer needs have to be identified and matched with a suitable product(s), and product features and then priced accordingly. It also includes that final step where the quote is formalised and presented into a suitable manner for the customer, whether that is on a webpage (in a self-service mode), a call centre sales agent screen, or a printed Statement of Advice for example.
CPQ technology was born in the late 1980s and first introduced in the manufacturing sector, but over recent years forward thinking organisations have adopted the technology as part of their sales process.
The benefits of CPQ technology directly impacts an organisation’s bottom line with significant improvements such as 100% quotes accuracy, 50% increase in the number of quotes produced, 27% reduction in length of the sales cycle, 17% increase in leads conversion rates, 3.9% renewal rates and overall better Customer Experience according to the Aberdeen Group (May 2014).
Best in class firms turn 30% more quote into sales and
CPQ users increase customer retention by 3.9% annually
However, not all CPQ technologies are the same. Many product configurators can handle guided selling scenarios, needs analysis and the ability to produce a quote, but they fall short when faced with complexities such as compliances, multiple layers of business rules and mixed distribution channels.
Complex manufacturing has pushed technology providers to develop significant capabilities into their CPQ tools, and the best are built upon a robust rules and knowledge engine.
Nonetheless, it is that ability to simplify the complex and handle multiple layers of rules such as compliance, distribution channels and tapping into various backend systems (including analytics) that can empower a financial services institution to create new, innovative and personalised products and bundles that are unique to the individual, and become best in class for sales effectiveness and customer experience.
If you live in Australia, you know all about the special deals that car dealers offer at the end of the financial year (EOFY); and if you were in the market for a new car like me, June would have been your most expensive month!
After your home, the family car is most likely your biggest financial commitment, no matter how you finance that purchase. So picking the best vehicle that meets your needs and budget as well as factoring in the cost of ownership for the long term and the resale value is a significant undertaking. Buying a new car is also an emotional decision that involves more complex feelings such as status symbols, pre-conceived ideas, likes and dislikes – some acquired over many years as well as inherited from our parents – and, of course, options from family and friends. Who would have thought that buying a vehicle for getting us from point A to point B (mostly from home to work and back) could be so complex!
The challenge doesn’t stop there. Gone are the days of the Ford Model T’s “any colour as long as it’s black”; this is the era of mass-personalisation. Personalising your new car is also more than just picking the colour. Car manufacturers, like vendors in most industries, are well aware of the price-conscious buyers, so several features have been made optional. These features are not just cosmetic ones either; they range from engine or wheel sizes to safety features, sun/moon roofs, leather seats, etc.
Knowing that we start doing our homework online to help us with that decision, car manufacturers have invested in websites with a highly visual and graphical interface to help us in our selection process. We can even now get an online quote/estimate for the on-the-road cost as well as the mandatory call to action: book a test drive from the nearest dealer.
Being the detailed and analytical person that I am, I was determined that my decision process was going to be an educated one, and any influences and opinions from my father and friends could be debated using documented hard facts and solid information.
My first approach was quite similar to what I would do to select an insurance product: I looked for comparison sites to compare different makes and model features side by side. I was a bit disappointed by what I found, which was generally a clunky user interface and a lack of selection criteria. In other words, you need to know the makes, models and grades of cars you want to compare. The problem is, there are so many different cars! How do I come up with a short list?
That left me having to go through several manufacturers’ websites. I ended up making a short list of car manufacturers based on conversations with my mechanic, my father, friends and by simply looking at what I see on the road that “looked nice.” It wasn’t quite the start that I was expecting to have, but nonetheless, I had my short list of six car manufacturers.
However, things got a bit more complicated when I had to identify the actual models and grade(s) that could potentially fit the bill. Ultimately, I had to extract the information that was relevant to me and manually enter it into a spreadsheet so I could compare. One advantage of that tedious method was that I was also able to add other valuable information from other sources such as the cost of comprehensive insurance, registration and maintenance cost to get a feel for ongoing running costs.
At the end of the day, I ended up with two tabs – one that compared the shortlist of six different cars on a minimum set of key criteria then a detailed tab to compare the top two.
What I found interesting was how each manufacturer allows consumers such as me to identify their ideal car. This is where things also started to get complicated and frustrating since some options are not available across all base models or grades. Car manufacturers have created a hierarchy that goes something like: Make -> Model -> Grade -> Car. So to start with, I had to pick the right grade to get exposed to the features that I wanted. That sometimes caused problems, because I wouldn’t always know what the features would be until I had made that grade selection, and backtracking to select another grade often meant starting from scratch (sigh).
Another point of frustration was when I tried to compare side by side two different grades from the same model. One manufacturer had a convoluted method that required me to select a totally different model in which I had no interest, and then replace it with the one I wanted (sigh again).
None seemed to offer the ability to save my configuration so that I could return to it at a later date. This meant that I had to reconfigure vehicles dozens of times over and over again, which is an expensive purchase since a decision wasn’t going to be made in just a few clicks!
Lastly, what was also disappointing was that my online requests for booking a test drive fell into black holes. There were either no or very late follow-ups, and they were totally disconnected from my actual visits to showrooms.
So my advice to car manufacturers is this:
First, you’re doing great work with the visual appeal of your websites – the embedded videos and images look awesome.
However, remember that we consumers are channel hoppers
we sometimes start on a PC/laptop, but we also use tablets, smart phones and different browsers too. So it needs to work and be responsive across all of those platforms. Then, of course, we are going to visit the dealer and go for a test drive. If I book a test drive online, I should get a call back within 24 hours at the most, and when I visit the dealer, they should know already who I am and what I want to test drive.
When it comes to configuration, given the growing number of options and variations, whatever technology you are using now isn’t cutting the mustard … sorry. It started well and gave me the expectation that I could “build my car” easily, but it failed very quickly. Your “configurator” didn’t allow me to start the selection process where I wanted with the features that matter to me. There wasn’t even the option to rank some feature categories such as safety or fuel consumption to narrow down the choices, and it didn’t allow me to go back and forth as I changed my mind or changed priorities (and I do that a lot). I didn’t get any guidance in the process, and the fact that after spending a few minutes configuring my car, there was no option to save it was also disengaging.
The good news is, there is affordable technology that does all of the above and more; it’s called Configure-Price-Quote (CPQ), and the best ones are integrated into your CRM. It’s a game changer when it comes to empowering consumers to personalise a product, services or bundles of the two. How do I know that? Because I happen to work for one of the leading CPQ vendors on the market.
And for those who are wondering what car I ended up buying, I got the Mazda 6. It came out on top of my selection criteria and even has a bonus “zoom zoom” button!