Category Archives: Work Ethics

Side-Hustle De-bunked!

Over the past few years I have been trying to get a side-hustle to supplement my income. Not that I need it but I find that a second stream of income appealing and after reading so many great “success” stories I say to myself “why not?”

If you are reading this you are probably questioning the success rate of a side-hustle or you are interested in jumping on the bandwagon. Who is not interested in earning extra cash beside their full-time jobs? Well, today I’m going to tell you that not all side-hustle are successful. Some people were able to make a good amount of money from side-hustles and I do not question the validity of these claims.

A few months ago I read this article that claims some side gigs can make you richer than a full-time job. I immediately click on the link and start reading every words. As I was reading the first job it listed, I started to question if the writer who wrote this was insane.

I work professionally in a bank and I can tell you that the article would not apply to me because no matter which side-hustle that I want to do would not make me richer than my current full-time job. Let’s de-bunk some of the claims.

Time Commitment

The definition of a side-hustle refers to a job that you take on on the side. Usually it is for full-timers already have a job and is interested in doing extra work to earn extra income. Unfortunately there are only so many hours in a day and usually the work hours are in the day. So for full-timers like me in order to have a side gig I have to commit to a second job after 5 PM. That is not going to happen because by the end of the day after by banking job I get too tired to do anything else. As a husband and a father, I would rather use the free time to connect with my family than strangers.

Building Clientele

Understandably that people may have been more successful than others when it comes to second gig. However, in order to be successful you need to have enough clients to make the extra income. Let use online tutor as an example, you will need to have enough students to attend your class in order for you to be successful. That is easier to say than to actually make it happen. If you are thinking about that job, there are already hundreds of people in front of you already doing the same thing.

Subject Matter Expertise (SME)

If you read the article that I refer to some of the jobs require certain expertise in order to earn that rate. Let’s take one of the jobs listed as an example, a bookkeeper or an online instructor, how many of us can claim that we are a bookkeeper or great online instructor? We can fake it but sooner or later we would get caught and lose the credibility. I am quite handy when it comes to fixing certain things around my house; however, I will never be able to claim that I am a certified plumber or electrician.

Who wouldn’t want to be rich one day. Unfortunately, all the side-hustles that the internet is listing may never lead to immediate wealth. We need to take all these advise as a grain of salt because while some jobs may help some gain some extra income but I can tell you that for the majority of us they are just wishful thinking.

Should I Resign and Look for Greener Pasteur

If you have read recent news how many companies that have started to open up after last year’s lock down are having challenges in finding employees. This is particular true for those in the retail and restaurant businesses.

This phenomenon appears to hit many other industry as well. The reasons for not able to find people to fill the openings are myriad. But if you parse through these reasons most if not all fall into two categories: 1) self-satisfaction or self-worth and 2) higher salaries.

I am no different as I ponder the same question. I have worked professionally in several multi-national companies and I always struggled with the question, should I start venturing out and look for better opportunites? Believe it or not, this question is not easy to answer as there are many factors to consider and there are also a lot of dependencies.

I still remember vividly when I was called in the office of one of the new directors who was brought in to take over the reporting function of Citigroup Internal Audit. She told me straight in the face that I need to start looking for a new job if I stayed in the same position for 3 years. That awakening moment really made me think. That director totally disregard all the work I put in and essentially kicked me out of the door. There is good coming out of the whole event as I was able to move on and found better position outside of Citigroup.

So the question remains, should we resign and look for better opportunities after 3 years? I’ve been in my current role for 7 years now and I can tell you that I have never been unhappy nor over stressed. I believe that I am contributing positively to the company and I am valued by my peers. But the nagging question remains.

Earlier in the year I decided to reach out to my previous managers and colleagues from Andersen and Citigroup to get their opinions. And the answers I receive may surprise you.

I asked all of them the same question and all of them told me that if I’m happy with where I am there is no reason to look outside unless the aim is to obtain a higher paid position. I realized that if I get a higher paid job does not really translate to a higher satisfaction job. I knew a few people who found a better paying jobs but they feel more miserable.

My current employee, HSBC, is a great company to work for if I have to compare to my previous employers. While the bank continues to face multiple headwinds due to the economic and regulatory environments, I can honestly say that it does care for the well-being of the employees. More importantly I feel valued by my colleagues and my peers. Also the company invests heavily in providing all types of training and offer outside skills to every employees. So there is a tremendous opportunity to learn new things outside of current role.

With that being said, have you ponder the same question whether you want to look for new opportunities? The answer is if you are happy where you are, there is no reason to.

How to Channel Stress

I recently took a virtual workshop at work on the subject of leadership. One of the question that came up was how to deal with stress. I’ve never really given much thought on stress because I deal with it head-on. But as I consider the question more I realized that I have using stress by channeling it into something more production. In the workshop I remember the answer I gave to the group, “without stress, life is boring!”

So what is stress? Stress is a feeling when we feel uncomfortable when we are not able to solve the problem at hand. Or that we feel of failure if we are not able to complete the challenge satisfactory.

It is true that without stress, our life would be uneventful. Just imagine that sitting in front of TV for the entire day relaxing because we are stress free. Instead of thinking of all the things that require us to work on we just stare at the TV and not moving an inch. I don’t know about you – I know I can’t sit more than 2 hours not doing anything because I become restless and feel useless.

Stress is important and can help us if we know how to use it to our advantage. We can channel the stress and convert it into something productive. However, needless to say that if we less stress overtake our ability to handle them, then it becomes dangerous. To me stress is like the grass on my lawn. I know the lawn is pleasant to look at when it is green and lush. However, if I fail to mow it every few weeks, the grass will grow longer and weeds will start taking over.

Plan and Produce

No one in the modern society can say that they were never stressed. There is always something that would need our attention. Paying bills, getting ready for tomorrow’s project or even getting kids ready for school can be stressful. Most of us would take the easy way out by getting them done grumpily. Over time we would think of them as chores and start to hate them. My solution is plan ahead, get them done and learn from them. As an example, instead of making the same school lunch for my kids everyday I would plan ahead the night before on what to make. Instead of rushing in the morning to get it done, I would get the ingredients ready so I can jump right on to it. I challenge myself by making healthy lunch because not only my kids need it, it is also because I believe I can do it.

Keep Brain Active and Healthy

Sometimes we do feel tired after a long day of work. It is not because of all the work that we do but it is because of all the brain activity required. During my time-off I would usually spend most of my time doing housework inside and outside the house. By the end of the day my body ache because of all the physical activity involved. Even after a full night sleep my body would continue to ache the next day. However, it is entirely different when I work on my full-time job. I actually feel more exhausted at the end of day because of responding and solving problems at work. After a good long sleep I feel more refreshed because I was able to re-energize my brain. The stress of challenges at work actually help in keeping my mind healthy.

Stress Helps Us to Innovate

Stress can actually help us innovate. Think about it – stress is a result of difficulty in solving a problem. However, if we continue to solve the problem the same way we did it before it becomes a chore. Instead, we should find new ways to solve the problem more effectively. I work for the reporting function at HSBC. Every month our team must complete a series of reports within a week. Instead of doing the same thing every month, our team continues to make improvements on our process to complete the reports more effectively. We use macros in Excel to repeat the steps; we build templates to making data changes easier. In short, don’t use stress as an excuse; use it to help you to be better.

Everyone takes on stress differently. Some may deal with stress negatively and some may take it as a challenge. I am the latter. I never like monotony because life becomes boring if we repeat the tasks everyday. I have been working professionally for almost 30 years now and I have my fair share of challenges. Most of the challenges come with different level of stress. Over the years I have learned how to face the stress and I believe I have been successful in using it to help me.

Put Out the “FIRE” on Your Way Out

Last year I read several articles how several 30 years old saved a million dollar and decided to retire for the rest of the lives. These retirees follow the FIRE – “Financial independence, retire early’ movement that has proven to be popular among burnt-out millennials wanting to quit the corporate rat race. They want financial freedom to do what they want to do without following the norm.

The FIRE concept pique my interest. My initial reactions were that it was a good idea and I’m amazed how they are able to save a million dollar in such short time. Retiring early seems fun and I wouldn’t mind doing that. However, one of the articles has a photo of the retiree in simple attire wearing sandals relaxing on a lawn chair. And therein lies the problem, the “retiree” looks like a hobo.

As I research further and start thinking the “ifs” and “buts” I realized that FIRE lifestyle is unattainable and unsustainable. There are too many things could go wrong and there are too many potential pitfalls.

Let’s start with what we have today. Since the end of World War 2, there were numerous progress made to assist Americans when they reach their retirement age. Without going into details, essentially we need to work for 40 to 50 years after graduating from school until we reach retirement age (current retirement age is 66). From that point on we can start withdrawing from Social Security, pension plan and any retirement savings we have. I agree that the current model needs revisit as the market conditions today are not what they were 20 years ago and the Social Security is running out of funds to sustain the next generation of retirees. The question is will FIRE method be better position to replace the current retirement model?

My answer is very simply, NO. There are several reasons working against this method and I will list them with my arguments. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below if you agree or disagree.

We Are Materialistic

To be able to save a million dollar by the time you reach 30 years old, you need to save at least 70% of what you earn for the first 10 years. Once you reached the “retirement” age, you are supposed to retire by slowly withdrawing the money you saved. But in order to sustain your lifestyle, you MUST live frugally. There will be no big spending and no unnecessary spending. Essentially, you are living on the edge so you can stretch your savings. The problem is we are so used to the materials around us that for anyone of us to cut all these spending for the next 50 years is impossible. Of course there is the possibility to make passive income to supplement the expense, which I will touch upon below. There will be no more cars, no vacation and maybe reduce your reliance on smart phones. Personally, I would rather work 60 hours a week and then take 2 days vacation and spend time travelling.

Don’t Get Sick

The health care cost in the US skyrocketed several decades ago and it continues to go up as of today. Various administrations and politicians attempted to control the cost for decades but without any results. The likelihood of health care cost to come down will not likely to happen. So to be able to sustain a FIRE lifestyle, you better not get sick. Seeing a doctor is an expense and living frugally won’t allow you to spend that kind of money. We are not even talking about hospitalization! Seeing a doctor can easily cost $100 and above on one visit. Staying in a hospital for one day can cost up to $10,000 a night! You may wonder that the cost can be covered by health insurance. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. Depends on the policy, insurance may cover up to 80% of the cost but first you need to pay an annual premium at least $8,000 a year. If you work for a company that offers health insurance coverage, you know you are covered. A FIRE retiree would not have that luxury.

Don’t Have Kids

Being FIRE, you need to be very selfish. You are living off your savings and having children will not help at all. The cost of raising a kid can easily cost up to $250,000 from birth up to 18 years old. On average, it costs $234,000. And this does not include college cost and inflation rate. I have 3 children and I can tell you that raising kids is not a cheap venture. To retire at 30 you are not allowed to have kids because they eat in your retirement really quick. Maybe this is not a problem for millennials because they tend to be more selfish than previous generation due to materialistic behavior.

Living Easy or Living Aimlessly

Humans are curious animal and we thrive by learning. Not working for the rest of 30 years is like life sentence for us as human beings. The real reason our civilization continue to evolve because we continue to learn new things and continue to make our lives better. Retiring at 30 means no big spending, no working and no exploring. You basically have to live near your backyard aimlessly because you constantly keep thinking how to cut expenses and how to stretch your dollar. Since you are no longer working, you are not being challenge by daily challenges. You are no longer looking forward to what will bring in the future because you are “happy” with your currently easy living. If you are lucky enough to live until you are 80 years old, as a FIRE you need to live like this for 50 years. If you don’t think this is a life sentence, I don’t know what is. Personally I will not be retiring when I reach my retirement age. I will likely start a new venture to make extra income or I will be volunteering my time helping those in need. Working is one way to continue to keep our mind sharp and active.

The Math is All Wrong

A million dollar is not a lot, by any means. Assuming a 4% return in interest rate for 50 years, you are able to grow it to about 3 million dollar. But that is a big IF. That assumes that you won’t be spending that million dollar; that assumes the market continues to provide 4% return annually; and that assumes there won’t be an inflation. Unfortunately being a FIRE you are withdrawing the million dollar every month. Assuming you are spending only $2,000 a month your million dollar will lose $300,000 in 10 years, which will diminish the return of your original million dollar. That brings back to my first point, how many of us can live frugally only on $2,000 a month? That is like living almost at poverty. If we continue to work, we can continue to supplement our income while we continue to let our money grow.

Rely on Passive Income

There is another movement that is going strong. There are a number of successful people who are able to gain income passively. Active income is define as work and getting paid through employment. For example, I work full-time at a bank and I get paid on a bi-weekly basis. Passive income is defined as you grow your net worth without your active involvement. Example includes dividends you received from your stock or royalty you receive from your songs you published on iTunes. You may think generating income passively is easy but the truth is it does not always work. Not many of us can be a successful influencers on Instagram or YouTuber. Not many of us can gain a foothold in making music or gain an audience by selling ebooks. There are some who are extremely lucky but for the majority of us is like dropping a bomb in a barrel. Would you want to take that chance by being a FIRE hope you will have a steady stream of passive income?

Let’s be real, we are jealous beings. Sitting idly and looking at other around you driving the latest cars or living in a nice house would not sit well with our jealous selves. Or lounging in your cocoon while you hear the kids in your neighborhood having fun because you can’t afford it because you are planning on how to manage your expenses. We need to continue to keep our brain active by exercising it and continue to have objectives or goals that we can strive for. That’s what makes us human. Retiring aimlessly is just not the way to go.

Everyone Can Be Exceptional Employee

Every living soul at one time or another want to be able to contribute positively to a cause. Be it as an environmentalist, a teacher or a good Samaritan. In the corporate structure, being able to contribute to the success of a company is one thing, but how do you get recognized. Being recognized and getting the paycheck go hand in hand. Believe it or not, it is not difficult.

I have been working in several large corporations close to 30 years and I have learned to adopt several methods that will ensure continued success in my career. In large multi-national corporations, the human resources department always strive to keep and retain “A” employees. So it is in their best interest to keep these employees happy through higher salary and bonuses. However, it also go both ways. The employees need to be able to contribute positively.

Companies adopted what they call “Performance Management” to gauge if the employees are “A” players. Usually employees are placed into several tiers:

  • Exceptional – these are the employees who continue to perform above expectations. They are usually recognized by everyone in the organization to go above and beyond what is asked of them.
  • Above Expectations – employees who meet the expectations are placed in this tier. Employees usually meet the goals and objectives they were expected to complete.
  • Meet – the employees who have met all the expectations after a negative rating previous year. This usually applies to employees who continue to struggle at their job assignments but have made some improvements.
  • Development needed – employees who did not meet expectations and is expected to be appraised again.
  • Unsatisfactory – this applies to employees who failed to meet expectations are expected to be on the “chopping” block.

While the above ratings seem simplistic enough, companies place a lot of thoughts in ensuring the process is full proof. I’ve seen some process so complicated and convoluted that completing the process became a chore itself. And some companies would go to the other spectrum and make the process as simple as possible.

I have been completing my performance management for all my professional life and I’ve seen it all. While I continue to think the process is a chore but a necessary one. Without the process, I would not be getting the salary that I hoped for and I would not know if my peers are valuing my contribution. I’m happy to say I have always been in the exceptional “A” employee. You can be too and here are several tips on how to place yourself in the exceptional tier

Be Motivated and Excited

To be able to achieve the goals you set out for yourself, first you need to be excited about the job. If you believe the job is boring and you are not going anywhere, no matter how hard you tried you will not make the cut. Employers and managers do sense when the employees are not performing. If the employees always come to work late or the employees disappear for no apparent reason, this is usually due to the employees feel bored or no longer have any interest in performing the work. If you want to be recognized, you need to first recognize your weaknesses.

Set Clear Goals (using your prior year achievements)

At the beginning of the year, every employees must set goals and objectives that they are supposed to achieve. Usually this is not a clear piece of paper. Employers know this and they usually provide a template from last year for the employees to fill. The best way is to look at what you achieved last year and tweak it slightly. Add new objectives if you believe there are specific projects that you could excel add. As an example, if you will not become the President of the company, you would not add it in your objectives. Set clear goals and something you can achieve.

Listen and Listen Again

Keep your ears on the ground and listen to the company’s direction. If you are aware of the company may perform a job cut due to economy downturn, update your goals to point out how you can contribute positively to the continued success of the company in the challenging times. Again, keep it clear and achievable. Be agile and adapt to the changing environment; in this case you do not need to keep updating the Performance Document but do keep a record of what you have achieved during the year. This becomes handy as you rate yourself at the end of the year.

Asking is Important

During the year you need to be able to perform the work assigned to you. If you are not clear of the assignment, ask. When you ask employers or managers will notice that you are attentive and are willing to learn. This is something that I continue to use to help me prioritize my work. When I’m not able to meet the deadline I will clearly communicate to my managers and “ask” for further guidance. Now that I am a manager, I expect my employees to take the initiative to ask questions. If I do not get any questions, I expect the assignment to be completed without problems.

Advertise Smartly

Completing the work is one thing but being recognized is very different because managers do not sit next to you the entire year. You need to use the best technology available to assist you – the email. Advertise your achievement subtlety so your managers are aware. As an example, you may thank your clients for being a good client and how you could be of any help by including your manager as CC. Or you could forward the positive feedback you received to your team thanking them for helping in the project (and copy your manager).

You Are Not Important

Employment is voluntary and believe it or not it is not about you. Companies exist to make money and they have shareholders and constituents that they need to make happy. As an employee, you need to remember this and always place the company’s interest first. While most companies have consider employees as important asset, the ultimate goal remains to bring in profit to sustain the activities of the companies. By placing company’s interest first will help you how to adapt to any changing environment and hence meet and exceed company’s expectations.

Get Feedback

During the course of the year it maybe necessary to seek feedback from your managers or people that you work for. This is helpful in ensuring you are on the right track and also show you care about the assignment. Completing the work and then hide yourself in your cubicle will just do the opposite. Similar to the point above, use the feedback session to advertise your achievement. Employers love to obtain feedback particularly from clients. If your managers know that you were part of the achievement, they are likely to provide positive reinforcements through bump in salary or bonus increase.

Most recently college graduates go through the coursework with the intent to make “big” money but companies continue to place their interest first and will hire employees who will provide benefit to their operations. To that end they will use tools and metrics to ensure the employees meet the minimal threshold if the employees should be kept or let go. Sometimes it is a shock to these graduates that they are on the chopping block because they put their own interests instead of the company first. Hopefully my points above will help anyone to climb the career ladder and make the “big” money as they progress through their career.

If you have other pointers, I would love to hear them. Thank you for reading.

Corporate Governance and Why it Matters

Everyone agrees that the economies around the world today are a lot stronger (pre-COVID-19 pandemic) when compared to the past several decades. The economies depend on multiple factors one one of them is greed. The question is how do keep this innate human behavior in check.

Many companies today has adopted Corporate Governance as the mechanism to ensure that greed is not being used to define a corporate culture. Corporate Governance has many definitions. If you ask two different companies, you will get two different answers. Essentially Corporate Governance refers to mechanisms that are in place to ensure that companies follow the rules of law and moral practices for the benefits of many. According to Wikipedia the mechanisms include several participants (internal and external) working together to ensure the success of the companies while continue to abide the laws and regulations.

The bigger question is why does Corporate Governance matter. Many entrepreneurs earlier in the past centuries became successful not because of luck only but some of them relied on tactics on the borderline of illegal. Some of them may include slavery, extortion or fraudulent activities. There were several major disruptions in the financial market the past several decades which raise the question of corporate responsibility of these companies. There were a lot of interests from the public and political interests in this area and began to hold these companies responsible. Hence, Corporate Governance was created.

The subject of Corporate Governance is considered new when compared to many advancements in the business world. A lot of companies continue to expand this area and they find that Corporate Governance involve changing the corporate cultures and changing the culture takes time. I do not intend to cover this subject in details as it includes many other fields. The question that I am trying to answer is why it matters in our modern society.

While many large companies continue to claim that they have strong Corporate Governance, sometimes greed will raise its heads and morality will take a back seat. The best example is how Goldman Sachs disregarded what is right or wrong and helped the Malaysian Government under then Prime Minister Najib Razak channeled $3.5 billion into his own account. Another example is how Apple Company continue to exploit cheap labor in China while reap big benefits from selling its smart devices.

A company exists to make money for its shareholders. Unfortunately, most shareholders want to be able to reap the benefits regardless of what market conditions. When the economy is bad, companies will need to find new ways to increase the income and it is not an easy task. Hence, some companies will cut corners or do things “under the desk” to ensure there are steady flow of cash. How does a company balance greed vs corporate responsibility?

The financial crisis of 2007-2008 was perhaps the biggest tipping point of balancing corporate greed vs corporate responsibility. Without going into details, the crisis was due to collapse of real estate market due to excessive lending by financial institutions to subprime borrowers. The end results were numerous debate by many interested parties (including regulators from around the world) to finally put a system in place to prevent this from happening again. The creation of Volcker Rules myriad of rules from OCC were some of the regulations in place to combat this. Dealing with all different rules and regulations require a big commitment and large resources from companies. Using banks as an example, there was a shift in managing these expectations with the creation of compliance departments and increased visibility of Internal Audit. Ultimately the board of directors are held responsible for the actions of the companies. Hence, the creation of Corporate Governance.

My career has always been in the control functions of multi-national banks. Since I started working professionally, I see significant changes in corporate culture of the banks I worked for. When I was at Citigroup, I observed a strong governance in all businesses. The creation of second line of defense to monitor the risks of each businesses and the increase responsibilities of Internal Audit helped Citigroup to become a stronger bank today. Currently I am working at HSBC and I have noticed the same. The corporate office place Corporate Governance on top of everything else and place a heightened emphasis in managing the risks of every line of business. HSBC was finally able to have the Anti-Money Laundering/Bank Secrecy Act Consent Orders terminated in July 2017 due to this efforts.

Corporate Governance provide long-term benefits for every company and it ensures viability of its business model. However, in order for this to work the tone from the top is extremely important. There should be constant communication from senior management to ensure every employees are aware of this. Working at HSBC I appreciate how the culture of the bank has changed since I joined. HSBC was put in the negative limelight for more than a decade due to the AML/BSA Consent Orders. The cost of reputation was higher than monetary fine by the US regulators.

Companies will continue to exist to make money for their shareholders. Companies are not run by machines but managed by actual persons. If there is a strong Corporate Governance and there is a sense of doing the right things for the society most companies will stand to reap the long term benefits.

How to Manage Data – A Quick Guide

Data has become so important in our daily life that a lot of us do not realize how it controls our daily lives. Data can work for you and it can also work against you if it is not understood well or not properly handled. Data can be an important tool if it is used properly.

I work with all kinds of data all my professional life. I started assigning auditors to audit engagements, then I worked on financial and expense data. For the past 15 years I focused on control functions within banks and also on audit issues remediation. All the data that I worked on always ended at someone’s desk. I also realized that my work could be used by senior management to make important business decisions. One of the most important lessons I learned is in order for important decisions to be made the data must be complete and accurate.

I recalled the first exposure to data was a class I took at college on DB2. DB2 was a database application designed to work with a “flat” data. I was amazed that I could filter and sort the data. The rest was just a haze. Microsoft Access which was part of the Microsoft Office suite was revolutionary. I was exposed to the application in my second year at Arthur Andersen. I realized its potential and the found many uses for it in my subsequent years.

Fast forward 15 years, my work with data is more important than ever. My current work requires not only the data analytical skills, I have to make connections of different sets of data and be able to tell story and develop trends that could be easily understood by senior management. One of the biggest challenges in telling the story is incomplete data. In my line of work important decisions are made that could impact the livelihood of other employees. Therefore, the data must exist and factually accurate.

There are several challenges that every businesses must face to ensure the data is reliable. There are many solutions but this article is to focus on what if scenarios and the best way forward to ensure the data is just, reliable and accurate. Also, I will also touch on the role of Artificial Intelligence in using data.

Data Availability

The use of smartphones (do we even call it anymore?) the availability of data has multiplied ten fold. Additionally, the computing power has also multiplied over the past decade that anyone with a regular desktop can churn out enough information to operate a robot. However, for certain industry such as banking, data availability continues to be siloed. Using the bank, HSBC, that I work for, we need to be able to produce management reporting based on information that are generated internally. We can’t use data outside of the bank for various reasons, but mainly for relevancy. When data is not available, we need to create the data internally.

In the AI field, the issue is different. Let’s use Amazon, the largest retailer in the planet as an example. Amazon’s goal is to sell a lot more products to its customers. Prior to the big data revolution, it needed to be able to understand its customers and make suggestions that would entice them to buy more. To achieve that it, it would use data available in house and combined with external data to build a suggestive AI engine model. The AI engine will use both sets of data to build a list of products and display them on the buyer’s homepage. Nowadays Amazon is so big and so vast that it only relies on its own data.

Data Relevancy and Linkages

Most companies today generate tons of data daily. However, there is an important task to analyze how relevant the data is for its day-to-day operations. If the data is relevant, how does the company create relationship or linkages of the data? Using my current work experience as an example. Every employees in the bank are required to take required training annually. Employees are also encouraged to take training that are relevant to their work. How do we create a link of internal employee training with the retail clients? Are they relevant?

A real life example is the COVID-19 impacting how we manage the business. The pandemic has caused the Internal Audit function to revised the annual audit plan. Any changes to the audit plan must be approved by the oversight board, Audit Committee, and the changes must be communicated to the local regulators. Unfortunately, we can’t just “write” it off and hope for the best. My job is to understand the changes, review all past history, current business environment and if any of the risks can be mitigated. I would go through various data, review all hand written notes and produce a summary to the Chief Audit Executive to make sound judgement. Unfortunately, the task was manual because some of the data was incomplete and human judgement was necessary.

Data Organization

Having tons of data available is useless if the data is not organized properly. This is why we have Data Scientist today. Its role is to analyze the use of the data and how to organize the data in a way that it is readily available. If I have to guess, 90% of people who run reports from a preset system do not understand this concept. They will export the data to Microsoft Excel and crunch the numbers without thinking twice where the data comes from.

Data must be organized in a multi-dimensional way so they can be used in multiple ways. The data cannot be flat, like an Excel data-set. Data from multiple tables are linked using key fields. This allows the data to be molded, adjustable and sliced easily. This is where Microsoft Access, and other relational databases shine. Most of the data is saved in a SQL databases where the data can be easily retrieved and analyzed. Some companies created front end reporting systems that do all the hardwork where limited programming knowledge is required. For example, QlikSense and Crystal reporting are some that I am aware of.

Data Lifespan and Knowledge Transfer

Data must be kept for an undetermined lifespan. Regardless of how old the data is, it is a valuable asset. Data can produce trend analysis, provide deep insights and predicts future occurrences. One good example is predicting the weather pattern in the US. However, what is the value of the data it it is housed in a secure location that no one have access to? Proprietary data must be housed in a location that is properly secured and documented. Additionally, the data must be easily transferred should the need arise. Documentation must include location of the data, its intended use, data description and classification of the data. Without properly documentation of the data the knowledge of the data cannot be transferred.

Information Security

For the data to be relevant, all data either proprietary or used to make important business decisions must be protected at all cost. This has become so important that it is one of the subjects that the regulators from around the world are tackling. Data is a valuable asset that it is traded and available for sale in the open market. Everyday we hear about information being stolen by bad actor and sell it in the dark web. Hence, protecting data is paramount for any company. Cybersecurity has become an important field and subject that a lot of companies are investing in. How do you contribute to fighting cybersecurity? Ensure you are aware of the policies and procedures set forth by your company and follow common sense.

This blog is not intended to cover everything on how to manage data. Data is a subject that could take multiple books to write and most universities spend months by just skimming the subject. However, I wanted to touch on several subjects that are essential to ensure the data is relevant in the business world. And I hope that I’ve done that. Thank you for reading.

College Degree Usefulness

I’ve wondered for years the purpose of having a college degree. Everyone, at one time or another spend years and a huge sum of money to obtain a college degree. But when we are actually in the workforce, all the things we learned are never used. So the question is what is the purpose of having a college degree?

I have a degree in Bachelor in Business Administration, majoring in International Marketing. If I have to estimate the percentage of time that I have to use what I learned from my undergraduate degree, I would say less than 5%. Majority of the resources I use during my career depends on common sense, logical thinking and on-the-job training. Sometimes I find that it is wasteful to spend so much time and effort in getting the degree that I wonder if going to obtain a college degree is a big “rip-off”?

I recommend watching this video by CNBC on college cost. It demonstrates how some graduates went above and beyond to get a debt and a degree.

There are certain fields and professions do require undergraduate and graduate degrees. For example, a medical doctor or a chemical engineer. These are highly specialized field that will require a deep knowledge of their field to ensure that they are capable to perform in their line of work without any errors. Any mistake could be catastrophic, and even lead to death.

Today’s blog is to go over some points why an college degree is still necessary. Having been working professional for 20 years and spending time interviewing potential employees, I still find a college degree is a good measuring tool to determine if the person is reliable.

College Degree Opens Doors

Without a college degree, I can assure you that many employment doors will not open for you. When there is a job opening in a company, the Human Resources (HR) can easily receive thousands of potential candidates. Before HR recruiter can find the best candidate, his job is “weed” out the weak candidate. The first criteria they use is if the candidate has a college degree. After passing the initial screening, the hiring manager will have his turn to review the resume. Again the first criteria to use is if the candidate has a college degree with good Grade Point Average (GPA).

College Prepares Graduates to Meet Challenges

A college student goes to a university not only to study. These higher institutions help prepare the future workforce by instilling certain values and what to expect once they graduate. For example, they are usually group projects and assignments in the junior or senior year. This is essential in the work environment because majority of the work will require team work. Other example includes writing dissertation. This comes in handy when we need to write report for senior management in a multi-national company.

College Degree Creates Curious Cat

While universities can never prepare each graduate for all eventualities, at least they help create a sense of curiosity when it comes to learning. Not all of us are born with the smart. When we don’t know the answers to certain subject, we research on the subject. This is very similar when we are in the workforce. It is impossible for us to know everything. For example, sometimes I would receive an ad-hoc request to present a subject to the senior management. Instead of sitting in the dark I would research on the subject and also reached out to subject matter expert (SME) to prepare the talking points.

Communication is Key

I have always been an introvert person. I was never comfortable communicating in front of a crowd. I found my experience at Baruch College, CUNY, was so helpful that I learned how to prepare myself in public speaking. Speaking with my college mates, professors and in some of the classes prepared me as I climb the career ladder. In my 20 professional career, I have hold meetings, speaking in front of a large audience and met with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of one of the largest companies in the world.

Several of my son’s friends decided not to attend any higher education. I’ve also read news about some Generation Z young adults decided not to follow the norm. While admire them for their decisions trying to break the institution will only lead to failure. Obtaining higher education remains an integral part of our society. Unless there is a “sudden” change in this mindset obtaining bachelor degree remains a major milestone for everyone who wants to succeed in this modern society.

Importance of Data in Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

There is a misconception that Artificial Intelligence (AI) started in the past decade. It’s true in a sense, but the real AI started well before then. According to Wiki, the field of AI started in the 50’s. In fact AI can trace back to several centuries back to the use of automaton. The AI becomes one of the most important field today because of several developments: the availability of computing power and availability of data.

I am not an expert in this field but having to learn this subject in the past year, I was surprised to find out that my career background is somehow related to the development of AI. I started my career at Arthur Andersen and I was exposed to “Big Data” when I was responsible for financial reporting at Arthur Andersen. Before Arthur Andersen disappeared from the business world, it has one of the best data system – the Financial System of the 90 (FS90). I had the priviledge to work with Ralph Schonenbach, who is now the CEO of Envoy, in developing several tools for the Financial Control of Arthur Andersen.

I found the data owned by Arthur Andersen fascinating. With a complete data map, I was able to generate various reporting using Microsoft Access. Some of the tools that I created went on to become important integral part of management reporting. The experience I obtained from Arthur Andersen had helped me tremendously as I moved to Citigroup and HSBC where I continue to create different management reporting for the management and the US banking regulators.

The AI today is no different that what I experienced when I was Arthur Andersen. Essentially the AI uses huge amount of data to create trends, outlook and suggestions; from this the AI can harness the data to automate repetitive tasks. The AI has becoming more important as Big Data has becoming readily available. The explosion of smartphones also help fuel the AI as more and more companies found ways to collect data from smartphone users though the apps. For example, apps such as Spotify, Netflix and the ubiquitous Google Chrome collects terabytes of data every single day. Many companies, particularly Google saw the potential of the availability of data and started to monetize this asset.

The computers today has also advanced exponentially that they allow AI developers to be able to crunch data more quickly and efficiently. I remembered when I first bought my first PC in the early 1990s was using 386 Intel chips running at 60 MHz. Today PCs are running at teraflops – a teraflop is a unit of computing speed equal to one million million (1012) floating-point operations per second. Of course not everyone needs that kind of computing power for their everyday use. That’s where the computer hobbyist come into the picture with the development in micro-computers (Raspberry Pi and Arduino). Nowadays many companies in the AI business are talking about Internet of Things (IoT). In case if you are not aware, IoT refers to the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data. We are talking about from toasters to door bells.

Why is data so essential to the development of AI? I’m not a data scientist (which is a new field as a result of the explosion of AI). But I can tell you that without data, AIs are just dumb machines. Data enables AI developers to piece and stitch different sets of data together and generate a trend. And from the trend, the developers can generate hypothesis and create predictable analysis.

Let me explain. Before I was exposed to Microsoft Access, I used Microsoft Excel to do a lot of computing work. All financial analysis requires Excel. However Excel data is flat – meaning that what numbers you put in the formula will generate a known result. Microsoft Access database is different because it is called a relational database – essentially the database contains multiple flat tables interconnected through a relationship using key fields. From the relationship, Microsoft Access allows the user to create different results based on selected criteria.

The AI today is using the same concept but at a bigger scale. The data sets may not be even related to each other but the AI understands what the user is looking at and produce results that could be related. Let’s use Netflix as an example. When you first sign-on to the Netflix, the service asks you what genre of movies you like to watch. As you use Netflix more and more, the AI starts to build your profile more and more. It will begin to suggests some of the movies that you would prefer to watch. For example I have always been a WWII aficionado. When I first signed up to my Netflix account, I never told it that I want war movies. Over time it starts to suggest war movies, documentaries and even Sci-Fi movies that are war related.

The above example is on the software side. But what about robotics or hardware. When does data come into play. When I attended the AI Summit, I had the privilege to attend Lockheed Martin presentation on AI. I found the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (GCAS) fascinating and how it saves lives. The pilots of fighter jets go through maneuvers that can produce g-forces strong enough to render a pilot unconscious or cause spatial disorientation.  The GCAS will kick in and automatically level flight and prevent the fighter jets from crashing into the terrain. The GCAS requires multiple data feed such as wind speed, aircraft speed, location of the aircraft, pilots responsiveness, historical data to determine when it is appropriate to take control of the aircraft.

Anyway, this is just a blog not a scientific paper to argue how data becomes so important in the AI field. I am not qualified to provide a view in this field. After being a champion of data quality and user of data for over 15 years, I can tell you that data is everything. Our lives are driven by data and they will continue to be driven by data. I won’t be surprised if we start to embed AI in our consciousness in the next decade or so. There are many opponents to this idea as it crosses the line of privacy – that is another subject for another day.

Is Artificial Intelligence (AI) the next big thing?

Earlier this week I attended New York’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) summit offered for free through my company. This event is meant for businesses who are interested in getting AI in the many uses of every facet of the company. The event was attended by over 5,000 “delegates” and various speakers. While I feel that the overall purpose of the event is informative, I did not find it that much useful. This is due to the fact that AI is not an easy subject to tackle.

That brings me to the title of this blog, is AI the next big thing? Over the century, there were tons of “next big thing”. The discovery of personal mobility, discovery of flight and the coming of internet to name a few. After being exposed to the subject, a developer of the “AI” and attended the many discussion of the AI – I find that the AI is an unavoidable subject that everyone is living in.

What is AI?

The AI is a broad subject that covers a wide range of automation. By just implying AI means robotics is incorrect. AI refers to automating tasks that we do every day. Going into deeper level, AI refers to making not only the tasks easier, but better. However, there are a number of risks involved. In this blog I’m not going into the subject that deep because I’m not an expert in this are.

What is AI, really?

AI is just pure “If and then” statement. In other words, it translates to cause and effect. In computer lingo, you program the machine to identify a statement or action. If the action is satisfied, what will happen next. Let’s use Alexa for an example. You can program Alexa through a routine to run the task of telling you a weather condition. “If” the temperature outside drops below 30 degree Celsius, you want Alexa to remind you to wear heavy jacket before going out to the cold. AI can be categorized in multiple categories. AI can cover front end use (i.e. applications etc), to Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Neural Network. For the sake of not confusing anyone, I will use AI to cover all these subjects.

My exposure to AI

Everyone of us are using AI whether they are aware of not. For example if you are reading this, I can assume that you already have a Netflix account. A normal user would not know that there are various AI running every time he or she opens the Netflix app. Netflix uses your past behavior and make future movie suggestion on your home screen. Additionally, Netflix uses AI to create thumbnails on the home screen. The biggest question is how did Netflix manages to do that in split second? I like everyone else are mainly user of AI. However, only the last year or so I realized that I’m a developer of AI, albeit in a small scale. I’ve been developing databases using Microsoft Access for over 15 years. During this time I crated over 50 different databases (or tools) to do things more efficiently. Additionally these tools were able to generate hundreds of different reports through conditions I built in.

Is AI easy?

Even though I’m an AI developer by definition, I would be lying to you by saying AI is easy. This is one of my criticism of the AI summit that I attended – all the speakers, delegates and the various booths at the conference seem to suggest that AI is a must have and easy. After I attended the bootcamp of Amazon Web Services (AWS) too months ago, I realized that AI is not as easy as advertised. Not only you need to understand computer lingo, you need to have a good understanding of programming. There is nothing “click” and “drag” in AI.

Should everyone work with AI?

The answer is yes. In one of the talks in the conference, the speaker mentioned that in the next several decades AI is so important that it will decide if the business will succeed or fail. Businesses who start incorporate AI in their business models will likely succeed and those who do not thing of AI today will fail (see above). That translates to the work force. If you want to succeed in the work force, you need to start thinking how to incorporate AI in your career. For years I’ve been satisfied staying in my “comfortable” spot and not worrying about my future. This is no longer the case as I see my other friends started to progress further while I feel “stagnant”. That’s why I’ve begun to explore this are a more and more.

What do you need to do now?

If you are currently in the work force, start investigating the subject on AI and how it will help you or vice versa. Start incorporating AI in your daily work. One way to do this is to look at your internal tools and processes and see if there is any option that you can make things more effectively. If you are parents with children still in grade schools, start encouraging them to learn about computer coding (particularly Phyton).

In the next several blogs, I will invest more time in discussing AI. If you have any questions of comments, feel free to respond to this blog.