Tag Archives: covid-19

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.

Getting Funds for Investment (part 3)

It’s great that our financial market system is set-up to allow everyone the opportunity to build wealth. All the investment vehicles were tried and tested; some were more successful while some failed. We all know the financial market, particularly the stock market is made for the wealthy so getting the funds to invest is not a problem. But what about the 99% of us?

No More Coffee
No More Coffee!

We all received all kinds of advise on what to do with our money. Buy a house, invest in stocks, or maybe even invest in baseball cards. All of these require the funds (or disposable income) in order for them to become reality. Disposable income is defined as income remaining after deduction of taxes and other mandatory charges, available to be spent or saved as one wishes.

The question is how does anyone come up with the extra money when there are multitude of expense items that require our attention. I have the same challenges every month for the last 20 years. On top of the mortgage payment, there are utilities bills, groceries expenses and unexpected expenses. Over the years I learned of a few tricks that have helped me to come up with enough liquid asset that allow me to put some of them in investments. I hope this blog will help anyone who just started to earn wages to think about their future and how to come up with enough liquid asset to invest.

There are myriad of articles already exist out there showing strategies how to save money. I may repeat some of them here but mostly I will focus on how to prioritize the savings so much so that you don’t even know you are saving money. There will be some efforts and sacrifices made but they are for the benefits of your future. Thus, I would highly recommend that would consider some of methods in this blog.

Automatic Investment in 401k Retirement Fund

Most medium size and large companies offer 401k to their retirements. Some would offer the plan while others would match your contribution. If your companies offer matching contribution, you will want to max out the contribution and get the “free” money. The money you save in the retirement plan will continue to grow as long as the market continues to grow. The money you save in the plan will never go into deficit if you plan to withdraw it when you retire.

What happens if you have emergency need of cash? You can borrow against the retirement plan and repay it within certain period. If you fail to pay back the loan, you will need to pay a penalty and a hefty tax bill. Hence, any money you save in the retirement plan is considered “untouchable”. The good news is it will continue to grow and you never have to worry about it.

Annual Bonus and Tax Refund

At the end of every calendar year most companies will award bonus to their employees. Certain companies such as investment banks could award bonuses in the hundreds of thousands while some small companies would only give a few hundred dollars. While these are free monies, they are never actually “free” because they are usually taxed at a higher bracket.

Americans who start to earn wages are required by law to pay income tax to the federal and state governments. If you plan your tax correctly and input W4 appropriately, you should be able to get tax refund. Most Americans think the tax refund is a big payout and it is free. Instead of saving the refund, they will go on a spending spree. Tax that is being refunded to you is not free but your very own money. It is merely an over payment of taxes the previous year and the governments are just paying you back.

Instead of spending the bonus or tax refund, put them in a high-yield savings account, save them in emergency fund or invest them in either Roth IRA or traditional IRA. Better yet, if you have extra liquid assets available buy reputable equity stocks that pay dividends. These stocks will continue to generate passive income.

Automatic Deposit

Once you started working, most companies would encourage their employees to set-up a bank account because the wages would be automatically direct deposit to the bank. There are hardly any companies would pay wages in cash to cut administrative cost. Banks today are quite sophisticated in helping customers managing their money. On top of deposits, withdrawals and paying bills, most banks has a feature called “automatic transfer”. Everyone should use this feature to set up a periodic automatic transfer the wages you earn to a separate account. For example, after budgeting all my expenses, I was able to transfer $150 every pay period from my checking to my money market account. Instead of performing this task manually, I set up an automatic task that will transfer the funds twice a month. This method becomes so ingrained in my monthly budget that I hardly see the money but I know it is there should I ever need it.

A Penny Save is a Penny Earned

This is an old saying that is still true today. However, for this example, I’m not referring to saving your hard earned money in a savings account, which hardly pays any interest. I am referring to the actual pennies and changes you receive after a purchase. When we go our purchase anything with cash, it is extremely likely we will have changes in many denominations. And I can assure you that these coins will never be used again because they are real inconvenience and heavy to carry around. Save these coins in a container at home. Believe it or not in no time the coins will add up. Before the pandemic hit, my coins could easily amount to over $100 in 3 months. Once a year bring the coins to the bank and transfer it to an investment account.

Shop Smartly

Ever wonder why the brick and mortar stores are closing as fast as dead flies? Because more and more people are now shopping online. The benefit of purchasing online is it allows us as consumers to shop smartly. Apps today, such as Amazon or the Honey, enable us to look for deals before making any purchase. In turn, they allow us to save.

My family makes a lot of purchases online. If we find something that we like in the stores, we usually do not purchase the items right away. We would search Amazon to look for ratings and the price. The ratings will let us know if the items are reliable or if the price is right. This method allows us to cut our spending drastically. Another benefit is by not buying the item immediately allows to reconsider if the item is needed. It makes us question the need and want of the item thus further saving more money.

Eating Out

Eating out is one of the biggest expenses of any household. We are paying a price for the convenience of not cooking. My family used to eat out at least 4 nights a week. We gradually reduce it to 2 nights a week. The Coronavirus pandemic totally eliminate any chances of us eating out and I see our monthly expenses reduced by a third. Because of this I’ve been able to move the money that we did not use to the stocks.

I am going to use eating at a sushi restaurant as an example of price comparison. A roll of California roll at a restaurant costs between $5 to $8. On a sushi night, I would spend less than $15 in ingredients and make about 20 rolls of sushi. If I buy 20 rolls of sushi at a restaurant will probably cost me about $150 (taxes and tips included). That’s a $135 in savings!

No Gourmet Coffee

Prior to the pandemic hit I would see literally 20 to 30 people waiting for their coffee at Starbucks coffee. The prices for a beverage range from $3 to $8. There is a perception that Starbucks coffee are better then regular coffee and people are willing to pay premium for a cup of coffee. However, what people don’t realize that the coffee that they are getting is a big chunk of their monthly expenses. For example, using an average of $4 a cup of coffee you will have to pay about $120 a month to satisfy your cravings. Starbucks now offer k-cup coffee that you can make at home and they usually cost less than $1. That’s a $90 a month in saving that you can use to invest in.

I could go on forever to find funds to invest. At the end it is up to each one of us to take the initiatives to start saving and less spending. I am interested to hear from you of any other tips that work for you and help savings for the future.

Getting Fit Journey (day 60 – 130)

It has been a while since I provided any updates on my journey to get fit. The current pandemic of corona virus (COVID-19) really has a profound effect on my plan. The unprecedented event is causing such a disruption on everyone’s life that the population of the entire world was brought down to their knees.

Thankfully my family remains healthy. No one from our immediate family were infected by the virus. We were fortunate enough take early precaution once we found out New York and New Jersey started to see spike in infections. We pray for those who were impacted by the family, especially those who lost their loved ones to this horrible virus.

Since early March I was fortunate enough to work from home. When the media began reporting the onset of early infection, the company that I work for initiated business continuity plan. Originally 2/3 of the employees would work remotely and the rest to work in the city. As the virus began to spread within 2 weeks, all 90% of the employees would be working remotely.

Early Plan

Originally I planed to continue with my diet plan and workout regime since going to the nearby gym was no longer possible. I thought that I would be working remotely and I will have enough time to continue with my workout plan. Unfortunately, that did not work out the way I wanted.

Staying indoors and avoid any outside contact are easy. However, there is the question of what to eat while staying at home 24/7. Not only that I have to feed myself, I have to constantly thinking of feeding the family of 5. My family would need to eat 3 meals a day for 7 days a week. From a week becomes a month. Now we are hitting the 3rd month. Most of my time was spent on thinking about grocery and food. I no longer have the luxury of thinking about my diet because it is no longer possible to keep 2 types of diets (one for family and one for myself) in these dire times.

What Changed

Staying indoors does not mean more time. I spend majority of my time working and thinking anout food. Since going to the gym is no longer possible continue with my workout plan was out of the question. I skipped doing strength training. Instead, I spend most of my time working on my abs and running on my treadmill.

My diet plan included removing all processed food, “white” ingredients such as rich and flour and red meat. Instead I started to consume these food in moderation. The positive side of eating at home is we are eating less of the processed food.

The Results

Thankfully I have not gained weight. I have lost 22 pound since I started my journey and my BMI has also dropped from 23 to 22 which is normal for my age. I was really surprised by the results because I reduced my workout and started consume the “forbidden” food. I believe this could be attributed to several habits that I continue to follow:

  • Eat at the same schedule – I do not starve myself but I continue to follow the same 3 meals a day and I eat them at the same time. Breakfast at 9 am, lunch at 1 pm and dinner at 6:30 pm. This will help my body to adapt and metabolize the food appropriately.
  • Eat in moderation – I continue to keep eating the same portion every meal. I do not “stuff” myself until I am full.
  • Eat smart – While I have started to some of the food that I swear I will never eat again, there are still some food that I do not eat. For example snacks such as chips which has no nutritional value or chicken wings which contain mostly fat.
  • Drink water and tea – I continue to drink tea in most of my meal. I rarely drink sugary drink such as juices. One a while I may drink tea with sugar but only on special occasion. Again, moderation is key.

I know the points I raised above work well for me and may not work for everyone. How do you keep healthy in this unprecedented time? What has worked or not worked for you? I’m eager to hear from you.

Thank you for reading and do come back as I provide further updates on my journey.