Monthly Archives:April 2019

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From a host of worthy contenders, the stars of the banking sector have been revealed with the judges delivering their verdicts on the top performers in the financial sector.

This year’s Financial Review Smart Investor Blue Ribbon awards brought together the top performers in funds management, banking and insurance during the past year.

The best banking products are an important part of the annual awards and, for the third year in a row, Bankwest took out bank of the year, the major prize for lenders. It got the gong again thanks to the consistently good service it offers to customers across a range of areas.

The major awards went to Heritage Bank for mutual bank of the year, while Newcastle Permanent won the best building society. Rounding out the top awards were CUA for credit union of the year and UBank for best direct institution.

HOME-LOAN HEROES

Variable interest-rate loans remain the mortgages of choice for many borrowers who have benefited from lower rates in recent years.

That gives savvy borrowers the chance to get debt-free faster, by keeping their repayments at the same level.

NAB’s online subsidiary, UBank, took out the Smart Investor Blue Ribbon Award for its variable home loan on the back of no fees, unlimited fee-free redraws and a relatively low interest rate.

Fixed home loans provide certainty in that you can plan your repayments. V Plus Home Loans was successful in the fixed-loan category. The judges, from research service InfoChoice, found it consistently offered competitive fixed rates for terms up to five years. V Plus was also successful in the basic home-loan award.

The category recognises the fact some homebuyers do not want a mortgage loaded with features. Instead, they are looking for a no-frills product to service their needs.

What appealed to the judges about V Plus’s basic loan is its ability to offer a competitive product in terms of rates and fees. They claimed it had the lowest overall costs in the category.

PLASTIC FANTASTIC

When it comes to credit cards, the low-rate category was won by the Community First Credit Union. Its Visa credit card was successful through providing a low market rate, low annual fee and 55 interest-free days. That put it out in front for the judges in a competitive market.

But not every consumer wants a no-frills card in their wallet. The Commonwealth Bank launched its Diamond Awards program towards the end of 2010, and this year it was awarded a Blue Ribbon.

What struck the judges was its combination of generous features and rewards. The fact the rewards were slanted towards items that are sought by consumers was a telling factor in its high ranking.

Many financial institutions try to lure customers by offering a better deal than they might be getting from their present credit provider. ANZ and its First Visa product won the balance transfer credit card award due to a low 12-month balance transfer offer and annual fee.

That combination should help consumers looking to lower their credit card debt, InfoChoice says.

CASH CLUB

With interest rates falling, many investors have been worried by declining returns from their term deposits. But there are still good products in the market that offer reasonable short and longer-term interest rates.

Citibank won the Blue Ribbon award for best term deposit for periods between 30 days and 270 days. In the 360-day-plus category, the top product came from RaboDirect, which caters for both small and large investors.

CommSec Investment Account won the best cash management award. Judges were impressed that it gives investors a high interest rate but with no monthly fee.

Deeming accounts cater to people who are older than 55 and on a pension. People’s Choice Credit Union was assessed as the top product owing to an absence of account fees and a competitive interest rate.

NAB and its online subsidiary, UBank, had a good run in other deposit-related categories. NAB’s Classic Banking offering won the personal transaction account because it offers a long list of features without a monthly account-keeping fee.

UBank was successful in both the online and overall savings account awards. Its USaver product helps many investors save while at the same time offering flexibility and secure access options.

For full details of Blue Ribbon award-winners, including the top insurance and investment products, see the October issue of AFR Smart Investor magazine, on sale now.

Best money managers

MANY of the award winners in the funds-management industry not only had good recent performances, but could point to an established business approach that had produced success over many years.

Vanguard Australia took out the award for fund manager of the year due to its solid performance across various categories, as judged in co-operation with Morningstar.

Eligible retail funds must have Morningstar analyst ratings of gold, silver or bronze, high Morningstar star ratings representing a strong historical risk-adjusted performance, and they must have performed well over the year to May 31, 2012.

The managing director of Vanguard, John James, says it’s not its style to predict what is happening in the next few months in the markets. Instead, the fund manager has a deep commitment to its index approach, which means it tries to at least match the results generated by the various markets it tracks.

So if the All Ords rises 5 per cent one year, an index manager such as Vanguard will try to provide a similar return. But James says while that might sound straightforward, it requires years of discipline to implement effectively.

Vanguard focuses on providing good returns over time while keeping costs under control, he says.

Other fund managers to figure prominently in this year’s fund manager and investment categories were Russell, BT, Macquarie, Sandhurst Investors Mutual, Hyperion, Pimco EQT, SG Hiscock, Blackrock and Magellan.

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I’m 55 next year and my partner will turn 55 this year. Both of us are permanent part-timers; I earn $60,000 a year and my partner $80,000. No kids and no debt. We own our home, plus $70,000 in shares intended for overseas trips when we retire. Our credit card at any given time can owe between $5000 and $10,000, which we pay off as quickly as possible. We live in an inner-city home, valued at $1 million, and intend to stay there for at least the next five years. My defined benefit (DB) super plan is worth $500,000 (Bank A staff super) and my partner’s is worth $130,000 (Bank B staff super). Not many planners have really explained the defined benefits plan. For our $3000 cost, all we get is a lovely 20-page booklet with little info in it and a few pages of info we have supplied them. Anyway, we have been advised we can, at age 55, get a part annuity from our DB super while still working. Is this true? We aim to reduce work to two or three days a week when 55 and start to draw on our super. I can get an income of about $30,000 a year from my super and my partner $28,000. What to do? S.D.
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It sounds wonderful to be able to draw on your super at 55 and retire young, or at least cut your working hours, but there can be so many negatives down the track I generally advise against it for all but the rich.

To begin with, you are together bringing in about $108,000 after tax and not saving much, from what you disclose, so your living costs seem quite high.

If, as you are considering, you retire on $58,000 a year, then, when you cease part-time work, your living standards will be roughly halved, although there is likely to be some topping up of your benefits when you finally retire.

Remember that until you turn 60, the taxable component of a super pension is taxed as salary, although with a 15 per cent tax offset – so if in the 32.5 per cent tax bracket, you end up paying 17.5 per cent tax.

I generally recommend against transition to retirement (TTR) pensions until turning 60. Instead, let’s say you want to retire on 75 per cent of pre-retirement income or $81,000 a year, indexed, which would be a healthy retirement income even though it requires a 25 per cent drop in living standards from your present lifestyle.

Let’s further assume you retire when both are aged 60, so the male and female spouses will have life expectancies of 23 and 26 years, respectively. To budget an annual retirement income starting at $81,000, indexed below average inflation at 2 per cent a year for 26 years, implies you would require about $1.55 million in super at retirement, assuming the fund earns 5 per cent and is untaxed. You are less than halfway there. So your priority should not be so much to dip into your superannuation savings now as to boost them as much as possible for as long as possible into the future.

If we base calculations on accumulation funds then, if you each salary sacrifice the maximum $25,000 a year, unindexed (this cap has not been indexed for five years), and if the funds average 5 per cent return a year before tax (4.25 per cent after tax), your combined super savings will reach about $1.43 million in 10 years – at age 65. Not quite enough.

As it is, you are both in DB funds, which means you are guaranteed a multiple of your final average salary at retirement. One big bank, the CBA, notes it has 14 DB divisions, some of which pay a lifetime indexed pension and some a lump sum. Some offer both – but with a guaranteed minimum – and some have an accumulation fund attached, into which you can make additional contributions. You need to find out what your benefits are projected to be if you retire at age 60 or 65 and see if they meet your needs.

At least one bank allows employees to convert their DB funds at 55 to accumulation funds and thus access a TTR allocated pension, which is not a guaranteed-for-life income stream but is, instead, guaranteed to run out if you live long enough.

The UniSuper affair, in which a DB fund has had its benefits slightly reduced, has emphasised that not all such funds are guaranteed by all employers. If the world enters a prolonged period of low investment returns, employers might find ways to reduce defined benefits, although you would hope the big-four banks would be immune.

Ultimately, it is your choice when you retire but taking your super now could result in you scratching by on a low standard of living later in life. Keep working!

If you have a question for George Cochrane, send it to Personal Investment, PO Box 3001, Tamarama, NSW, 2026. Help lines: Financial Ombudsman, 1300 780 808; pensions, 13 23 00.

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There goes the price of iron ore down the shaft, so to speak, which unfortunately puts a different complexion on things.
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Such as whether the dollar will be stronger for longer.

That’s easy. No.

Another rate cut? More than likely. And no more budget surplus, not that the mining tax was ever going to raise a cent anyway. Uh-oh, there’s always another tax.

Just as a rising iron-ore price lifted living standards – more jobs (without regard to what, where and for whom), lower inflation, higher wages and income-tax cuts, in case you’d forgotten – a decline will do the reverse.

It was only a few days ago, as the iron-ore price was on its way below $US90 a tonne – half last year’s peak – that the big miners were saying it was impossible for it to go less than $US120.

Still they’re saying it, allowing for the new spin: it’s a spot, not contract, price and can’t stay this low for long.

Never mind it was BHP Billiton that pushed contract pricing away from annual to quarterly to what became monthly, and now may as well be daily. Anyway, supposedly higher-cost Chinese producers can’t afford to mine iron ore for anything less than $US120 a tonne.

Ah, has somebody told them? Not that they’d stop mining, necessarily, since they’re state-owned, so have other considerations, such as preserving jobs. Besides usually they own the steel mills that use iron ore, so that settles that.

Only supply isn’t the issue anymore. It’s demand, or lack of it.

The biggest customers for our iron ore are the mostly loss-making Chinese steel mills, also state-owned, so normal rules don’t apply. Except this one: if there’s a glut in what you make, it’s rarely a career move adding to it.

Mind you, whether losing even more by going full steam ahead, or cutting back and having to admit to sitting on a pile of iron ore that was bought at inflated prices just in case, it is a tough call. Preventing further losses sounds safer to me.

Steel prices will keep on falling due to the near-depression in Europe, which the European Central Bank’s welcome but belated bond buying won’t prevent. It even admits a recovery would be ”very gradual”.

Trouble is, to get any return from the mega billions they’ve been investing in the Pilbara, the miners will need to dig up more iron ore, which will depress its price, though at least they’ll be selling more.

I love that about our miners: when the price drops they just dig up more. That’s the spirit, I say.

Still, miners will be getting some unexpected help soon. The dollar has also peaked, and it’s a surprise to no less than the Reserve Bank that it hasn’t dropped faster and further. Only when it does will mining shares dig themselves out of their hole.

Follow David on Twitter @moneypotts

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A taste for life

April 10th, 2019 / / categories: 苏州美甲学校 /

Dr Melissa Yang and husband Dr Ian Davis, who has been diagnosed with motor neuron disease (MND), have found support in energtic friends.When I think back to that first week after Ian’s diagnosis, my heart breaks for the carefree 30-somethings we had been just days before. Two people with everything to live for. Two people suddenly facing the dissolution of their lives as they knew them.
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We were engaged, I’d just finished my final exams and we were both in the training programs we had been working towards for almost a decade. We thought the tough part of our lives was over.

I wonder now how we, as the people we were then, got through those early days. How we managed to go to work every day, treat patients and yet keep our unfolding nightmare to ourselves.

We decided very quickly that the things that were important to us were still the same: to get married and to travel while we could. Ian wanted to get married while he could still walk, so we planned our wedding in less than three months. It was a good distraction, and kept us busy as the reality of our situation hit home. We only told our family and a couple of very close friends about the diagnosis at the time.

In less than a year, we’ve had to redefine ourselves. Life has become far more serious and we’ve faced much darker times than we were prepared for. We’ve forgotten what it is to be carefree or to have a future. Ian has had to come to terms with his diagnosis and had to grieve for the person he was and will never be, as he faces the relentless progression of his disease and the inevitable accumulation of physical impairments. I have had to assume the role of “carer” though not in the physical sense yet. How I will confront that is yet to be seen.

We initially reacted by becoming closer, united by our grief and by the secret that locked us together. But as Ian’s despair deepened, he began to push me away. In part to protect me, and in part I think to exert some sense of control over at least one aspect of his life, if no other could be controlled.

I realise now that I am watching from the sidelines, because ultimately this is Ian’s battle, and no one can understand how it feels to face your mortality until you are faced with it yourself.

We were waist-high in doom and gloom and dread. We knew what we were facing, as both of us as doctors have cared for people with motor neuron disease at the end of their lives.

What we desperately needed, and couldn’t find in those early months, was some optimism about the life in between – some hope that there could still be joy. I remember the morning when Ian first showed me the video of Steve Gleason, an American NFL footballer who was the same age as Ian when he was diagnosed with MND a year earlier. Steve’s story was aired on NBC on the night of the Superbowl. He was a young man with everything to live for – a beautiful wife, a newborn son – who was diagnosed with MND. And he was fighting it. Suddenly, here was a face we could identify with; someone who was going through the same battle, and making the best of it by putting all his energy towards something positive. His organisation Team Gleason raises money and awareness for MND in the US, but most of all it inspires. The story detailed the Gleasons’ journey from football, to marriage, to the diagnosis of MND and their decision to have a baby despite it all. It parallelled our own journey and was at last a glimpse of hope.

My first reaction to Ian’s diagnosis was that we should have a baby. It would be the only thing I would have of him after he was gone. It had always been a part of the future we had imagined, if not the immediate future. But since that time it has evolved that we are not likely to ever have a child of our own. Realising that the unborn child you talk to in your mind, that you imagine your husband holding for the first time, whose life is going to give yours a new meaning, is not going to exist is one of the hardest things to deal with as a 30-year-old woman. I know that I am not alone, and it has made me realise how it must feel for those people who desperately long for a baby and are unable to have one.

What I do have is an amazing husband, and that’s the best but hardest part of it all. Ian has always been good at everything he set his mind to (always with relentless determination). Not just good, the best. When he was diagnosed with MND, the irrational part of me wondered: why Ian, why not me? He’s a better doctor, much smarter, funnier, wittier, and would have left his mark on this world with a ground-breaking discovery to advance treatment of haematological diseases. He would have made a difference to millions of lives, I’m sure of it. What I’ve come to realise is that he is proving me right. He is still very much that person. He’s just making a difference in a different way.

When we were going through some of our darkest times, my best friend asked if Ian might consider writing a blog to share his experience and to connect with other people. At the time the idea was at a disconnect from where we were in our journey. And my reaction was that people who write blogs must firstly have a sense of self-importance, and secondly, an element of selflessness and generosity of spirit to put themselves out there in the hope of being of some help to someone sharing a similar experience. Things which we were not. And now here we are.

I don’t believe we have a sense of self-importance, because (I hope) we are writing for a purpose. I do believe, however, that Ian has reached that point of believing, finally, that he has something to offer and that his fundamental goodness and generosity is at last springing up from a place where it has been hidden by the burden of a terminal illness.

The real light first started to shine when the boys (Ian’s closest mates) started to invade our house on a Thursday evening. Ian had been refusing to answer their phone calls and so they took it upon themselves to turn up unannounced. I am so glad they did. I think it was what retrieved Ian from a place he was going to that I was helpless to do anything about.

At first the boys just started hanging out, and then someone had the bright idea to brew beer together. A Bright Ale. One of the greatest days was when I looked around my kitchen to see four huge men attempting to brew beer. I couldn’t have been happier. Ian was having fun and they were making something! And so the first brew was born, and with it a new purpose in Ian’s life.

He has renewed energy, and now has something to put his energy towards when he can no longer serve the patients he has cared for. The generosity and persistence of those boys I believe is what saved him, and is a tribute to the strength of friendship and the importance of the people that love you. For that I will be eternally indebted to his friends.

We have only “come out” and told people in the past couple of weeks that Ian has MND, just short of a year from his initial diagnosis. It’s not how I would have done it, but that was what Ian asked of me and I had to respect his decision. I’ve since realised that it was absolutely right for him, and for us, and I’m glad that I trusted his instinct, even if at times it made things more difficult.

We are in a different place now, and although it’s a hard thing to tell people, the fact that Ian is now in a place of acceptance and productivity means that it is much easier than before. In the same breath we can now say that this horrific thing is happening, but we are moving forward and can be proud of what he is achieving.

As our friends find out, they go through the journey we first experienced 12 months ago. It is emotionally challenging, but there is joy, even as we relive the grief with them. We are discovering the generosity in people, with their natural reaction to offer their help in any way possible. The timing is, in fact, perfect, and we are now able to harness that energy and channel it into Ian’s beer project.

While we are facing a much shorter future – one that inevitably has an ending with, at present, unfathomable pain and sadness – the journey in between, at last, has a sense of optimism and purpose.

Although many of our dreams will not be realised, I hope that Ian will see this dream come to fruition in the entirety of its potential. I’ve seen the darkness that Ian has endured, and because of that I know what this idea and this beer represents. I am incredibly proud that his emotional battles have led him here, and that he now has something bigger than himself to fight for.

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Nadia Oosthuizen (left) attends Mentone Girls’ Grammar and wants to be a doctor. Thomastown Secondary College’s Michael Mitrevski hopes to study music at university.It’s not the school that breeds successful students. It’s the parents.
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DOWN by the bay, year 9 student Nadia is studying medical science with plans to become a doctor. ”I’m not really scared of blood,” she says with a smile. Across the city at Thomastown Secondary College, 16-year-old Michael is interested in playing guitar and a prospective career as a music teacher.

Each teen enjoys school and has dreams of what they want to be. But the uncomfortable truth is that it’s where they come from, and their parents’ income, that often plays a big role in determining their future. Prime Minister Julia Gillard said last week that by year 9, an average child from a ”battling family is three years behind classmates from the most well-off quarter of Australian homes”. It’s the equity gap, the key battleground in the debate over education funding.

It is impossible to generalise when it comes to individuals but Nadia Oosthuizen, 15, knows she is lucky to be attending Mentone Girls’ Grammar, where year 9 fees are more than $23,000. ”People in a lower socio-economic class, if they had the money I am sure they would want to put their children in the best school possible, but it’s not always possible, which is not always fair.”

It isn’t the school so much as a student’s socio-economic status that makes a demonstrable difference in educational outcomes. The most cost-efficient way to close the gap is targeted investment in disadvantaged students, according to the Gonski review into school funding.

But it will take more than money, said Monash University education expert David Zyngier. ”Children come to our classrooms with what has been called the ‘invisible backpack’ and some come with their backpack full of privilege and others come with a backpack of disadvantage,” he said.

Those backpacks weigh more heavily on Australian children than their peers in Canada, Finland, Shanghai and Korea. Students’ backgrounds account for 55 per cent of performance differences between schools in the OECD’s developed industrial economies – in Australia it’s 68 per cent.

Studies show that when a child starts school, 50 per cent of their future academic achievement is already determined by their family background, socio-economic status and intellectual ability. ”Children from a low socio-economic background have a working vocabulary of two to three thousand words at the age of six, whereas a child from a middle-class family where both parents have university degrees will have a working vocabulary of between 10 and 20 thousand words,” Dr Zyngier said.

”Teachers are unable to bridge that gap no matter how hard they work if they don’t have support, such as more support staff, smaller class sizes and more professional development time.”

The disparity is compounded by the siphoning of wealthier children into the independent system and high achievers into state selective schools. Government schools cater for 80 per cent of children from low socio-economic backgrounds, 85 per cent of indigenous children and 79 per cent of children with disabilities, Gonski says.

Thomastown Secondary College hosts children from 50 countries, who speak 30 different languages. ”If you’ve got a child coming out of Somalia who hasn’t been in school for five years, or if you’ve got a child with a learning disability or who hasn’t spoken English until grade 4, of course they are going to be behind, and most of our kids fit into those categories,” said principal Leonie White.

Year 10 student Michael Mitrevski is doing fine by comparison. His family isn’t poor, but isn’t wealthy either. He admits to slipping behind at times but is determined to finish school to study music at university. His older brother dropped out in year 12 to work for their dad’s airconditioning business. Neither parent went to university. His mother, Vanessa, recently quit work at a deli. ”It’s important to have an education, not like years ago when children could leave in year 11,” she said.

Nadia, who is on a partial scholarship at Mentone, won academic honours in years 7 and 8. An only child, she lives in a five-bedroom home in Patterson Lakes with her father, an IT software manager, and mother, a school integration aid counsellor.

To close the equity gap, some government funding should be shifted gradually from the private to the public sector, said Richard Teese, director of the Centre for Research on Education Systems at the University of Melbourne. ”If Shanghai were faced with the achievement gap we have in Australia heads would roll,” he said. ”Of course, some parents are working hard to pay private school fees but they’re also getting a huge benefit and that is just miles out of perspective from poorer families. There has got to be a re-balance.”

Mentone Girls’ Grammar principal Fran Reddan rejected this: ”You don’t want to rob Peter to pay Paul … There is need in every sector.”

Finland and Shanghai have achieved success in part by working one-on-one with disadvantaged students and Shanghai’s performance is also boosted by private tutoring. Finland also invests comparatively more in primary schools to address disparity early, said Stephen Lamb, of the University of Melbourne.

With Rachel Browne

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Top stocks picks from the experts

April 10th, 2019 / / categories: 苏州美甲学校 /

How one analyst defines a ‘buy’ compared with another can be tricky, as you are not always comparing like with like.Everyday research analysts at broking firms are pouring over numbers, tweaking models, meeting management and sifting through annual reports before issuing reports to their institutional clients, who pay big money to hear their opinions.
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They don’t know everything, but when they change their recommendation from ”sell” to ”buy”, or vice versa, the market listens – and reacts.

So into which companies are the wonks at the big investment banks like Macquarie, Goldman Sachs and UBS telling their clients to put their money? To give you the inside scoop, we’ve identified the 23 stocks on the ASX that receive a perfect five out of five from the analyst community – the strongest possible consensus ”buy” recommendation, as measured by Bloomberg. We limited the field to those companies with at least three analyst opinions.

How one analyst defines a ”buy” compared with another can be tricky, as you are not always comparing like with like. Sometimes it’s based on the estimated absolute share-price performance over the coming months, other times it’s a relative game compared with the sharemarket as a whole. What they do have in common is that an analyst sets a 12-month price target and, factoring in the risk around their estimates, will generally base their recommendation off that. But as you can see, Corporate Travel Management has an implied 12-month return of 9 per cent, well below Linc Energy’s 263 per cent, so there’s more to it than the distance between the share price now and the estimated number in a year’s time.

Looking through the list, it’s clear that the analyst community still reckons there are opportunities in the mining sector in the coming 12 months, although there is a bias towards more speculative miners and alternative energy plays. Six of the 23 companies are not expected to make money this financial year. Mining services companies are also well represented.

Of course, a well-placed ”sell” recommendation can be just as powerful as a ”buy”, and there are a number of companies in the analysts’ bad books.

Scoring the lowest for consensus analyst recommendations are three real-estate investment trusts, or REITs: Growthpoint Properties, Ale Property Group, and Commonwealth Property Office Fund. Next comes troubled timber company Gunns, followed by Platinum Asset Management. Ten Network, David Jones and Harvey Norman receive the next-lowest consensus scores, with Australian Agricultural Corporation and another REIT, Aspen Group, rounding off the bottom 10.

Does that mean you should forget any thought of buying shares in these businesses? Or dump the ones you already own? Not necessarily; it could be the perfect opportunity to pick up an under-appreciated business on a cyclical low. And a consensus ”sell” could simply mean that a good business is being way overvalued by the market – the sharemarket is so often a relative game. That also goes for a positive view on a stock.

Finally, keep this in mind: you might be happy to hold on to an ”underperforming” stock because you’re investing for the long term: three or five years, or longer. Analysts, like much of the professional investment community, are often tied to the short term. Broker recommendations are just one piece of the investment puzzle.

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When banks bite back

April 10th, 2019 / / categories: 苏州美甲学校 /

‘NAB has repeatedly nabbed positive press by being the first to slash fees. This forced competitors to follow suit.’Feel free to bust out a little happy dance: Aussie consumers came that little bit closer last week to being able to reclaim more than $220 million in bank ”exception” fees.
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You know, fees for things like going overdrawn, bouncing a cheque or missing repayments.

Almost 200,000 consumers have joined a class action against eight banks arguing fees of $25 and even greater for such transgressions were excessive and tantamount to profiteering. The latest victory came courtesy of the High Court, in a test case against ANZ, which cleared the way by ruling the fees could be considered “penalties”.

The next step is to prove they’re excessive in comparison to the costs the breaches create.

And it’s somewhat incriminating that most institutions dropped them like a hot potato when the legal challenge – and controversy – started. Overdraft fees are typical of the cuts, moving from an average $30 to $10 (most late payment fees remain about $25).

In the meantime, perhaps in a bid to replace lost revenue, banks are raking in enormous amounts of money from different fees and dubious product pricing.

Here are the new clawbacks you need to combat.

ACCOUNT-KEEPING FEES

NAB has repeatedly nabbed positive press by being the first to slash fees – and it was the first to abolish transaction fees, too.

This forced competitors to follow suit such that fee-free banking is now a reality. So if you’re still paying a monthly fee for an all-you-can-eat-style transaction account, where all your transactions are free, you’re donating money to your bank.

Be aware though that the new, improved breed of transaction account still comes with pitiful interest rates so should be used for your short-term deposit and living expenses only.

ATM FEES

I was heartened recently to learn we’ve changed our withdrawal ways. So-called foreign-ATM fees – where you are now charged an average $2.50 for accessing your own money through a bank that’s not your own – have us so irked that we are actually walking further to our own ”hole in the wall”.

While 50 per cent of all ATM transactions were made at foreign ATMs before an explicit fee opt-in at the terminal was introduced in 2009, the Reserve Bank says by 2011 that had fallen to 40 per cent.

Apparently the reform got many of us pushing the ”cancel” button. But that’s still an annual outlay RateCity estimates at $660 million so we could do more. One of the cheapest ways to get cash is through eftpos when you make purchases.

Conduct serious research before going overseas though as often the charges for getting at your money – even credit – are astronomical. Look for partner institutions, cards that charge no or low international transaction fees, or converting your cash cheaply in Australia and risk it.

THE RATE WAIT

We are all on the edge of our seats now as we await the banks reaction to each official rate move. Much of the focus is logically on mortgages as this is often our biggest investment and largest debt: will rates fall by less than a cut, increase by more than a hike, or move entirely of their own accord?

Well, the same pricing shenanigans happen with savings accounts and credit cards, and on the latter the hoarding is horrendous. Recent research by Mozo shows credit card holders received only one-third of the cuts passed on to mortgage holders since the credit crack-up.

Your best comeback here is to never pay interest; to clear your card at the end of every month and use it for convenience only. Pay down that mortgage, too.

Be aware also that banks make and keep a fortune by delaying the start date of any rate changes, as well as the date on which they increase loan direct debits in particular.

It’s a little bit less in each of our pockets and a lot more in theirs so monitor your liabilities.

SAVINGS HOOPS

Much has been written about the comparatively high savings rates we are being promised as banks seek to secure our deposits and shore up their funding base. But they’ve also made it much harder to actually get them.

Enticing savings-account rates are valid either for very short periods or come with qualification conditions that mean you might never get them. No withdrawals; minimum monthly deposits; blue moons – or all three.

You need to strive to meet these, but if there’s the chance you won’t, sign up only to savings accounts with a high base rate – in other words, the rate you’ll get under any circumstances.

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon  is the editor of afrsmartinvestor苏州美甲学校.

Follow her on Twitter @NicolePedMcK.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 苏州美甲学校.

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Game on for app makers

April 10th, 2019 / / categories: 苏州美甲学校 /

Ee-Leng Chang and Chen-Po Sun. Murray Lorden.
苏州美甲学校

Working from their Carlton flat, husband-and-wife team Chen-Po Sun and Ee-Leng Chang are running a global business with a potential market in the hundreds of millions. All it takes is a great idea for an app and the Melbourne couple’s fortunes could be made.

Their unique selling point: felt. Sun and Chang are both software developers with a background in writing computer games, but Chang has another passion – handcrafted design, which they are using to give their quirky games a distinctive charm. If you’ve got an iPhone handy, you can download their first two releases, Cow Abduct! and Shuriken Chicken, right now from the Apple App Store (Shuriken Chicken includes a warning of ”Frequent/Intense Cartoon or Fantasy Violence”).

Since the end of last year, Murray Lorden has been working from his bedroom on the mezzanine level of a converted warehouse in Collingwood. As an indie developer, he has released his first game for the iPhone, Rad Skater Apocalypse, as a homage to the games he enjoyed while growing up in the 1980s. He’s now working on his second game – a detective-style ”thinking game” rather than an action game.

A decade ago, nobody had heard of ”apps”, the programs that for the price of a cup of coffee – or less – do useful or amusing things on your mobile phone or tablet.

Last year, Apple announced that the iTunes App Store had notched up its 10 billionth download; by March, that figure had hit 25 billion, with top titles including Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja and Doodle Jump.

The Finnish creators of Angry Birds, Rovio, announced in May that downloads of all the Angry Birds titles across different platforms had topped 1 billion, with half of those in the past six months.

Now people with the passion, ideas and skills are trying to get a piece of the action, sometimes setting up with as little as a laptop in a cafe. Science and art combine, and even computer qualifications are not compulsory.

Last year Tiny Wings, by self-taught German Andreas Illiger, became one of Apple’s top-10 paid apps.

Melburnians such as Sun are playing their part in the app revolution, although he says the decision for he and Chang to quit their IT jobs and launch their own apps business, Games for Gummie, was a tough one.

”It takes discipline, time and will power,” Sun says. ”If you go into it with an ‘I’m going to make the next Angry Birds’ mentality, you’ll probably fail. The early gold rush is definitely over. We knew we were setting ourselves up for a long grind. We now have to be much more frugal with our money and cut back on things.

”Previously, all I had to concentrate on was trying to be an awesome programmer; now there’s a whole lot of business stuff to deal with. It’s about time management and we find it hard to work regular hours.”

Working from home means spending ”an insane amount of time together”, Chang says, but they also face the difficulty of making headway in a saturated market. ”You’re constantly fighting to get people to hear about your product,” she says.

The ability to sell games to the owners of Apple, Android and Windows smartphones with the tap of a button, however, has revitalised the indie games industry.

Lorden’s decision to quit his day job was driven by a desire to explore his own creative vision rather than earn a wage working on someone else’s ideas. He learnt the ropes working for local gaming success stories Blue Tongue Entertainment and Firemint, where he worked on the smash-hit iPhone car-racing game Real Racing. Both Melbourne start-ups found success during the app gold rush and were later acquired by international gaming giants.

Blue Tongue has since been swallowed up by parent company THQ, while Electronic Arts recently merged Firemint with fellow Melbourne studio Iron Monkey to form Firemonkeys.

Lorden doesn’t expect to match the success of Real Racing, which featured prominently in Steve Jobs’ presentation when the iPad was launched two years ago, but instead relishes the opportunity to work on his own ideas.

”My job is to be a creative game designer, but at the big studios, I wasn’t always doing the sort of new and creative work I wanted to be doing,” Lorden says.

”The other side of the coin is that now I can’t rely on some great artist or programmer sitting next to me to do their thing. Nor can I rely on a marketing and business development team. I have to wear all those hats.”

Access to Apple’s developer program costs Lorden just $99 a year, unlike the thousands of dollars required to develop for some gaming platforms. As for the challenges of running his own business, Lorden has completed the government’s New Enterprise Incentive Scheme business course, which covered areas such as writing a business plan, understanding cash-flow and tackling marketing.

Despite the success of an app such as Tiny Wings, it’s becoming much harder for indie developers to find success without experience under their belt, says Brad Giblin, the digital media manager with Film Victoria, which has been supporting the local games industry for 15 years.

Many exciting new projects are coming from independent lone developers and small teams, but Giblin says people tend to underestimate how difficult and competitive it is.

”The barrier to entry to the mobile app stores is incredibly low, but the likelihood of a complete amateur making an app that sells a million copies is almost zero these days,” he says. ”Most of the apps that tend to top charts are from experienced people. Even so, I believe the figures are somewhere around 95 per cent of titles make less than $1000.”

It’s a sobering statistic, but Melbourne’s games scene is nevertheless thriving – as shown by events such as the Freeplay Independent Games Festival taking place around Melbourne including at the State Library of Victoria, Federation Square, and Australian Centre for the Moving Image. ACMI is also hosting the Game Masters exhibition celebrating the world’s most influential game designers.

One of the hubs of the local indie games scene is the Melbourne chapter of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), which runs monthly social events and information nights with guest speakers. Independent game developers are finding more success thanks to the app-store model, which empowers them to go it alone, the event co-ordinator of IGDA Melbourne, Giselle Rosman, says.

The flow of developers away from the major games studios is not an indictment on the industry, but rather a reflection of creative people’s need to see their own ideas through to completion, she says.

”If you can achieve financial independence, that’s fantastic, but if it’s your primary motivation, you’re probably setting yourself up for disappointment,” Rosman says. ”Most people don’t make good money selling mobile games. You have to sell a lot of apps at 99¢, remembering that Apple takes a slice of the action. Trying to go it alone can be tough.”

Carlton-based Tin Man Games is one independent Melbourne app developer finding success. It’s looking to expand beyond the bedroom of technical director Ben Britten Smith into its own office space.

Smith is an Academy Award-winning special-effects artist who met his Australian wife while working in Melbourne on the Nicolas Cage blockbuster Ghost Rider. He started developing games as a hobby while waiting for his Australian work visa and later teamed up with Tin Man Games founder Neil Rennison.

With Rennison now living in Britain, Smith is the local head of the company, which has expanded to offer work to about 30 ”minions”.

”I was working in the film industry as a tiny little cog in a giant machine,” he says. ”That was fun for a while but it really grinds you down, just like my friends who were working for Electronic Arts or those other big games companies. So I left my job for a lot of the same reasons game developers do: I didn’t want to work on other people’s giant projects that I didn’t care about.”

Tin Man Games creates digital Gamebooks, similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure concept. Titles such as Gamebook Adventures 2: The Siege of the Necromancer and Gamebook Adventures 7: Temple of the Spider God are expensive for iPhone games at $6.49, but their success comes from targeting a niche audience.

Tin Man Games is ready to tackle the next level but Smith says the move to a separate office is not just a matter of space.

”I’m in a creative industry but you can’t be creative in a vacuum,” he says. ”You have to be around other people, so I try to go to a lot of industry events. Some of the reasons to move to this office space are just to be exposed to other people, to get the creative juices flowing.”

Back in Collingwood, Murray Lorden is realising that living the indie dream comes at a price. Without the safety net of a job, he’s discovering being his own boss can be a long and lonely road.

”I found that I’ve been asking the bigger questions about life because there’s no protection between me and life’s big challenges,” Lorden says.

”I’m confronting the challenges of seeing a successful game through from start to end, but I’m also asking where I want to be in five years. What am I trying to achieve here? What are my monetary goals and my lifestyle goals?

”I’ve been trying to figure out how to reach an equilibrium, a happy balance in my life. That’s probably the biggest challenge that I face, even though I’m doing what I love.”

Getting off to a flying start

Firemonkeys’ executive producer, Robert Murray, knows the lure of going it alone to follow your creative dreams. When his first Melbourne games company folded, he returned to a deferred engineering degree. He deferred again to work at Bayswater’s Torus Games, before going solo to subcontract games work.

Firemint was born as Murray picked up more work and began subcontracting work to others. Firemint’s own title, Real Racing, was in development when Apple opened up access to the app store.

To gain experience with the app store, Murray wrote Flight Control over the summer holidays. It went on to become one of Apple’s top-10 paid apps of all time. Its success helped fund the completion of Real Racing, which was also a hit and helped win Firemint an Australian export award.

”Starting today, you’ve got some tremendous advantages, but it’s hyper-competitive and much harder to meet people’s expectations of quality,” Murray says. ”You’d have to be an incredibly cross-talented individual with a lot of free time to invest. Even then, if you took too long, you’d probably fall behind the trends.

”If you view going out on your own as a lifestyle move, you’ve got it in reasonable perspective. Most of us got started because we wanted to make games. You’re going to have some hard times, so you’ve got to really want it.”

Last year, Firemint acquired the Melbourne game developer Infinite Interactive. Not long after, Firemint was itself acquired by US games giant Electronic Arts, which this year merged Firemint with fellow Melbourne studio IronMonkey to form Firemonkeys.

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