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Just A Glimmer of Hope...

...that Campbell may have to buy me lunch after all. This article (one of ASB's economic notes) suggests that there is a chance of a rate hike now being suggested by market pricing. Its all probably forlorn, because in order to win my bet there would have to be two rate hikes before 30 June. Highly unlikely. Also, next weekend I'm going to a conference with the astute Campbell, he is sure to mention the bet. In future I'll get him to provide all my interest-rate commentary for readers. But then again, given that he's just bought a house in Hamilton - ('Why? Why?' I hear you cry!) maybe his advice is not so great.


Valuation and Gravel, Pebbles...

Stones. This has been reported on by now. I read the Asteron release with interest because it underlined that they were not buying other agencies, and so the acquisition of the assets of Stones definitely a one off. It appears that this acquisition was one of the last acts of Tony Boucher before returning to Australia.

It is consistent with our view that in the short-term the value of agencies will fall due to increassing compliance uncertainty. In the medium to long-term term the value should rise again as these costs become certain, and it is clear which businesses can operate in the new environment. Premium prices will be awarded according to scale, quality, and business structure.


Meet the Man

A writer at the NZ Herald got into hot water last year for writing a feature about Tawera Nikau that appeared to rely too heavily on the work of another writer - apparently because the the great man was hard to get to meet.

American International Assurance are offering you the chance to avoid such problems, and meet the man in person.


Kiwibank

There have been a few interesting articles about Kiwibank. In the 'regular' media you can see this. Comments on that were then made by a popular local 'blogger' NZPundit who clearly shares his views with Rodney Hide - here and here.

Whatever you think of the business from a political perspective, Sam Knowles has done a great job. Establishing this business in a highly politically charged environment must be hard work. It has happened. He deserved to do well after a very frustrating run at @Work Insurance, set up by the last National government to stimulate competition in the workplace insurance market. At the time, at Sovereign, I met Sam Knowles and worked with some of his team.


Sentinel and the RVAs

This article explains the latest moves by Sentinel to broaden its product range to include retirement village situations - a great move.

I think its a shame the media are still talking about 'one of the most controversial products' etc. Given how many people regularly lose their shirt in the investment markets home equity release schemes look very tame - and getting better all the time.


Housing Costs Up

This article tells us housing costs are up. Increased construction costs and interest costs should cool this sector nicely. Unfortunately, that means I will lose my bet with Campbell, and be up for the extension soon. Unless the increase in the CPI (which is tracking at the top of the range) worries AB enough to increase rates twice more.

I think I'd better start choosing a good restaurant.


Technology and Regulation

Bank Direct has recently started talking about extending on-line banking facilities so that you can bank using your cellphone. This makes a lot of sense strategically. All those teenagers that right now do nothing but text on their mobiles because its so cheap and they have nothing better to do with their time will grow up and use these services to do their normal banking – they will expect it and there will be plenty of them.

National Bank’s on-line share trading service is, in my humble opinion, the best bank run service in the country. But I did discover a limitation recently which annoyed me – I cannot access the site using the browser on my Imate Smartphone 2. I was really hoping that I would be able to. Not that I am a trade every day (or even trade every month) type of person. But sometimes, it would just be nice.

Compared to these things, though, insurance company systems are just ancient and unfriendly. That’s thinking as a consumer. Thinking as a consultant, this state of affairs is entirely logical and is likely to remain so for some time. It’s a consequence of the fact that the business is generally inter-mediated, and has a low number of transactions / interactions between clients and companies. So there is simply not the same impetus for development as there is with a high involvement product – like banking or share-trading.

Increased compliance, curiously, may help to change that. Compliance just damn near always means more stuff to read and check up on with clients. Hefty big ‘know-your-customer-type’ questionnaires and subsequent business plans are best handled using systems. Increasingly these systems are being delivered not in clunky applications on servers in offices, but as web-based systems. Tony Smith of Plantech saw me just before Christmas and one of the things he’s cheerfully telling the world about is the new version of Proplanner that will work in this way. It’s a huge step forward.


Analysis, Planning, Implementation, and Control

Philip Kotler identified these four as being key attributes in management: analysis, planning, implementation, and control.

Having had a brilliant break (family over from the UK, my sister's wedding, and a family holiday in Queenstown) the brain is now quite refreshed and excited about the idea of ripping into work on Monday.

One of the things we do every Christmas is sit down and spend an evening looking at our goals for the coming years. This is not business planning, its 'us' planning. But inevitably it has an effect on the business: well, I've got to keep Mrs H in the manner to which she has become accustomed to living! It affects the business in another way: it provides the crucial 'why' and 'so what' answers. Of course money is a motivator - but I also love what I do, and I think it shows in my enthusiasm and optimism for the industry. That established, I then move into business planning. Hence the headline above.

The analysis says that this should be an exciting year. Report back from the working group, development of the HER market, a new company or two entering the market, inevitably some further rationalisations, more work with advisers, and much, much, more.

Planning has us growing in the consulting area: major projects with three or four big clients, and minor projects with no more than a dozen. Picking our work to match our skills and driving quality of delivery up. As we ran pretty hard in the last few months I've resolved to focus on eliminating the 'five minutes late' that has crept into the overstuffed schedule too often. Some of the projects are taking shape already. One we can share with you is the FPIA research which will enhance our understanding of the structures advisers will work within in the future and their business valuation issues.

On the Retirement Lifestyle Solutions side we're delighted to be working with a small group of salespeople who like us see the HER market as a fascinating one, and we are sharing the journey discovering how best to market this product.

Our foray into wellness consulting last-year was rewarded with more work in the area in December, so we are pleased to be building skills there.

The training business that also acquired new work late in the year will be another dimension of development.

Implementation has already begun. Last week we moved office. Although we are still in Birkenhead we no longer share our premises and the facilities we have now include better secretarial support for Soohun, Karmen, and I.

Control - how well we do. Thats another matter, the year wil inevitably bring its surprises, but we're cheerfully flexible and generally cope well. We especially like interesting surprises from clients, so if you come across anything new or different that you want to get a second opinion on our door is always open.