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9 Financial Decisions That Should Be No-Brainers – ReadWrite

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Deanna Ritchie


On any given day, you’re faced with countless financial decisions. How much should you spend on lunch? Are you paying the best rate for your health insurance? Can you afford a vacation this year? While life would be easier if you were able to coast by, that’s not reality.

The reality is that you can make life a lot easier by paying close attention to your finances. While your bank account is an important component of your overall finances, it’s not your entire financial picture. So review your accounts and consider these nine financial decisions you have the opportunity to act on. When you’re done, you’ll feel more confident about your finances.

1. Say “Yes” to the Extended Auto Warranty

When you buy a car, you gain the freedom of the open road. But, unfortunately, you also expose yourself to the possibility of countless headaches and thousands of dollars in repairs. An extended auto warranty can save your bacon if you buy a used vehicle or your manufacturer’s warranty expires.

Today’s cars are full of sophisticated software that’s only too capable of malfunctioning. However, with an extended auto warranty on your side, you’ll have peace of mind that many future high-dollar expenses are covered.

2. Save for Known Expenses

While you’re covered for major auto expenses thanks to your extended warranty, you still need to save for routine maintenance. First, review your owner’s manual for the preventative maintenance schedule and ask your dealer for general cost information. Then, set aside money each month in anticipation of these expenses, and you’ll never be caught up short.

You can use this same practice for your home, personal care, and pet expenses. By ensuring that these known categories of expenses are covered, you can use discretionary funds when life sends you a surprise — bad or good.

3. Negotiate for the Home Warranty — and Keep It

When you purchase a home, you often have the opportunity to negotiate a home warranty into your purchase. If the seller doesn’t offer it, be sure to ask.

Home warranties can help cover the primary mechanical components of your home, like your HVAC and appliances. These items are not typically covered by your homeowners’ insurance and cost thousands or more to fix or replace. Most policies are good for one year and can be renewed at an affordable rate.

4. Stay on Top of Your Credit Score

Your credit score plays a major role in your financial standing and may be a deal-breaker for life’s financial opportunities. Know your score, what parts of your financial history go into it, and how you can improve it.

By law, you’re allowed one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus. If your score is on the low side, develop a plan to improve it. Start with the factors that are damaging your score the most, such as late payments or a high credit utilization ratio. Take steps to address them (e.g., set up auto-pay, pay down a balance), and you should see improvements in a few months.

5. Take Advantage of Life Insurance Offered by Your Employer

Open enrollment happens just once a year. So while it may be tempting to sign up for just the basic benefits, don’t skip the life insurance coverage.

Often, your employer offers you the best rates for critical coverage like life insurance and disability. Typically, you can get thousands of dollars of coverage for just a few dollars per paycheck. So take care of your family and make sure your obligations are covered with this simple decision.

6. Invest for Your Retirement, No Matter Your Income

Whether you want to admit it or not, there will be a time when you are unable to work. So save for your eventual retirement now and take advantage of the power of compound interest. If your employer offers a matching contribution for its 401(k) plan, try to save at least that amount.

Consider your investment options carefully and pay special attention to pre-packaged target-date funds. These funds take the guesswork out of selecting your investments and adjust over time as you get closer to retirement.

7. Have a Debt Payoff Strategy, Then Put It on Autopilot

Debt is a necessary evil, but it’s essential to master. Keep a running tally of your debt obligations and prioritize your payoff strategy based on your goals.

As noted earlier, you can ensure you’re making payments on time by signing up for auto-pay. If you’re ready to pay down the principal balance on one of your debts, use auto-pay for that, too. Automating your debt payoff strategy ensures that you’ll stay on track, no matter how busy life gets.

8. Save For Emergencies, Even When Times Are Good

Emergencies happen when we least expect them — that’s what makes them emergencies. So plan ahead and work toward saving up three months of your basic expenses: housing, utilities, food, and transportation.

Resist the urge to use all of your annual pay increase to cover just the fun things in life. Instead, consider setting up an automatic savings deposit to reroute that money toward your emergency fund. Then, once you’ve saved up three months’ worth of expenses, treat yourself for a job well done.

9. Know Your Worth, and Ask for a Raise

Even if you’re happy with your job, you should always keep tabs on the going rate for the work you do. First, compare your current salary with what’s reported on sites like Glassdoor. Then, track your annual performance review and merit increases just like you would your work deliverables.

Treat your career like its own business enterprise and advocate for your advancement in both title and salary. If you’re underpaid, develop a strategy to discuss it with your supervisor and ask for a fair rate.

Taking the Easy Route to Financial Well-Being

Many financial decisions take time and deliberation. For example, should you rent or buy? Stay at your current job or pursue your entrepreneurial dream? Invest in stocks, bonds, or physical assets like real estate? Choices like these demand extensive research and contemplation.

Fortunately, there are some financial decisions that are so clear-cut they’re practically no-brainers. So go ahead — seize the low-hanging fruit of the financial world. Once you’ve made these nine decisions, you’ll rest easier.

Image Credit: kampus production; pexels; thank you!

Deanna Ritchie

Managing Editor at ReadWrite

Deanna is the Managing Editor at ReadWrite. Previously she worked as the Editor in Chief for Startup Grind and has over 20+ years of experience in content management and content development.

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How Alternative Data is Changing the Finance Sector

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How Alternative Data is Changing the Finance Sector


Alternative data has been touted as the future for various companies. Financial services companies have taken a particular interest in the field as it has the potential to either provide completely novel signals or improve existing investment strategies.

However, understanding the scale and importance of alternative data has always been challenging as businesses in the sector are often shrouded in mystery. Investing is extremely competitive as alpha often depends on the signal strength other companies can acquire.

Now, however, the veil has been lifted, even if slightly. Finally, there is enough data to understand how far alternative data and web scraping have entrenched themselves into the industry, allowing us to understand their importance.

What is alternative data and web scraping?

Alternative data is a negatively defined term meaning everything that is not traditional data. The latter is considered to be everything that’s published regularly according to regulations, government action, or other oversight. In other words, it’s all the data from statistics departments, financial reports, press releases, etc.

Since alternative data is defined negatively, it’s every information source that’s not traditional. While the definition is somewhat broad, alternative data does have its characteristics. Namely, it’s almost always unstructured, comes in various formats (i.e., text, images, videos), and often is extracted for a highly specific purpose.

Data acquisition is significantly more complicated because both the sources and the formats are varied. Data as a Service (DaaS) businesses can resolve most of the acquisition issues; however, finding one that holds the necessary information can be complex.

Web Scraping and in-house solutions in alternative data acquisition

Many companies turn to building in-house solutions for alternative data acquisition. One of the primary methods for doing so is called web scraping. In short, it’s a method of automating online public data collection by employing bots.

These solutions go through a starting set of URLs and download the data stored within. Most bots will also further collect any URLs stored on the page for continued crawling. As a result, they can blaze through many sources within seconds or minutes.

Collected data is then delivered and parsed for analysis. Some of it, such as pricing information, can be integrated into completely automated solutions. Other data, such as anything from which investment signals might be extracted, is analyzed manually by dedicated professionals.

Web scraping is shaping the financial services industry

As mentioned above, financial services and investment companies have taken a particular interest in web scraping earlier than nearly anyone else. These businesses thrive upon gaining an informational edge over their competitors or the market as a whole.

So, in some sense, it was no surprise when web scraping turned out to be a key player in the financial services industry. So we surveyed over 1000 decision-makers in the financial services industry across the US and UK regions to find out more about how data is being managed in these companies.

Image Credit: Oxylabs; Thank you!

 

While internal data, as expected, remains the primary source of insight for all decision-making, web scraping has nearly overtaken it in the financial services industry. Almost 71% of our respondents have indicated that they use web scraping to help clients make business decisions.

Web Scraping and Growth Tendencies

Other insights are even more illuminating. For example, while web scraping has shown clear growth tendencies, we didn’t expect 80% of the survey respondents to believe that the focus will shift towards it even more in the coming 12 months. Nevertheless, these trends indicate a clear intent to change the dominant data acquisition methods in the industry.

Finally, there’s reason to believe that the performance of web scraping is equally as impressive. There may have been reason to believe that the process of automated data collection is simply a byproduct of hype. Big data has been a business buzzword for the longest time, so it may seem that some of that emotion might have transferred to web scraping.

Implementing Web Scraping

However, those who have implemented web scraping do not seem to think it’s pure hype. Over a quarter of those who have implemented the process believe it has had the most significant positive impact on revenue. Additionally, nearly half (44%) of all respondents plan to invest in web scraping the most in the coming years.

Our overall findings are consistent across regions. As the US and UK are such significant players in the sector, the conclusions likely extend to global trends, barring some exceptions where web scraping might be trickier to implement due to legal differences.

The survey has only uncovered major differences in how web scraping is handled, not whether it’s worthwhile. For example, in the US, it’s rarely the case that compliance or web scraping itself would be outsourced (12% & 8%, respectively). On the other hand, the UK is much more lenient regarding outsourced departments (22% and 15% for outsourced compliance and outsourced web scraping, respectively).

Conclusion

While the way data is being managed in the financial services industry has been shrouded in mystery for many years, we’re finally getting a better glimpse into the trends and changes the sector has been undergoing. As we can see, web scraping and alternative data play a major role in shaping the industry.

Becoming the true first adopters of web scraping, however, I think, is only the beginning. Both the technology and the industry are still maturing. Therefore, I firmly believe we will see many new and innovative developments in data extraction and analysis in the finance sector, which novel web scraping applications will head.

Image Credit: Pixabay; Pexels; Thank you!

Julius Cerniauskas

CEO at Oxylabs

Julius Cerniauskas is Lithuania’s technology industry leader & the CEO of Oxylabs, covering topics on web scraping, big data, machine learning & tech trends.

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How to Implement a Splintered Content Strategy

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How to Use SEO if You Have No Experience


Content makes the marketing world go round. It doesn’t matter what your overarching marketing strategy looks like – content is the fuel source. You can’t go anywhere without it. The biggest problem is that content can be expensive to create. We operate in a business world where thousands of pieces of content are created every single second. Trying to keep up can feel like an expensive exercise in futility.

The key to successful digital marketing in an era of saturated online channels is extracting maximum value from your content. If the traditional approach is built around “single-use” content, you need to switch gears and opt for a multi-use approach that allows you to leverage the same content over and over again. One way to do this is by building out a “splintered” content strategy.

What is a Splintered Content Strategy?

The best way to understand the splintered approach to content creation is via an analogy. In the analogy, you start with one core topic that relates to your brand and readers. This topic is represented as a tree. Then, when you want to get more value out of the tree, you chop it down into big logs. These logs represent sub-topics of more significant topics. These logs can then be split and broken down into even smaller niches. (And this process of splintering the original topic into smaller/different pieces of micro-content can go on and on.)

Content splintering is not to be confused with content republishing or duplication. The mission isn’t to reuse the same content so much as to extract more value from the original content by finding new uses, applications, angles, and related topics. Not only does this approach help you maximize your ROI, but it also creates a tightly-correlated and highly-consistent web of content that makes both search engines and readers happy.

What You’ll Need for a Splintered Content Strategy

In order to get started with creating splintered content, you’ll need a few things:

  • Keyword research. The process always begins with keyword research. First, you need to perform detailed SEO research to zero in on the keywords that specifically resonate with your target audience. This feeds your topic selection and actual content creation. (You can think of keyword research as developing a blueprint. Just like you can’t build a house without plans, you can’t implement a splintered content strategy without keyword research.)
  • General topic. Armed with the right keywords, you can begin the process of choosing a broad topic. A general topic is a very basic, overarching topic that speaks to a specific target audience.
  • Content writers. You’ll need a team of people to actually create the content. While it’s possible to do this on your own, you ideally want to hire content writers to do the heavy lifting on your behalf. This allows you to focus on the big-picture strategy.
  • Consistency. A splintered content strategy requires consistency. Yes, there are ways to automate and streamline, but you have to ensure that you’re consistently churning out content (and that the content is closely correlated).

A good splintered content strategy takes time to develop. So, in addition to everything mentioned above, you’ll also need patience and resilience. Watch what’s working, and don’t be afraid to iterate. And remember one thing: You can always splinter a piece of content into more pieces.

How to Plan and Execute a Splintered Content Strategy

Now that we’re clear on splintered content and some of the different resources you’ll need to be successful, let’s dig into the actual how-to by looking at an illustration of how this could play out. (Note: This is not a comprehensive breakdown. These are merely some ideas you can use. Feel free to add, subtract, or modify to fit your own strategy needs.)

Typically, a splintered content strategy begins with a pillar blog post. This is a meaty, comprehensive resource on a significant topic that’s relevant to your target audience. For example, a financial advisor might write a pillar blog post on “How to Sell Your House.” This post would be several thousand words and include various subheadings that drill into specific elements of selling a house.

The most important thing to remember with a pillar post is that you don’t want to get to micro with the topic. You certainly want to get micro with the targeting – meaning you’re writing to a very specific audience – but not with the topic. Of course, you can always zoom in within the blog post, and with the splinters it produces, but it’s much more difficult to zoom out.

  • Turn the Blog Post Into a Podcast Series

Once you have your pillar piece of content in place, the splintering begins. One option is to turn the blog post into a series of podcast episodes. Each episode can touch on one of the subheadings.

If these are the subheadings from the blog post, they would look like this:

  • How to prepare for selling > Episode 1
  • How to find a real estate agent > Episode 2
  • How to declutter and stage your property > Episode 3
  • How to price your property > Episode 4
  • How to choose the right offer > Episode 5
  • How to negotiate with repair requests > Episode 6
  • How to prepare for closing day > Episode 7
  • How to move out > Episode 8

Depending on the length of your pillar content, you may have to beef up some of the sections from the original post to create enough content for a 20- to 30-minute episode, but you’ll at least have a solid outline of what you want to cover.

  • Turn Podcasts Into YouTube Videos

Here’s a really easy way to multiply your content via splintering. Just take the audio from each podcast and turn it into a YouTube video with graphic overlays and stock video footage. (Or, if you think ahead, you can record a video of you recording the podcast – a la “Joe Rogan” style.)

  • Turn YouTube Videos Into Social Clips

Cut your 20-minute YouTube video down into four or five different three-minute clips and soundbites for social media. These make for really sticky content that can be shared and distributed very quickly.

  • Turn Each Podcast Into Long-Form Social Posts

Take each podcast episode you recorded and turn them into their own long-form social posts. Of course, some of this content will cover information already hashed out in the original pillar post, but that’s fine. As long as you aren’t duplicating content word-for-word, it’s totally fine if there’s overlap.

  • Turn Long-Form Social Posts Into Tweets

Your long-form social posts can then be turned into a dozen or more individual short-form tweets. Find the best sentences, most shocking statements, and most powerful statistics from these posts and schedule a series of automated posts to go out over a few weeks. (You can automate this process using a tool like Hootsuite or Buffer.)

  • Turn Content Into an Email Campaign

Finally, take your best content and turn it into a series of emails to your list. You may even be able to set up an autoresponder series that slowly drips on people with a specific call-to-action.

Using the example from this article, a real estate agent might send out a series of 10 emails over 30 days with a call-to-action to get a free listing valuation.

Take Your Content Strategy to the Next Level With Splintered Content Strategy

There isn’t necessarily a proper way to implement a splintered content strategy. But, like everything regarding marketing, there’s ample room for creativity.

Conclusion

Use the parts of this article that resonate with you and adapt the rest to fit your vision for your content. Just remember the core objective of this entire approach: content maximization.

The goal is to get the most value out of your content as possible. And you do that by turning each piece of content you create into at least one more piece of content. If you do this efficiently, you will be successful.

Image Credit: by Kampus Production; Pexels; Thank you!

Timothy Carter

Chief Revenue Officer

Timothy Carter is the Chief Revenue Officer of the Seattle digital marketing agency SEO.co, DEV.co & PPC.co. He has spent more than 20 years in the world of SEO and digital marketing leading, building and scaling sales operations, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and drive growth from websites and sales teams. When he’s not working, Tim enjoys playing a few rounds of disc golf, running, and spending time with his wife and family on the beach — preferably in Hawaii with a cup of Kona coffee. Follow him on Twitter @TimothyCarter

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Successful AI Requires the Right Data Architecture – Here’s How

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Successful AI Requires the Right Data Architecture - Here’s How


For companies that can master it, Artificial Intelligence (AI) promises to deliver cost savings, a competitive edge, and a foothold in the future of business. But while the rate of AI adoption continues to rise, the level of investment is often out of kilter with monetary returns. To be successful with AI you’ll want the right data architecture. This article tells you how.

Currently, only 26% of AI initiatives are being put into widespread production with an organization. Unfortunately, this means many companies spend a lot of time on AI deployments without seeing tangible ROI.

All Companies Must Perform Like a Tech Company

Meanwhile, in a world where every company must perform like a tech company to stay ahead, there’s increasing pressure on technical teams and Engineering and IT leaders to harness data for commercial growth. Especially as spending on cloud storage increases, businesses are keen to improve efficiency and maximize ROI from data that are costly to store. But unfortunately, they don’t have the luxury of time.

To meet this demand for rapid results, mapping data architecture can no longer stretch on for months with no defined goal. At the same time, focusing on standard data cleaning or Business Intelligence (BI) reporting is regressive.

Tech leaders must build data architecture with AI at the forefront of their objectives.

To do otherwise — they’ll find themselves retrofitting it later. In today’s businesses, data architecture should drive toward a defined outcome—and that outcome should include AI applications with clear benefits for end-users. This is key to setting your business up for future success, even if you’re not (yet) ready for AI.

Starting From Scratch? Begin With Best Practices for Data

Data Architecture requires knowledge. There are a lot of tools out there, and how you stitch them together is governed by your business and what you need to achieve. The starting point is always a literature review to understand what has worked for similar enterprises, as well as a deep dive into the tools you’re considering and their use cases.

Microsoft has a good repository for data models, plus a lot of literature on best data practices. There are also some great books out there that can help you develop a more strategic, business-minded approach to data architecture.

Prediction Machines by Ajay Agarwal, Joshua Gans, and Avi Goldfarb is ideal for understanding AI at a more foundational level, with functional insights into how to use AI and data to run efficiently. Finally, for more seasoned engineers and technical experts, I recommend Designing Data-Intensive Applications by Martin Kleppmann. This book will give you the very latest thinking in the field, with actionable guidance on how to build data applications, architecture, and strategy.

Three Fundamentals for a Successful Data Architecture

Several core principles will help you design a data architecture capable of powering AI applications that deliver ROI. Think of the following as compass points to check yourself against whenever you’re building, formatting, and organizing data:

  • Building Toward an Objective:

    Always have your eye on the business outcome you’re working toward as you build and develop your data architecture is the cardinal rule. In particular, I recommend looking at your company’s near-term goals and aligning your data strategy accordingly.

    For example, if your business strategy is to achieve $30M in revenues by year-end, figure out how you can use data to drive this. It doesn’t have to be daunting: break the more important goal down into smaller objectives, and work toward those.

  • Designing for Rapid Value Creation:

    While setting a clear objective is key, the end solution must always be agile enough to adapt to changing business needs. For example, small-scale projects might grow to become multi-channel, and you need to build with that in mind. Fixed modeling and fixed rules will only create more work down the line.

    Any architecture you design should be capable of accommodating more data as it becomes available and leveraging that data toward your company’s latest goals. I also recommend automating as much as you can. This will help you make a valuable business impact with your data strategy quickly and repeatedly over time.

    For example, automate this process from the get-go if you know you need to deliver monthly reporting. That way, you’ll only spend time on it during the first month. From there, the impact will be consistently efficient and positive.

  • Knowing How to Test for Success:

    To keep yourself on the right track, it’s essential to know if your data architecture is performing effectively. Data architecture works when it can (1) support AI and (2) deliver usable, relevant data to every employee in the business. Keeping close to these guardrails will help ensure your data strategy is fit for purpose and fit for the future.

The Future of Data Architecture: Innovations to Know About

While these key principles are a great starting place for technical leaders and teams, it’s also important not to get stuck in one way of doing things. Otherwise, businesses risk missing opportunities that could deliver even greater value in the long term. Instead, tech leaders must constantly be plugged into the new technologies coming to market that can enhance their work and deliver better outcomes for their business:

  • Cheaper Processing:

    We’re already seeing innovations making processing more cost-efficient. This is critical because many of the advanced technologies being developed require such high levels of computer power they only exist in theory. Neural networks are a prime example. But as the required level of computer power becomes more feasible, we’ll have access to more sophisticated ways of solving problems.

    For example, a data scientist must train every machine learning model. But in the future, there’s potential to build models that can train other models. Of course, this is still just a theory, but we’ll definitely see innovation like this accelerate as processing power becomes more accessible.

  • Bundled Tools:

    Additionally, when it comes to apps or software that can decrease time to value for AI, we’re in a phase now where most technology available can only do one thing well. The tools needed to productionize AI — like storage, machine learning providers, API deployment, and quality control — are unbundled.

    Currently, businesses risk wasting precious time simply figuring out which tools they need and how to integrate them. But technology is gradually emerging that can help solve for multiple data architecture use cases, as well as databases that are specialized for powering AI applications.

    These more bundled offerings will help businesses put AI into production faster. It’s similar to what we’ve seen in the fintech space. Companies initially focused on being the best in one core competency before eventually merging to create bundled solutions.

  • Data Marts vs. Data Warehouses:

    Looking further into the future, it seems safe to predict that data lakes will become the most important AI and data stack investment for all organizations. Data lakes will help organizations understand predictions and how best to execute those insights. I see data marts becoming increasingly valuable for the future.

    Marts deliver the same data to every team in a business in a format they can understand. For example, Marketing and Finance teams see the same data represented in metrics that are familiar and – most importantly – a format they can use. The new generation of data marts will have more than dimensions, facts, and hierarchy. They won’t just be slicing and dicing information — but will support decision-making within specific departments.

Conclusion

As the technology continues to develop, it’s critical that businesses stay up to speed, or they’ll get left behind. That means tech leaders staying connected to their teams, and allowing them to bring new innovations to the table.

Even as a company’s data architecture and AI applications grow more robust, it’s essential to make time to experiment, learn and (ultimately) innovate.

Image Credit: by Polina Zimmerman; Pexels; Thank you!

Atul Sharma

Atul founded Decision Intelligence company Peak in 2015 with Richard Potter and David Leitch. He has played a pivotal role in shaping Peak’s Decision Intelligence platform, which emerged as an early leader in a category that is expected to be the biggest technology movement for a generation. Peak’s platform is used by leading brands including Nike, Pepsico, KFC and Sika.
On a mission to change the way the world works, the tech scaleup has grown quickly over the last seven years and now numbers over 250 people globally. Regularly named a top place to work in the UK, this year Peak received the Best Companies 3-star accreditation, which recognizes extraordinary levels of employee engagement.
Prior to Peak, Atul spent over 20 years working in data architecture and data engineering. He has worked on designing and implementing data integration and data warehouse engagements for global companies such as Morrisons Plc, The Economist, HBOS, Admin Re (Part of Swiss Re) and Shell.

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