The Irish Border and You and Me: The Wall Report


By Robert McGarvey

I remember sitting in my rental car, typically for an hour, maybe longer, just waiting to get through the Newry border crossing that separated Northern Ireland from Ireland.  It was always tense. That’s because, occasionally, bombs detonated and I did not want to be there when it happened.

Checks at the border, at least as regarded me, were always perfunctory.

It was the wait that got to me.

The drive time from Dublin to Belfast – my usual route in those days – is about two hours.

Plus the wait at the border.

Wasted time.  Pointless anxiety.

I cheered when the border checkpoints came down 20 years ago.

I’m not cheering anymore.

That’s because, as part of the Brexit deal or no deal, the specter rises of the 310 mile border again sprouting check points and, yes, fences, maybe even walls.  At one point there were 208 crossings and, over the years, I probably crossed at 20 of them and they all were nerve wracking and a time waster.

A hard border is very possible and even if you have no plans to go to Ireland and cross into the six counties, or vice versa, this just may impact you.

Pretty much everybody knows putting in a hard border in Ireland is nuts – but the EU and the UK are playing a game of chicken and it’s hard to say who’ll blink.

So a dumb border may in fact go up.

Exactly as steeper walls between the US and Mexico may.

Suddenly there appears to be a lot of interest in wall building.

Who knows where wall mania will erupt next?

As a business traveler, I just hate that. I remember – it wasn’t that long ago – when we had essentially no border controls with Canada.  Maybe some people were stopped but I know I wasn’t. I did not even show a passport on the first trips to Canada and I know that because I did not have a passport in those years.

Ditto Mexico.  I vividly remember walking into Juarez from El Paso and an hour later, walking back across the border. No stops. I didn’t have a passport but it didn’t matter because nobody asked.

Europe of course used to have thousands of border checkpoints but the 1985 Shengen agreement wiped out most of them.  You can cross from Austria into Germany, or Sweden into Denmark without a pause. And of course right now you can do similar crossing from Ireland into Northern Ireland.

Personally I have an Irish passport which wins me free passage into the Shengen countries – just about all of Europe – but now probably not into the UK.

Politicians – in Dublin and Downing Street – are gnashing their teeth. Many support what’s called the Irish backstop which says that if the UK and EU can’t come to a better agreement, the UK will remain in the EU customs union and, therefore, no hard Irish border is needed.

Isn’t that nuts? At least in the eyes of the people who voted for Brexit?

Pretty much.  

Invoking the backstop voids a lot of the insularity Brexit supporters had wanted.

But the backstop may be the best deal on offer for the UK.  Many warn that were a hard border restored in Ireland there would be a revival of so-called sectarian violence.  That’s difficult to predict and the generation of hard men, on all sides, that fueled “the Troubles” has aged out.  So who would pick up arms (and where would they get them)?

The violence in my mind is uncertain. The economic calamities that would afflict both Northern Ireland the Republic are certain however.  

A hard Brexit would be a catastrophe for the Irish, north and south.

It would also wipe out the nascent Northern Irish tourist business which has edged up in the 20 years of peace and for good reason. The Giant’s Causeway alone is worth the drive but, personally, I love the Antrim coast, walks in central Belfast, and a lot more.  Northern Ireland has been one of my favorite places to go over the past 30 years.

But put up a hard border and, guess what, it all goes poof.  

Walls are bad – bad for travel, bad for tourism, bad for economies.

I continue to think the UK will blink and will make a deal, however bad for it, that avoids a hard Irish border. The consequences of that border are too stark.

Yet I initially thought the English could not be so dumb as to think Brexit a solution to anything.

I just hope I’m not wrong again.

And I hope the rest of the world’s leaders get the message: Walls are bad.

The Cooperators Podcast Episode 5 Paul Bradley on Co-Ops and Mobile Homes

Owning a mobile home park is like owning a Waffle House where the customers are chained to the table.

That quip is attributed to a leader in the mobile home industry.  

It’s a thought Paul Bradley, president of ROC USA in New Hampshire, often mulls. That’s because his company is in the business of helping mobile home park residents join together into a cooperative to buy the land their mobile home sits on.

Understand the weirdness. Mobile homes aren’t mobile, not usually. If they are, it would cost the owner thousands of dollars to move it.

They are in a poor position when it comes to dealing with rent hikes.

But when they are owners, everything changes.

Not one of the hundreds of deals Bradley has put together has gone bust. Not a one.

It’s a tremendous example of cooperative principles really working to transform lives.

A lot more can be done and, in this podcast, Bradley calls out for more efforts to bring cooperatives to the economically disadvantaged.

What’s stopping you?

Listen to the podcast here.

CU2.0 Podcast Episode 26 Carl Memnon, COO Grain Technology on an End to Overdraft Fees

Just say no more to overdraft fees.

And make this decision good for your members and also good for your credit union.

You may even grab a few customers away from Chase and the other money center banks.

That’s the promise of fintech startup Grain Technology.

In this podcast Grain co-founder and COO Carl Memnon tells about the company’s proprietary algorithm that lets it devise strategies for making fast loans to users who are about to trigger an overdraft charge and to also help those users find easy ways to start saving.

The latter is the why behind the company’s name – users will see their assets and their credit score grow “grain by grain,” said Memnon.

Memnon also talks about being in the Arizona fintech sandbox and the benefits for a small startup in playing in this sandbox.

Grain is actively seeking to align with credit unions that want to offer its overdraft protection service to members. In the podcast Memnon tells about the benefits to credit unions but a big plus is having cool technology that in effect let’s the member know they will see no more overdraft fees.

Listen up, you’ll find plenty of interest in this podcast.

Listen here.

BTW, the sirens you’ll hear are ambient noise in New York where Memnon was during the call.  If you’ve spent any time in New York you won’t even hear the siren. I couldn’t scrub it out so decided just to enjoy the New York moments.

Like what you are hearing in this podcast? Find out how you can help sponsor the podcast here. Very affordable sponsorship packages are available.

Find out more about CU2.0 and the digital transformation of credit unions here. It’s a journey every credit union needs to take. Pronto.

Are You a Typical Top Tier Traveler?

By Robert McGarvey

Just how typical are you? Travel data co-op ADARA set out to portray what makes top tier travelers special and the result is a paper titled Understanding the Secret Lives of Top Tier Travelers: Uncover search and booking behaviors of loyalty members.

So the obvious question is, am I typical?

The other question is: do airlines and hotels really understand top tier travelers?

Exactly what is a top tier traveler? Here’s the answer to the last question: “ADARA defined top tier as members with higher than basic status.”

Personally I’d quibble with that. To me top tier is platinum and higher (such as United’s 1K). But ADARA throws in Gold too, to use United’s classifications.

According to ADARA, 22% of airline loyalty members are top tier. 46% of hotel members are too.

ADARA explained that top tier status just is easier to earn at hotels. It said: “People can drive to hotels, they don’t need to live in a hub city to rack up status on a program, and most hotels base tier qualification on either stay activity or spend, while most airlines have adopted qualification policies requiring both.”

ADARA added that when it looked at all people who booked air between May and July 2018, just 17% had any loyalty status at all.

A curious factoid is that just 12% of all basic airline loyalty members belong to multiple programs.

17% of top tier airline members belong to multiple programs.

Color me surprised. I belong to three – the big three US carriers – and although I have status on none, membership is a convenience and the miles do add up. Why not grab them when I can?

44% of people who booked hotel rooms in that same time window had loyalty status, per ADARA. 12% of basic loyalty holders belong to more than one program. 24% of top tier holders belong to multiple programs.

Personally I have gold status with Marriott and Hilton but only because Amex Platinum delivers it as a perk. I belong to many hotel loyalty programs, however, usually because a useful perk is given to members.

ADARA elaborated on why so many of us belong to multiple hotel programs: “there are more hotel chains than major airlines in the marketplace. Also, there are immediate perks consumers get from enrolling in hotel programs (for example, free wi-fi, or a loyalty member discount that can be over 10%) which are strong incentives to enrollment before arriving and at the time of check-in.”

Loyalty – especially top tier loyalty – genuinely seems to create consumer loyalty, according to ADARA. Its data show that 49% of basic airline loyalty members searched multiple carriers before booking. Just 40% of top tier members did likewise.

With hotels loyalty means not so much. 54% of basic members searched multiple brands. 50% of top tier members did likewise.

ADARA also sorted the data to focus just on high frequency travelers – who booked four trips in the first six months of 2018 – and it found that 47% booked air with their loyalty program carrier and 63% booked their rooms with their hotel loyalty program.

Meantime, per ADARA, hotels and air carriers are getting more creative in efforts to boost loyalty program participation. It said: “Airlines and hotel chains are both increasing the range of redemption options for their services (wifi on United) or for partners (Hilton points applied to Amazon purchases). The winning brands are employing these approaches alongside auctions for exclusive events–such as back-stage passes to concerts–to ensure their programs have both broad appeal for infrequent travelers and a powerful draw to satisfy their elite members.”

ADARA argued that, to step up loyalty program participation, the big travel brands need to hone in on personalization. Send me photos of upgraded hotel gyms and I’ll yawn – I never use the things – but there are some others who always use the hotel gym. The key is knowing which is which and the data usually is available. But travel brands often just don’t use it.

Said ADARA: “Brands know that they must keep pace with changing consumer needs. Top tier travelers come in all stripes, and good customer service means a prompt Twitter conversation to some and a free martini to others. Loyalty members also expect their brands to truly understand them, and provide a level of relevant service in order to keep them loyal.”

Sounds right to me. Brands that genuinely know me just are the ones that I typically go to. Travel brands, mainly, seem laggards in this regard, or so I think.

What about you? Do you think the travel brands you use really know you? The comments are open.

The Cooperators Podcast Episode 4 Esteban Kelly on Worker Owned Co-ops

Presented by Robert McGarvey.

Listen in here


That sound you hear just may be a tidal wave of worker owned cooperatives.

At least that’s what Esteban Kelly, executive director of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, is hoping for and working for and dreaming about.

He believes that just now be the time for worker owned cooperatives.

Why? Because for so many of us our economic lives are grim. Income inequality is the economic buzz work du jour but it’s just that old saying, the rich are getting richer and the poor, well, you know what’s happening with them.

Kelly says that in a decade maybe 0% of Americans will have zero assets.

That’s busted, baby.

Worker ownership of businesses just may be the cure.

And a lot of it is happening today. Retiring Baby Boomer entrepreneurs are selling their companies to their employees, often as a worker co-op. Home health workers are joining together and forming co-ops. So are cleaning crews.

There’s soaring recognition that it just is better to own a slice of the pie.

Listen to this provocative half hour podcast.

And know we have three or four more worker cooperative podcasts in the pipeline.  Now’s the time to learn more about this movement. And The Cooperators Podcast is where to learn.

The McGarvey Credit Union Podcast: CU2.0 Podcast Episode 25 Joe Bergeron Vermont Credit Unions

Say congratulations to Joe Bergeron – he’s in his 40th year of service to Vermont credit unions and he presently serves as CEO of the Association of Vermont Credit Unions where he has a close up view of the issues and ideas that rock his state’s 19 credit unions, which vary in size from a $1billion+ institution to tiny ones.

In this podcast Bergeron also talks about the relationship between the state leagues and CUNA, state government and the federal, and how small credit unions sometimes matter way beyond their size.

For a topical hook he also talks about CUNA’s GAC and what Vermont credit unions get from that confab.

It’s a wide ranging talk with an eye always planted on the future.

Listen to this podcast here.

Like what you are hearing? Find out how you can help sponsor this podcast here. Very affordable sponsorship packages are available.

Find out more about CU2.0 and the digital transformation of credit unions here. It’s a journey every credit union needs to take. Pronto.

In VPN Should We Trust?


By Robert McGarvey

Mea culpa.  I probably have misled you about road warrior Internet security in the past. But today I am here to make amends.

The problem is the public WiFi so many of us use daily. In coffee shops, hotel rooms, meetings venues, airplanes – we hear the Siren call of public WiFi and often succumb to the temptation. We tell ourselves we will be safe because we use VPN.

For some time I have said that probably is good enough protection.

Now I am rethinking that position. A small project I’ve done with Authentic 8, a security company that has developed Silo, a secure remote browser, is what’s persuaded me that oftentimes VPN just isn’t good enough.

The problem with computing on the road starts with public WiFi which is – well documented – a hacker’s paradise.  Noted Kaspersky: “The biggest threat to free Wi-Fi security is the ability for the hacker to position himself between you and the connection point. So instead of talking directly with the hotspot, you’re sending your information to the hacker, who then relays it on.

“While working in this setup, the hacker has access to every piece of information you’re sending out on the Internet: important emails, credit card information and even security credentials to your business network. Once the hacker has that information, he can — at his leisure — access your systems as if he were you.”

If that didn’t scare you, read it again.  It’s saying that when using public WiFi you are a sitting duck.

Enter VPN, the putative magic bullet.  Many believe it makes public WiFi safe. I wrote as much myself. What VPN does is create a so-called secure tunnel and, they say, that’s ample protection against hackers.

Is it really?  That’s not what I discovered. In fact VPN often is hacked.  Here’s one write up that documents five ways VPNs can fail to deliver protection.

Here’s a headline from ComputerWeekly:  “VPN hacks can be lethal, warns security expert.”  

Here’s another headline: “DEF CON Update: Researcher Shows How To Hack VPN Services Via VORACLE Attacks.”

VPN can be hacked, it can be used to distribute malware, and, even worse, there are ever more bogus VPN apps that exist to herd the unwary sheep to hacker wolves.

Understand, I use VPN probably daily. It’s set up to self deploy on my Pixel phone when I’m in range of a public WiFi network.  I agreed to that offer from Google Fi, my cellular provider. But I am very cautious about what info I access under that arrangement. And it’s a Google VPN in the bargain.

If you are accessing public WiFi and all you have is VPN, use it.  Most of the time VPN will probably be good enough. And it’s definitely better than nothing.

But be very careful about what you access. Stay aware of VPN’s limits.

What if I want more access, and to access more sensitive data? For looking at brokerage accounts, company financial data, maybe even loyalty program balances, personal bank and credit accounts, VPN alone may not be good enough. That’s where I now say a user ought to deploy the secure, remote Silo browser or similar.  Advantages are plentiful. With it, the user location is opaque. No Web data ever touches the endpoint – what’s distributed are pixels, no more.

This document tells you what you want to know about Silo.  

What Silo does is process all web data remotely, inside a cloud container. It then transmits an encrypted display of the data back to the user. And when it’s done, Silo destroys the browser session, leaving no traces on the user’s device.

That’s the beauty of it. The web data is handled inside a secure, web based container.  There can be all manner of bad stuff in it and it won’t matter to your user session because it will live only in the cloud.  

Oh, and in my tests, I don’t see speed losses when using Silo. There of course are usually significant speed losses with VPN. If there’s a reason users don’t deploy VPN when they have it available, it’s the speed bump.  That isn’t a problem with Silo.

Note: Silo does not run on phones. For them, you will still want to use VPN. It does run on iPad. Also laptops of course.

The key point is if you want something better – more secure – than VPN, know it exists.

Full disclosure: I have done contract writing for Authentic 8, which is how I grew aware of Silo. I was not paid by Authentic 8 for this column, which I wrote on my own initiative, in large part because I remember the many cases where I scolded friends and colleagues about public WiFi and told them they needed VPN.  So I was half right. But also half wrong. Mea culpa.

The Cooperators Podcast Episode 3 Daniel Smith, the Cooperative Network

Listen to Daniel Smith talk about cooperatives in the states where his Cooperative Network operates – Wisconsin and Minnesota – and you might think this has to be the promised land. Just about every legislator knows about cooperatives. Most belong to some.  Just about every citizen does similar – many belong to three or five or more.

But listen closely and what Smith is discussing are the crucial issues cooperatives just about everywhere face: the war for talent, the struggle for support in government, and life and death issues that ag co-ops in particular now struggle with.

Smith’s Cooperative Network is a fascinating organization.  It represents co-ops from 12 different sectors – everything from some of the nation’s largest ag co-ops to small Union Cab, a worker owned transportation company in Madison.

They seem diverse – they are diverse – but, said Smith, their cooperative foundation means they have more in common than might initially meet the eye.

Give Smith a listen and you just may hear a blueprint for how to fight for and win more respect for co-ops everywhere, not just the upper midwest.  It’s an inspiring talk.

Listen here.

Does Your Comfort Trump Travel Costs?

by Robert McGarvey

Does your comfort – or your employer’s costs – come first in making choices about business travel?

Every trip of course involves a panoply of choice. Fly economy or premium economy (or, lucky you, business class)? Stay at a Marriott or a Courtyard? Take Uber on the ground or the subway?

In recent years many business travelers have grumbled that to their employers, cost always prevails. But just maybe that is no longer true.

Certainly there’s a positive sign: many travel managers had already indicated they weren’t buying airline basic economy fares for business travelers. The gripe there however is that in many cases the total fare actually edged higher when travelers were coerced into flying basic economy.

The bigger news out of a recent survey of Global Business Travel Association buying members – conducted by GBTA, in association with Travel and Transport and Raditz – suggests that many companies are more broadly embracing higher comfort for their business travelers. The survey’s topline finding: “60 percent of respondents said that traveler satisfaction is the most important factor when evaluating corporate travel.”

The survey continued: “Traveler satisfaction beat out hard dollar savings (47 percent) and policy compliance (40 percent), which were the next two considerations. Interestingly, traveler satisfaction remained the number one factor.”

“The best policies are in place to protect employees and help a business achieve bottom-line growth, but when road warriors are running on fumes, they can’t deliver those wins that businesses need to remain healthy. When they’re satisfied and feel supported, they’re more productive and the bottom line is healthier as a result,” said Joel Bailey, SVP, Customer Solutions with Travel and Transport.

Absolutely right.

And companies, flush with profits in today’s economy, are apparently recognizing that a comfortable employee is a better employee. Will they think that way in the next downturn? Almost certainly they won’t but at least enjoy today’s largesse.

Fly from Newark to Shanghai – 15 hrs, 5 minutes on United – in economy and you will not arrive in China rested and ready to battle. You will arrive seriously disadvantaged.

There just is much more space in premium economy – wider seats – a tastier menu, and it simply is a less hectic setting. The price difference is $1000 for the basic to maybe $1800 to $2000 for premium economy.

But there really is no number to reflect the much higher employee comfort.

That’s probably why – in my impressionistic surveys – premium economy is selling out of many Shanghai runs this winter while plentiful coach seating remains. Many employers are bellying up to this bar and parting with the shekels for better employee comfort.

As for hotels, frankly I don’t need a five star hotel on the ground – but I sure prefer a three or four star over a no star or one star. If I were flying to Montreal tonight I’d stay at the Hotel Nelligan, at maybe $175, even though in Montreal winters there are plenty of rooms in town for under $100. I just know where my comfort zone is. And note I don’t need the $300+ hotels either; neither do most business travelers.

But I much prefer quiet, well located, well run hotels over their bargain brethren.

As for ground transportation I am a pennypincher’s dream. In Phoenix, where I live, I take the light rail to/from the airport. In San Francisco I take BART. At Newark Airport I’d probably take the PATH. Often public transit simply is faster than a taxi or Uber and it sure is cheaper.

When it comes to food, people know I’m a skinflint on business trips. A Shake Shack supper is a splurge. A Starbucks breakfast is the norm. Of course if it’s a shared business meal, that stinginess is discarded.

So maybe my expenses balance out. Some columns are slim, others a bit more plump.

Either way, though, I know that those who pay for my travel get a much better deal when I am a cheerful traveler. Put a frown on my face and my value plummets. So there is more value to be had when I am cosseted than when I am tossed stale bread crumbs and a sleeping bag.

Probably true for you too.

Just saying. Employers might take note. It’s how to get value for money.