Merrill 2008 hiring freeze memo

Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc.Image via Wikipedia Well I definitely called it wrong for this year at least, with my post suggesting Merrill Lynch in London would be expanding to soak up the tax losses. A leaked Merrill Lynch internal memo featured in Here Is The City states that they have imposed a global hiring freeze for the rest of 2008. The freeze will be imposed across the board, excluding retail broking, and will apply to
Exceptions will be considered, but all applications will need to be submitted to Merrill's Management Committee by a senior sponsor (that wishes to curtail their future career with the firm!).

That should ensure there will be hordes of recruitment agents crying into old job specs reminiscing about the good old days.
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posted by John Wilson @ 2:25 PM Permanent Link ,

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Clearing in Europe is going to heat up

European Central Counterparty Limited (EuroCCP) launches tomorrow with 15 clearing firms, including the 9 founding members of Turquoise.

The Turquoise firms are Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Citi, UBS, BNP Paribas and Societe Generale. The others are ABN Amro, Barclays Capital, Credit Agricole Cheuvreux, Instinet, KAS Bank and Lehman Brothers.

Of the 15 firms, 6 are general clearing participants who will be able to clear and settle trades for trading firms who are not EuroCCP clearers. The remainder will be clearing and settling their own trades.

Owned by DTCC, this is a overseas significant expansion by the US outfit, albeit it has taken them many years to land a large contract despite having had people on the ground in Europe for many years. It will undoubtedly create an even more competitive landscape in the central clearer market. Moreover, DTCC has deep pockets to fund its efforts thanks to its US revenues.
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posted by John Wilson @ 12:00 PM Permanent Link ,

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Merrill UK will be expanding - to absorb those tax losses

Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc.Image via Wikipedia Now that Merrill's has booked $29bn of losses into its' UK entity [Merrill Lynch International], I suspect it may do some internal re-organisation in order to channel some profitable business to the UK so that it may absorb those tax losses. $29bn is lot too absorb so that equate to a sizeable expansion!

Bad news for the UK Government tax receipts, but hopefully good news for City workers who have been taking a battering over the last 12 months.
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posted by John Wilson @ 11:53 AM Permanent Link ,

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Blogger platform gets a make-over

When I logged into Blogger to write a couple of posts this morning I found a new dashboard interface - not an improvement, just a different layout. Somebody on the Blogger team was evidently bored.

"There’s a new look for the Blogger Dashboard, which we think you’ll find more attractive and functional. If you have a ton of blogs (as we do) try out the “hide” and “show all” links to help manage the list."
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Cloud computing for corporates

GigaOm blog has a good succinct guest author piece entitled "Is the Cloud right for you? Ask yourself these 5 questions" here.

It summarises the conclusions in a simple table

Key Question Enterprise Data Center Better Cloud Services Better Key Cloud Benefit
1) Demand Constant Variable Scalable and On-Demand
2) Growth Predictable Unpredictable
3) Fungibility of Demand Deferrable or Promotable Not Shapeable
4) Users Concentrated Dispersed Globally Dispersed to Reduce Latency
5) Applications Batch Highly Interactive


Joe Weinman is Strategic Solutions Sales VP for AT&T Global Business Services. The views expressed herein are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of AT&T.

Worth reading to help crystallise your own debate.

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Making people more accountable with Zapproved

Everyone in large companies can name them - the people who actively seek to avoid making a decision, in case they are held accountable. Or more specifically those who are happy to accept the glory if it goes well, but who've done enough to distance themselves from being party to a decision that didn't turn out well.

Whilst decisions may have been made in meetings they attended, somehow they insist that theirs was the "questioning/doubting" voice that was overruled. Sound familiar?

At the same time, there are plenty of occasions when decisions seem to just simply drag on and it's unclear as to who's holding up the process or even what decision is being requested.

So, I quite like an incredibly simple service from Zapproved, which is effectively a voting service, that records and tracks the decisions made. Is it perfect - no? Could it be easily replicated internally - are you joking, do you know how long it would take to get approval for an internal project that set out to do this, let alone develop it!

I know people who've tried to use voting buttons inside Outlook emails, but they lack the audit trail offered by Zapproved.

The "proposer" sends an email via the service which details the decision required, a due date, the project to which it relates and an importance level. A supporting attachment can be included if required.

Decision makers receive an email detailing the proposal and embedded buttons to "Approve", "Deny", "Comment". This takes them through to a web page, where comments may be added. The results are automatically collated centrally and hence tracking awaited decision is very easy.

There are a few things that I think would enhance the existing service:
As it stands, there are still plenty of occasions when this tool would be helpful, so next time you are struggling to get a decision or at least highlight who is holding matters up, I'd suggest you make the decision to give Zapproved a try.
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posted by John Wilson @ 10:14 AM Permanent Link ,

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Heads or tails for UBS

UBS AGImage via Wikipedia I was fascinated to read in yesterday's FT that UBS is internally re-organising its' business into 3 distinct stand-alone units :- investment banking, wealth management and private banking. These will be autonomous units, albeit within a common legal entity structure, and will no longer share each other’s infrastructure, people or capital.

This is a marked reversal from previous years where "convergence" was paramount. Duplicate services between entities were rationalised into shared services and cross selling of products was high on the agenda, with the investment bank and wealth management functions seeking to manufacture products for private bankers to sell.

This former strategy is one being vigorously pursued by Barclays, which is heavily investing in upgrading its' woeful "Wealth" business aimed at high net worth individuals, with better people, products and process/systems. Notably it is seeking to manufacture products in Barclays Global Investors and Barclays Capital for Wealth customers, and share knowledge/technology across the group.

Whilst the options for UBS were not as stark as Heads or Tails, it does appears that they've elected to go in a diametrically opposed direction. Some of the Divisional Heads may well enjoy their new found independence, but overall Group costs will inevitably rise as duplicated infrastructures re-emerge and customers in some areas may suffer from the loss of access to more sophisticated offerings.

The re-struturing has also raised speculation that UBS could divest of its investment banking business, something that would have been unthinkable in recent years. Whilst strongly denied by UBS, it certainly makes "amputation" that much easier.

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Huge Wall St settlement for Auction Rate Securities "Victims"

Citigroup's corporate logo as of March 17, 2007Image via WikipediaAccounting to the FT,

Citigroup is to buy $7.5bn worth of ARS from retail investors in the next three months while Merrill Lynch announced that it would buy back ARS it sold to investors starting next year. There are currently $12bn of such holdings but Merrill said it expected there would be $10bn by the time it begins its buy-back. Meanwhile, UBS was on Thursday night close to finalising the details of its own deal with regulators.
Apparently Citi also has to pay a $100m fine to settle claims from regulators that it had misrepresented ARS as liquid, cash-like securities.

I previously wrote about the ARS market here.

These are staggering deals, imposed by the regulator to "protect" Main Street from being financially injured.

Prior to markets seizing up, ARS markets were indeed very liquid and paid higher returns to investors than bank deposits, with rates set through an auction clearing process. To my knowledge, relatively few investors suffered any capital losses since the lenders remained solvent. What disappeared was the liquidity that enabled people to release cash by selling their holdings i.e. buyers simply disappeared regardless of rates on offer. Lenders, as a consequence of being unable to refinance elsewhere, were also unable to buy back the securities despite the punitive rates many of them were obliged to pay under the terms of the securities.

The penalities / settlement redresses two issues

1) Wall Street brokers failed to alert people to the fact that the markets were becoming increasingly illiquid i.e. negligent in their duty to clients. Obviously had they done so, that would have simply accelerated the collapse in such markets.

2) The banks themselves took advantage of clients by offloading increasingly illiquid stock onto them, prompted by internal risk concerns, whilst maintaining their stance that there were no problems.

What is most disturbing about this episode is that an efficient cash market and the related instrument has been irreputably harmed to the detriment of future borrowers and lenders alike.

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posted by John Wilson @ 10:15 AM Permanent Link ,

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Barclays Global Investors takes a hit on liquidity funds

Included in Barclays Bank results today was the news, highlighted by the FT, that profits before tax at Barclays Global Investors, the investment management business, fell 32 per cent to £265m, after charges of £196m, which the bank said were related to “selective support of liquidity products” to help clients.

This is a similar tale to that of firms like Legg Mason, who've wished to avoid "breaking the buck" on their money funds i.e. reporting a capital loss to investors. The support has normally taken the form of buying certain assets, usually illiquid ones, from the funds at above market value and absorbing the loss.

I've commented on this before here, here and here.

Will someone break ranks and admit that these are risky investments or will these funds continue to be "protected" by asset managers, in which case at what point will they be forced by regulators to capitalise accordingly?


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posted by John Wilson @ 11:55 AM Permanent Link ,

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Emailtwitter - has it died?

I readily admit to not having fallen in love with Twitter, which probably puts me in a minority amongst "webbies". Whilst I readily acknowledge there are many excellent uses for the service, personally I found Twitter too "noisy". Hence I've used it relatively little for months.

Preferring email to SMS, I did make use of an email service called emailtwitter for a while that allowed you to post tweets and receive them via email. However, the service seems to no longer be active [home page no longer active] and I've yet to find a replacement. If you've any suggestions on what to use instead, I'd be pleased to hear them.

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T-mobile self-service offering is woeful

Rant warning.

Self-service is supposed to be beneficial to all parties - less costly administration to the supplier and simplicity, immediacy and empowerment for the customer. So why is it that many firms that boast of "self-service" portals actually restrict their functionality to such a degree as to render them pointless other than for trivial purposes?

Case in point.

I've been a long-time T-mobile customer and other than some weak coverage issues, generally have no major service complaints. However, the network apparently has a default setting of 15 seconds before it deems a call to be unanswered and diverts it to voicemail or forwards the call. Whilst that seems like a reasonable time when you read it, in my experience it's rarely enough unless the phone is within 1 metre of your person. Consequently, I've almost become resigned to not bothering to run to answer the phone unless I'm holding it and letting it simply transfer to Spinvox, knowing I'll never reach it in time. [And no, I'm not obese or unfit!]

Finally, I felt I should do something to extend the time. So I logged into my "self-service account" and whilst I could upgrade or add additional price plan options, there was nothing useful such as being able to amend such settings as time before diverting.

Searching on the web I found what purported to be settings you could send from your phone

Call divert settings on T-mobile

All (Unconditional)

Set: **21*destination number#[SEND]
Cancel: ##21#[SEND]
Query: *#21#[SEND]

No Answer

Set: **61*destination number*dd#[SEND]
Cancel: ##61#[SEND]
Query: *#61#[SEND]
(where dd is the delay in seconds: max 30 seconds, in 5 second increments)

Unreachable

Set: **62*destination number#[SEND]
Cancel: #62#[SEND]
Query: *#62#[SEND]

Busy

Set: **67*destination number#[SEND]
Cancel: ##67#[SEND]
Query: *#67#[SEND]

Cancel All Diverts ##002#[SEND]

These were successful for setting the destination number but the number of seconds delay setting of 30 seconds did not.

Finally, I rang the [expensive] support number. The operator was able to change the setting instantly and confirmed this could only be done by the support team - not a feature available from the phone or the online portal.

Surely such "admin" functions as this could be available to users on the portal and via their phones? It's hardly a complex technical issue nor one warranting a support call.

In my experience, Financial Services firms are some of the worst at refusing to allow customers to update details and maintain their accounts online citing "compliance" and "risk" issues. Yet such attitudes are not restricted to them and the alternate paper procedures one has to follow [e.g. send us a letter to tell us you've moved] are usually sufficiently weak as to demonstrate that any risk assessment hasn't been properly thought through.

My thoughts

posted by John Wilson @ 10:58 AM Permanent Link ,

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Zoho hits a million accounts with a superior product range

Zoho, the excellent provider of a large range of web applications, today announced it has reached a million accounts in just 3 years.

All of the 17 applications it offers have a free version, with some offering premium paid-for features as well. I have used quite a few of these including their word processing, spreadsheet, crm and web meeting services.

They report that 10% of accounts use their CRM application which is free for up to 3 users, and hence ideal for many small businesses. However, I seem to recall that for a time you had to set up a separate Zoho account to use the CRM product [lack of a single sign-on] and as a result I must be amongst many with 2 accounts, which may overstate the real number of users. Likewise, I wonder how many of the million users are active as opposed to triallists.

They got a notable boost in numbers recently when they allowed people to log on using their Google and Yahoo credentials - one less user log-on set of details to remember.

It astonishes me that Zoho has a) managed to maintain its' pace of creating and releasing such high quality applications and b) hasn't been bought yet, considering how superior most of its offerings are to established firms such as Microsoft. Whilst Microsoft may have vastly more features in their corresponding software, Zoho covers the basic features that most people actually regularly use.

Disclosure - I am a Zoho fan!

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posted by John Wilson @ 11:25 AM Permanent Link ,

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Rondee.com - Free Conference Call Service [with USA blinkers on]

I'm always keen to check out web applications that might be of use at work, even if the web application in question duplicates an existing service I'm using since a) it may offer better features/pricing and b) I always like to have a back-up in case of primary service difficulties.

Teleconferencing services are one such category of application that I make regular use of. Hence I took note when Web Worker Daily mentioned Rondee, which they followed up on a few days later with Calliflower.

Rondee is a free service and registration is easy. However I was staggered when during the process I was asked to specify which timezone I was in, presumably to aid the scheduling process that is incorporated in the service, but was limited to choosing USA timezones! Do these people appreciate the web extends outside of the USA? Or that a sizeable category of conference calling is international in nature? I was tempted to abort the sign-up immediately, mindful that this small matter may actuall screw-up my ability to use the service i.e. times on the invites would be meaningless.

Looking beyond that, the service has some good features including
- upfront scheduling of recurring calls e.g. weekly conference call
- automatic recording of the call [excellent for business, both for checking back on points discussed when reviewing the minutes and allowing others to listen to the call subsequently if they weren't present.]
- ability to import your scheduled calls into calendar applications such as Google Calendar and Outlook

A frustrating feature for invitees, albeit a minor one, is that having accepted an invite, the dial-in details are shown on screen but not emailed as well for convenience - I can easily imagine there will be many invitees who will trip up and not record the details.

Sadly Rondee only offer a USA dial-in number, which means it not a service I would use unless it involved an American participant.
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NewsNow - an excellent resource

If you happen to be a football fan with an allegiance to a particular team, may I recommend NewsNow. An excellent free service, it scans news services and blogs for mentions of your team and provides you with an easy launch pad into those stories.

With a rolling index, the list of links is updated every few minutes. It also highlights Top Stories of last 24 hrs, and previous Top Stories based on user click-throughs.

For example, the West Bromwich Albion "feed" is here. You can get similar "feeds" for all UK teams.

The service isn't restricted to Football, covering news generally including current affairs, business and sport.

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