Are fitness trackers a waste of money?

Want to lose weight? Improve your cardio? Lower your blood pressure? Then don’t buy a fitness tracker. In fact, some experts claim they can “do more harm than good”. Wondering why you might have wasted money on yours? Read on…

 

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Now let’s just get one thing straight before we continue. I actually use a variety of wearable devices. I have an Apple watch which measures my daily activity, I use the Nike+ app when I go running and I use a Garmin & Strava for cycling. And it seems that I’m not alone with an estimated 20% of Americans wearing some form of tracker and around 3 million being sold in the UK each year. People use them in different ways and for a variety of reasons. Personally I want to monitor my performance and am fascinated with the data that they produce (I know, I’m a nerd). Consequently I love them all, so before you launch into a tirade along the lines of ‘this guy hates Fitbits’ in the comments section please remember not to shoot the messenger…

Now then, why have the boffins got such a downer on trackers? Well firstly, they pour scorn on the whole notion of the 10,000 steps. It seems that this has no basis in any robust scientific research. According to Dr Greg Hager who is a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University:

  “Turns out in 1960 in Japan they figured out that the average Japanese man, when he walked 10,000 steps a day, burned something like 3,000 calories and that is what they thought the average person should consume. So they picked 10,000 steps as a number”

In fairness, that hardly seems very scientific. Unless you are an average Japanese man who is still living in 1960. A relatively small sample size, I’m guessing.

Just last week Prof. Hager pointed out that we we cannot have a ‘one size fits all’ solution and every individual needs a bespoke fitness plan which caters specifically for their needs. He goes on to say:

“I think apps could definitely be doing more harm than good. I am sure that these apps are causing problems. Without any scientific evidence base, how do you know that any of these apps are good for you? They may even be harmful”

Harmful? Seriously? Isn’t that pushing it a tad too far? Well in support of his claim, Hager states that someone with an underlying medical condition may not necessarily be capable of achieving the 10,000 steps and it could be detrimental to their health to try.

So, is Hager out there on his own in his thinking? Well, it seems not. A 2016 study of 800 people with activity trackers was conducted in Singapore which discovered that there were no health benefits to the research subjects when compared to a control group who didn’t use a tracker. What’s more, they even added a cash incentive to increase the number of steps they took. It made absolutely no difference.

In the UK, Hager also has support from Simon Leigh, a senior health economist at Nexus Clinical Analytics who has published several studies on fitness trackers in the British Medical Journal. He said:

“Dr Hager is spot on. A GP, endocrinologist or other fitness specialist would unlikely  recommend 10,000 steps for most people. Especially given that the majority of those who download these apps are likely to be unfit and in need of improvement in the first place” 

I understand what these guys are saying but surely in a population with rising rates of obesity, we need to encourage people to do some form of exercise and activity trackers can be a strong motivator in the right hands (or should that be on the right arm?). After all, surely it is better to do 10,000 steps a day than none at all? It beats lying on the sofa eating double cheese deep pan pizza and watching The Kardashians.

Surely it also depends on what you are doing on your journey of 10,000 steps. If you are having a brisk walk around the park with your Cockerpoo then that must have some health benefits. For you and the dog. However, if it’s a pub crawl around town on a Friday night followed by a stagger down to the kebab shop then I don’t think that counts. It’s really all a matter of balance.

Depending upon the type of tracker you use valuable personal information can be measured and monitored over time including heart rate, calorie consumption and sleep patterns. The aggregation of all this big / smart data can be of use to a medical practitioner, an insurance company or even the advertising industry. The implications of this are not only fascinating but have huge business potential.

 

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A doctor could offer a prognosis on potential medical conditions saving both money and lives. Your insurance company could use your data to offer you improved premiums on health insurance in the same way that they use trackers for safe drivers on car insurance. And the ad industry can use programmatic to specifically target you with dynamic creative to offer you goods / services that are highly relevant to the individual (e.g. new running shoes in your size and favorite colors).

 

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Dr John Jakicic from the University of Pittsburgh, seems to be of the same opinion as myself. In his studies, he found that fitness trackers could form part of a series of behaviours to encourage people to lose weight or improve fitness:

“we need to be careful about relying solely on these devices. However, there is a place for these, and so we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater in my opinion”

So are these trackers going end up gathering dust in the garage along with other defunct fitness gadgets such as the Ab-Cruncher and Thigh-Master? Well don’t be too hasty in ditching your Fitbit just yet. Accept it for what it is and use it accordingly. Figure out an optimum level of activity for your age, size and fitness level (if you are unsure, consult an expert or just Google it). Then simply incorporate it into your weekly workout schedule.

 

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What do you think? Are these trackers really useless or do they have some merit? Do you own one and now feel cheated or does the technology really work for you? As ever, I am interested in your viewpoint.

 

 

Written By: Steve Blakeman
Source: LinkedIn

Big Banks Shift to a New Fintech Strategy

Provided by CNBC

Big banks’ fintech investing strategies are shifting at a crucial time in the nascent industry’s development.

This year, big banks seem more eager to partner with or buyout startups challenging crucial lines of business in the financial services industry. It comes after years of banks’ simply being willing to buy in as minority stakeholders in startups. Fintech, or financial technology, is used to make financial services more efficient.

More recently, banks are committing big bucks to buyouts. It comes after a year in which fintech funding hit new highs. Ally Financial (ALLY) bought online brokerage TradeKing Group, the firm announced earlier this month, in a $275 million deal. BlackRock (BLK) also decided to tap into fintech, last August, with the $150 million acquisition of online investment firm FutureAdvisor.

Banks aren’t always spending to buy startups with big-name investors — or big price tags. When Goldman Sachs (GS) last month bought Honest Dollar, the Texas-based online retirement planning service, the startup had raised just $3 million in venture funding, according to Crunchbase. The bank didn’t disclose its purchase price and didn’t comment on the deal. TradeKing, as well, raised less than $10 million in venture funding, according to Crunchbase.

It isn’t just U.S. banks eager to beat back the rising tide of disruption. Spanish bank BBVA bought out Finnish banking startup Holvi last month, and didn’t disclose terms — it also wasn’t BBVA’s first deal in that sub-sector. BNP Paribas earlier this month announced a partnership with SmartAngels, a direct investing platform for crowdfunding deals, as well.

“Banks are partnering to keep in the game and keep relevant,” said Alvarez & Marsal managing director David Gibbons. “I think they’ve caught up fairly well.”

Finding partners, rather than M&A targets, is especially helpful to banks that have been squeezed out of some financial services businesses like small business lending. One investor, who asked to not be quoted, said many banks have a difficult time profitably originating small loans. JPMorgan Chase (JPM)partnered with On Deck Capital (ONDK), an online lender that has struggled since its late 2014 IPO, to generate loans to the bank’s customer base.

“Banks are already well down the road to partnering with marketplace platforms for unsecured lending,” said PricewaterhouseCoopers fintech co-lead Haskell Garfinkel. “The biggest challenge right now is to consume it, integrate it and monetize it.”

And while big banks are trying to integrate partners and investments, some may shut other startups out of customer accounts and financial data. In his annual letter to shareholders this month, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon noted unnamed third-party apps take more data than they need, and said they are “doing it for their own economic benefit.”

If banks again starts throttling apps they believe are abusing access, reverberations might have a lasting impact in Silicon Valley, where mobile banking and finance management apps are often dependent on real-time access to customers’ bank accounts. As banks sift out which businesses they must buy, which they may partner with and which they can duplicate independently, various segments of the fintech ecosystem are likely to encounter different treatment.

While financial services investors have put money into startups like MobiKwik and Square (SQ), M&A for payments-focused companies has been rare. Considering that a number of big banks banded together in February to establish the clearXchange network, which allows consumers to process transactions between smartphones without a third-party app, payments is one sub-sector of fintech that could see continuing competition from legacy players.

“It’s a race to the bottom,” said Mariano Belinky, managing partner of Santander InnoVentures, a $100 million fund operated by the Spanish bank of the same name. “We’re going to end up with payments as a free service.”

Written by Jon Marino of CNBC

(Source: MSN)

Three Financial Facts of the Week: January 19, 2016

instant-messaging-apps
Provided by Tech Media Street

Fact #1
The average finance rate on 48-month new-car loans was just 4.1% through August 2015, according to the Federal Reserve. The rate exceeded 6% as recently as 2010.
Source: Wall Street Journal

Fact #2
Roughly 20% of people under age 65 with health insurance still reported having problems paying their medical bills over the last year, according to a new poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Source: New York Times

Fact #3
Today, about 2.5 billion people are registered to use at least one messaging app, according to advisory firm Activate. By 2018, the firm expects that number to be 3.6 billion, 90% of the world’s internet-enabled population.
Source: Wall Street Journal

Budgeting Apps Feel the Pinch

 

Provided by Thinkstock

Tools that let you track all of your financial accounts in one place, such as Mint.com, rely on a steady flow of data from banks, brokerages and credit card issuers to operate smoothly. Lately, that steady access hasn’t been a given. Mint experienced disruptions in its feed from Chase last fall because of heavy traffic on the bank’s Web site. Plus, Chase later notified some customers that they would have to log in to their Chase accounts and go through steps to ensure that desktop ap­plications such as Quicken would continue to sync data. About the same time, Mint users with Wells Fargo accounts dealt with service interruptions—possibly an inadvertent side effect of security updates.

Chase and Wells Fargo assert that software updates and clogged servers caused the blockages. Even so, banks may have other reasons to think twice about keeping an open line with aggregators. First, they’re competitors: Financial in­stitutions offer their own money-management tools. Chase Blueprint lets customers with certain credit cards set and monitor spending goals, and Wells Fargo’s My Money Map provides similar options. In late 2014, Mint launched a separate application, Mint Bills, which allows users to pay bills online from one portal—just as many customers can do with their bank’s online bill-pay feature.

Banks are also on edge about the security risks involved when customers provide account information to third parties. Some have posted disclaimers on their sites that customers could be on the hook for financial losses that result from sharing log-in information with other services. That might not hold up under federal law, says Lauren Saunders of the National Consumer Law Center. “You still have the right to contest unauthorized charges on your bank account.”

Whether a budgeting tool would be liable in the event of a data breach is an open question, and one that won’t be resolved until lawmakers create clear rules or an app is hacked and the courts decide. In 2015 through December 8, there were 66 data breaches in the banking, credit and financial sector, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.

Mint and similar sites haven’t suffered any known breaches (but in today’s hostile environment, no entity is infallible). Mint says that its encryption standards match those of a bank. If a crook were to log in to Mint’s budgeting tool with your credentials, he couldn’t see account numbers or make transactions, but he could move money with Mint’s bill-payment app.

Because consumers usually have financial accounts with a variety of institutions, banks aren’t likely to provide the big-picture value that applications such as Mint offer. And customers who are unhappy with how an institution is handling its relationships with third-party services can vote with their feet. “If there’s a backlash, banks will adjust,” says S&P Capital IQ analyst Scott Kessler.

Don’t expect the complex symbiotic relationship between banks and budget apps to end. “Banks rely heavily on these platforms to get new customers,” says Alex Matjanec, of MyBankTracker, a consumer site for bank information. For example, banks pay Mint to promote their credit cards to its users.

Written by Lisa Gerstner of Kiplinger

(Source: Kiplinger)

12 Tools and Apps to Get Your Finances on Track in 2016

money management tools and apps
Provided by Cheapism 

Have any financial resolutions for the new year? There are plenty of online tools and apps to help consumers meet their goals. Online money management tools usually access private financial information, such as banking and credit card transactions, so do some homework before signing up. Those listed here are highly rated and have been reviewed by reputable sources. Many are free, with an option to pay for a more feature-packed deluxe, pro, or premium version.

You Need a Budget.

You Need a Budget (YNAB for short) sells budgeting software (available for a one-time $60 charge) but also offers free tutorials and online classes. The website details the four rules that make up the YNAB Method, which is designed to help consumers start saving and stop living paycheck to paycheck.

Mint.

Mint is a free service that automatically tracks income and expenses from connected banks and credit cards. It aims to make budgeting and investing simple by putting everything in one place. Mint also includes a free credit score and lets users pay bills through the site. Keep in mind that paid competitors, such as YNAB or Quicken (owned by Intuit, which also owns Mint), may have a more complete set of features.

Personal Capital.

The beginning of the year is an ideal time to evaluate (or establish) an investment portfolio. Personal Capital connects to banking and credit accounts, then provides a free evaluation and breaks down the overall allocation of assets. The site clearly displays account fees, by percentage and per year, and assesses portfolios for risk. Personal Capital also offers advisors, but they come at a cost.

LastPass.

LastPass is not a personal finance app, but it could help prevent a financially disastrous situation. With data breaches continually in the news, it makes more sense than ever to have a unique password for each online account. LastPass generates strong passwords, stores them within a secure account, and auto-fills passwords so users don’t have to remember them all.

Credit Monitoring.

There’s no reason to pay for credit monitoring when there are no-cost options available. Sites such as Quizzle and Credit Sesame let consumers check their credit reports and monitor their credit scores for free. After signing up, users can receive alerts if new financial accounts are opened in their name, which can help protect against identity theft. Some credit card issuers also give cardholders free access to credit scores, but not credit reports.

Mobile Banking.

Many banks and credit unions now offer mobile apps to account holders. Many apps allow users to make credit card or bill payments, check account balances, and transfer money from a savings to a checking account. Other useful features to look for include mobile check depositing or interactive directions to nearby ATMs.

Automatic Saving and Investing.

Two apps make it simple to save or invest automatically. Acorns rounds up debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and transfers the difference into an investment account. There is a fee of $1 a month for accounts with less than $5,000 in assets and .25 percent for accounts with more than that. Digit transfers money into a savings account instead of an investment account. Rather than simply round up purchases, the service determines an amount to transfer based on an analysis of the user’s spending patterns and account balance.

All-in-One Card.

Consumers who use several rewards credit cards know that each card can offer different percentages of cash back or rewards depending on where it is used. All-in-one devices such as Wocket and Plastc (coming April 29) let shoppers maximize the returns onrewards credit cards without having to carry a wallet full of them. They store rewards credit card information and let consumers easily switch among their payment choices. One of the cheapest options is Coin, at $99 ($107 with shipping).

RetailMeNot.

A valuable resource for online and offline shopping, RetailMeNot comprises a coupon site and iOS and Android apps that lead users to coupon codes and discounts at thousands of online and bricks-and-mortar stores. The codes are rated and ranked by users to help identify the ones most likely to work.

Barcode Scanner.

With an app such as ShopSavvy, users can scan a barcode in store to check an item’s cost against the prices other retailers are posting. If a lower price is found, consumers can shop elsewhere or ask for a price match. Some stores price match Amazon, which has its own mobile app equipped with a barcode scanner.

Unbury.us.

Unbury.us is a debt-calculating tool. Users input their loans, current balances, minimum payments, and interest rates and choose a repayment method: avalanche (pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first) or snowball (pay off the one with the lowest principal first). The results show the change in remaining principal, principal paid, total interest paid, and monthly payments over time.

Retirement Planners.

There are a variety of financial planning tools aimed specifically at helping people prepare for retirement. Consider free calculators from the AARP and Financial Mentor, check and compare 401(k) fees at FeeX, and do a background search on financial advisors at a certification organization such as the Certified Financial Planner Board.

Written by Louis DeNicola of Cheapism

(Source: Cheapism)

Uber Teams with Airbus for On-Demand Helicopters

Uber teams with Airbus for on-demand helicopters
Provided by MarketWatch

MUNICH — Airbus Group SE will provide helicopters to Uber Technologies Inc. for its on-demand services, the European plane maker’s chief executive said Sunday.

“It’s a pilot project, we’ll see where it goes — but it’s pretty exciting,” Airbus Chief Executive Tom Enders said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal at the Digital Life Design conference in Munich, Germany.

Enders said he hoped the cost of ordering a helicopter via Uber’s app would fall over time. The project will launch in several weeks, he said.

Uber, which runs a smartphone app service that allows people to hail cars for trips, recently expanded its offerings to include other forms of transportation, including on-demand boats.

Written by Rebecca Blumenstein and Natalia Drozdiak of MarketWatch

(Source: MarketWatch)

It’s Not Just in Your Head, the Web is Slowing Down

© iStockphoto
© iStockphoto

It’s not your imagination, and it’s not because AT&T – and possibly others — is purposefully cutting speeds to unlimited data plan users. The real reason: Websites are growing in size, causing slower load times.

The average website is now 2.1 MB in size, compared to 1.5 MB two years ago, according to HTTP Archive, an Internet data measurement company. Multiple reasons can explain this increase in size.

Sites have been adding more content in an effort to drum up traffic, such as videos, engaging images, interactive plug-ins (comments and feeds) and other code and script-heavy features. Websites are becoming more and more technically advanced, and other sites have to keep adding features to stay competitive.

To keep up with the rapidly increasing number of users accessing sites on various platforms, developers are offering more versions of websites as well as apps to accommodate all devices, including smartphones, watches, tablets, and other gadgets. All of these versions require additional code, ultimately adding to the weight of a given website.

Then there are the advertisers who want to get the user’s attention by creating dramatic displays for their products that consume even more bandwidth.

Websites also want to know who is visiting their pages, both welcome and unwelcome visitors. New tools that track and analyze visitors have increased in popularity, as well as stronger encryption technology to add more security. These security measures and trackers require more code, again slowing load times.

Unfortunately for websites trying to keep up with the times, Google has just introduced a new ‘Slow to Load’ warning sign in mobile search results. Since mobile searches account for more than half of the total Google searches in 10 countries, Google wants to enhance user experience for those on their mobile platform.

Although the weight of a website isn’t all that contributes to slow loading, it’s a major factor. Other reasons include users overusing data, a poor connection, or a high level of traffic in the mobile network.

Google also changed its algorithm in April, so now ‘mobile friendly’ sites are ranked higher on search results, while those that fail to meet its criteria are ranked lower.

Although the internet is only slowing by a matter of seconds, it’s still slowing down. All the more reason for a user to become frustrated with a page that’s taking a couple extra seconds to load and go to a competitor’s site.

Written by Millie Dent of Fiscal Times

(Source: The Fiscal Times)

Five Ways Road-Tripping Families Can Save Money

With four kids between the ages of 1 and 12, Loralee Leavitt is a cost-savings ninja when she hits the road.

Leavitt, who hails from Kirkland, Washington, estimates that she has gone on more than 30 road trips with her growing family, logging over 60,000 miles, to places like Utah, Colorado, Arizona and California.

From packing their own food, to staying in state parks, to scouring for last-minute hotel deals, the family has made an art of saving money. Their piece de resistance: A trip to Montana’s Glacier National Park that did not cost more than $400 total.

“It is easy to spend more than you expect,” says Leavitt, author of “Road Tripping”. “But if you prepare it right, it can be a lot of fun, and very cheap.”

More Americans are planning road trips around the United States. In fact, 65 percent of those polled report they are more likely to take a road trip this summer than they were last summer, according to a recent survey by booking site Travelocity. And when you single out parents, a whopping 81 percent said they were more likely to hit the road with the kids this year.

Be careful, though. While a domestic road trip might appear like an affordable alternative to traveling abroad, costs can easily spiral out of control.

A recent study by travel site Expedia found that Americans expect to pay an average of $898 per person for a weeklong trip within their own country, hardly chump change.

To keep a lid on summer road-trip costs, we canvassed financial planners for their best tips, culled from personal experience. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Use apps to your advantage

© Brennan Linsley/AP Photo

Not that long ago, travelers squinted at printed maps and missed exits. These days, there is no excuse for not using smartphone apps.

Google Maps, for instance, will get you from Point A to Point B without getting lost and racking up unnecessary mileage. GasBuddy will locate the cheapest local stations where you can fill up the tank. Apps like RoadNinja and Roadtrippers can tell you about local amenities and help plan your route, and HotelTonight or Hotels.com can locate last-minute lodging discounts nearby.

2. Get campy

Ditch the hotels, and stay in campgrounds, says financial planner Therese Nicklas of Braintree, Massachusetts.

By camping in state parks with her family of four for around $10 a night, and cooking their own food, Nicklas estimates they save about $150 every single day.

You don’t have to pitch a tent every night. Consider an occasional splurge at a hotel with a pool, hot showers and free breakfasts.

Diehard money-savers might enjoy so-called “dispersed camping” permitted in many national and state forests, where you set up away from designated campgrounds. No amenities, but no fees, either.

Also consider an annual pass from the National Park Service, allowing you access to more than 2,000 sites nationwide for $80.

3. Hold money-saving competitions

© James W. Porter/CorbisAdviser

Niv Persaud of Atlanta has an innovative idea: Make budgeting a game with your kids instead of a chore. “For each dollar they save, on coupons, special deals, or cheap gas, they earn a star,” Persaud says. “The one with the most stars at the end of the trip gets to pick the location for the next family vacation.”

4. Forget flights and car rentals

Whatever savings you realize by staying domestic could be wiped out by airline bookings and car- or RV-rental fees. So do what David MacLeod did, and schlep to your destination in your own car, even if it’s a long distance away. The planner from Fullerton, California recently took his family all the way from southern California to Montana in their trusty Honda Odyssey, saving $1,000 in the process.

5. Bring your own food

© Jack Smith/AP Photo

The silent killer of many family travel budgets: Eating out. Nip that in the bud with a cooler or two stuffed to the brim with snacks and quick meals.

“A simple gallon of milk, box of cereal, yogurts and fresh fruit can provide a great breakfast at 1/4 of the cost of eating out,” says Janice Cackowski, a planner in Independence, Ohio. She also advises eating out only at lunch, when restaurant prices tend to be much lower.

Above all, don’t be scared off by the idea of being in a car for so many hours with your kids. Magic occurs when families actually spend time with each other. “Something wonderful happens: You pay attention to each other,” says Leavitt.

Written by Chris Taylor of Reuters

(Source: Reuters)