Why Is It So Hard To Control Our Appetites? A Doctor’s Struggles With Giving Up Sugar

We’ve become convinced that if we can eat more healthily, we will be morally better people. But where does this idea come from? Near the end of the hellish first year of the coronavirus pandemic, I was possessed by the desire to eliminate sugar – all refined sugar – from my diet. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best time to add a new challenge to my life. My wife and I had been struggling to remote-school three young kids with no childcare. My elderly parents lived out of state and seemed to need a surprising number of reminders that pandemic restrictions were not lifted for Diwali parties or new Bollywood movie releases.

Like many people in those early days, we were looking around for masks and trying to make sense of shifting government guidelines about when to wear them. In addition, as a doctor, I was seeing patients in clinic at a time dominated by medical uncertainty, when personal protective equipment was scarce, and my hospital, facing staff shortages, was providing training videos and “how-to” tip sheets to specialists like me who hadn’t practised in an emergency room for years, in case we were needed as backup.

It would have been enough to focus on avoiding the virus and managing all this without putting more on my plate. But cutting processed sugar seemed like an opportunity to reassert some measure of order to the daily scrum, or at least to the body that entered the fray each day.

My former physique was behind me and the stress of clinical practice during the pandemic was taking its toll. Maybe it was all the pandemic death in the air, but I started feeling like I was what the narrator in Arundhati Roy’s novel The God of Small Things calls “Not old. Not young. But a viable die-able age.” Maybe doing away with sugar could slow things down? More tantalisingly, maybe it could even take me back to a fresher time, the days in college when I had actually gone sugar-free for a while.

My friends offered condolences on what they called my soon-to-be joyless lifestyle. But I was set, compelled by literature about the deleterious, even toxin-like effects of added sugar. I had my doubts about being able to pull something like this off again, though, so I decided – as doctors often do – to tackle the problem by studying it.

That year, in what was arguably an act of masochism, I began the coursework required to sit for a medical-board exam on dietetics, metabolism and appetite. By earning another qualification, I thought, I would credential my way to realising my goal. After shifts at work, during breaks or once the kids were asleep, I would attend virtual lectures and pore over board-review books in a quest to understand the body’s metabolism.

I immersed myself in the physiology of exercise, the thermodynamics of nutrition, and the neuroendocrine regulation of appetite. But this knowledge didn’t break my pandemic eating habits. Cupcakes and ice cream and cookies didn’t call to me any less. And big food corporations were winning the bet that Lay’s potato chips first made back in the 1960s with its “Betcha can’t just eat one” ad campaign. So, I found myself reaching for Double Stuf Oreos while flipping through my medical textbooks and scarfing chocolate bars even as I correctly answered my practice-exam questions.

My body refused to be disciplined by my intellectual mastery of its operations. I passed the board examination, but my appetite for sugar didn’t change. I was left with more questions than I had when I started. Was sugar really a problem? Or had I internalised hangups about desire from the culture at large? Why did my soul feel so inexplicably sick – so unsatisfied – with the outcome of my first effort to quit that I tried it all again? And what does my “success” – I’ve been sugar-free for a year now – even mean?

I turned to Plato – a man occupied by appetite – for some answers. In his body map of the soul, the stomach was the dwelling place of desire. Reason, of course, resided in the head, while courage rested in the chest. In this tripartite architecture, it was up to reason – with the help of courage – to subjugate appetite and elevate the individual. The thinking went that if we could just rule our stomachs, we might be able to hold our heads up high and our chests out wide. For the Greeks, the right moral posture was key to the good life, or eudaimonia.

Early medical science in the west borrowed heavily from Plato, beginning with Aristotle, who practiced and taught medicine throughout his life. Aristotle agreed that eudaimonia could be realized by moderating the visceral and sensual appetites. He saw the heart as the vessel of intelligence, and arguably the most virtuous of organs. In his hypothesis, the heart occupied – physically and figuratively – a central place in the body, controlling other organs. The brain and lungs played supporting roles, merely cooling and cushioning the heart. The heart was, for Aristotle, where reason flowed.

Five hundred years later, the Greek anatomist and surgeon Galen challenged the centrality of the heart but still adhered closely to Plato’s triadic notion of the soul. Galen’s treatises, foundational to the development of modern medicine, are suffused with Platonic assumptions, and he painstakingly tried to stitch the divided parts of the soul – the rational, the spirited and the appetitive – on to specific organs in the human body.

In a striking display of topographical certitude, Galen writes in On the Doctrines of Hippocrates and Plato: “I do claim to have proofs that the forms of the soul are more than one, that they are located in three different places … and further, that one of these parts [rational] is situated in the brain, one [spirited] in the heart, and one [appetitive] in the liver. These facts can be demonstrated scientifically.”

The Harvard classicist Mark Schiefsky writes that, in Galenic physiology, equilibrium is understood “as a balance of strength between the three parts; the best state is when reason is in charge, the spirited part is strong and obedient, and the appetitive part is weak”.

Should we be sceptical of this aspiration to tame appetite? Sigmund Freud doubted whether desire could ever be so readily controlled. In tossing Plato’s map aside, Freud erased the “soul” and instead sketched a three-part atlas of the “self” and its ratio of desires and repressions – endlessly fractured, negotiating between order (superego), consciousness (ego) and appetite (id). For Freud, appetites could not be overcome but only better managed. Perfect harmony and permanent equilibrium were nowhere in sight. Rather, in Freud’s idea of the self, anxiety for order loomed above the ego, with desire buried beneath it. Appetite was the subterranean tether that consciousness could never escape, but only sublimate.

There was something talismanic about my focus on sugar. So often, liberty is conceived of as the ability to say yes to things. To make affirmative choices: to open this door or that window. But there is also a flipside to that freedom: the power to say no. To refuse. Increasingly during the pandemic, I felt like I was powerless in the face of my cravings. If there was a knock at the door of appetite, a tap on the window of impulse, I had to answer it. And this felt shameful. Why couldn’t I say no? And why was realizing this so painful?

I don’t pretend to anything approaching total understanding of my motivations. But there were a few loosely detected currents worth illuminating here. For one thing, not being able to say no to sugar sometimes felt like a form of bondage to the demands of the body, the very body that I was eager to assert power over, particularly during a global health crisis that was damaging bodies everywhere.

If I couldn’t control this plague, could I not at the very least control myself? I wonder now if this insistence on regulating appetite was my sublimated response to the coronavirus’s immense death toll – a way of denying mortality in the midst of its excess. In this respect, perhaps there was not as much separating me from other kinds of pandemic deniers as I would like to believe. Were we all just coping with the inexorability of our decay – laid painfully bare by Covid-19 – in different ways?

Maybe. But there was something beyond the exigencies of the pandemic on my mind as well. The inability to resist sugar cravings – to break the habit – seemed like a victory of the past over the present. It felt like the triumph of the mere memory of pleasure over real satisfaction in the moment. Saying no to that memory – the neurological underpinning of craving – became important, because it felt like the only way to say yes to imagination. “I am free only to the extent that I can disengage myself,” the philosopher Simone Weil wrote.

Detachment from an indulgence, however small, felt like a way to stop being beholden to an old storehouse of desires (and aversions and beliefs). Developing the ability to refuse to reach for the cookie was also a way to break free from the impulse to reach for patterns of the past, from the compulsion of replicating yesterday at the expense of tomorrow. It’s the trick of habit to convince us that we are reaching forward, even as we are stepping back. Or, as the British scholar of asceticism Gavin Flood elegantly summarizes: “The less we are able to refuse, the more automated we become.”

If Freud dismantled the soul, modern medicine mechanized what he left of the self. But where Freud’s psychoanalytic theory allowed for a pinch of poetry, materialist models hold comparatively dry sway today. A look at the biomedical literature on appetite reveals a tortuous mix of neural circuits and endocrine pathways. What’s clear is that if there was a moral aspect of appetite for ancient philosophers and physicians, it’s not readily discernible in the language of contemporary scientific literature.

There are upsides to this development. In the modern era, medicine’s tradition-bound framing of appetite as a moral problem has been demoralizing for patients, who often felt – and still feel – objectified, policed and discriminated against by institutions that sermonize about it. The stigmatisation of appetite remains pervasive in the culture, in and out of medicine. The loss of at least an explicit moral charge in the scientific literature is a welcome shift.

In the century or so since Freud’s conjectures, appetite has been atomised by medicine into a problem of eating, or more specifically, of fighting the body’s tendency toward “disordered” eating. In the pursuit of better and longer lives, maladies of appetite – of eating too much, too little, or not the right kinds of food – have been studied and treated with varying degrees of success. The empirical study of digestion and appetite in the laboratory moved hunger from the moral arena into a biochemical one. Still, in both experimental physiology and clinical medicine, the ancient impulse to locate the appetite persisted: was it in the body or in the mind? Lines were drawn – and defended – between diseases of the stomach and diseases of the psyche.

What was at stake in the difference? Pinning down the appetite – claiming it belonged to the gut or the brain – was arguably the first in a series of steps leading to its regulation. Understood this way, medicine’s mission to uncover the mechanisms of appetite, despite the erasure of the soul from scientific databases, cannot escape Plato’s legacy. Whether we’re trying to improve or curtail appetite, we seem unable to resist the desire to control it.

It would have been different – I wouldn’t have felt the need to go all-or-nothing with sugar – if I could have simply walked away after a few bites. But increasingly during the pandemic, I wouldn’t stop even after I was full. What started off as pleasure would morph into painful excess. Sure, there’s pleasure in abundance, in overdoing a thing. But I found myself barrelling past that threshold.

While studying for the board exam in my first, failed attempt at going sugar-free, I was also using various apps and devices to keep track of my body. I had long used a smart watch to log my steps and workouts. I was also using a calorie-tracking app, studiously punching in numbers for every meal and scheming how much I could eat and still remain under the calorie limit. But all that logging and calculating felt joyless and anxiety-ridden. Sometimes, at a meal, in the middle of tallying up numbers like an accountant, I’d explain to impatient friends and family that “I’m just entering my data”. It was a lot of data.

I grew weary of all the inputting, and so I switched to an app with more of a behavioural focus. This app still had me tracking calories, but also came with recipes, a personal coach and “psychology-based” courses, as part of what the company calls your “journey”. The courses were a welcome shift from the myopic focus of calorie counting, and chatting with a coach added an opportunity to get some clarity about my goals.

The coach would share chipper motivational advice and provide tips to overcome obstacles. I diligently went through the app’s courses, answered its behavioural questions and followed its nudges. There were a few weeks where I was able to go sugar-free, but after a couple of months, the coaching advice seemed more and more generic, and the courses too simplistic when I was already spending so much time studying for my upcoming exam. I lost interest and reverted to simply recording calories.

I eventually passed that exam without much to show for it in terms of changes to my nutritional habits. I needed something different, a way to hold myself accountable and mean it. I stumbled upon another app that described itself as being “on a mission to disrupt diet culture and make our relationship with food, nutrition – and ourselves – healthier for good”. It promised live coaching calls with a certified nutritionist, shared recipes, and even offered to tailor my coaching with a vegetarian dietician. It did not ask you to track calories or enter food items from a database. All it wanted was for you to send pictures … of your food. It felt radically different than tapping numbers into a screen: someone else would see this.

The app’s slogan was “100% accountability and “0% judgment”. But, to be clear, it was the judgment that I came for. The simple fact that my nutritionist wouldn’t just know but also actually see what I was eating was the killer feature. I answered a questionnaire about my dietary habits and goals. I made it clear that I wanted to go sugar-free, and repeated as much to my nutritionist during a preliminary call.

She didn’t exactly endorse this goal, but rather acknowledged it as something that was important to me and gently marked it as a topic we would come back to, adding that she hoped I would get to the point where a more balanced approach would suffice. I told her we’d see. I made a promise to take a photo of every meal, good or bad. She kindly reminded me there are not “good” and “bad” foods, and we were on our way.

It’s been a year since I downloaded the app. Every day since then, I have taken a photo of every morsel of food I’ve eaten, whether it’s a handful of pistachios, a salad or a veggie burger. In every one of those pics, every day, I have been sugar-free. I’ve eaten more vegetables and greens and fruits than I’ve probably ever eaten in my life. My plates look balanced (I make sure of it). I take care to snap pictures that look nice for my nutritionist. Though she never judges me negatively, I look forward to the raising-hands emoji and approving words she sends if she sees a salad with asparagus and garlic balsamic drizzle and avocado up front.

Like an influencer on Instagram, I’ll take another shot if the lighting isn’t quite right, or if the framing is off. It’s been satisfying to upload a cache of sugar-free images, all beautifully arranged on the app’s user interface. Even more satisfying has been avoiding feeling like the guy who said he’d go sugar-free only to end up sending in pictures of donuts and cookies. Compared to calorie logs and food diaries, the prospect of someone else seeing photos of what I’m eating has made the potential pain of falling short feel more proximate than the pleasure of eating sweets. So I just stopped eating sugar. And it’s still working. Was this all it took?

Perhaps the persistent effort to control appetite, replicated across many cultures and times, reveals just how vigorously it resists that very control. The seemingly endless proliferation of constraints on appetite – from the disciplinary to the pharmacological – underscores its untamable quality. And yet the training of appetite – both as physiological fact and, more abstractly, as desire – can function as an ascetic practice. In this paradigm, as religion scholars such as Flood argue, the negation of desire amplifies the subjectivity of the individual.

Depriving the body paradoxically accentuates the conscious subject, because hunger unsatiated allows the pangs of the self to be felt more acutely, and renders being more vivid. In other words, appetite unfulfilled creates the conditions for expanding self-awareness. This is seen in the Bhagavad Gita in the figure of the ascetic, one who has renounced the pull of appetite and “attains extinction in the absolute” – in seeming contradiction, gaining infinity through loss.

If philosophy is after theoretical victories, science aims more concretely to hack, or at least short-circuit, a physiological truth. Take, for example, gastric bypass surgery, an operation that cuts the stomach into two parts (leaving one functional thumb-size pouch alongside a larger remnant) and radically reconstructs separate intestinal systems for each segment to restrict the amount of food that can be eaten. By shrinking the stomach to fool the mind into feeling satisfied with less, this surgery builds on growing recognition that the long-embraced brain-gut divide is far more porous than previously thought.

Recipients of the surgery generally do well in the short term, with reduced appetite, marked weight loss, better control of diabetes and improved health markers. But the percentage of patients who “fail” in the long-term after bariatric surgery (ie achieve less than half of excess weight loss) is reportedly as high as 35%. During that first post-op year, studies suggest, an influx of appetite-reducing intestinal hormones decreases patients’ urge to eat. Crucially, however, there are questions about the duration of those salutary hormonal changes and their effectiveness in controlling appetite as post-surgical days add up.

For a significant proportion of patients, even surgically shrinking the stomach – the historical seat of hunger – doesn’t offer complete freedom from unchecked appetite. This fact is not entirely surprising, given what is now known about the multiple neuroendocrine nodes that govern appetite, but it poses a conundrum for medical science: can appetite, as Freud asked in his own way, ever be fully controlled? And if not, is it a wonder that patients turn back to more personal strategies to pursue the work that prescriptions and sutures leave undone?

I can’t say I fully understand why teaming up with a nutritionist on an app worked so well, so fast. Would sharing pics of my food with friends and family in a group chat or a Facebook page have been as effective? Probably not. The issue seemed to be one of epistemology. My friends and family wouldn’t have been as suitable an audience, since they don’t just know me as I am, but also as I was. That knowledge of what’s bygone necessarily shapes the stories we can tell and believe about one another.

But with my nutritionist reviewing pictures of my meals from god knows what timezone, the app created an epistemological gap into which both of us could step. It was within this gap that my future self – the self I aspired to be, still unrealised and therefore unknown – could intercede in the present with slightly less inertia from the past. The app provided an illusion that daily life could not, offering a space for the dormant commitments of the future to come to fruition in the present. A space for imagination to overcome memory.

As my sugar-free streak extended, I began to wonder about the future of this illusion. Was it a rare example of tech living up to its glitteringly naive promise of liberation? Or was this an instance of the digital panopticon yet again determining our ability to imagine ourselves, revealing just how far-reaching its gaze is? And, more practically, I began thinking about how long I needed to keep eating this way. The cravings that had knocked so loudly at my door at the start of the pandemic now softly shuffled from leg to leg right outside it. I could still hear their shoes creaking at the threshold, but they couldn’t force their way in anymore. Things seemed quiet, maybe a little too quiet.

Whereas the Greeks soughtto regulate appetite in pursuit of the good life, perhaps what is sought after today is a facsimile of it: a corporatised eudaimonia-lite, where the goal isn’t virtue but efficiency; not equanimity, but productivity. In this view, it’s not a better way to live we’re seeking, just a less painful way to work and die – all while “looking good”. A more charitable and poetic possibility is that the constraint of appetite continues to appeal because it provides the same sense of structure to selfhood that metre does to a poem: a limit against which to construct narrative unity of the psyche.

As fascinating as it is to think about this question, even more essential ones – about the links between appetite, scarcity and loss – loom in the writings of Toni Morrison, a writer who provides a necessary counterbalance to the obsession with appetite restriction in societies glutted with luxury. In particular, I’m thinking of Beloved, which tells the story of human beings struggling for survival and wholeness in the face of slavery’s horrors. In portraying this struggle, Morrison uses the language of food and appetite to unfurl narratives saturated with the metaphysics of hunger: the difficulty of sating the self; the confusion between hunger, history and hurt.

I was struck by this unexpected resonance while rereading the book in the middle of my bid to quit sugar. Morrison’s characters think about what it would mean to satisfy what the narrator calls their “original hunger” – and whether doing so is even possible. They imagine getting to a place “beyond appetite”, but are also compelled by history to contemplate the price of doing so.

In my reading of the book, the denial of hunger risks becoming a costly exercise in self-abnegation – a severing of self from history, of self from self – whose consequences Plato doesn’t seem to fully consider, but which Morrison is deeply wary of. I think Morrison is, like Freud, skeptical of the metaphysicians who would have us render hunger subordinate. But where Freud is an anti-idealist, Morrison appears willing to reach for hunger, perilous though it may be. Straddling both the risk of self-destruction posed by contact with the original hunger, and the anguish of self-denial created by leaving it unrecognised, Morrison casts her faith in the human ability to embrace the beautiful, blood-hued predicament of incarnation.

About 10 months into my sugar-free life, a scent from the pantry hit me like it hadn’t for a while. My wife had just baked chocolate-chip cookies for our kids as a treat. By then, I was unfazed by sweets around the house. They might as well have been made of stone. But, at the end of a long day, I found myself unexpectedly at the pantry door. Minutes passed. After a while, I opened the plastic container and inhaled. My mouth began to water. I could almost taste the cookies.

I remembered the delightful way the chocolate melted at the back of the tongue. I remembered the satisfaction of soaking a warm cookie in milk. A part of my brain was humming, eager to replicate the memory of sugar, butter and dough on the cortex. Another part was already dreading the pain of not being able to stop. I picked up the cookie and, having built nearly a year’s worth of muscle memory, simultaneously opened the app on my phone. I centred the cookie in the glowing frame and was about to press send when, looking at the screen, it hit me: what would my nutritionist think?

As of this writing, my streak remains unbroken, despite a few close calls. In many ways the story seems to be going the way I intended: I am eating well balanced, sugar-free meals and haven’t counted a calorie in more than a year. The cravings that were troubling me aren’t gone, but the future version of me – the unsweetened aspirant – grows closer with each picture I snap. I feel the spiritual and physical acuity that comes with ascetic practice.

But I also feel some qualms about neglecting Morrison’s original hunger, with all its attendant risks and possibilities. I think about how I have sacrificed memory at the altar of imagination, recognising the chance that imagination ends up being overrated and memory proves to be the last storehouse of joy. But then I remind myself that visions like Morrison’s may be too large, too untimely for us to inhabit. They come from a place we haven’t arrived at. At least not yet.

By

Source: Why is it so hard to control our appetites? A doctor’s struggles with giving up sugar | Health & wellbeing | The Guardian

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The Future Of Sales And The Pervasiveness Of Technology

I was recently a guest speaker at the Sales Leadership Conference organized by Dr. Karen Peesker, Co-Founder of the Sales Leadership Institute, a department at the Toronto Metropolitan University (formally Ryerson University) in Toronto, Canada. The conference was hosted by IT World Canada, Microsoft, DHL, Rogers and other community leaders. The conference goals were to bring university professors, students, industry leaders, and academicians to share their learning programs, identify gaps and requirements to advance the sales profession and most importantly, tackle a vision for the future of sales.

The strongest theme of the conference was the business imperative for advancing digital literacy, data literacy and ensuring that technology was firmly embedded in all sales learning programs. Digital literacy is best defined as an individual’s ability to find, evaluate, and clearly communicate information and knowledge through using diverse digital platforms. It is best evaluated by an individual’s interaction skills with technology and includes: grammar, composition, typing skills and the ability to produce text, images, audio and designs using technology.

This point was acutely reinforced by Fawn Annan, the CEO of IT World Canada (ITWC), with her high impact video conference address, where she identified how pervasive technology is in shifting the global sales landscape. Her panoramic and rich perspectives highlighting how diverse technologies – AI, analytics, IoT, driverless cars – are collectively impacting the world of a sales professional at work, and in society.

Annan quoted Gartner Group’s research stating that “a seller’s decision making is now based more on data, analytics and AI, versus intuition and experience” – prior stable hallmarks of a sales professional. This means that sales professionals will need far more digital literacy and data literacy training to be able to function in a far more data centric world. Other key takeaways from this video included:

1.) Hyper automation is advancing a buyer’s sales journey, and that a seller only has 26 moments to engage and influence a buyer in his /her purchasing journey. In other words, finding the right moments is even more important in following the customer data crumbs.

2.) Consumers check their cell phones on average 47 times/day and these frequent check-in’s, according to Google, are referred to as micro-moments. Hence the increased value of AI driven advertising as well the increasing intrusion consumers feel in invading their privacy.

3.) Over 76% of consumers transact and ship on mobile devices, and this number is increasing year-over-year. Hence, sales professionals’ primary interaction devices must be mobile and portable.4.) Sales applications exist throughout the sales buyer’s journey and increasingly, they are AI applications. According to McKinsey, the fastest growing companies invest more in AI sales digital tools than slower growth companies. A major contributor of sales performance success is having a robust sales software infrastructure. Hence, companies must accelerate their investments in sales intelligence software toolkits for advancing competitive advantage.

5.) Annan profiled two companies in her video address: SalesChoice and RingCentral. SalesChoice’s focus is on accelerating the growth of sales professionals and is a comprehensive AI platform well known for its proven sales use cases. Solutions include:

· Predictive Opportunity Scoring (focusing on the best deals with highest probability of a win outcome),

· Predictive Sales Forecasting that are securing prediction levels of up to 95% accuracy,

· Monitoring your data to ensure the AI predictions are on solid foundations,

· Relationship intelligence, with their new alliance partner, IntroHive, to bring even more win or loss signals to the attention of sales professionals. Who would not want to buy software that can predict your future outcomes at the top of your funnel and predict a win or a loss on every sales deal outcome, and identify the depth and breadth of your customer relationships across your enterprise?

· Mood and Health Intelligence: SalesChoice is active in innovation research with the Ontario Center of Innovation (AVIN program) and Purolator, propagating the importance of health in advancing employee productivity, and reducing attrition. Did you know that according to Payscale, sales account management was ranked as the second most stressful job, with 73% of respondents rating the role as “highly stressful.” Salespeople are under a lot of pressure to meet quota, convert quickly, and keep approval rankings high.

So increasing health approaches are critical to ensure sales talent don’t burn out or give up. Estimates of annual turnover among U.S. salespeople run as high as 27%—twice the rate in the overall labor force. In many industries, the average tenure of a sales professionals is less than two years. Given that the costs to recruit a sales professional is 20% and the time it takes to ramp up a sales professional is around 9 months, you can see how expensive it is to not retain your sales talent.

AI can act like a crystal ball. With good data, the mathematical genius in an AI algorithm and computational power is like the holy grail to guide sales professionals to greater deal outcome success and hopefully to happier behaviors and positive win outcomes as well.

The second company profiled was Ring Central, where Annan highlighted their collaboration and call center solutions, using AI methods to optimize building more productive customer interactions. Leaders like Sheevaun Thatcher, are advancing sales modernization programs at Ring Central, integrated diverse disciplines from: Adult Learning, Interactive Design, Strategic Planning, Collaborative Leadership, Diversity and Inclusiveness and always connecting the dots seamlessly. If there is a leader to watch advancing the field of sales and learning enablement, it is Sheevaun Thatcher.

Annan consistently highlighted that having advanced AI solutions can make a major difference to your digital conversion success, and reinforced that the old tools of looking in the rear view mirror are simply yesterday’s approaches. Due to the rapid speed of our world’s changing footprint, having smarter and forward looking (predictive AI analytics) toolkits is the only way that companies can grow faster, and more importantly, survive.

Increased AI Sales Toolkits Knowledge and Competency is Key.

Educating sales professionals to be ready for a smarter AI focused workplace will require skills, knowledge and proficiency in using modernized toolkits. So sales training must offer hands-on and practical skills development in universities to hit the ground running and bring value to a company immediately upon hiring.

Companies that use AI for sales in pre-sales have seen a 50% boost in leads, a 60-70% reduction in call time, and a 40-60% cost reduction. Numerous toolkits are in the market identifying the ideal buyer prospect and even knowing the propensity (density) of a buyer’s interest in your solution. Knowing where you customer is in their buyer journey is an inflection point for engaging in a micro-moment. Leading solutions advancing leads using AI are profiled in this blog.

In addition to pre-sales, other AI approaches can be used in opportunity scoring, predictive forecasting, and even mood / health indicator correlated to win rates. These are all areas that SalesChoice, a former ITWC Digital Transformation Award recipient, has been pioneering in.

According to the 2021 Buyer Experience Study, 80% of SaaS buyers report the buying process has too many steps and results in frustration for both the buyers and sellers. Hence, what this means for developing sales training programs is that skills not relevant to technology will need to be balanced with those that are. For example, empathy and two-way listening is key. Strong sales professionals understand that a buyer comes to solve a specific problem and not to buy your product. Understanding your buyer’s need is key in order to find a path for resolving it rapidly and reducing buyer and seller friction.

Research has shown that identifying the needs of your buyer can shorten sales cycle by as much as 65%. Customers (buyers) are coming into sales cycles far more informed from online sources. Hence, sales professionals need to learn more consultation skills to unravel the customer’s needs using relevant problem solving skills, enabled with as much prior information on the buyer as the buyer has on the seller.

Increase Training on Collaboration and Selling Virtually

With continued reliance on working virtually, the sales professionals will need to use a variety of online sales toolkits, ranging from a leading CRM (HubSpot, Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, etc.,), calendar management system, and collaboration system (like Zoom, or Microsoft Teams) etc. Expertise for effective collaboration will need to include skills in emotional intelligence, written skills, video presence (posture, smiling vs frowning), and voice skills (how you sound impacts how people want to listen). Other key skills like relationship development are increasingly valued in our network economy as building trust online must be mastered in seconds to capture a conversion in a micro-moment exchange.

Increase Digital Literacy Skills

There are many skills in digital literacy – from being able to use software, operate a digital device, to the ability to manage complex cognitive, social, emotional and motor skills to function effectively in digital high-tech environments. Key areas in digital literacy for a sales professional will need to include: the ability to understand reading instructions in digital environments, create or analyze simple to complex graphical displays in user interfaces, use diverse visualization methods, extract knowledge from non-linear, hypertextual navigation, and ascertain the quality and the validity of the information that is being presented.

Increase Data Science and AI Skills

In our data rich world, it is imperative for sales professionals to develop stronger data literacy skills. Data literacy skills include the ability of a sales professional to identify, understand, operate on, and use data effectively. Gartner Group defines data literacy as “the ability to read, write and communicate data in context, including an understanding of data sources and constructs, analytical methods and techniques applied, and the ability to describe the use case, application and resulting value.

Further, data literacy is an underlying component of digital dexterity — an employee’s ability and desire to use existing and emerging technology to drive better business outcomes.” Gartner Group is predicting that by 2023, data literacy will become essential in driving business value, demonstrated by its formal inclusion in over 80% of data and analytics strategies and change management programs.

However, traditionally sales professionals possess stronger skills in relationship building, listening and understanding people’s emotional states. A recent survey found that out of over 7M sales professionals on Linkedin, only 0.4% indicated they had studied math. This mirrors my experience as well leading sales teams or building software for sales professionals. Data literacy is a major gap in sales and to bridge this gap, companies will need to invest in training sales professionals in math, statistics and AI general concepts. This also will shift the hiring profile as increasing digital literacy and data skills are imperative to lead in the changing data rich world.

Conclusion

The Sales Leadership Institute and the leadership of Dr. Karen Peesker is an excellent initiative that requires government and industry support, as close to 5% of the North American labour population is comprised of sales professionals. Sales is an important profession focused on selling a company’s products or services, and also one that manages the customer’s relationship from an account management perspective.

Skill development in digital literacy, data literacy, relationship intelligence, and not losing sight of the softer skills (communication, written and oral, and listening) are all critical to advance the sales profession and be prepared to compete in a world that, as Annan shared in her video address, is increasingly technology centric.

SalesChoice, an AI SaaS company focused on Ending Revenue Uncertainty and brining more Humanity to Sales to avoid attention deficit disorder using AI and Cognitive Sciences. A former Accenture, Xerox and Citicorp executive, she bridges governance, strategy and operations in her AI initiatives. She is also a board advisor of the Forbes School of Business and Technology, and the AI Forum. She is passionate about modernizing innovation with disruptive technologies (SaaS/Cloud, Smart Apps, AI, IoT, Robots and Cobots), with 14 books in the market, with The AI Dilemma just released. Follow her on Linked In or on Twitter or her Website. You can also access her at The AI Directory.

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Source: The Future Of Sales And The Pervasiveness Of Technology

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How Corporate Intelligence Teams Help Businesses Manage Risk

The word “intelligence” is loaded: While some confuse it with corporate espionage, today nearly every major company has an intelligence function or is building one. Prior to Covid-19, many corporate intelligence teams largely focused on security, but the pandemic has demonstrated the broader value of intelligence.

In a world of contradictory and misleading information, smart business leaders use intelligence to see around corners, mitigate risk, provide insight, and shape their decision-making. The authors offer an overview of corporate intelligence functions and provide advice on how to structure these internal teams.

In January 2020, a small team at the global financial services technology company Fiserv began closely watching early warning signs of a new disease outbreak in the regional capital of Wuhan, China. The team triangulated reliable media sources and applied their best analytical judgment based on comparable early indicators from historic outbreaks, such as SARS.

Prescient analysis revealed a potentially major disease was in the offing. The team recommended against executive travel even before the virus had been detected in the U.S., earlier than most companies or governments. Scenario assessments of the potential human and economic impact led the company to invest in protective equipment for personnel early on and mitigate risks by swiftly transitioning to remote work.

Why did Fiserv correctly anticipate looming risk while others languished behind the news cycle? Because it had a dedicated and trusted geo-political analysis team, which practices intelligence work, scanning the horizon and keeping senior leadership informed of growing risk and consequent business implications.

In a world of contradictory and misleading information, this kind of intelligence provides situational awareness of cyber threats, security risks, political instability, or other trouble brewing. Smart business leaders consciously use intelligence to shape their decisions.

The word “intelligence” is a loaded one. Some confuse it with corporate espionage, as described in Barry Meier’s Spooked, which portrays private-sector intelligence practitioners as dangerous renegades. Companies can cross the line. Among other egregious examples, an eBay team targeted and harassed bloggers and Credit Suisse used private investigators to surveil employees. These are the bad news exceptions.

Every day, private-sector intelligence professionals legally and ethically steer companies away from trouble and towards opportunity and decisiveness. Organizations, such as the Association of International Risk Intelligence Professionals, are establishing standards and codes of conduct, and academic institutions, such as Mercyhurst University, are producing a new generation of private-sector focused intelligence professionals.

Companies invest in security and intelligence because it helps the bottom line. According to Lewis Sage-Passant, a doctoral researcher at Loughborough University studying private sector intelligence, these functions are now “ubiquitous”: Virtually every major company either has a security intelligence capacity or is building one.

Seeing Around Corners

The best intelligence functions help leaders understand what is happening and what is likely to happen next. Erica Brescia, who until recently served as chief operating officer at GitHub, described the value of their intelligence team during the Covid-19 pandemic: “Our team helped us to identify threats and communicate effectively with multiple audiences throughout the company and across national and cultural boundaries to keep our employees safe and the business running.”

Likewise, Microsoft Global Intelligence Program Manager Liz Maloney told us: “Intelligence is the first step in understanding your risk…Our mission is to enable decision makers to mitigate risk and to respond to residual risk that we can’t avoid.”

A survey of 94 private-sector intelligence professionals revealed that their positions were often created in response to a “threat or crisis.” In the aftermath of terror attacks, cyber assaults, disinformation campaigns, and sudden political shifts, companies belatedly realized that a small investment in situational awareness is better than costly late reaction to unanticipated problems.

In a stark example, a fatal 2013 terror attack on a BP/Statoil/Sonatrach joint venture in In Amenas, Algeria, led both BP and Statoil to significantly enhance their intelligence capabilities to better identify hidden threats.

Mitigating Risk, Providing Insight

Intelligence can create a competitive advantage by enabling operations where others fear to tread. In high threat environments, strong intelligence enables companies to efficiently target security resources on the most relevant risks.

When entering new markets, intelligence teams help executives avoid becoming entangled with dodgy partners or overspending on security while closing the deal. “Information is king,” an aviation security intelligence professional told us. “You don’t need all the armed guards if you have good intelligence.”

The value of private-sector intelligence, according to Maloney, is “giving the business confidence and avoiding overreactions.” For example, after Microsoft executives saw alarming external reporting about security dangers in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, Microsoft’s in-house intelligence team provided a nuanced assessment, specific to the company’s footprint, that gave the C-suite the confidence to continue operating safely.

Offering Much More than Security

Prior to Covid-19, many corporate intelligence teams largely focused on security, but the pandemic has shown the broader value of intelligence. Diana Dragon, head of global insights at Standard Industries, noted: “The same skills used to assess security risks can be used in identifying trends and opportunities.” According to the aviation security intelligence professional we spoke to, prior to Covid-19, his team was known as “the security guys.” Now they provide widespread strategic intelligence.

Intelligence analysis can simply relay facts to protect people and assets (baseline level of the pyramid below) but is most valuable when used for strategic, proactive decision-making support (top level). At Fiserv, the geopolitical analysis team, which sits outside of security, already had a broad remit and provided critical intelligence analysis early on that prepared the company for the impending Covid-19 pandemic.

Similarly, teams at Microsoft and GitHub tapped into the top-level potential, analyzing security or geopolitical trends to support strategic business decision making.

Managing Intelligence Better

Intelligence roles are often buried deep in an organization, scattered across corporate functions, or obscured under opaque job titles. Surveys reveal intelligence roles popping up in 20 different business units.

This approach often makes intelligence employees invisible to senior leaders who would benefit from their skills, experience, and networks. “Not having direct contact with decision makers significantly degrades the quality of the service,” says Ryan Long, co-founder and co-host of the Business of Intelligence podcast, “and will likely cause the practitioner to miss mark altogether.”

There is no one-size-fits-all answer for structuring intelligence teams, but specific characteristics lead to success. First, direct connectivity to decision makers is critical. As explained by Brescia in her time at GitHub, “the intel team has direct contact with decision-makers across the company.” From the outset, she met with her head of intelligence, set expectations and priorities, and empowered the intelligence team to come to her if they identified risks that needed to be brought to leadership’s attention.

The intelligence team is also included in working groups on issues of concern to leadership from early on, giving them visibility on executive priorities. Intelligence teams provide the best value when they are clear on the decisions to be made, the questions to be answered, and the company’s strategic goals.

Second, corporate intelligence units must break down silos and engage stakeholders across all business units. “It’s critical,” says Long, “that the intelligence practitioner engage with the customer to understand their needs, receive frequent feedback, and develop rapport.” Teams closely tied to strategy give better support. Better questions lead to better responses.

And finally, an intelligence professional must lead the effort. Whether from government or the private sector, they must be versed in analytic tradecraft, understand collection methodology for the private sector, be able to evaluate vendors’ quality and ethics, and have the skills and experience to understand what the business needs.

Some companies are leading the way and have built intelligence capacities that harness the potential of intelligence to both mitigate risk and facilitate business opportunities. Fiserv’s geopolitical analysis team reports alongside security to the head of global services.

At Standard Industries, the intelligence function moved out of security in 2021 and now the head of global insights sits on the executive leadership team. This new structure arose due to intelligence’s demonstrated ability to provide strategic guidance and support to senior executives on opportunities and trends, as well as risks, across the gamut of corporate activities.

If your company does not have an intelligence function, your competitors likely do. And even if you do, you may not be using it to optimum effect. Are you engaged with the team? Does the team understand your strategy, timelines, and gaps in information? Are you using intelligence beyond security issues to inform wider business challenges?

Executives must empower their intelligence teams, sharing goals and objectives. Likewise, intelligence teams must understand the business, tailoring their products to maximize opportunity and minimize risk. When the right insight arrives at the right time to shape an important decision, a firm gains enormous advantage. It is well worth the modest investment of time and resources to make that happen.

Source: How Corporate Intelligence Teams Help Businesses Manage Risk

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In Praise of Empathy: An Application of Social Psychiatry

In the business world and in popular culture, empathy has gained steady prominence. Daniel Goleman popularized the term emotional intelligence (or EI) in 1995, opining that it is as equal if not more important than IQ.1 Later, in a Harvard Business Review article “What Makes a Leader,” Goleman discusses EI as the sine qua non of leadership and again as a core communication skill.2

The business practice of design thinking encourages organizations to research customer empathy as key to understanding marketplace product or service need and solution design. Empathy is all the more important given our growing multicultural reality.

What is empathy? Can professional consultants, coaches, physicians, attorneys, MBAs, human resource professionals, clergy, therapists, and others think deeper about the merits of empathy? In what follows, I will explore these questions.

Two Types of Empathy

While several definitions exist, 2 generic types of empathy are evident. First, one-way empathy is the capacity to relate, be simpatico, or read others. George Herbert Mead called this “taking the role of the other.” Hence, we thoughtfully consider others and their viewpoint during our interaction. This is often easier said than done in today’s climate of extreme views.

We may have to practice a maturity once voiced by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” Second, there is two-way empathy, which includes the above, but embraces the communication of our understanding back to the individual we are relating to.

Practicing Empathy

The communication of empathy with another provides a supportive context, even a healing aspect for both patient and practitioner whether coach, consultant, physician, or therapist. Two-way empathy supports a patient’s self-validation and can encourage further self-exploration.

As change agents, we are a thought-partner who allows a patient to move to deeper levels of self-exploration with our empathetic communication. Moreover, isolation diminishes and interpersonal effectiveness increases. Empathy helps us feel less alone, especially if it is two-way empathic communication.

When we converse with another we can verbally and nonverbally acknowledge what we are hearing. The preeminent psychologist Carl R. Rogers, PhD, advocated for this style of communication.3 He suggested empathy was an attitude, a check in with another individual to confirm understanding of their comments. This promotes communication.

With this type of empathy, we are not offering interpretations of what we hear or see or sense. We are not searching for unconscious processes, nor are we searching for how to disagree. While somewhat superficial, this empathy type is critical to promote self-esteem and a sense of safety in others during our interaction.

We bolster our own self-concept while also supporting the self-concept of others when we acknowledge understanding (whether we agree with their comments or not). With two-way empathy, we convey safety and trust in a patient or other client without judgement. We thereby model kindness, general understanding, and tolerance. Moreover, we hope the patient builds or exercises growth in their own empathy.

There is a deeper empathy too that should be acknowledged. The noted psychiatrist Heinz Kohut, MD, calls this vicarious introspection.4 Here, we move beyond mere recognition and communication of our understanding of another’s immediate experience. Instead, we attempt to see another’s bigger life situation, their past experience, and likely its influence on their immediate experience with us. To ourselves we may ask several questions:

– What is the entirety or the whole of the other’s perceived situation?

– What are conscious and unconscious elements of a patient’s life history?

– What might it be like to be the other?

We may or may not communicate our answers to such questions to the other person, but we strive to understand more deeply what is being communicated. Kohut suggests we value empathy as a facilitative method to enable a patient to receive interpretations. Of course, not all patients can tolerate the depth of our empathetic response. Hence, practitioners must gauge patient acceptance while we simultaneously gauge our ability to communicate sensitive areas in our interactions.

Coaching has value here, without being overly therapeutic. Organization consultants and others might not be sufficiently experienced to embrace this empathy type. Therapists, on the other hand, often make use of vicarious empathy.

Another aspect of empathy can be identified as a here and now or moment to moment style of patient interaction. We strive to be in the patient’s shoes in total, as the psychiatrist R.D. Laing, MD, voiced. Laing even embraced this deep type of empathy for use with his psychotic patients. To merge with another using a here and now approach, we are aware of a patient’s movements, postures, gestures, facial expressions, comments, and pauses in communication.

Several human growth impromptu approaches also embrace verbal and nonverbal sensitivity to a patients’ total presentation. These include J.L. Moreno, MD’s “Sociodrama and Psychodrama,” Frederick S. Perl, MD, PhD’s Gestalt Therapy, and Daniel Glasser, MD’s Reality Therapy.

Here and now micro practice is most suitable for experienced professionals. We think and feel our way into a patient’s inner world and undertake their journey as partners. As practitioners we grasp our patients’ struggle and help articulate and explore their concerns through empathy. Reflection on a patient’s comments takes place, yet content, feelings, and interpretations may all help promote client development.

Concluding Thoughts

As mentioned, the approaches to empathy explored above may in part overlap. Here and now empathy however is best applied in a therapeutic context, while the other 2 forms may be most useful with coaches and organization consultants. Some approaches may be useful in tandem and not applied exclusively.

Nevertheless, the goal is patient recognition that they are understood. Being understood may facilitate their problem solving and/or growth. We must use empathy with positive intention, and never use it with negative intention (as a means to psychopathic, sadistic, or other selfish ends).

Other forms of empathy remain unexplored in this essay, such as self-empathy and societal empathy for national and/or global epic conditions such as mass shootings, COVID-19 deaths, wars, starvations, threats to democracy, etc. In all its forms, empathy challenges us to a higher level of humanness. We remain to ourselves and to others in praise of empathy as a vehicle for humanizing patients’ lives.

By:

Dr Green is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow.

Source: In Praise of Empathy: An Application of Social Psychiatry

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How To Protect Yourself From Overdraft Fees

Citing the impact of Covid-19 on many consumers’ finances, some banks, including Ally Bank and KeyBank, have stopped charging overdraft fees or have offered relief from them. Other banks, however, have gone in a different direction. Between March 13, 2020, and September 20, 2021, account holders filed over 1,600 complaints against various banks to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) about overdraft fees, the agency’s records show.

“Wells Fargo picks and chooses when they are going to charge overdraft fees and when they are going to pay a bill or not,” one complaint filed against Wells Fargo on September 1, 2021, reads. “I will go to sleep and my account [is] positive and there is enough to cover pending charges. Then all of sudden days later the date of the [charge] is changed and I have been charged an overdraft fee. They have recently even had notices within the app that says your balance amount may not be accurate.”

These fees, which can be as high as $35 per overdraft transaction, are an incredible hardship for some consumers. As the complaint continues, “I have a second chance checking account and because of some hardships I am limited in who I can bank with. I feel like Wells Fargo takes advantage of the underprivileged.”

Overdraft fees composed $2.32 billion of those service charges in Q4, a 64 percent spike from Q2 2020

Though some US banks temporarily paused on charging overdraft and other service fees, an analysis of banks with more than $1 billion in assets and some smaller institutions that chose to disclose data suggests that banks are on their way to charging service fees at pre-pandemic levels even as the Covid-19 pandemic resurges.

A March 2021 report from S&P Global Market Intelligence indicated that banks collected $3.6 billion in service fees in the fourth financial quarter of 2020. Overdraft fees composed $2.32 billion of those service charges in the quarter, a 64 percent spike from just six months prior in the second quarter of 2020, the report noted.

Put simply, these fees amount to another tax on the poor, an extraction from the country’s poorest Americans to its wealthiest banks, experts say. Overdraft fees are meant to safeguard banks from risks associated with covering account holders’ overspending, but they can disproportionately hurt low-income consumers who need protection the most, experts told Vox.

Lawmakers and advocacy groups had called for the curtailing of these fees even before the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the US economy. Now, the call to regulate bank fees has returned as the coronavirus crisis continues to upend consumers’ financial lives.

Why do banks charge account maintenance and overdraft fees?

The FDIC defines overdraft fees as a fee assessed whenever an account holder spends more than what’s in their account. Banks may also charge an account maintenance fee, also known as monthly service fees, just for having the account or for falling below a certain minimum balance, per the FDIC. Banks, of course, can charge a range of other fees, including ATM use fees, per-check fees, and stop-payment fees.

It’s hard to pinpoint when banks began charging overdraft fees in the US. Vox reached out to JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America to ask when they started charging account maintenance and overdraft fees, but none of them shared when they implemented these charges.

According to a 2020 report from the Center for Responsible Lending, banks historically declined debit card charges when account holders lacked the funds to cover charges. But over time, banks — at the urging of software consultants who were promoting overdraft programs on a contingency fee basis — began allowing overdraft transactions to go through and charging customers fees.

“I think that at some point it was clear that it was a helpful situation, so that bills didn’t bounce, checks didn’t bounce, mortgage payments didn’t bounce,” said Peter Smith, senior researcher at the Center for Responsible Lending. “This was a fairly informal service, but when people started using debit cards more [and] people started using electronic payments more, I think banks began to see this as an opportunity for revenue and not just a convenience service they could offer their account holders.”

“I think banks began to see this as an opportunity for revenue and not just a convenience service they could offer their account holders”

Though overdraft fees can be costly for low-income households, they make up a small share of banks’ overall income. Per the Center for Responsible Lending’s analysis, bank overdraft fees average $35. That fee tends to be higher than the value of the transaction that triggers it, which is $20 on average. For banks with assets of $1 billion or more, overdraft or insufficient funds fees are about 5 percent of their non-interest income, the report noted.

Banks charge overdraft fees to account for the risks associated with covering charges on overdrawn accounts, said Deeksha Gupta, assistant professor of finance at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. Though banks are profitable without charging these fees, they want to avoid risks for paying merchants’ charges and deter account holders from overspending, Gupta said.

Bank fees’ impact on vulnerable consumers

Banks don’t want to take on the risks of covering consumers’ overdrawn transactions, but it remains up for debate whether the fee is truly worth it given its impact on low-income consumers. Overdraft fees tend to prey upon low-income consumers, Rebecca Borné, senior policy counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending, said. The center’s 2020 report found that 9 percent of bank account holders pay 84 percent of the more than $11 billion overdraft fees banks collect every year.

Borné said while other fees serve a function — it does cost banks to administer checking accounts, rendering account maintenance fees somewhat necessary, for instance — with overdraft, the effect is different. Besides charging a high overdraft fee per transaction with insufficient funds, banks engage in a range of practices that can leave customers with compounding overdraft fees, including charging more than one fee per day, charging fees for debit card purchases and ATM withdrawals, and imposing another overdraft fee if previous fees aren’t paid within a set period of time, the Center for Responsible Lending’s report explained.

As some banks resume charging overdraft fees, pre-pandemic research suggests such fees play a role in excluding unbanked consumers from accessing traditional bank accounts. According to the FDIC’s 2019 How America Banks report, about 5.4 percent (7.1 million) of US households were unbanked, meaning nobody in the household had a checking or savings account at a bank or credit union.

Among the reasons why respondents said they don’t have a bank account: Almost half of respondents said they don’t have enough money to meet minimum balance requirements, and more than a third said bank account fees are too high.

Complaints filed to the CFPB offer a window into consumers’ struggles with overdraft charges. “In … 2021, US Bank had enrolled me into an overdraft protection program which I never authorized. One time I was out traveling and forgot to put money in my checking account, and my balance hit negative. I was unaware and kept using my debit card for small transactions like coffee,” reads one complaint filed August 27 against US Bancorp. “The majority of these transactions are below [$10].

Instead of declining these charges, US Bank charged me a series of overdraft fees, each of them [$36]. In the end, the total overdraft fees ended up being [$360] for over a couple of days. They waived three of them, bringing my loss down to [$250] … Talking to their customer service, they never offered an option to opt out of their overdraft ‘protection’ program. They offered some even more predatory protection options instead which I declined.”

With bank fees pushing consumers away from traditional bank accounts, vulnerable consumers may be driven to use even costlier alternative financial services. According to a May 2020 Federal Reserve report, 16 percent of US adults were underbanked in 2019, meaning they had a traditional bank account, but also used alternative financial services like check cashing services, money orders, and payday loans.

The report also noted that unbanked and underbanked Americans were more likely to have lower education levels, be people of color, or have lower incomes. For consumers who are worried about overdraft fees, they’d rather turn to riskier alternatives instead.

As for why consumers turn to alternative financial services, some consumers have no other option, and these alternatives are actively targeting them. The Federal Reserve report noted that 43 percent of credit applicants with incomes of less than $40,000 were denied credit, compared to 9 percent of applicants who earn more than $100,000.

Even for underbanked consumers who have traditional bank accounts, payday lenders and other high-cost installment lenders aggressively target customers in low-income neighborhoods, communities of color, and people who need extra cash, Borné wrote in a follow-up email. Meanwhile, banks don’t always offer affordable small loans for consumers, and they have little incentive to do so because regulators can allow them to charge high overdraft fees for each overdraft, she added.

“Those who go to payday lenders because they believe they will be in and out of the loan quickly are often stuck for the long term, incurring a lot of overdraft fees when the payments are extracted from their accounts,” Borné wrote. “Ultimately, they often lose their accounts. These wealth-draining products tend to feed each other, creating needs rather than filling them, and leaving customers with fewer credit options down the line.”

“These wealth-draining products tend to feed each other, creating needs rather than filling them”

Gupta agreed underbanked and unbanked consumers are often forced to turn to more expensive alternatives. As the coronavirus pandemic continues with no discernible end in sight and assistance programs come to an end, overdraft and account maintenance fees can compound for households that are struggling now, she added.

“Ideally, the banking system should be helping low-income consumers. We don’t want that type of money to be flowing from lower-income households to banks because they’re in overdraft,” Gupta said of the billions of dollars in overdraft charges.

Even though overdraft fees and other service charges make up a small share of major banks’ revenue, some experts questioned whether limiting these fees would disincentivize banks from offering affordable financial services that could attract low-income consumers. As Gupta explained, some banks could opt not to offer certain affordable bank accounts to avoid taking on additional risk. An April paper from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also suggested that capping overdraft fees could cause banks to offer fewer affordable account options for low-income people.

What to do if you’re being charged too much in overdraft fees

Banks could do a better job of disclosing bank fees to consumers, said Desmond Brown, assistant director of the CFPB’s office of consumer education. He said depending on the institution, overdraft fees can be structured in a complex way. Some bank accounts offer the option to opt in to overdraft fees, so consumers should see whether it’s an option to opt out when looking for a new account.

When signing up for a new account, Brown said, consumers concerned about fees should shop around and ask for bank accounts that are tailored to low-income consumers and learn about the bank’s cost structures. Consumers can also look for banks that provide alerts when their funds are low, he added.

Brown also encouraged consumers to file complaints with the agency if they’re experiencing fee problems with their bank. Doing so not only allows CFPB to assist consumers directly, but it also helps the agency assess issues happening in the marketplace, he said.

“If we have seen a spike in an area of complaints, then we can look to other tools at the bureau to help drill down and find out exactly what’s going on, and be more responsive to consumer needs,” Brown said.

For consumers looking for affordable bank accounts, Brown pointed to the FDIC’s Model Safe Accounts program, which works with banks to determine how they can offer affordable bank accounts. Some financial services firms offer accounts with no overdraft or account maintenance fees.

(In their respective statements, JPMorgan Chase said during the pandemic it has waived $650 million in fees, including overdraft fees, between January 2020 and March 2021; and Wells Fargo touted its low-cost, no-overdraft-fee bank account, its zero balance alerts, and its overdraft fee waivers.)

“We’re talking about billions of dollars every single year being drained, disproportionately from Black and brown communities”When asked what the agency is doing to assist consumers who’ve been charged excessive overdraft fees, a CFPB spokesperson said, “Overdrafts have the potential to be very costly for consumers, and we are continuing to closely monitor developments in this area.”

But as consumers file complaints or seek low-cost bank accounts on their own, advocacy groups and lawmakers have pushed for more restrictions on overdraft fees. On June 30, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced the Overdraft Protection Act of 2021, a bill that aims to regulate the marketing and charging of overdraft fees at financial firms. During a House Committee on Financial Services hearing on July 21, Borné provided a statement on behalf of the Center for Responsible Lending calling for Congress to hold regulatory agencies like the CFPB to protect consumers from harmful overdraft fee practices.

“What to me is especially frustrating is that financial inclusion is all the buzz in a lot of circles. I feel like in a lot of these conversations people just try to talk around the elephant in the room, which are bank overdraft practices,” said Borné. “We’re talking about billions of dollars every single year being drained, disproportionately from Black and brown communities, and kicking people out of the banking system, eroding trust in banks. It’s just a huge barrier to real financial inclusion.”

Source: How to protect yourself from overdraft fees

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