Cultivating a Home Yoga Practice

Do your yoga students hunger to build a home practice but struggle to stick with one? Sustaining a regular home yoga practice can be challenging even for the most loyal yoga enthusiasts. But practicing independently—as a complement to learning from a skilled teacher—offers a variety of advantages that make it well worth the effort. Find out why a home practice can benefit your students, how you can encourage them to create the space for it, and what will help them get on the mat every day.

Benefits of a Home Practice

Self-discovery. Learning from a skilled teacher is essential for any yoga student, but classes can be full and are sometimes fast-paced. A self-initiated, self-led home practice is an opportunity to enhance body awareness and sensitivity, shedding light on misalignments that might go unnoticed in the studio.

Of course, a good instructor looks out for imbalances and limitations in practitioners, but students who work at their own pace often learn to recognize a physical limitation (such as a tight hip) or an inefficient movement pattern for themselves. One student might realize she puts too much weight on her wrists or slightly bends her right elbow in downward-facing dog. Another might discover that opening his shoulders is far easier for him than opening his hips.

These moments of awareness are important because they inform future yoga practice and enhance students’ knowledge of their bodies and themselves. By applying what they learn through self-discovery, practitioners can challenge their physical edge or correct a muscular weakness. Regular attendance at a studio will yield these same benefits, but they are enhanced during home practice.

A tailored approach. Independent practitioners decide which poses they’ll do and what they want emphasize. Let’s say a student with flexible hamstrings and tight quadriceps attends a weekly yoga class that often focuses on stretching the hamstrings. During her home practice, she can even out her program (and her body) by incorporating more poses that open the quadriceps.

Skill refinement. Home practice provides a terrific opportunity for students to reinforce setup or alignment cues they’ve learned in class. With diligent work, they will refine those skills and begin to store the information in their long-term memory.

Motivation Matters

When class participants ask you about starting a home practice, it is important to understand why that matters to them and what might be holding them back. Ask open-ended questions, such as, “What appeals to you about starting a home practice?” and “What gets in the way of rolling out your mat once you’re home?” When you have this information, you can talk through the situation and help your clients achieve the outcome they want.

Remember that for any person to adhere to any behavior, there needs to be a strong motivational factor for doing that behavior. If cultivating a home practice is something your clients think they should do, but not something they truly care about, they will not be motivated to start, and you may need to address that.

Explore this further by asking questions like “Where did your desire to start a home yoga practice begin?” and “How does starting a home practice relate to who you want to be?” This will help your clients talk about why they want to engage in the behavior versus why they should commit to it.

If motivation is not the issue, and the problem lies in the home environment, then practical solutions can help students overcome common barriers.

Home Practice Solutions

Set the space. A common barrier to home practice is the array of distractions that vie for clients’ attention. These might be objects in the environment (like TV, computers or dirty dishes) or even family members. To win the commitment struggle, it will be important for your clients to “set the space” where they plan to practice.

This could mean moving furniture to the side of a room, creating a permanent yoga space in their home, or using visual or auditory cues to make their environment more conducive to yoga. For example, clients could leverage music to set the mood, even creating a yoga playlist to provide a relaxing environment.

Encourage clients to remove any distracting objects from their line of vision: a laundry basket filled with clothes to be washed, or pieces of mail on the counter, for instance. Recommend setting the space in the morning before work, so clients are ready to go once they get home. And urge them to ask family members to respect the space so that practice can unfold without verbal or behavioral interruptions.

Create a schedule. Your clients will need to figure out a routine that will work for them, whether that means practicing when they first get home, when they get up in the morning or during a lunch break at work. Encourage them to use phone reminders or social support to keep them on schedule.

Avoiding conflict with mealtimes is best, but if clients have to postpone a meal, recommend they eat snacks throughout the day to eliminate large gaps between meals. They should negotiate with family members or housemates, asking them to play music more softly or take kids to another room until the session is over.

Modify or even discard time requirements. Another barrier is thinking the activity needs to last a certain length of time. Some clients might assume they must practice for 90 minutes (as they often do in their yoga class) for the session to matter. For many people, the idea of practicing for that long either before or after work can be daunting, so they may never start.

Help your clients set a realistic and manageable duration goal so that they can succeed. That said, remind them to watch what they’re telling themselves about the length of time they practice. For some, falling short of their goal might mean failure, which could sabotage their long-term adherence. If you notice this tendency in clients, recommend they shift their mindset and recognize value in any amount of practice. Even 10 minutes of yoga can produce an array of benefits.

Let go of expectations. The next barrier to adhering to a regular home yoga practice is pre-existing expectations about what the practice should look like: How many poses should it include? How challenging should they be? These should can get in the way, so help your clients let go of expectations and allow themselves to be present to what feels right in the moment.

Remind them that practicing only a handful of poses can be helpful and that they don’t need to do an advanced sequence for the practice to make a difference. A home yoga practice might be restorative poses one day and a more vigorous flow practice the next, and that’s okay. The practice can be different every time, since a regular yoga practice will ebb and flow based on energy levels, muscular tension, interpersonal stress, and nutritional and sleep habits.

Seek out helpful resources when choosing poses. Last but not least, your clients may find choosing poses difficult when they practice at home. Encourage them to start by practicing their favorite ones first and then add in different or more challenging options over time. Yoga books, online videos or yoga websites might prompt ideas. Suggest that clients keep these helpful resources near their mat while they practice so they can refer to them if they feel unsure about what to do next.

Home Yoga Matters

Regardless of the barriers your clients face, there are ways to help them achieve the benefits they want from a regular home yoga practice. Find out as much as you can about their motivation and help them dismantle environmental barriers. Working together, you can find the solution that will allow their home practice to thrive.

HELPFUL TIPS AND PROPS FOR HOME YOGA PRACTICE

These pointers may seem basic to you, but they can help students get a home practice up and running:

  • Always practice on a mat. It will help you avoid slipping, especially while holding downward-facing dog or warrior poses.
  • Place your yoga mat on a hard, even surface. Practicing on carpet is not recommended, as it affects weight distribution in the hands during weight-bearing poses, and this can lead to wrist pain. Practicing on carpet can also affect balance in standing poses.
  • Have a minimum of two thicker yoga blocks (either cork or foam) to support yourself in seated or standing poses.
  • Aim to have at least one yoga strap. If a strap is not available, use a resistance band instead.
  • If possible, use a woven yoga blanket for support when needed (e.g., to cushion the knee in lunges). A thicker home blanket that’s easily folded provides a good alternative.

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Source: Cultivating a Home Yoga Practice – IDEA Health & Fitness Association

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The Controversial Plan To Vacuum Carbon Out Of The Atmosphere

In its 2018 report, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that our current efforts just to lower carbon emissions aren’t enough. To prevent the worst of climate change, the world needs to remove carbon from the atmosphere in large quantities.

The idea of removing it from the air at any kind of scale requires the proper technology, money, political cooperation, all of which pose unique—and seemingly insurmountable—challenges.

On Friday’s episode of What Next: TBD, I spoke with Clive Thompson, journalist and author of Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World, about the race to suck carbon out of the air. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Lizzie O’Leary: You recently wrote a story, which ran in Mother Jones, about direct air carbon capture, a new technology that might be helpful in addressing the climate crisis. What is DAC?

Clive Thompson: Direct air carbon capture is basically the art and science of extracting CO2 from the air. You create a machine that uses a chemical process to bind CO2 and turn it into something that you can then store somewhere. Maybe you shove it really deep in the ground so it’s gone, maybe you turn it into something else that you can use.

Who is actually making the DAC technology?

So at the high end, you have a company like Carbon Engineering, which is up in Canada. And the way it works is that they have a big machine that’s the size of a building, with a huge fan on top of it that sucks air in and blows it down into a pool of liquid sorbent.

Then it reacts. Once there’s lots of CO2 in the sorbent, they use a process that requires temperatures of hundreds and hundreds of degrees to turn it into CO2 that can be stored as a pressurized gas. The downside is that a lot of energy is needed to run that machine. That’s one model.

What’s the other model?

The other model is to have much smaller machines that you could tuck anywhere that use a lot less energy, which is great, but they also don’t suck quite as much CO2 out of the air. Klaus Lackner [a professor at Arizona State University] created a tree of these discs that stands 30 feet high, and the wind just blows air past it.

That reacts with the sorbent inside these discs, and then once every hour or so when the discs are full of CO2, it collapses down almost like an umbrella, and squeezes it out with a little bit of heat. They’re so low-energy that he imagines you might need tens of millions of them, but you could put them literally anywhere.

Direct air capture sounds very sci-fi. When we’re thinking about it in the public policy arena, it seems like there are two big questions: What would it take scientifically to do this at scale, and what would it take practically and politically?

What you’d need to really do this is an almost wartime mobilization of resources. And, there are lots and lots of choke points. You’d need tons of that sorbent chemical. You’d need to figure out a lot of issues: Where do you put all that carbon? What do you do with that stuff? But could you get it out of the sky, could you do that at scale? Yes. I think you could.

On a practical level, even saying there was the global will for this, it seems like there are three big structural hurdles: cost, transportation and storage. How much does it cost to do this?

The estimate that I most often heard is that right now the cheapest they can do is about $500 per ton of CO2. Everyone who looks at this field basically says that that is way too much. That is way too expensive to be able to do what we need to do. Because the IPCC was talking about removing 10 gigatons a year, which is billions of tons. So at 500 per ton, you’re talking about trillions and trillions of dollars.

So, what price does it need to get to? No one really knows. But if it were around $100 per ton, then there starts to be a more of a market for this stuff. If you got it down to $50 or $10 a ton, then you’re really talking.

There’s another issue besides cost. How can you move the carbon dioxide once you’ve got it?

These machines could be anywhere. They could be in Boston, they could be out in the desert in Arizona, they could be all over the place, and you need to have a pipeline. And piping CO2 is really not easy because it is a highly pressurized gas.

If you have a leak, it’s really bad stuff. It erupts with high pressure, it is an asphyxiating gas so it would kill people, and worse of all it hangs low to the ground. It’s heavier than air if it’s in a dense quantity.

You’re not really selling direct air capture to me here.

Let me make it a little bit worse by pointing out that traditionally pipelines get run through Indigenous lands. So yeah, am I selling it? No. My goal with this story was to paint a very realistic picture of the enormous opportunity but the enormous challenge here.

I’m not saying it would be impossible to do that, and if it became like “we have no other option,” then I guess we would bite the bullet and figure it out. But it’s something you’d want to really think hard and plan for if you’re going to do it, which is a good reason to think about the problems now.

The other level of this story that takes it to another bananas head-scratching place is that it seems from your reporting that the only players who could afford to do this, who have a really vested interest in doing this, are Big Oil companies.

Yeah.
This is the issue that really alarms a lot of environmentalists about direct air capture. Nearly all of the projects that I’ve been telling you about here are all being developed hand in glove with oil and gas companies, fossil fuel companies. Why is that? Well, the people who understand how to build things at scale that have to do with energy and how to move gases around are the oil and gas companies. They’ve got decades of experience in this. So they’re the first obvious partners.

What do you do with that CO2 when you’ve captured it? We talked about shoving it in the ground to get rid of it. The problem is that in the short run—and by the short run I mean a decade or more—there’s really no one who’s planning to shove that in the ground. What all of these projects are doing is working with oil and gas companies to do something that creates a market for the reuse of that CO2.

There is a market right now for CO2, but it’s niche. There’s a company in Texas, for example, that uses it to get the last drops of oil and gas out of nearly empty wells.  It’s something other companies might adopt. And that brings us back to this question of environmentalists having to work with or rely on oil companies. Are some environmentalists able to say, “OK, this involves a deal with the devil but it gets us there”? Or is it just like, “No, that’s a nonstarter”?

Environmentalists are divided on this. Many of the environmentalists, I would say the majority of them, said to me, “We think this is a costly distraction. We think that all the money being put into developing direct air capture should just be put into scaling out renewables dramatically right now.

Innovating on that front. That is how we decarbonize. We do it by just rapidly throwing everything we can at this. And we seal the oil and gas companies out of this process because they are just bad news.” These environmentalists argue that oil and gas companies just want this tech to exist as a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Because it helps them reduce their net emissions?

Yeah. It would become this way of saying, “Hey, we’re net neutral! We’re creating lots more emissions by selling lots of oil and gas, but we’re also shoving it in the ground.” Or even worse, they’ll develop this technology a little bit, but never get serious enough about it. This is what’s known as the moral hazard argument.

If you start developing the technology, it takes the pressure off of society to decarbonize its energy production. If you think that there is a magic solution coming 10 or 20 years from now, then yeah, maybe it’s OK to keep burning oil and gas and maybe we don’t need to aggressively roll out solar and renewables.

The thing about direct air capture that is so fascinating is how complicated it is. Not in terms of the tech, but in terms of the moral and ethical equations around it.

Among other things, direct air capture would allow for a certain level of environmental and economic justice insofar as we’re now in a situation where parts of the Global South are rapidly trying to expand their economies, and to do that you need lots and lots of cheap energy right now.

Those societies want to do what we did, which is to burn lots of oil and gas to get themselves as prosperous as possible as quickly as possible. So the progressive argument is that maybe it’s up to the developed countries that made this mess to work on direct air capture and clean up the problem for the countries that we have trod all over in the last 50 or 100 years.

Would doing direct air capture on a global scale be an admission of defeat?

Yeah, absolutely. It would be a complete admission of defeat insofar as it would be us saying to ourselves, “We couldn’t change the way we lived.” For decades we were unwilling to do that. We knew in the ’90s that we needed to work on decarbonizing the economy as rapidly as possible and rolling out renewables and we didn’t do it.

We didn’t push for it. To the extent that a lot of citizens did push hard for it, they faced ferocious opposition from oil and gas companies and from many politicians who were absolutely in their pockets.

What do we know about how the oil companies are approaching these projects?

Several people said to me that one of the reasons why they are dubious of the motives of oil and gas companies is that none of them are really reorienting their spending habits around it. They’ve got R&D projects, but things only really change when you see what they do with their annual budgets. And with their annual budgets they’re still just drilling for oil.

Some people have said that the only way that we’re going to roll out million and millions of direct air capture machines and make it really cheap is if for the next 10 or 20 years we actually turn the CO2 back into liquid fuel and burn it again. When I say to them, “That sounds circular. Isn’t the point to get it out of the air and into the ground?” They’re like, “Well yes, but think of it this way.

What we’d be doing is decarbonizing the internal combustion engine.” So, the idea is we can keep on using all these trucks and all these planes and cars that have internal combustion engines, but we would actually have net zero emissions or as low as possible emissions. But, it’s a leap of faith.

Do you have any faith that this is going anywhere?

The only faith I have is the faith that comes from seeing things like solar succeed. One of the reasons why solar got so good is governments gave some subsidies and that took leadership, and that was good. And then that incentivized a marketplace of solar creators to go, “Hey, we can make money with this!”

I definitely feel gloomy all the time because of the lack of political urgency amongst the folks who run things. I also know that sometimes things can be working better than we imagine in different pockets of innovation and marketplaces and policies. But I don’t hold out great hope.

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By: Lizzie O’Leary

Lizzie O’Leary is the host of What Next: TBD, Slate’s show about technology, power, and the future. Previously, she created and hosted Marketplace Weekend. She has reported for CNN, Bloomberg News, and the New York Times Magazine, among others. She is also a contributing writer at the Atlantic.

Source: Can carbon capture solve the climate crisis?

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Why Data Is The Key To Driving Sustainability In Retail

Both corporate values and customer expectations are driving more conscious policies and spending to benefit the planet. Here’s how data and analytics are helping retail organizations hit their sustainability targets.

We are entering the age of circular economics where “once is never enough.” Products and businesses will need to be designed for regeneration, rather than produced, delivered, and trashed.

Is your business sustainable, equitable, ethical? These days, does it have a choice not to be?In 2020, interest in “ethical brands” and online shops exploded, growing between 300% and 600% based on Google searches alone.

It can be hard to remember just how much things have changed in the months since the pandemic seized the world. Sustainability is now as much about the resiliency of your business as it is that of the planet—with both benefiting accordingly. Sustainability represents a huge opportunity to serve consumers with what they want, and the world with what it needs, in order to help keep everyone thriving—including your bottom line.

We are entering the age of circular economics where “once is never enough.” Products and businesses will need to be designed for regeneration, rather than produced, delivered, and trashed.

Sustainability is rapidly growing as a way to evaluate the non-financial performance of companies and measure the purpose and values that drive a brand.

Coupled with the ongoing concerns around the environmental impacts of carbon emissions, material waste, energy consumption, and scarce resources, retailers are using the challenges raised by the pandemic as a chance to rewire their systems to drive healthier, sustainable, and more resilient value chains that will allow them to thrive in the future. 

For example, reducing synthetic PVC plastics in products can reduce fossil fuel consumption. Sourcing raw materials ethically and sustainably helps increase supply chain longevity. Providing services that encourage consumers to repair, rather than buy new products, can reduce unnecessary waste.

Such an emphasis on sustainability may seem like a whole new way of doing business that at times runs counter to the conventional practices of the past. Yet if we don’t seriously reconsider the future of business, will there be much of a future for businesses at all?

Building this future will require an entirely new understanding of the components, inputs, and resources that go into a business. This kind of understanding is made possible on the cloud.

Sustainability sells: Consumers are driving new transformation

The turmoil of COVID-19 didn’t just bring social distancing—it marked the beginning of an eco-awakening. The increased attention on health, safety, and well-being sparked a renewed awareness around sustainability, particularly in the personal choices consumers make in their own lives and how those choices impact the environment.

In fact, Google research* shows that people now have a greater appreciation for life, are more aware of how valuable nature is for their mental and physical health, and recognize being sustainable plays a critical role in protecting it. As a result, sustainability is more top of mind than before the pandemic.

Now, shoppers are looking more closely than ever at the products they buy and the brands they support—and they’re ready to make different choices if they don’t like what they find:

  • As mentioned, Google search interest in “ethical brands” and “ethical online shopping” during 2020 grew 300% and 600% compared to the previous year.
  • 1 in 3 shoppers stopped purchasing certain brands or products due to ethical or sustainability related concerns.
  • Nearly 6 in 10 consumers say they are willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact.

Retailers were already feeling the pressure to reduce their impact on the environment long before the pandemic. After all, the fashion industry alone accounts for 20% of wastewater and up to 8% of carbon emissions globally. But this new shift in consumer behavior serves as an extra warning that it’s time to accelerate changes now—or pay the price later on. 

And it’s not just consumers looking for a commitment from retailers—suppliers, investors, employees, and policymakers are also expecting tangible, sustainable action from businesses. Sustainability is rapidly growing as a way to evaluate the non-financial performance of companies and measure the purpose and values that drive a brand.

At least 65% of world economies have made 2050 net-zero commitments and new EU regulations even require businesses to disclose ESG data about what and how they operate and manage social and environmental challenges.

These changes are already underway. So how can retail businesses stay ahead of them?

Data is key for doing good for retail and for the planet

Retailers have been pushed to illuminate the murkier aspects of their value chains to strengthen credibility and prove in concrete terms exactly how they are delivering on sustainability. But companies can only manage what they are able to measure, so data is crucial for sustainability efforts.

There is a lot of valuable data that can be generated from the first mile to the last mile of products; from direct energy consumption in stores and in warehouses; to CO2 emissions from supply chains and manufacturing; to the effects of resource procurement. Organizations can also gain insight into upstream and downstream activities, such as product distribution and delivery, consumer disposal of product packaging, and other waste.

Migrating to a sustainable cloud can reduce CO2 emissions by 59 million tons a year, which is equivalent to taking 22 million cars off the road, according to Accenture research.

Nearly every aspect of the value chain has the potential to be measured in terms of the impact on the environment as long as companies have the right technologies in place.

Given the public cloud’s inherent efficiencies, it is one of the fastest paths to hit sustainability targets and reduce energy costs. In fact, according to Accenture research, migrating to a sustainable cloud can reduce CO2 emissions by 59 million tons a year, which is equivalent to taking 22 million cars off the road.

But the cloud offers other capabilities that benefit the overall sustainability efforts of retailers, too. Namely, the cloud enables a strong data foundation that allows information to be collected, processed, managed, and analyzed in one place.

The reduction of silos and the availability of a single, centralized view of all relevant data creates the end-to-end visibility needed to understand the full environmental impact of business decisions across the value chain.

Here’s how data is helping retail organizations hit their sustainability targets:

  • Lowering carbon emissions and energy usage. Retailers need to accurately measure and understand carbon emissions and energy consumption across thousands of devices, facilities, processes, and locations. By gaining a full picture of carbon emissions, businesses will have the power to optimize and implement sustainable best practices—and track future progress—that will deliver real reductions. For example, data can be used to identify cleaner times of day or lower carbon density regions that can create big opportunities to offset and lower emissions.
  • Reducing waste and optimizing supply chains. There are numerous opportunities for retailers to apply data to supply chain sustainability problems, such as inaccurate demand and inventory planning, manufacturing inefficiencies, packaging or product surplus waste, and more. Integrating data from disparate internal systems, partners and suppliers, and external public sources can help create more sustainable and resilient supply chains. Real-time visibility and advanced analytics enable retailers to drill down into key sustainability metrics, benchmark their progress against other industry players, identify and mitigate risks, and improve overall production quality.
  • Unlocking deep insights for better decision making. Retailers are looking to answer questions about how current processes impact the environment now and how their businesses will be affected by climate change in the future. Leveraging rich datasets about the planet, new AI and machine learning models, and smarter analytics enables them to extract insights and predict outcomes around sustainability, helping them to make better decisions that keep them on track to future goals.

Retailers are already working on sustainability

Putting their vast amount of data to work, retail companies are already starting to harness, organize, and democratize data both within and outside of their organizations, identifying where environmental impact is happening and taking action.

For example, retailers are applying predictive forecasting models to chase down waste to make demand planning more accurate. Understanding what products customers are most likely to buy and where they will purchase can influence decisions about sourcing, where to place inventory, and optimize shipments and deliveries. It also provides a more personalized product selection, keeping both customers and suppliers happy.

Retailers can also reimagine last-mile delivery packaging. For instance, intelligent packing recommendation (IPR) solutions can analyze the physical dimensions of every SKU, packing materials, and other properties like fragility and temperature to make sure every box is optimally packed. Google Cloud research shows that IPR brings significant savings and an improved customer experience, reducing the total packaging cost per order by 29% and total shipping costs by 19%.

When retailers do good while doing well, everyone wins—consumers, businesses, and the planet.

To learn more about the role of technology in sustainability, check out our Sustainable IT Masterclass or watch our “Solving for Sustainability in Retail and Consumer Goods” on demand.

Maria McClay, Director, Department Stores, Fashion and Beauty, Google Cloud. Maria McClay is a director at Google Cloud, working with Fashion &

Source: Why Data Is The Key To Driving Sustainability In Retail

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MLMs Could Be In FTC Trouble With a Business Opportunity Rule Change

Say I’ve got a business selling bananas, and I want you to sell bananas, too. Presumably, you’d want to know some details about this banana business opportunity, such as whether I’ve ever been sued for lying about my business, whether the amount of money I say you would earn is accurate, and what happens if, after selling for a while, you want to quit. Perhaps you’d want to take a week to think about it before signing on.

For most business opportunities in the United States, that’s the legal standard I would have to follow to get you on board. It doesn’t apply to multilevel marketing companies (MLMs), though. They’re exempt — at least for now.

A decade ago, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) put in place the “business opportunity rule,” which basically describes a set of requirements for people trying to get others involved in a business opportunity, such as a work-from-home job (some of which are scams). The rule says that people offering such opportunities have to provide support for any income claims — if I tell you that you can make $1 million a year in my banana business, I have to prove it.

They must also disclose whether they’ve been involved in certain legal actions (such as any involving fraud), and list them out if they have; detail their refund and cancellation policy (if they have one); and provide a list of at least 10 other people who have bought in, all seven days before the person they’re recruiting pays any money or signs anything.

There were plenty of people who believed that MLMs should be included in the FTC rule when it was enacted a decade ago, but they were granted an exception following massive pushback from the industry. “That’s the power of lobbying for you,” said Douglas Brooks, an attorney who specializes in MLMs.

That could be about to change. The FTC announced in June that it would review the business opportunity rule as part of a revised 10-year review schedule — and there is hope that, this time around, MLMs might be roped in.

Earlier this year, then-FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra (who was recently confirmed as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau), put out a statement urging that MLMs and gig-economy platforms be included in the rule. Now that Chopra’s at the CFPB, the other commissioners — including FTC Chair Lina Khan, a protégé of Chopra’s, and Noah Phillips, a Republican-appointed commissioner who has criticized MLMs in the past — are expected to take a look at the issue.

Outside the FTC, anti-MLM sentiment has been on the rise of late as people involved have felt more emboldened to speak out about the pitfalls of the business model and high-profile media projects have called attention to the issue.

MLMs are certain to push back against their inclusion. One lawyer I spoke to, who asked to withhold their name because they have clients in the industry, told me that the rule would be “disastrous” for MLMs and likely “decimate” the industry. Whether the FTC actually makes any changes to the rule is uncertain, and the process could take months or even years. But it’s a start.

MLMs lobbied their way out of regulation a decade ago. It’s not clear whether they’ll be so lucky now.

To back up a bit, multilevel marketing is a business model where sellers derive profits in two ways — by selling a product or service, and by recruiting other people to sell that product or service. Generally, the latter is more lucrative than the former.

It’s a big industry. The Direct Selling Association (DSA), a trade group representing MLMs, says it was worth $40 billion in 2020 and encompasses millions of sellers. It’s also a controversial one: The vast, vast majority of sellers make little, if any, money in MLMs (they often lose money), and consultants and companies have been caught on multiple occasions making misleading claims about earnings potential and product effectiveness.

Critics say MLMs are in essence pyramid schemes, where only people at the top make money, and do so by constantly recruiting new members. MLMs reject this characterization, but at the very least, some MLMs have gotten into trouble with regulators for bad behavior, including Amway, AdvoCare, and Herbalife.

MLMs aren’t completely unregulated — the FTC and Securities Exchange Commission, for example, have some purview over them. But it’s hard not to wonder whether there could be more guardrails, including with something like the business opportunity rule, which MLMs have vociferously opposed.

First proposed in 2006 and finalized in 2011, the business opportunity rule is meant to protect consumers from “bogus business opportunities” by laying out some basic requirements about what potential recruits need to be told and when.

When the rule was first proposed, the MLM industry went into overdrive to try to make sure it wouldn’t apply to them. As The Verge outlined in 2014, the DSA got over 17,000 people to send comment letters to the FTC opposing the then-forming rule being applied to MLMs. (By comparison, MLM critics sent under 200 letters.) MLMs also boosted lobbying expenditures and got dozens of members of Congress to write to the FTC urging it to let MLMs be.

“They just swamped the FTC with things basically saying, ‘If you do this to us, it’ll destroy the industry,’” Brooks said.

MLMs were successful: The FTC decided that they should be exempted from the rule, determining that it “would have imposed greater burdens on the MLM industry than other types of business opportunity sellers without sufficient countervailing benefits to consumers.” An FTC staff report said that some MLMs do engage in bad practices and are pyramid schemes, but that would better be determined on a case-by-case basis and the “record developed was insufficient as a basis for crafting MLM disclosures that would effectively help consumers make an informed decision about the risks of joining a particular MLM.”

Looking at how MLMs operate, critics have questioned whether the FTC’s decision was the right one — and hope they’ll decide differently now. There’s been increased scrutiny by the public on MLMs in recent years, and regulators have continued to take notice of their practices. The FTC has sent out warning letters to MLMs during the pandemic over their earnings and product claims (companies and sellers have taken advantage of the crisis). The regulator is currently enmeshed in a lawsuit against Neora, which sells skin care and wellness products, over allegations that it is a pyramid scheme.

The public has taken more notice of MLMs and the business model as well. For a long time, many people who were involved in MLMs and failed (which most do) didn’t talk about it — they were embarrassed, or they felt guilty over roping their friends and family into it, too. Former sellers and experts say that MLM culture is one where leaders place blame for failure fully on the shoulders of the individual.

Sellers are told that if it doesn’t work out, it’s their fault and their fault alone. But there has been an explosion of growth in anti-MLM communities on the internet, and there seems to be a greater awareness of the drawbacks the business model brings with it.

In other words, the FTC won’t just be flooded with comments from the pro-MLM community this time around, it’s also likely to hear more from the anti-MLM community as well.

“I would expect that there are going to be many comments, and I would expect that the MLM industry will gather its troops,” said Bonnie Patten, executive director of Truth in Advertising, a consumer advocacy nonprofit.

The FTC’s exact timing here is unclear. Patten said she expects action to begin in December, though she acknowledges it’s a bit of an “informed guess.” Even then, there’s a long road ahead, as the FTC will have to solicit public comments, send notices to lawmakers, and could hold arguments regarding changes. “This is a slow and laborious process,” Patten said.

Now that Chopra is at the CFPB, there have been some doubts among MLM critics as to how efforts to include MLMs in the business opportunity rule will proceed at the FTC. Chopra was the commissioner who had explicitly mentioned including MLMs under the rule, and now, the FTC has four commissioners instead of the usual five, so votes could come down to a two-two split.

Still, Patten said she’s relatively optimistic. “If we’re focused on MLM, I think of all the deceptive marketing issues in a deck of cards, MLM is the one that it appears all commissioners agree is an issue,” she said.

The FTC declined to comment on the matter, noting that they generally don’t speak publicly about rule-making processes as they are underway.

People should know what they’re getting into with MLMs

When you watch something like the LuLaRoe documentary or listen to a podcast like The Dream, it’s sometimes hard not to land in the same spot: How in the world can this be legal? Or at the very least, why isn’t more being done to look out for people before they get sucked in?

Most people don’t make money; plenty lose money. Some companies make earnings disclosures available, but they’re generally really difficult to read and understand. Even if it’s relatively clear that eight in 10 consultants make less than $10 a month, recruits are sold on the hope that they’ll be one of the lucky few to make $100,000.

Many MLMs don’t really know where their products go once they arrive at the sellers, who are often encouraged to buy in order to stay active in the company and show their commitment. (Their uplines, the people above them, make money when they buy.) Whether sellers are actually offloading those lotions or essential oils or earrings to other people, or just piling them up in their garage, the corporate office often is unaware.

Including MLMs in the business opportunity rule wouldn’t be a panacea, but at the very least, experts say it could be a good start. “All this rule would have required were some pretty basic disclosures and a seven-day cooling-off period, and you’re saying this is going to destroy the industry?” Brooks, the MLM attorney, said. “What’s going on here? Why would that be so destructive?”

A sample disclosure form on the FTC’s website doesn’t look that complex. Yet, Brooks said he expects it to be a “knock-down, drag-out” fight if it looks to the industry like MLMs will get included in the business opportunity rule. “I don’t doubt that they will go to Congress and try to get a law passed that will sort of preempt that effort,” he said. Indeed, there is a direct selling caucus in Washington, DC, with more than three dozen members, Republican and Democrat alike.

In a statement to Vox, Joseph Mariano, president and CEO of the DSA, said the organization “looks forward to a constructive engagement with the FTC on any prospective rule-making that might apply to direct sellers.” He said the DSA “has a long history of encouraging self-regulation and consumer protection as a complement to appropriate and reasonable government regulation” and pointed to the DSA’s code of ethics, which member companies and sellers must abide by, and the DSA’s self-regulatory council.

Brooks thinks efforts to curb MLM activity should go further than the business opportunity rule and other tools currently in the FTC’s toolbox. (Earlier this year, the Supreme Court curbed some of the FTC’s ability to seek monetary relief, which has prompted some of the conversation around the business opportunity rule.) In his view, regulators need to have harder lines around what MLMs can and can’t do in the first place.

“The FTC should prohibit certain types or aspects of MLM compensation plans, because the real problem with these companies is in the compensation plans, it’s the whole structure of the thing,” Brooks said. “People end up spending thousands and tens of thousands of dollars having thought that this was originally a $50 investment.”

So back to my banana business. At the very least, many experts say, I should have to tell you if the banana sellers under me are making $1 or $1 million a month. If I promise you that you’ll be a banana billionaire, I should have proof, and also tell you if there was a banana-related fraud lawsuit in my past, and give you a few days to decide if you want to get in on the bananas — whether I’m an MLM or not.

The harder question — and one the FTC isn’t looking at now, but perhaps should — is whether I should be able to get you in on the banana business at all if I know you’re almost sure to fail. If 99 of 100 sellers are in banana bankruptcy, just how hard can I sell you on the 1 in 100 dream of being a banana billionaire? That’s a question for another day.

Emily Stewart

Source: MLMs could be in FTC trouble with a business opportunity rule change – Vox

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Personal Financial Wellness: A Banking Opportunity And Imperative

With the explosion of digital banking during the pandemic, financial institutions (FIs) have their sights set high for growing revenues through digital channels. To do that, however, they’ll need to become more intertwined in and relevant to the daily lives of their customers.

One way to achieve this is by taking all the information they have about their customers and turning it into services that enhance customers’ financial wellness. Doing so would be especially welcome in the post-pandemic landscape and the financial uncertainty it has spurred.

To put it into perspective, more than 40% of UK adults are now considered “financially vulnerable,” and nearly 40% of UK adults have seen their financial circumstances deteriorate since February 2020.

Financial wellness at a personal level

While almost every bank now offers financial wellness tools of some sort, whether a budgeting app, a financial literacy course or education on financial planning, these services are generalized to all customers rather than addressing individuals’ personal financial wellness needs. Because financial situations vary greatly across individuals, the truly personalized element is vital.

For example, to help individuals build their savings, banks can use predictive AI technologies to understand customer transactions and cash flow patterns and automatically divert the right amount of extra funds to savings or investments. Royal Bank of Canada says it has helped clients save an average of $358 per month with this type of tool.

Further, by mining debit card data, banks can gain insights into spending habits that they can share with customers or incorporate into personalized offerings. Through AI-driven interventions, personalized “nudges” and micro-level targeting, banks can ensure customers take the steps needed to embrace their financial destiny.

Data and AI underpinnings

Achieving a new hyper-personalized banking future requires the right customer data and digitizing front-to-back-office operations. The financial services industry is arguably the most data-intensive sector in the global economy. Banks, in particular, have enormous amounts of customer data (e.g., deposits/withdrawals, POS purchases, online payments, KYC profiles). Historically, however, they haven’t been very good at utilizing these rich datasets.

By harnessing data responsibly — taking into consideration ethical and regulatory aspects, and striking the right balance between machine-driven and human-centric work — FIs can identify and serve new customer segments of one.

At HSBC, for example, customers can begin a conversation in the bank’s mobile app with an AI chatbot, answering simple questions immediately. Complex inquiries get passed to front-line colleagues. The AI system provides agents with details on the issue and guidance on how to resolve it.

We’ve been working with FIs to pull history and experience via AI into the conversation. We use emotion recognition tools (e.g., intelligent real-time language processing and sentiment analysis) to better understand the context of a customer’s inquiry and when a customer might be vulnerable, even if they’re not aware of it themselves.

This type of information can be harnessed to create personalized engagement plans that customize interactions. These tools can also enable banks to match agents’ personality and strengths with customers to help build deeper, more trusted customer relationships.

Time for a new approach

In addition to the customer benefits of personalization, banks can also realize cost savings and performance gains. According to Boston Consulting Group, hyper-personalization can lower rates of customer churn and boost sales, leading to annual revenue uplifts of 10%. 

However, there’s plenty of work to do. Right now, only 45% of consumers are satisfied with the quality of personalized services they receive from their banks. Here are three key ingredients for progressing toward personalized banking capabilities:

1. Technology

Banks need a mashup of data analytics, AI and automation to deliver personalization, intelligence and predictions at speed. This requires harnessing high-quality data to feed AI/ML algorithms so they can deliver experiences and services that anticipate customers’ needs, wants and desires, as well as combining automation with human supervision to build trust and empathy.

For example, we are working with FIs to link up data sources and introduce AI-powered algorithms that provide a dynamic view of a customer’s financial profile. This helps customers with their financial wellness plans and enables FIs to suggest products that enhance customers’ financial wellness.

2. Talent

Along with adroit technologists, banks need designers, anthropologists, ethnographers and others with social science pedigrees to apply human-centric design thinking to product and service development.

Social scientists are equipped to understand and apply the complexities of human behavior to help FIs predefine user personas and scenarios and use these to shape and personalize the experiences they provide.

In this spirit, we are helping a European state-owned organization to implement a user-centered digital product and service offering, including completely reengineering its mobile banking app. The existing app was plagued by a number of challenges, including a dated technology platform, poor user experience, low adoption and high cost-to-serve across non-digital channels.

We helped the organization define its go-to-market, mobile-first digital strategy, identifying key market-facing propositions based on user research as well as delivering these propositions at scale. Multiple subject matter experts were involved in the project from the outset to ensure a holistic approach, including program/project managers, scrum masters, data architects, human-centric design leads, UX and UI designers, researchers, developers, business analysts and process improvement specialists.

With this project, the bank aims to significantly increase its customer base over the next five years, by combining customer trust with a best-in-class user experience on its re-engineered mobile app, which puts it on par with challenger banks.

3. Culture

To drive change, customer well-being and digitization need to become part of the FI’s culture. This is more than merely embracing Lean methodologies and/or more flexible ways of working. Helping customers achieve financial wellness demands a fresh outlook that maximizes new, agile ways of working and data-driven approaches embedded enterprise-wide — from leadership down to every employee.

Turning the tables

For banks whose business models are based on profiting from customers’ lack of financial wellness (overdrafts, fees, charges, etc.), it can be challenging to adopt this approach. The majority of banks have a high cost-to-serve, with legacy infrastructures and high overhead.

In the face of tough competition from savvy fintechs and non-bank disruptors, however, it’s clear that incumbents urgently need to pivot their approach. FIs that incorporate personalized financial wellness into their business strategy have an outstanding opportunity to support their customers while also reinvigorating their brands — and realize growth and cost savings at the same time.

To learn more, visit the Banking Technology Solutions section of our website.

Andrew Warren is Head of Banking & Financial Services and a member of the Executive team at Cognizant UK & Ireland. He leads a team responsible for driving results for Cognizant’s

Source: Personal Financial Wellness: A Banking Opportunity And Imperative

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