Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Dinner, Dance, Party!

Last weekend ING Direct US arranged a dinner dance party in Longwoord Gardens, PA, ‘only’ 30 minutes driving from where I live. Since my lemon had been checked and fixed three times already, I could trust on this car to take me there (I changed its name from Mercury Mystique to Mercury Mistake). The arrival at the party location was unique: from the parking place, we had to walk four minutes to the party location. But, we’re in America... so no walking! 8 busses were ready to pick us up, drive 400 yards and drop us:

On the inside, you could see that people over here know how to organize a large party: the service was great. Food was delicious (a lot of meat), just as the drinks (Heineken! Unfortunately I had to drive back home). Knowing ING Direct US, at some point there should be saved: the music was made by colleagues! The pictures are at the bottom of this message!

By the way, almost daily, someone asks me what I like and what I don’t like about the US so far; apparently, people are curious to know how a European guy looks at the US. To show you my answer:

• What I love the most so far, is a TV channel (one of the 140) called Tru-TV: this channel shows nothing but car chases, COPS and similar programs. Amazing! (and addictive!)

• One thing that I particularly don’t like is the fact that a lot of products are combined with peanut butter. Last week someone offered me a chocolate cookie… at least, that was what I thought. It was peanut butter surrounded by a chocolate layer!! And when I went to the grocery store the other day to buy some Noodles, the only Noodles left were Noodles with peanut butter flavor… I wasn’t hungry anymore.

Click here to check the pictures from the party!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Weekend in Philadelphia

I spend last weekend in Philadelphia to go over some social activities! Last Saturday I had a ‘Potluck’ party, which meant that all the guests brought along something to eat or drink. Combine this, and you get a buffet with some interesting combinations!

On Sunday, I checked out the city center and some interesting shops, like a large store selling all kinds of meat, fish and vegetables from all over the world, a Belgium lunch restaurant, and some nice small parks. In the afternoon, a colleague gave a housewarming party in New Jersey: watching the American Football playoffs! This picture shows the small TV:

The big TV was a wall filled with a projection… That’s the American lifestyle!

On Monday, a friend came over from New York City. We explored the city center of Philadelphia. While Philadelphia is a large metropolis (1.5 million people live in the city, but 5.8 million people live in the metropolitan area), the center city is quite compact, just like Amsterdam’s center. But it was cold… So we stayed more in the Starbucks than on the street 

Last weekend was also the first weekend in my new studio-apartment in Philadelphia’s center city. It is small – small for an American house, but I’m kind of used to living small in Amsterdam. Next week I’ll be moving all my stuff to Philadelphia and I’ll make some pictures!

Last Tuesday gave me another new experience. As part of ING Direct US’ introduction period, every employee should work one day as a volunteer instead of working in the office (also called habitat). Our assignment: building new houses! This project is executed by volunteers, who build houses for people with low income, proven responsibility of home ownership and a stable job situation. Why does ING Direct US do this? Two reasons:
• ING Direct US ‘does things different’ by supporting the community (read more about it);
• ING Direct US wants to market their good name and during these community affairs, they teach people about how to handle money.

In the end, we had a great day: instead of meetings with colleagues, we were working on drywall. In the meantime, the news is about the economy and the government’s intension of refunding taxes to the lower- and middle class. This is going to be an exiting year: presidential elections, and a economy that might go into recession!


Click here to check the pictures from Philly!

Friday, January 18, 2008

When life gives you lemons... Make lemonade!

Some markets turn out to be very interesting. Last week I talked about banks and mortgages in the U.S.: consumers need to be Masters in Law to understand which mortgage is the right one for them. An other interesting theory that can be applied to many markets is ‘the market for lemons’.

There are four type of cars: new cars and used cars, good cars and bad cars. A new car can either be a good car or a bad car, just like a used car. In the U.S., bad cars are called lemons (which comes from the said “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”; or: when life is turning sour, find something sweet to make the best out of it). A buyer of a car does not know whether a car is a good car, or a lemon; the buyer is only able to estimate the chance that a car is good (based on previous experience or information from other people).

Let’s take for example a dealer that has two cars, that look exactly the same: a 1999 Mercury Mystique. The value of a good make would be around $ 3.600 (KBB.com), while the value of a lemon would be around $ 1.500 (you might be able to drive it for a while). However, when a car dealer wants to sell both models, he’d probably never get rid of the lemon when he uses these prices (the buyer would know that it’s a lemon) so he would try to get the most out of it: he sells both cars for $ 2.900. This is called information asymmetric: the seller knows more than the buyer knows. This theory can be applied to many markets, e.g. MP3 players that are hacked so they look like they have more memory, they are sold on the internet and the buyer finds out that he can’t use all the memory when he first tries to copy music to the player.

When I got at my car dealer last week, the $ 1.500 Mercury Mystique from 1999 looked pretty nice! (forgetting all the lessons I learned about lemon markets in University.) Indeed, it turned out to be a lemon. $ 800 repair costs fixed the major problems, hopefully it will run for a while. Pictures coming soon! Some other updates from my personal life:
• Starting February, I will be part of the ING Direct soccer team! Only the outdoor season doesn’t start until June (!) so we’ll be playing indoor till then.
• The weather changes a lot over here: on one evening you’re walking outside in a shirt feeling like it is the end of a nice summer day, the next day it snows…
• This weekend is filled with some nice parties: Saturday something called ‘Pot Luck’ (everybody brings some food or beverages, they are combined for dinner) and Sunday I’ll be watching an American Football game (not to be confused by Football – they call it soccer over here), as a housewarming party of a colleague.

Thanks for all your e-mails, unfortunately my notebook crashed last week so sorry for the late replies!

PS. Do I belong to the target group of this video?

Monday, January 14, 2008

How can I help you save your money?

The US has a huge consuming culture: everybody always wants a bigger car, expensive clothes and 5 credit cards to go shopping whenever they like to. This often results in financial problems with individuals (next to the mortgage crisis). With the amount of commercials and billboards, people do get into the confrontation with stuff that they can buy (financing is always available). While most people sense that $299 a month for a brand new Porsche is impossible, people from a bad neighborhood will imagine the Porsche on their driveway for only a couple of dollars a month. So they think it's a good deal; however, after 5 years, he notices that the $299 interest was only 2% for the first years, after which the interest increases to 15%. The Porsche has already become a wreck. What to do with the $2250 bill each month? Let's get a loan to pay these bills!

ING Direct entered the US in 2000, after a few successful years in Canada, as a 'simple' bank and it has been very successful keeping things simple. The US especially has a huge potential market because of all the hidden fees and unreliable intermediaries in the banking sector. Quoting the ING Direct CEO: "It is my right in America to own and carry a gun. It is a privilege, however, to have a bank account" (aiming on the difficulties of opening a bank account when you have bad credit history or a low income)

"Basically, it's an evil world out there. Brokers and banks try to sell you products you don't actually need, which leads to individuals with debts they can never pay back. There are enough problems in the world: earthquakes, floods, wars... Why should we add financial problems to this list? We live in the richest country in the world!"

ING Direct US grew to a huge direct bank (with the mission: lead Americans back to savings!), and it also offers checking accounts and mortgages nowadays. ING Direct US is successful because clients get what they need: a simple internet bank without hidden fees or minimums on a savings account. ING Direct US also hates the waiting times at call centers: when you call 1-800 ING Direct, you'll soon be speaking to a real person (answering the phone with "Daniel speaking, how may I help you save your money?")

This is a summary of what I have learned in my first week! In the meantime, the news is all about Britney Spears, the pre-elections, and Britney Spears. I'm still looking for a car & apartment and I'll keep you in touch!


Check a few pictures of this week...

Or view a recent ING Direct commercial:

Friday, January 4, 2008

I have arrived !!

After my flight last Wednesday, I arrived at 3:00 pm (local Philadelphia time) on the airport of Philadelphia. Thanks to some nice movies & nice people around me, the flight was not so boring this time! I sat next to a girl from San Francisco, who told me about the tiger that had escaped from the Frisco Zoo (after which I told her about Bokito in the Netherlands). After immigration checks at the airport (sir, what are you going to do again?) I was able to get my rental car: a Chevy Cobalt! Nice car.

With the car and some short driving directions I drove to my apartment in Wilmington, DE. The car drove perfect, however I was extremely surprised to see the apartment: full of luxury! HD-TV’s, walk-in closet, washer, dryer, dishwasher, fitness, a large garage and concierge services. However the balcony is not of good use: despite the sunny-looking pictures, the wind makes it very cold over here.

The first days are scheduled to arrange a lot of stuff: get a social security number, open a bank account, buy an American SIM card for my phone, and doing some groceries. Doing groceries is completely different than the Netherlands: you park your car next to a large grocery store, which is a bit hard to find between all the McDonald’s and Burger Kings, and if you found one they often don’t even sell fresh fruits or vegetables. Thank god I love chicken wings. And Starbucks is always here to save me!

The people are very kindly, they are often surprised by the idea of me coming all the way from Amsterdam for a job. In the meantime, the TVs are focused on the pre-elections of the 2008 Presidency elections; the first pre-elections were in Iowa last Thursday. They used to interrupt TV shows for the last news about these pre-elections. Small detail: often, the two winners of the first pre-elections have to fight for presidency in the end of the year.

I will start with my job next Monday. I am curious about what to expect, now that I have been preparing this for so long… I’ll keep you informed!


Check the pictures!

Welcome !!

This site is my blogging place where I'll share my experiences in the United States. On January 7, my job as Business Analyst starts at ING Direct's head office in Wilmington (DE) (Philadelphia area).

The American culture (business and 'casual'), the trips that I'm about to make on the East Coast, and diffences between the States and Europe will be the main topics of my blog. Besides, 2008 is the year of the US elections, the European Championship soccer that I'll be missing :( and maybe the year of the Google / Linux cell phone !

If you have any comments, questions or just a reaction, do not hesitate to send me an e-mail!