MONEY Investing

Kickstarter Backers Are Investors, and It’s Time They Got Used To It

iStock

Many Kickstarter users still don't quite understand what they're getting into, or why the site is predicated on risk.

It’s been a rough September for Kickstarter. After a three-week period during which two major projects—each of which had raised more than $500,000 on the site—failed spectacularly, the crowdfunding platform has begun to look a little less like a harmless way for underdog visionaries to fund their passion projects and a little more like a casino. It hasn’t helped that a handful of Kickstarter scams and con men were exposed in recent months.

Recently, Kickstarter appeared to respond to the bad press by revising its terms of service. The new document does a better job of laying out the responsibilities creators have to their backers. No scamming, do your best, try to make it up to people if you fail, and so on. But that move likely won’t fix the deeper problem: That most of the site’s users believe that their donations entitle them to some kind of tangible reward, be it a smart watch or a bamboo beer koozie. In reality, nothing of the sort is guaranteed. That’s because Kickstarter backers aren’t customers making a purchase. They’re investors. And like all investments, Kickstarter projects have a chance of going bust.

To an extent, the confusion is understandable. Kickstarter calls itself “a new way to fund creative projects,” which sounds a lot more innocuous than “Craig’s List for angel investing” — even though the latter may be closer to the truth. Backers generally have limited information about the people they are supporting. And once a project is funded, they’re on their own when it comes to enforcing contracts with a creators — to the extent that such contracts even exist. In the event that a scammer takes everyone’s money and runs, Kickstarter won’t offer a refund or even chip in for legal fees. But at least in those cases there’s a clear basis for taking legal action (fraud); when money is squandered in a more conventional way — through bad business decisions — funders have no recourse at all.

However, before anyone deletes their Kickstarter app or swears off crowdfunding for good, it’s worth pointing out that you may have staked your retirement on a similar system: The stock market. Equity ownership, after all, comes with startlingly few guarantees. If Tim Cook decides tomorrow to spend all of Apple’s capital on a strategic Cheetos reserve, there’s really not much the average investor (without a controlling stake in the company) can do about it other than sell off the stock. Sure, the stock market does have additional important protections: greater transparency; legally empowered and (theoretically) independent boards of directors; dedicated regulators and watchdogs, and more. But in both cases investors take on a large amount of risk.

Does that make Kickstarter a bad deal? Not at all. In fact, the risky nature of Kickstarter is arguably the very thing that makes it worth using. Project creators offer something to backers — even if it’s just early access to their product — as a reward for taking a chance on a risky idea.

But it’s important to remember why the maker of that sweet felt iPhone case is giving you priority treatment: Things could all go south. And if they do, you’re the one who’ll take the hit.

MONEY buying a home

Rupert Murdoch Wants to Sell You Your Next Home

News Corp. has acquired Move Inc., putting Murdoch's business in the thick of the online listings war.

UPDATE—3:28 P.M.

Home buyers take note, your next house could come courtesy of the Murdoch empire. On Tuesday, the Australian billionaire’s News Corp announced it was buying Move Inc., the real estate listings company that owns Move.com, Realtor.com, and other online listings websites, for $950 million.

While Move is hardly the market leader among listing websites—competitors Trulia and Zillow account for 71% of traffic to ComScore’s real estate category—it long claimed to be the most accurate. Thanks to an agreement with the National Association of Realtors, the company’s sites have partnerships with more than 800 multiple listings services, which provide real estate listing information as soon as a home comes on the market. Zillow and Trulia have previously been dinged for out-of-date information, and Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff raised eyebrows when he appeared to suggest that fixing stale listings wasn’t one of the company’s top priorities. (Zillow has stressed that the CEO’s statement was taken out of context, and emphasized their constant effort to improve listings.)

But despite Move’s data advantage, and recent ad campaigns stressing its superior accuracy, taking on Trulia and Zillow has been an uphill battle. That battle became even more difficult in July, when Zillow purchased Trulia for $3.5 billion, creating an online real estate behemoth. News Corp’s entrance into the market may finally give Move the marketing muscle to fight back. News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson signalled the company’s dedication to Move’s business, stating that the acquisition would make “online real estate a powerful pillar of our portfolio.” He also indicated the company will strongly support Move’s brand. “We intend to use our media platforms and compelling content to turbo-charge traffic growth and create the most successful real estate website in the U.S.,” said Thomson.

A News Corp-powered Move might ultimately be a boon for homebuyers by reducing Zillow/Trulia’s hold on the online listings market. When Zillow’s purchase of Trulia was first announced, some worried the new company would have more leverage to charge real estate agents higher advertising fees, and that this charge might be passed on to the consumer. More robust competition may give agents more options for online advertising and reduce Zillow/Trulia’s bargaining power. However, other experts believe the News Corp. acquisition will have little real effect on consumers. Jonathan Miller, CEO of Miller Samuel Inc, told MONEY the Move acquisition is unlikely to be felt by your average house hunter.

“I think what you’re seeing is [the housing market] improve,” said Miller. “There’s more focus on the housing sector, there’s a lot of cross branding opportunities with News Corp. and their holdings with real estate, but I don’t see it having any real impact on transactions. I don’t think the consumer is going to see this.”

MONEY Banking

Here’s One Thing You Probably Shouldn’t Get at Walmart

Cracked piggy bank with Walmart logo
MONEY (photo illustration)—Getty Images (photo)

Walmart's new partnership with GoBank may be a decent option for those unable to get a checking account from a traditional bank, but most consumers (even low-income ones) can find a better deal.

When Walmart announced Tuesday that it would soon be offering checking accounts for the masses—so its customers could, ostensibly, conveniently deposit their checks where they purchase all their household goods—we saw an opportunity to compare the new banking option to its competitors.

Thanks to research compiled for MONEY’s annual Best Banks in America story, the latest version of which will be out on newsstands on November 28, we were able to measure up the new account against more than 200 other checking accounts.

But before we jump into our analysis, it’s important to understand what exactly Walmart is doing. First of all, the retailer is not technically its own bank (since its efforts to become an official deposit institution were basically foiled by the banking industry in 2007). The Walmart will simply offer a GoBank account through its partner Green Dot, an FDIC-insured banking platform that currently issues Walmart’s prepaid card.

The GoBank checking account—no savings as of yet—comes with a relatively low $8.95 monthly “membership fee” (essentially a maintenance fee) that can be waived with a $500 monthly direct deposit. But perhaps more interesting is the fact that it has no overdraft fees whatsoever, and virtually anyone—even those with terrible credit or a history of bouncing checks—will be approved for an account.

Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com, says GoBank’s low eligibility requirements are unique in the industry and could be helpful to people who have frequent trouble with overdrafts. But McBride cautions that the people described make up a small subset of most consumers. Just one in seven bank customers have had more than one overdraft in the last year, meaning an even smaller subset of that group would be in dire need of GoBank’s leniency.

As it stands, the vast majority of people—even those with low incomes or mediocre credit scores—are able to qualify for checking accounts with similar or better terms than what GoBank offers, says McBride. Many competitors offer perks GoBank does not, such as interest payments or free use of out-of-network ATMs.

Below, we’ve set the account against some of the better options for standalone checking:

Account Maintenance Fee Minimum Interest Out-of-network ATM fees Overdraft fees? Credit score check to open?
Walmart’s GoBank Checking Account $8.95 (waived with a $500 monthly direct deposit) 0% $2.50 No No
E*Trade’s Max-Rate Checking Account $15 (waived with a $200 monthly direct deposit) 0.01% $0 (and all third-party ATM fees are reimbursed) Yes No, but they do check on past overdraft history.
Capital One’s 360 Checking Account $0 0.20% $0 Yes, but only $0.03 a day for every $100 of overdraft balance Yes
Ally Bank Interest Checking Account $0 0.10% $0 (and all third-party ATM fees are reimbursed) Yes Yes

For our Best Banks feature, MONEY also looked at mobile apps, and from what’s been announced so far, GoBank’s app does sound state of the art. A built-in budgeting program called Fortune Teller asks users to input their various bills and expenses, along with their salary and pay day. And once all the information is entered, users can ask Fortune Teller’s opinion before they buy something by entering in the price.

In theory, this sounds great—most people could use a virtual slap on the hand when they’re about to overspend. But the devil is in the details. It’s unknown how much of a financial buffer Fortune Teller’s algorithm leaves when it tells a person he or she can afford a purchase. And when the advice is coming, however indirectly, from a store that has plenty of things to sell to you, you’d be smart to be skeptical.

In other words, just because you can afford that $1,000 Gollum Halloween party prop doesn’t mean you should buy it. And just because you can get easily approved for this bank account doesn’t mean you should apply.

Related:

MONEY 101: How do I pick a bank?

MONEY Banking

Walmart to Begin Offering Checking Accounts

Walmart wants to be your one-stop-shop for financial services as well.

UPDATED—2:37 P.M.

Walmart is no longer just your doctor, supermarket, or big box retailer. Now it also wants to be your bank.

On Tuesday, the retail giant announced it would be partnering with Green Dot Bank to begin offering Walmart customers checking accounts. The accounts will be provided through GoBank, Green Dot’s mobile checking service, and are scheduled to become available nationwide by the end of October.

To join, customers must buy a GoBank “starter kit,” which includes a starter MasterCard debit card, for $2.95. Users can deposit cash into their GoBank account at any Walmart, and each store will be outfitted with one of the bank’s 42,000 free ATMs. Green Dot claims virtually any customer who passes an ID check will be accepted, meaning even those with low credit should be able to open an account.

This is not Walmart’s first forway into the world of finance. The company previously tried to obtain its own bank charter in 2007, but was rebuffed by the banking industry. Subsequently, Walmart has provided numerous “fringe-banking” services, such as check cashing, payday loans, bill pay, money orders, and a suite of prepaid cards and checking alternatives. Many of the store’s locations feature a MoneyCenter for the company’s financial products and the Walmart website includes a section devoted to “Payday Solutions.”

In addition to foregoing a credit check, GoBank promises to offer a number of attractive features to low-income consumers. The service does not charge overdraft fees, and GoBank will waive its $8.95 monthly charge for all accounts with direct deposits of at least $500 per month. Walmart highlights one study that showed consumers pay between $218 and $314 a year for a basic checking account.

However, GoBank also does not include other common banking services. Money stored with the GoBank does not earn interest. And unlike most checking accounts, these do not offer users paper checks; instead, GoBank refers customers to its online bill-paying service.

Faye Landes, a retail analyst at Cowen investment management group, described to the New York Times Walmart’s entrance into banking as a savvy play to help the chain lure back customers who have jumped ship to even cheaper competitors. “Their core consumer, the lower-end consumer, is faring disproportionately poorly in the overall economy,” Landes told the paper. “Anything they can do to get them back from the dollar stores and back in their own stores makes total sense.”

In a press release, Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of sales for Walmart U.S., presented GoBank as an alternative for consumers who increasingly cannot afford traditional banking solutions. “This product is really designed toward Wal-Mart shoppers who find themselves dissatisfied or unhappy with the fees and costs associated with traditional banking,” Eckert told the L.A. Times, “as well as customers with a spotty record of managing their account.”

 

MONEY Television

5 Packages That Will Replace Pay TV as We Know It

cutting the cord
Igor Markov—iStock

The traditional cable plan is dying. Here's what's going to replace it.

If you need proof that cable providers are feeling the heat from cord cutters, look no further than AT&T’s new U-Verse package. Marketed as an online exclusive, the plan includes broadband, a small lineup of channels, HBO (including HBO GO), and a full subscription to Amazon Prime (with both streaming video and free shipping included)—all for $39 a month. The message is clear: “Keep paying for TV, and we’ll throw in some of the web services you were thinking of leaving us for.”

If might seem strange for a cable provider to subsidize its competitor’s products (and you’d be right), but AT&T’s latest offer reflects just how desperate cable companies have become to keep their subscribers. The old pay-TV model is dying, and it’s being replaced by a slew of more consumer-friendly ways to watch the tube. As we edge closer to the end of cable as we know it, it’s time to look at five new packages that are stepping in to fill the void.

The Oh-God-We’ll-Do-Anything Package

That’s essentially what AT&T is now offering. By discounting the same web services most of their cord-cutting customers are likely fleeing toward, the company is trying to keep anyone they can on the cable bandwagon for just a little while longer. It sounds like a good deal, but cable refugees should read the fine print. AT&T is only offering the $39 price for your first year on the service. After that, the plan’s price is likely to skyrocket, making this package a bit of a bait-and-switch.

Re/Code’s Peter Kafka succinctly summarizes the logic behind AT&T’s newest product, writing that cable providers “[would] rather have subscribers paying a small fee than none at all, but they’re also telling themselves that those subscribers will ‘trade up’ ” to a more expensive plan. But as Kafka points out, it’s a gamble, and giving subscribers a sampling of cable competitors might not be the best way to ensure they stick around.

The Discount Cable Package

Having hundreds of channels sounds nice, but which channels does the average watcher actually need? The networks? Local sports? Maybe HBO? If that’s your answer, a growing number of cable companies are offering packages that offer exactly that, and nothing more, at a discount price. Comcast is selling internet, local channels, and HBO for $49.99 a month. (Comcast might be feeling ambivalent about this plan, since, as Re/Code notes, the company apparently stopped promoting it, but interested parties can still find the deal here.) Verizon has an almost identical plan for $50, and AT&T is offering its aforementioned discount plan at an even lower price.

The catch? Verizon’s deal is for one year only, and Comcast promises just 12 months of its “Internet Plus” plan at the introductory price. Once that year runs out, subscribers may find these discount plans are yet another ploy to keep cord-cutters on board and gradually reconvert them to costlier options.

Cable for Cord-Cutters

It might sound like an oxymoron, but that appears to be exactly what Sony is trying to do with its yet-to-be-released Web TV service. The tech giant has already signed a deal with Viacom to carry 22 of the company’s channels, including MTV and Comedy Central, and plans to ultimately stream an even larger selection of networks exclusively over the internet.

However, instead of using this new transmission method to shake up TV offerings, the Wall Street Journal reports Sony is planning to put together a traditional cable-like package with roughly 100 channels and a comparable monthly bill. According to Viacom and others involved with the project, Sony plans to lure would-be cable quitters using a new, more powerful user interface that promises to make media consumption of all kinds more intuitive and enjoyable.

The Un-Cable Provider

If T-Mobile has become the un-carrier for wireless service by rejecting typical industry practices, Dish seems to be doing the same thing for cable. The satellite provider is planning to launch a new Web-TV service as well, and like Sony’s offering, it wouldn’t require any setup or installation fee. But according to the Journal, Dish is going even farther than Sony by building its Web TV package around a leaner selection of most-watched channels—all for a lower price than current pay-TV plans. Dish has already partnered with Disney to build out its content lineup, and is required by that agreement to also carry 10 of the top 30 channels when the service debuts.

A Hodgepodge of Streaming Web Services

For many TV fans, ditching cable for the Netflixes and Hulus of the world is already the status quo. Cable providers may not let customers pick and choose which channels to receive, but through a careful selection of streaming services, including free ones like YouTube and Twitch, TV addicts may have stumbled across the next best thing. This alternative is looking even more attractive ever since HBO announced in September that it was ‘seriously considering’ offering HBO GO to those without cable plans as a standalone product. Combine online HBO with a growing number of cable-less sports options, and the very idea of single package TV service may become increasingly old-fashioned.

MONEY identity theft

Here’s What To Do About the Home Depot Hack

Home Depot says hackers have stolen tens of millions of its customers' payment card information. Here's how to protect yourself.

On Thursday, Home Depot acknowledged that hackers were able to access 56 million credit and debit cards when the retailer’s systems were cracked this April. The company says all malware has been removed from its U.S. and Canadian networks, but hackers have had access to card numbers as recently as September. If you’ve shopped at Home Depot within the past six months, here’s what you need to know:

Home Depot is providing free identity protection. The company is working with AllClear ID to give identity theft protection services, including credit monitoring, to all customers who have shopped at Home Depot since April 2014. To sign up, either go to this web page or call 1-855-252-0908, and AllClear will assign you an identity theft investigator.

Check your statements frequently. Credit card users shouldn’t worry too much about their number being stolen because credit card companies limit individual liability to $50. Of course, if you don’t identify fraudulent charges, your credit card company won’t cover them — so make sure to at least check your monthly credit-card statements.

Debit card users should be more vigilant about scrutinizing account activity — going back to April and going forward on a regular basis. The reason is that fraudulent charges are covered by banks for just 60 days after you receive a statement with such charges on it. The Home Depot data breach lasted months, so you could already be on the hook for purchases you didn’t make. Home Depot says AllClear’s identity theft protection service “will do the work to recover financial losses,” but it’s unclear what that means in the case of debit cards. (AllClear declined to comment on its partnership with Home Depot, and did not immediately respond to general questions about how debit card fraud is handled.) Home Depot claims there is no evidence that crooks obtained debit card PINs, but a company spokesperson would not say whether or not other information, like customer names, was stolen.

Stolen card info can be sold to and used by other fraudsters long after a breach — there’s a secondary market for this kind of stuff — so it’s a good idea to check your debit account activity as often as several times per week. Your debit spending is not only more vulnerable to fraud, but also can be more damaging. You won’t be out of pocket for bogus credit card payments; with debit card fraud, by contrast, the money is actually gone from your account until the issue is cleared up.

Look into getting a chip and pin payment card. Chip and pin payment cards are more secure, and offer an additional level of security by requiring users to enter a pin even when paying with a credit card. Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com, recommends consumers call their bank and ask about upgrading to a chip and pin card. This technology hasn’t been widely rolled out yet, but some bank already offer upgrades Schulz says most banks should offer this type card within the next year.

Try to relax. As these breaches become more common, it’s important not to panic each time a business is compromised. Instead, always practice good security habits, like creating strong passwords for e-commerce and frequently checking your payment cards’ transaction history.

MORE:

MONEY 101: What should I do if my wallet is lost or stolen?

MONEY 101: What should I do if I have been a victim of a data breach?

MONEY mobile payments

Why the U.S. Lags the World in Mobile Payments

Octopus card
Hong Kong's Octopus card Horizons WWP—Alamy

Many American consumers are beyond excited by the prospect of Apple Pay, but overseas the iPhone's latest feature is old news.

When Apple announced its new payment service, Apple Pay, earlier this month, many in the tech world were blown away. The system allows iPhone users to pay at the checkout counter simply by holding their phone to a receiver for a few seconds. Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge, called Apple Pay “this week’s most revolutionary product,” and eloquently summarized how most Americans already feel about the status quo: “mobile payments have sucked so far, and it’s high time somebody fixed it.”

Bohn is right, but what he likely meant to say was “mobile payments have sucked so far in the United States.” Across the globe in Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, viewers of Apple’s announcement could be forgiven for falling asleep. Using your phone to buy stuff? We’ve been doing that for years.

In Hong Kong, residents regularly pay for goods, services, and public transit, all without swiping or signing. Instead, shoppers can simply wave their Octopus card, which uses a technology similar to Apple Pay, at checkout and go on their merry way. Octopus Holdings claims 95% of people in Hong Kong between ages 16 to 65 use its product, and Octopus is accepted at 14,000 retail outlets. Even more impressive, the card’s swipeless technology has been incorporated into phones, and yes, watches too. When did this magical future tech launch? Hong Kong has had Octopus since 1997.

Apple Pay-like services are also old news in Japan, a country where mobile payments are already ubiquitous. Afterall, it was Sony that invented the region’s major method of short-range data transfer. That technology eventually came to power Hong Kong’s Octopus card, as well as a slew of Japanese mobile wallets. Today, nearly every cell phone sold in Japan (other than the iPhone) comes with mobile payment technology built in by default.

Takeshi Natsuno, a former executive at one of Japan’s largest wireless carriers, once bragged, “When I leave my house in the morning all I take with me is my phone, which lets me do everything—pay, take public transport—simply by swiping a special reader in shops, stations or airports.” Sounds just like the promise of Apple Pay, except Natsuno said that in 2004.

But the world leader in mobile payments isn’t a glittering Eastern city. According to the Economist, that title belongs to Kenya and its revolutionary cell phone-based payment system, M-PESA. Launched in 2007, the service allows users to essentially text money back and forth while using telecom giant Safaricom, M-PESA’s creator, as a bank. Deposits and withdrawals are made through Safaricom’s network of 40,000 agents. Once money is in the system, it can be sent to any other M-PESA customer—even merchants—via a phone menu. Thanks to M-PESA, the Economist notes, “paying for a taxi in Nairobi is easier than it is in New York.”

Why is the U.S. so far behind other countries? There isn’t a single answer. At least in Asia-Pacific, major players may just be more willing to adopt the latest tech. “The thing hindering mobile payment development and contactless cards is that there’s an infrastructure set up in place and banks [and merchants] feel compatible with the current infrastructure,” said Theresa Jameson, senior analyst at Datamonitor Financial. “Certain markets are more willing to adopt new payment technologies.”

New contactless payments for public transport have also helped put Apple Pay-like technology in the hands of every consumer. Hong Kong’s Octopus card, as well as Japan and Taiwan’s mobile payment systems, each originated as a better way to pay subway fares. Over time, merchants gradually began to get on board with the new technology until swipeless payment became a norm. Ben Thompson, founder of the website Stratechery, describes how this exact process played out in Taiwan when a new Octopus-style transit card was introduced:

When I first arrived in 2003 almost everything was cash only. Just a year earlier, however, in 2002, the EasyCard Corporation née Smart Card Corporation had rolled out an RFID stored value card for use on Taipei’s new MRT (subway) system… Within a few years you could use the card everywhere: buses, trains, taxis, parking, government fees, and now, 10 years on, almost every retailer, and the RFID chip is no longer limited to cards, but is embedded in some phones, key fobs, and more.

As Thompson points out, another reason behind America’s stagnation in the mobile payment space is simply the inertia of the credit card system. Magnetic stripe cards are accepted by as many as 9 million U.S. businesses, and it will take an enormous investment to make Apple Pay even half as prolific. However, in countries like Taiwan and Kenya, where credit card penetration is low, or Japan, where there is a cultural aversion to debt, new alternatives were given an opportunity to flourish because credit cards had not already dominated the market.

But as America slowly prepares to move from magnetic strips to Near Field Communication (NFC) systems like Apple Pay, Asia may be held back by its own form of inertia. “Japan and Hong Kong are faced with a dilemma,” says Datamonitor’s Jameson. “If they wish to begin using Apple Pay or other NFC-based mobile payment services, they will need to start from the ground up in building their contactless/mobile payments ecosystem like the rest of the world – which would require considerable investment.” Their other option? “Stick with their existing system while the rest of the world moves in a different direction.”

MONEY taxis

Uber Has Pretty Much Destroyed Regular Taxis in San Francisco

Uber driver in San Francisco
Mark Avery/ZUMA Wire—Alamy

We've all suspected Uber would wreck the traditional taxi industry. Now, at least in San Francisco, there's proof.

Techno-optimist disrupters and angry cab drivers alike have predicted that Uber, the leading app-powered car service, would eventually put traditional yellow cabs out of business. Now, a new report shows that that Uber is hitting metered cabs hard, at least in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Examiner reports on testimony by Kate Toran, director of taxis for San Francisco’s transportation authority, who revealed that average monthly trips per city taxi have plummeted from 1,424 in 2012 to 504 in July of this year—a drop of almost 65%. Uber added San Francisco taxi service in October of 2012.

In addition to cutting drivers’ revenues, Toran also suggested that people who use wheelchairs could be hurt by the shift to app-based services. Her report shows wheelchair pickups have dropped from 1,378 per month in March of 2013 to 768 in July—a decrease of over 50%.

“The ramp taxi program is just a vulnerable program in the taxi program overall because it costs more to operate, maintain and it costs more in gas for the drivers,” said Toran. “It takes more time to do wheelchair securement, so it’s kind of the first to go.” According to the Examiner, transportation network companies, unlike city cabs, are not required to be wheelchair accessible.

San Francisco isn’t the only place Uber is cutting into the traditional taxi business. Cab drivers from Chicago to Berlin have protested against Uber’s entrance, claiming in many cases that ridesharing companies are competing unfairly because they are not subject to the same regulations as official taxis.

In August, Illinois governor Pat Quinn vetoed a bill that would require companies like Uber submit their drivers to background checks, abide by new insurance requirements, and limit “surge-pricing” where fares are dynamically raised during high-temand hours. A recent Harvard Business Review article blamed excessive regulations of city cabs as a primary reason why yellow cabs have been unable to compete with new transportation services. For example, metered cabs can’t dynamically change prices as demand changes. Uber can. And it has frequently dropped its own fares below those of city cabs knowing its regulated competition will be unable to respond. It has also taken advantage of special rush hour pricing.

San Francisco regulators have responded to competition from Uber-like services by relaxing some standards in an attempt to keep yellow cab drivers from jumping ship. Driver application fees have been waived for the year, and other fees have been reduced. They are also considering eliminating a $500 charge for a wheelchair-friendly cab license.

While Uber’s entrance into the market has been bad for taxi companies’ business, it may have improved their service. Tuesday’s report noted 80% of the city’s taxi fleet now uses the FlyWheel hailing app, which allows customers to summon and pay for taxis using their phones.

MONEY wealth inequality

The “Billionaire Census” Will Make You Hate the Ultra-Rich Even More

Private jet with red carpet
Jupiterimages—Getty Images

A new study gives some insight into how billionaires live. And yeah, it's about as cringey as you would expect.

Let’s face it, America has a complex relationship with the very rich.

On one hand, there’s a deep American tradition of respecting and even revering financial success, not least because of the moxy, gumption, elbow grease, and/or bootstrapping it often takes to achieve it.

On the other hand, there’s a growing belief that the playing field is unfairly tilted in favor of the rich — a belief driven by the fact that wage growth in the U.S. has stagnated for the past decade-plus and the top 10% of American earners control almost 75% of the country’s wealth.

So there’s definitely some don’t-call-it-class tension in this country, not to mention the world at large — and a recent “Billionaires Census” published by UBS and Wealth-X will do little to assuage it.

The report doesn’t quite live up to its promise of delivering “groundbreaking research on the world’s ultra high net worth (UHNW) population.” (Shocker: Rich people like rich people things.) But it does succeed at reminding everyone that, as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote long ago, the rich “are different from you and me.” (In case you didn’t know that already.)

Some highlights:

  • There are 2,325 billionaires in the world who collectively control $7.3 trillion dollars in total wealth. For perspective, that means a group of people about the size of a typical suburban high school student population could fund the entire United States defense budget for 14 years and still have enough left over to buy a spaceship (or three).
  • If you saw that last statistic and though, “Wow, I just wish there could be even more ultra-rich people” you’re in luck! The number of billionaires is expected to increase by more than 1,000 over the next six years.
  • The “typical billionaire” has $3.1 billion in assets and grew his wealth by 4.4% last year. That doesn’t sound like much, but here’s the thing about having lots of money: A median American household would make $13,244 if their net worth increased by 4.4%. The average billionaire pulling the same returns adds $136 million to his fortune.
  • Roughly half of all billionares are women. Just kidding: They’re almost all men. Only 286, or slightly more than one in ten ultra-rich people, are female. And no, that doesn’t mean the business word has at least allowed that many women to share in the spoils. Most female billionaires (65%) inherited their wealth, compared to 13% of male billionaires.
  • About 35% of billionaires don’t a have a college degree, which is probably something Peter Thiel repeats a lot at dinner parties.
  • According to the report, which includes a 2015 “Billionaire Social Calendar,” events like “Antigua Sailing Week” and the “Singapore Yacht Show” are a “‘must go’ for many billionaires and their social circles.”
  • “21% of Dubai’s billionaires have specific interest in private jets.”

The report can be enjoyed in full here.

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