On being … in with the In Crowd?

By Ingrid Sapona

A couple weeks ago I read that an Ontario municipality (Richmond Hill) is going to provide residents with the option to pay their property tax using the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. As it happens, Richmond Hill’s the second Ontario municipality to do so – the town of Innisfil was the first to allow this. Innisfil has had a “Pay with Bitcoin” option on its website since April. 

My initial reaction was, “Say what?”, quickly followed by a suspicious “WHY?”

Seems a Toronto-based “payment processing company” called Coinberry has entered into agreements with these municipalities to facilitate such payments. Coinberry, which describes itself as a financial technology company, runs a platform where people can buy, sell, and “remit” Bitcoin. When a property owner clicks on the Pay with Bitcoin option on their municipality’s site, they’re then connected to the Coinberry app. The property owner electronically sends Bitcoin to Coinberry, who then converts the Bitcoin to Canadian dollars and pays the town.

Richmond Hill’s deputy mayor is quoted as saying this option’s no different than going to your bank and converting your Euros or Pounds into Canadian currency. That may be so, but Bitcoin’s been more volatile than traditional hard currency, so there’s some currency exchange fluctuation risk. Though Coinberry says it will “instantly” (that’s the word in their press release) convert the Bitcoin to Canadian funds, if there’s a price change during the transaction process, the property owner will have to make up any shortfall.

Given that the towns don’t actually end up with Bitcoin, Coinberry’s basically a middle man – an intermediary. Before Coinberry came to them with this “solution”, did Innisfil have a payment processing problem? Previously, Innisfil residents could “only” pay via phone or internet baking, credit card (using another third party service provider), cheque (via mail or dropped off in a box at the front entrance of the Town Hall), or pay in person using cash (presumably Canadian currency), cheque, or debit card at the Town Hall during normal business hours. And, if you have a mortgage, your mortgage company can pay your property tax. Come on – aren’t those enough options? I guess not…

According to Coinberry, credit card companies charge municipalities about 3% but Coinberry charges 0.5%. So, Coinberry’s service is arguably more cost effective than credit card payments. But I still have trouble seeing the need for such an option. Innisfil’s website explains that over 5% of Canadians currently own some form of cryptocurrency. Innisfil has about 36,000 residents and, assuming my interpretation of recent census data is correct, about 8,700 of them are home owners. So, maybe 435 Innisfil property owners hold some cryptocurrency. Interestingly, the lone Richmond Hill counsellor who voted against the idea did so because there was “no evidence whatsoever to support this new service”. I guess he doesn’t think they need to cater to the (apparently) 5% of Canadians who own cryptocurrency.

Cynics might wonder how much Coinberry “wined and dined” counsellors (if not actually greased some palms) in its effort to persuade these municipalities to offer this new “solution”. But even assuming nothing fishy was going on, what’s really motivating these politicians?

The answer appears to have a lot to do with wanting to be seen as modern and cutting edge. Innisfil’s website says it’s offering this because, “Innisfil facilitates innovative solutions to everyday issues that enhance our residents’ quality of life…”. Seems to me the folks whose quality of life might be improved by this venture is primarily folks who own Coinberry – not the town residents, but never mind.

Bragging rights also seem at play here. In a Coinberry-issued press release Innisfil’s mayor, who describes the new payment option as “exciting”, is proud to be the first to take this “bold step”. As she sees it, “By getting into this now, we are making sure our municipality is ahead of the game, and signaling to the world that we truly are a future-ready and innovative community.” I’m not sure what game they were concerned they might fall behind in, but never mind.

And it’s not just the towns that are claiming bragging rights. Coinberry now proudly boasts it’s “the only blockchain based cryptocurrency platform to have secured partnerships and provide solutions to two Canadian Municipalities – making it the leading and most trustworthy platform in Canada.”  No doubt Coinberry will use this as a selling feature to other towns – after all – who wouldn’t want to be associated with THE leading platform?

Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s good when politicians are open to change and innovation – and there’s nothing wrong with a town fostering the image of being hip. But, I can’t help think there are other pressing, real problems these politicians should be spending more time trying to find innovative solutions to.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


On being … an inflection point

By Ingrid Sapona

Today’s column was inspired by a recent Smarter Living column by Tim Herrera in the New York Times. In that column, Herrera was musing about work habits and how perfectionist tendencies can get in the way of productivity. He used his own habit of starting a column and then putting it aside, returning to it “every few days, reworking the same few sentences” as an example. He described this behaviour as being an editing and re-editing spiral and dolefully admitted that the end product is probably no better as a result of the “incremental faux-progress”. Boy could I relate!

Herrera went on to talk about strategies for managing such behaviour. One that I found particularly thought provoking related to “inflection points”. Rather than paraphrasing what Herrera said, here’s a paragraph from his column that talked about it:

“At some point, we must remind ourselves, any changes we make to a creation no longer make it better but just different (and sometimes worse),” Dr. Alex Lickerman wrote in Psychology Today on the topic of just getting things done. “Recognizing that inflection point – the point at which our continuing to rework our work reaches a law of diminishing returns – is one of the hardest skills to learn, but also one of the most necessary.”

I find the idea of an inflection point beyond which what you’re really doing is just making things different quite useful. If for no other reason, assessing whether you’re at an inflection point is helpful because it involves stepping back and considering whether it makes more sense to continue spinning or to go on and take the next step. So, for example, when I’m in a re-writing spiral, by considering if I’m at an inflection point, my focus shifts from trying to find the perfect way of expressing an idea to deciding whether it’s better to publish and get the idea out there, trusting that what I’ve written is reasonably clear.

Indeed, there are other ways I think applying the idea could be useful. For example, have you ever found yourself in a decision-making spiral where you’re just weighing and re-weighing various factors? When that happens, maybe it would be helpful to look at it as a possible point of inflection. In other words, stop and ask yourself if you’ve considered all the relevant factors and – assuming you have – consider whether making a decision and moving forward from the inflection point is a better choice than continuing to spin.

I also love the idea that recognizing when you’re at an inflection point is a learnable skill. I have to admit, when I first read that, I was skeptical. But, in thinking about the actual steps that might be involved in applying it to different situations (like writing and decision-making), I can see how it’s something you can train yourself to do.

So, putting this new skill into practice, I recognize I’m at an inflection point for this column. I could go on, talking more about why the idea so grabbed my imagination. But instead, I’ll leave it to you to ponder whether becoming better at recognizing inflection points might be helpful in your work and life.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona