Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Europe, Email, and Other Pressing Questions

Here's what passes for "good news" in Europe these days:

Banks in Europe have been under a severe liquidity crunch over the past few weeks as lenders across the world - especially in the United States - have pulled back their credit exposure.

A couple of weeks ago the Federal Reserve made hundreds of billions of dollars available to the European financial community who were starved for dollar funding, but this was still not sufficient liquidity.

Enter the European Central Bank (ECB), which also opened the borrowing window to banks with few alternatives available. And here's what happened, according to the New York Times this morning:

In its role as lender of last resort to banks, the E.C.B. allocated 489.2 billion euros, or $644 billion, to 523 institutions, through what are known as long-term repurchasing operations. That was well above the roughly €300 billion average estimate of analysts polled by Reuters and Bloomberg News, though estimates had been widely divergent.

The injection of three-year funds was one of the new measures announced by the E.C.B. on Dec. 8 to calm European credit markets, which have become increasingly frothy as the euro zone crisis wears on. It was the first time that the E.C.B. has extended such loans for longer than about a year. Banks will pay the benchmark interest rate, currently 1 percent.

Initially European markets soared - the ECB to the rescue!

Then the sobering reality hit: borrowing from the "lender of last resort" (i.e., the ECB) can hardly be taken as an all-clear signal.

All it really means is that the ECB has postponed the Day of Reckoning for a few months.

But the market took it as good news anyway.


That's not what I really want to talk about today, though.

Like millions of other people, I am an active user of email. The days of ringing phones and huge mail volumes have long gone. If you were in my office on most days, the most frequent sound you would hear would be the clicking of my keyboard as I respond to clients and analysts.

While I appreciate the efficiency of email, I must confess there are days that I wish the volumes would decline. On a typical day I probably get 150 to 200 emails a day, and nearly all seem to require varying degrees of attention.

I have been reading more articles recently about how companies and people are trying to minimize their email involvement. Interesting, the companies at the forefront of the movement seem to be technology companies, which were the pioneers in email a couple of decades ago.

There was an article in yesterday's Financial Times describing the backlash against email. Entitled "The end of email"?", the piece discussed actions that people are taking to either avoid email messaging or are turning to other social media communications to discuss routine matters with colleagues.

Here's an excerpt:

However, for many companies, it is simply that email is seen as inefficient. "We believe email is fundamentally unproductive, you need to sift through too many documents and things get lost, " says Leerom Segal, president and chief executive of Klick, a Canadian digital marketing company. "It has no prioritisation, no workflow, and assumes that the most important item is the one at the top.

The article goes on to discuss how some companies like Intel are experimenting with "no-email Fridays", encouraging engineers to solve problems by phone or face-to-face instead.

It may be that the problems in Europe are more important than email overload, but I suspect the latter will be easier to solve in the long run.