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Shrinking budgets


France has long cherished its “tickets resto” – coupons that companies distribute to their staff to cover the cost of everyday meals. Now French companies are looking after their ­employees’ minds as well as their stomachs. Under the new “Tickets Psy” scheme, vouchers given out by the company doctor allow any member of staff up to 10 free sessions with a psychologist or psychiatrist.

When the scheme began last autumn, it was just in time for recession-era blues. Now more and more bankers and brokers are snapping up the chance to get away from their desk and onto the couch.

Jean-Renaud d’Elissagaray, who designed the scheme, says he hopes it will help his country to be less shy about psychoanalysis. “The French and Anglo-Saxon approaches are different,” says d’Elissagaray. “People are still a bit scared here of anyone knowing they are seeing a shrink.”

And it shows. France has one of the highest suicide rates in the industrialised world (Japan, Korea, Finland, Belgium all rank higher).

More quirky perks:

  1. Erickson Retirement Communities in Baltimore lets its staff get married for free – or for a discount price – in the chapels of its villages for pensioners.
  2. When Worthington Industries’ 6,233 employees in the US are not busy producing flat-rolled steel they can have their hair cut for $4 on site.
  3. The 3,000 staff at medical software firm Epic Systems in Wisconsin enjoy open fire places, a vegetable garden and “fun themed” conference rooms – one is a treehouse.

Brand wagons


Dubai is about to pioneer a whole new commuter experience. Its Roads & Transport Authority is selling the naming rights for stations on the $4.2bn metro which opens this autumn in a bid to ease the emirate’s notorious traffic jams. Passengers will pull into stops named after First Gulf Bank, telecoms provider Etisalat, and Nakheel, developer of some of the city’s man-made islands. Besides signage, owners can broadcast audio content and veto the display of competitors’ adverts. Companies can even pay to name an entire line (there are two) that will move an estimated 1.2 million commuters daily. Next stop Panasonic Circus?

Shark attack


Russia’s loan sharks are raking it in. Banks are not lending but these guys offer to give you cash up front in half an hour. No questions asked. But it’ll cost you 170 per cent in interest per year.

Q&A: Gudjón Már Gudjónsson

Ministry of Ideas, Iceland

With Iceland’s financial collapse, businessman Gudjónsson is seeking solutions and in January he set up the Ministry of Ideas.

What is the Ministry of Ideas?
It’s a non-profit group bringing Icelandic entrepreneurs, artists and idealists together to share their knowledge and turn their ideas into reality. We hold an open meeting every Saturday.

Why did you create the Ministry?
We needed to channel Iceland’s vast human potential into entrepreneurship. We know how important a clear vision is for a company. Take General Electrics as an example: GE has 300,000 employees. Iceland has a population of 300,000. GE has a vision. Iceland needs a new vision. We have an opportunity now to become the leading nation in terms of reinventing ourselves from the current recession.

Does your group have anything to do with the government?
We’ve had positive comments from ministers and the president but we are independent. In future, we will make proposals to the government based on our work. And who knows? In the long run maybe we can be the first nation to establish an official Ministry of Ideas.

Energy spending

Renewables investment funds are growing

By Rachel Morarjee

Whatever their woes, governments all over the world are pumping money into renewable energy as a long term investment and green stocks and new investment funds are mushrooming.

“Things have never looked so bright for renewable energy in the US,” says Bozkurt Aydinoglu, portfolio manager at Hazel Capital, an asset management company that invests in renewables.

UK-based Hazel runs specialist green energy funds for high net worth individuals, and plans to expand to retail investors in the second quarter of this year.

Investors need to have a healthy appetite for risk. After a brief bounce when Barack Obama came into office, renewable energy stocks have languished at less than half of their highs of 18 months ago. And many clean energy companies are small and young. Brave investors stand to make good gains though.

For the less adventurous, Triodos Bank, headquartered in the Netherlands, offers a clean-energy one-year bond.







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