The Impact of COVID on Life Insurance

If someone you know died from COVID-19 and had an existing life insurance policy, there should be no problem receiving the death benefit. The terms of a life insurance contract cannot be changed after purchase, so anyone with a policy before the pandemic will continue to be covered as long as premiums are paid.

However, the life insurance industry is in a quandary right now when it comes to new applicants applying for policies.

Some insurers have placed an age limit on applicants to whom they will sell policies. Travelers who have recently visited countries with a significant outbreak and people currently infected with the virus are generally asked to wait until after they have quarantined or recovered to apply for life insurance. While the coronavirus has had a high fatality rate among people age 65 and older, the death rate has fluctuated among demographics over the past year as the virus spread from metropolitan areas to more rural parts of the country.

With this in mind, now is probably one of the most challenging times to apply for a life insurance policy. In the past, applicants have had to answer standard questions regarding their medical history. Today, most also will have to disclose if they have been treated for COVID-19. Bear in mind that even people who did not become severely ill could suffer medical conditions in the future resulting from the infection. However, it is best to answer that question honestly, because any future claims could be denied if it is found the applicant lied about his or her COVID experience on the application.

As the data continues to be assessed, it is likely that insurers will adjust their terms and rates in response to the recent pandemic. It is possible, in fact quite probable, that data pointing to enduring effects of COVID-19 will be included in life insurance underwriting standards in the future. This could increase premiums for COVID-19 survivors – or result in denial of coverage altogether.

In the past, there were life insurers that sold low-cost, low-payout policies without a medical exam or extensive health questions. But these days, given how quickly the coronavirus can take a life, applicants age 60 and older would be hard-pressed to qualify for one of those “guaranteed issue” policies.

In fact, pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes and asthma – which are highly susceptible to the ravages of the coronavirus – may undergo more scrutiny in the future. While pre-existing conditions are no longer a qualifying issue for health insurance, they are very much a part of the life insurance underwriting process and do increase individual premiums.

There is one silver lining for life insurance applicants: Some insurers have eliminated the normally required physical exam due to social distancing restrictions. Others have opted to postpone the in-person exam but offer immediate temporary coverage with a limited death benefit. A couple of life insurers in Connecticut and Massachusetts even offer a free, three-year term life policy to frontline workers in appreciation for their work during the pandemic. Eligible applicants include in-hospital personnel and first responders who have the greatest risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

Anyone who has lost their income due to the pandemic and is in danger of not being able to pay life insurance premiums should call their carrier to see if there are options to continue coverage. Some companies have agreed to defer premiums for up to 90 days rather than cancel coverage for people likely to find employment soon. It’s a good idea to call and find out rather than miss payments and hope your insurance company chooses not to notice.

5 Cities Rank as Ideal Locations for Remote Workers

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, in late spring of 2020 about half of American workers were working from home. Not surprisingly, many researchers believe that this pattern will continue after the pandemic is over. With this in mind, SmartAsset has examined the best cities to work from home in 2021 and evaluated them across seven metrics: percentage of those who worked at home; estimated percentage of those who can work at home; five-year change of percentage of those who worked at home; October 2020 unemployment rate; poverty rate; housing costs as a percentage of earnings; and percentage of residences with two or more bedrooms. Here’s what they learned:

  1. Scottsdale, Arizona. In 2019, Census Bureau data shows that about 18 percent of people worked from home, a 6.7 percent increase from 2014. This sunny city also has the fourth-highest estimated percentage of workforce who can work from home and the third-lowest 2019 poverty rate, which is 6 percent. When you’re not inside at your computer, you can enjoy the desert tranquility of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, restaurants and shops of Old Town Scottsdale, and the largest model train display in North America at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park.
  2. Raleigh, North Carolina. Even before COVID-19, a large percentage of people worked from home here, much like Scottsdale. In 2019, 10.5 percent of the workforce did so remotely, which is the fourth-highest for this metric. Raleigh also ranks in the top quartile for two other metrics: it has the 18th-lowest October 2020 unemployment rate (5.3 percent) and 21st-lowest poverty rate (10.9 percent). Raleigh is known as the “city of oaks,” which makes it a beautiful place to live. Even better, you can celebrate all four seasons and it’s only a few hours from the mountains. Plus, homes are some of the most affordable in the nation.
  3. Plano, Texas. Just north of Dallas, Plano ranks in the top 10 percent for three metrics: percentage of people who worked from home in 2019 (9.6 percent), estimated percentage of people who are able to work from home (35.44 percent) and 2019 poverty rate (7.5 percent). Also, Plano has the 14th-lowest October 2020 unemployment rate, at 5.2 percent. Best thing about Plano: it has all the restaurants, shops and amenities of Dallas without the traffic. And, there are numerous parks for walking, hiking, biking and swimming.
  4. Gilbert, Arizona. This locale ranks as one of the best places to buy an affordable home. In fact, data from the Census Bureau shows that 96.3 percent of apartments and homes in Gilbert have two or more bedrooms, which is the highest percentage for this metric. Additionally, it has a relatively low poverty rate (4.6 percent). Main attractions include bird watching at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, holiday shows at the Hale Centre Theatre, and delicious produce at the Gilbert Farmer’s Market.
  5. St. Petersburg, Florida. As of October 2020, the greater Pinellas County unemployment rate was just 5.2 percent. That’s 1.5 percentage points below the national average. What’s more, the percentage of people working from home grew by 4.6 percent in St. Petersburg from 2014 to 2019, the third-highest increase in the study. If you love sugar-sand beaches, you’re in luck: there are many to fall in love with. But you can also enjoy cultural outings like a visit to the Dali Museum and the Chihuly Collection.

Some of the other best cities for working remotely include Durham and Charlotte, North Carolina; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Austin, Texas; and Fremont, California. These days, working from home is the rule, rather than the exception it was years ago. In these challenging, uncertain times, it’s nice to know there are places you can thrive.

Sources

https://smartasset.com/checking-account/best-cities-to-work-from-home-2021

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g31350-Activities-Scottsdale_Arizona.html

https://www.raleighrealtyhomes.com/blog/moving-to-raleigh.html

How AI Chatbots are Transforming Businesses

When a business moves its services online, it runs the risk of losing the close connection it had with customers. This affects customer loyalty and sometimes means lost revenue. Thanks to technology, some businesses have deployed artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots to keep customers engaged in a two-way conversation. 

What is an AI Chatbot?

An AI chatbot is a piece of software powered by artificial intelligence that is placed on websites and other applications to interact with humans.

Chatbots are not a new technology, and it’s worth noting that there is a difference between AI chatbots and flow chatbots. Flow chatbots follow a pre-determined path defined by a developer; AI chatbots are self-trained, meaning they give feedback depending on the information supplied by the customer. They use natural language processing and machine learning technology to turn complex business interactions into simple conversations through text or voice.

This makes AI chatbots smarter because they learn over time.

According to a report by Markets and Markets, the conversational AI market is expected to grow from $4.8 billion in the year 2020 to $13.9 billion by 2025.   

AI Chatbots in Business

AI is no longer reserved for large enterprises only. Small businesses can now leverage conversational chatbots on applications such as Facebook.

The demand for chatbots has been driven by customers who need round-the-clock assistance from businesses. In most cases, businesses are slow to adapt to new technologies – especially because of the related costs. But the many benefits of AI chatbots make it worth adopting. Below are some of the ways that AI chatbots are being used in businesses:

  • Customer inquiries – The bots help reduce customer service workload and can serve customers outside typical working hours. This means there is no need to struggle to manually respond to inquiries as the AI chatbots can be used to automate customer feedback, including in emails. The customers also no longer have to wait a long time to connect with a customer care representative.
  • Personalizing interactions – conversational AI helps personalize interactions relevant to each user. AI chatbots learn the behavior of a client to provide personalized conversations.
  • Data analysis – Businesses have a greater understanding of their clientele once the conversational data is analyzed.
  • Sales representatives – they offer product suggestions for customers who are not sure what they are looking for.
  • Lead qualifying – instant feedback helps keep a prospect interested and eventually turn them into a paying customer.
  • Candidate vetting – Interested applicants converse with the AI chatbot, which then helps to filter for new hires.
  • Free HR staff time – for businesses that have many employees, the conversational chatbots help answer employee questions depending on their job function, geographical location and date. It’s also useful in reminding employees of tasks that need to be completed. This frees time for the HR staff to concentrate on other tasks that help improve job satisfaction and reduce staff turnover.
  • Increased engagement – the ability to answer emails and queries instantly helps keep the customer engaged. This enhances a business brand differentiation.
  • Fast information retrieval – a human can take a long time to retrieve information, especially for an e-commerce or real estate business. AI chatbots easily connect to the database and provide feedback in real-time as they serve as an internal knowledge base.
  •  Integration with other applications – AI chatbots are integrated with robotic process automation, enterprise resource planning or customer relationship management systems to carry out further tasks. Such tasks include booking appointments, filling out forms and making recommendations.
  • Easy scalability – chatbots handle multiple conversations simultaneously. This means that even when a business grows, the bots still handle large volumes of chats without affecting business costs.
  • In digital marketing – businesses are using AI chatbots to support the collection of customer data, new product launches, lead generation, and to increase brand loyalty.

Conclusion

AI technology is continuously progressing and no doubt chatbots will also keep changing.

As with every technology, there are some limitations, such as lack of emotional intelligence that affects the depth and scope of a conversation. This means that there are still complex communications that will require humans.

Nonetheless, having AI chatbots as an additional resource to run a business is a sure way to help boost revenue, improve customer experience, and provide a competitive advantage.

However, before jumping on the bandwagon, it is best to first identify areas in your business where you can deploy AI chatbots.

Securing Jobs for Cabinet and Congress Members, Inspector Generals, and Apprentices – and Honoring Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman

To provide for an exception to a limitation against appointment of persons as Secretary of Defense within seven years of relief from active duty as a regular commissioned officer of the Armed Forces (HR 35) – Prior to passage of this bill, a former service member could not be appointed as Secretary of Defense until separation from active duty for at least seven years. This legislation allows someone to be appointed after only four years from active duty as a commissioned officer of a regular component of the Armed Forces. The bill was introduced by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) on Jan. 15, passed in the House and the Senate on Jan. 22 and signed into law by President Biden on Jan. 22.

Officer Eugene Goodman Congressional Gold Medal Act (S 35) – This act authorizes awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman for his actions to protect the Senate chamber during the Capitol security breach on Jan. 6. It passed in the Senate amid a standing ovation. In addition to Officer Goodman’s recent promotion to acting deputy sergeant-at-arms for the Senate, this medal represents the highest honor Congress can bestow. The act was introduced by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) on Jan. 22, and passed in the Senate on Feb. 12. The House is also considering plans to honor the officer.

National Apprenticeship Act of 2021 (HR 447) – This bill was introduced by Rep. Robert Scott (D-VA) on Jan. 25. The purpose of the legislation is to amend the 1937 National Apprenticeship Act to include youth apprenticeships, and for other purposes. The legislation authorizes the establishment of criteria for quality standards, apprenticeship agreements and acceptable uses for grant funds awarded under this act. The bill passed in the House on Feb. 5 and is currently in the Senate for consideration.

Inspector General Protection Act (HR 23) – This act requires the president to notify Congress any time an inspector general is placed on nonduty status, and to nominate a new inspector general within 210 days after a vacancy occurs. Otherwise, within 30 days after the end of that period, the president must explain to Congress the reasons why there is not yet a formal nomination, with a target date for making that nomination. The bill was introduced by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) on Jan. 4. It passed in the House on Jan. 5 and is currently under consideration in the Senate.

Regarding consent to assemble outside the seat of government (H.Con.Res. 1) – In light of the disruption of Congressional duties due to the coronavirus, the House passed this concurrent resolution authorizing the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate to assemble the House and the Senate outside the District of Columbia whenever the public interest warrants it. Introduced by Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), this bill was both presented and passed in the House on Jan. 4. It is currently under consideration in the Senate.

Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act of 2021 (HR 22) – This bill was introduced by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) on Jan. 4 and passed in the House the next day. It would require federal agencies to make budget justification materials accessible to the public on a website managed by the Office of Management and Budget. Available information should include a list of the agencies that submit budget justification materials to Congress and the dates they were submitted, with links to the actual materials. This bill is currently under review in the Senate.

New Year-End Tax Provisions

In late December, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which in addition to providing COVID-19 relief provisions also included many tax provisions and extenders. The Act contained many COVID-related tax provisions, as well as a slew of extenders ranging from one year to permanent. This article will focus on the miscellaneous tax and disaster relief provisions, which are more applicable to most taxpayers.

Miscellaneous Provisions

Charitable Contributions – For tax years 2020-2022, starting in 2020 non-itemizers can deduct $300 in charitable contributions, and starting in 2021 non-itemizer can deduct $600 for married couples filing jointly.

Full Business Meals Deduction – Typically, business meals are only 50 percent deductible; however, the new tax law provides for a 100 percent deduction for restaurant meal expenses incurred in 2021 and 2022.

Low-Income Housing Tax Credit – Starting in 2021, a 4 percent rate floor is established for calculating credits related to the acquisition of and bond-financed low-income housing developments.

Minimum Interest Rate for Certain Life Insurance Contracts – The bill ties the rates going forward for section 7702 fixed interest rates for life insurance contracts to benchmark interest rates that are periodically updated.

Minimum Age for Distributions – Certain qualified pensions can make distributions to workers who are 59½ or older and still working, with a special allowance for some construction and building trade workers, where the age is lowered to 55.

Modified Charitable Contribution Limits – An extension for one year through 2021 is given for CARES Act increased limits on deductible charitable contributions for corporations and taxpayers who itemize.

Disaster Relief

Disaster tax relief provisions are available for individuals and businesses in presidentially declared disaster areas on or after Jan. 1, 2020, up through 60 days after enactment.

Use of Retirement Funds – Residents of qualified disaster areas can take up to $100k in qualified distributions from retirement plans or IRAs, penalty-free. Taxpayers have up to three years to pay the distributions back without penalty.

Disaster Zone Employee Retention Credit – A tax credit of up to 40 percent of wages (capped at $6,000 per employee) is available to employers who are actively engaged in a trade or business in a qualified disaster zone.

Disaster Relief Contributions – Corporations are allowed qualified disaster relief contributions of up to 100 percent of their taxable income for 2020.

Tax Extenders

Aside from the miscellaneous and disaster relief provisions, the act extended numerous existing tax laws anywhere from one to five years or even permanently. Below is a list of the extended provisions. Due to the number of extender provisions, only a table is provided below.

One-Year Extensions

  • Sec. 25C 10% credit for qualified nonbusiness energy property.
  • Sec. 30B credit for qualified fuel cell motor vehicles.
  • Sec. 30C 30% credit for the cost of alternative (nonhydrogen) fuel vehicle refueling property.
  • Sec. 30D 10% credit for plug-in electric motorcycles and two-wheeled vehicles.
  • Sec. 35 health coverage tax credit.
  • Sec. 40(b)(6) credit for each gallon of qualified second-generation biofuel produced.
  • Sec. 45(e)(10)(A)(i) production credit for Indian coal facilities.
  • Sec. 45(d) credit for electricity produced from certain renewable resources.
  • Sec. 45A Indian employment credit.
  • Sec. 45L energy-efficient homes credit.
  • Sec. 45N mine rescue team training credit.
  • Sec. 163(h) treatment of qualified mortgage insurance premiums as qualified residence interest.
  • Sec. 168(e)(3)(A) three-year recovery period for racehorses two years old or younger.
  • Sec. 168(j)(9) accelerated depreciation for business property on Indian reservations.
  • Sec. 4121 Black Lung Disability Trust Fund increase in excise tax on coal.
  • Sec. 6426(c) excise tax credits for alternative fuels and
  • Sec. 6427(e) outlay payments for alternative fuels.
  • The American Samoa economic development credit (P.L. 109-432, as amended by P.L. 111-312).

Two-Year Extensions

  • Sec. 25D residential energy-efficient property credit (the bill also makes qualified biomass fuel property expenditures eligible for the credit).
  • Sec. 45Q carbon oxide sequestration credit (through 2025).
  • Sec. 48 energy investment tax credit for solar and residential energy-efficient property.

Five-Year Extensions

  • Sec. 45D new markets tax credit.
  • Sec. 45S employer credit for paid family and medical leave.
  • Sec. 51 work opportunity credit.
  • Sec. 108(a)(1)(E) gross income exclusion for discharge of indebtedness on a principal residence.
  • Sec. 127(c)(1)(B) exclusion for certain employer payments of student loans.
  • Sec. 168(e)(3)(C)(ii) seven-year recovery period for motorsports entertainment complexes.
  • Sec. 181 special expensing rules for certain film, television, and live theatrical productions.
  • Sec. 954(c)(6) lookthrough treatment of payments of dividends, interest, rents, and royalties received or accrued from related controlled foreign corporations under the foreign personal holding company rules.
  • Sec. 1391(d) empowerment zone designation.
  • Sec. 4611 Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund financing rate.
  • Sec. 1397A increased expensing under Sec. 179 and Sec. 1397B nonrecognition of gain on rollover of empowerment zone investments are both terminated for property placed in service in tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2020.
  • The Sec. 1394 empowerment zone tax-exempt bonds and Sec. 1396 empowerment zone employment credit, which expire Dec. 31, 2020, were not extended.

Permanent Extensions

  • Sec. 213(f) reduction in medical expense deduction floor, which allows individuals to deduct unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income instead of 10%.
  • Sec. 179D deduction for energy-efficient commercial buildings (the amount will be inflation-adjusted after 2020).
  • Sec. 139B gross income exclusion for certain benefits provided to volunteer firefighters and emergency medical responders.
  • Sec. 45G railroad track maintenance credit; however, the credit rate is reduced from 50% to 40%.

Conclusion

The Consolidated Appropriations Act passed in December 2020 not only extended many existing tax laws and instituted COVID-19 relief, but it also changes many typical tax laws (at least temporarily). Taxpayers should pay attention to these year-end tax law changes as they can significantly impact their tax situations.

How Firms Can Restore Balance Sheets to Better Health

According to the World Bank Group, for businesses in emerging markets and developing economies, the bottom fourth percentile of the non-financial corporate (NFC) sector saw their balance sheets deteriorate. Looking at these businesses’ Interest Coverage Ratio, the average figure dropped to 0.06 from 0.35 between the fourth quarter of 2019 and in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic’s ongoing effects.

The ICR is a measure of a firm’s ability to repay their debt in accordance to existing obligations, whereby a higher ratio indicates a better ability to do so. This is calculated by dividing earnings before interest and taxes by Interest expense.

With businesses seeing losses of as much as three-quarters of revenue in a three-month timeframe, as McKinsey & Company explains, a “cash war room” needs to be established to address this liquidity crisis. McKinsey & Company wants companies to look at every possible way to improve their financial situation due to their experience with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cash and Sales Collections

One of the first things McKinsey & Company recommends doing is evaluate current and future cash collections and sales collections. If there’s a large percent of overdue or chronically overdue invoices, shifting employees to collections may provide substantive positive cashflow. However, if a business’s working capital is insufficient, other aspects of the balance need to be addressed to increase business health.

Tackling Debt Obligations

Whether it’s used to maintain operations or for ongoing investments, debt can be a useful tool. However, if a company takes on too much debt and is hit by an unexpected event like the COVID-19 pandemic, severely reducing sales, debt can become a burden for the company. Along with increasing the level of risk for investors, if a company can’t reduce its debt load eventually, it could be forced to declare bankruptcy or default on loans.

However, there are a few things a business can do to tackle its debt. Publicly traded companies can offer more shares for sale. Businesses can contact their lenders to see if interest rates can be lowered, payments can be frozen or spread out over longer timeframes. Reducing staff levels or renegotiating leases on machines or real estate also can free up excess cash burn.

According to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, part of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, a March 2020 report titled “Small Business Road Map to Financial Resources” revealed that crowdfunding might be a good alternative to taking on additional loans. Whether a business owner or entrepreneur, they can exchange “token rewards” for donations from individuals without sacrificing any interest in their company’s ownership.

Improve the Balance Sheet’s Current Ratio

Another way to improve one’s balance sheet is to determine the company’s current ratio and make adjustments accordingly.

Looking at the formula, Current Ratio = Current Assets / Current Liabilities, businesses can get an answer quickly.

If the ratio is below 1, then there needs to be some attention paid to figuring out how to better pay debts needed to be paid within 12 months, or short-term liabilities, with current assets or assets convertible to cash within the same timeframe.

Use a sweep account, which is a bank account that transfers money not needed for day-to-day operations into a different, but easily accessible account that earns more interest. Other ways include reducing the need to rent additional space, using machines/cloud services less often, and dialing back labor/marketing.

Taking action, including these for balance sheet health, can increase the chance of business survival during the pandemic and beyond.

Sources

https://blogs.worldbank.org/allaboutfinance/covid-19-and-corporate-balance-sheet-vulnerabilities-emerging-markets

https://www.occ.treas.gov/topics/consumers-and-communities/minority-outreach/small-business-road-map-fin-march-2020.pdf

https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/the-cfos-role-in-helping-companies-navigate-the-coronavirus-crisis

How Will Single Party Governing Impact the Markets in 2021?

About four in 10 Americans (41 percent) look positively toward single-party control at the national level, according to an October 2020 Gallup annual governance survey. This is compared to 23 percent of respondents desiring multiparty control. Breaking it down by party, 43 percent of Democrats want single-party rule, while 52 percent of Republicans desire single-party governance.

One notable finding is that, looking back to 2002, 32 percent preferred single-party control when it comes to independents. This was the highest-ranking over the past 18 years. As the Brookings Institution points out, now that Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock are U.S. Senators, the U.S. Senate is divided 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris able to break a tie. According to political experts’ forecasts, President Joe Biden is likely to accomplish much of his agenda in light of these circumstances.

However, as the Brookings Institution notes, many are expecting West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin to be the deciding vote on many upcoming pieces of legislation in 2021. His track record proves he’s been a wildcard depending on the legislative topic at hand.

When Manchin was West Virginia’s governor from 2005 to 2010, he lowered taxes, gave teachers higher salaries, helped repair the state’s worker compensation system, and reduced the state’s overall liabilities. He’s opposed to adding additional justices beyond nine (other than replacing justices who have retired or passed away) and is against reducing funding for public safety needs. Yet, he did not support President Trump’s tax cuts in 2017, nor did Manchin have any interest in reducing the scope of the Affordable Care Act.

President Biden Tax Proposals

If President Biden’s proposed legislative priorities on the campaign become a reality, they will undoubtedly impact personal and publicly traded companies’ earnings. According to The Tax Foundation, Biden proposes increasing the highest personal marginal income tax rate to 39.6 percent from 37 percent. He’s also expected to advocate changing the highest corporate income tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent.

Additional proposals include taxing capital gains at 40 percent for those who earn $1 million or more, along with The Tax Foundation reporting the potential for at least a tax of 15 percent on income that publicly traded companies disclose on financial statements available to equity holders.  

Implications of Tax Cuts (and a Lack Thereof)

According to Stanford Graduate School of Business and research done by Rebecca Lester, associate professor of accounting at Stanford Graduate School of Business, there are some insightful findings on how tax policy impacts corporations’ bottom lines.

One of the primary findings is that while companies take some of the increased savings from fewer taxes and deploy it outside the United States when it comes to using it domestically, it’s used for automation, not to create additional employment opportunities.

For example, the Domestic Production Activities Deduction (DPAD) gave companies a tax deduction that would essentially lower their income tax obligations on earnings from domestic manufacturing. However, there was no requirement to increase domestic manufacturing or employ more Americans.

Based on this example, companies cannot only save money directly from the tax cuts but also indirectly through long-term gains via automation. Looking forward to how a Biden Presidency will shape corporate earnings and the resulting market performance will likely depend on how a few moderate Senators vote. 

While Many Suffer Financially, Some Manage to Profit off Pandemic

The Federal Reserve recently reported that the 50 richest people in the United States increased their net worth by $339 billion during the first half of 2020. There are two primary contributors to this near-unprecedented level of growth. The first is that many either owned or were heavily invested in tech companies that thrived during the pandemic. Increased technology demands for remote work, online shopping, streaming entertainment, and socially-distanced socializing created a lucrative COVID-19 economy in some sectors.

Another reason is that the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve proactively infused the economy with stimulus capital. That helped mitigate long-term market disruption that might have otherwise occurred.

The short explanation of how to leverage assets for greater wealth during a pandemic is to be well-capitalized and invested in the stock market. To wit, over 88 percent of the equity in corporations and in mutual fund shares is owned by the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans. In other words, they’re not sitting on their cash; it is continually working for them.

In fact, nearly every tragedy has some form of silver lining investment opportunity. For example, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes are good for the construction and contracting industries. The pandemic is interesting because it has large and almost exclusively benefited technology companies – in as much as they serve other industries.

The obvious pandemic winners are streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix, but also consider the proliferation of video conference technologies, online financial services, and telemedicine. All of these innovations existed before COVID-19, but it took a global pandemic for them to become mainstream services. Moreover, it is unlikely that their popularity will wane once the virus is contained. After all, we love convenience, and few things are more convenient than being able to conduct daily activities – such as work and doctor’s appointments – from the comfort of your own home.

But just as the coronavirus boosted fortunes in many market sectors, it depressed others, such as cruise lines, movie theaters, and airline stocks, as well as oil prices. Unless you have a crystal ball, it’s always a good idea to diversify your portfolio across a variety of asset classes and market sectors. That way losses in some investments are likely to be offset by gains in others.

In recent years, the wealthy also have benefited from generous tax breaks provided by the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. To diversify gains achieved during the pandemic, they may take advantage of provisions from this legislation, such as the conservation easement charitable deduction. This can be claimed when purchasing land with strong development potential and then donating it to a land trust or government agency. This might create a higher tax deduction based on the appraised value. A similar approach can be used with the Opportunity Zone tax break. This eliminates taxes on capital gains earned from long-term investments in businesses or developments in specific low-income areas of the country.

Rest assured, while vaccines will lead the way to recovery from the pandemic, other crises will follow – as will opportunities to make money on them. Some of them are even easy to predict. After all, the exacerbation of climate change is evident in the increase and severity of extreme weather events. This offers two avenues for an investment opportunity. The first is reactive, such as rebuilding what has been damaged or destroyed. The second is preventive, which means investing in renewable energy resources that reduce carbon emissions, such as solar, wind, hydro, tidal, geothermal, and biomass energy solutions.

It is important to recognize, however, that we can’t always predict what type of crisis will happen next. Therefore, it is inadvisable to try to time the market for investments, particularly when saving for a long-term goal such as retirement. Instead, consider aligning your assets with investments that help build a stronger society, such as sustainable energy, technology advances, and healthcare innovation.

The biggest takeaway here is that the key to crisis opportunism is to be well-capitalized with liquid assets that can repositioned quickly. It is no accident that economic declines are often most advantageous to the extremely wealthy. If you were able to save more money during the pandemic due to less opportunity to travel or spend on other indulgences, consider using this windfall to position your investment portfolio for crisis opportunism in the future.

How to Budget During a Pandemic

Right now with everything that’s going on, navigating your finances might feel overwhelming. However, there are some strategies that will help you manage cash shortfalls. Mariel Beasley of Duke University’s Common Cents Lab offers ways to help you manage during these trying times.

Use Mental Accounting

Translated, this means prioritizing what’s most important and cutting back in those areas that aren’t. While pretty obvious, the finer point according to Beasley is this approach will help you stick to your spending plan by reminding you of your opportunity costs — i.e. what trade-offs you might be making with each purchase. For instance, you might not be able to buy that special something you’ve had your eye on, but you will be able to buy food. Here are the three buckets she recommends for your budget:

  1. Your Bills: Non-negotiable monthly bills like rent, mortgage, utilities, child care, car payment, insurance, phone, and internet.
  2. Weekly Expenses: These costs might vary, but they include groceries, gas, food delivery, and other miscellaneous expenses.
  3. Future Expenses: What’s leftover after you pay your bills and current expenses? Even if you think you don’t have much left, set aside this cash for an emergency fund or retirement savings in high-yield saving accounts like the American Express® High Yield, or Marcus account by Goldman Sachs. Alliant Credit Union even offers a 0.55 percent interest rate on savings accounts. By comparison, the national savings average is 0.05 percent APY. Make sure your money works as hard as it can.

Try Per-Spend vs. Per Month

Instead of budgeting $200 for groceries for the whole month, decide how many times you’ll go to the supermarket during the month (five times), then stick to a per trip budget ($40). You might not spend as much as you think you will. (Tip: Buy store brands, as they’re cheaper and just as good.) Whether you work a job that pays you regularly, you’re on unemployment or you’re living on Social Security, Beasley says that this will help you stretch your money longer between paychecks.

Think Ahead

This might seem like a no-brainer, but it bears repeating. Instead of waiting until you’re at a crisis point, act now to protect yourself. Here are some ways to do this:

  1. Identify Local Food Pantries. Feeding America is a nationwide network that helps you locate a food bank near you. Organizations such as churches and charities are also pitching in, offering everything from food donations to job search assistance. Government programs such as SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid are options, as well as HEAP (heating your home), should you need something like this.
  2. Have a Plan for Your Rent/Mortgage. If you’re concerned about eviction, understand your rights as a tenant, and most importantly, stay in communication with your landlord. One solution is to get a roommate to share expenses. If you’re running behind on your mortgage, seek out help from your mortgage broker. One way to generate income is to rent out an extra room in your home. If you have family or friends who can help, reach out to them. While the latter might feel like a last resort, you could consider bartering: provide a service to them they might usually pay for like car washes, dog walking, or house cleaning in exchange for the financial help.
  3. Talk to Your Creditors. Contact your creditors to see if you can get a reduced interest rate on any of your payments. You also might ask for discounts and deferment options. Many card issuers are offering financial hardship assistance (waived late fees, flexibility with payments, even skipped payments) during the coronavirus pandemic.

The key to all this is slowing down and focusing on the basics – getting through each week and each day. While the pandemic might feel like it will never end, it will: it’s inevitable. Until then, these tactics can help you take control and stay afloat.

Sources

https://www.cnbc.com/select/how-to-budget-during-coronavirus/

https://www.nerdwallet.com/best/banking/high-yield-online-savings-accounts

Coronavirus: Credit Card Issuers Offer Financial Assistance (cnbc.com)

Business Process Management Systems Provide Variety of Benefits to Owners

All businesses have one thing in common, and that is processes. Business processes – whether direct or indirect – are crucial when it comes to providing products or services to customers.

Business process management (BPM) plays an important role in enhancing processes and offers numerous benefits to businesses. But imagine what greater benefits can be achieved if you choose to implement a technology product that supports your specific business process management.

Why BPM Software?

First, a little bit about BPM. Business process management was introduced to help accomplish workflow quickly and easily. Simply put, BPM enables users to design, model, implement, automate and analyze business processes of a company or an organization.

Some businesses have been doing things manually or with a number of different software applications. However, the invention of BPM software that came about with the technology evolution allows business processes to be digitized.

With the growing adoption of artificial intelligence, BPM systems are able to offer more. This is because analytics and data can be turned into actionable insights to offer optimized processes. Through machine learning, it is also easy to detect and learn patterns, organize unstructured data, and enhance the user experience with upgraded interfaces that allow voice commands and chatting.

All this is necessary due to high competition, the need to reduce costs, and the need to increase productivity.

Implementing BPM software helps a business design and analyze processes such as employee onboarding, account management, expense reporting, invoice management, customer requests, compliance management, project management, and much more.

Benefits of BPM Software

Apart from the obvious benefits, such as gaining a competitive edge, reducing costs, and improving business agility, BPM software also can provide:

  1. Business process modeling: a visual process design tool that enables you to create and test multiple processes and workflows within your business.
  2. Business rules engine: design business rules and conditions for each business process.
  3. Workflow management: design, test and implement advanced workflows by integrating team members, robust communication, other systems, and data.
  4. Overall visibility of business operations and performance: enhance process automation, allowing you to track how different processes function as well as how they are performing in real-time. This enables necessary improvements.
  5. KPI Monitoring and Measurement: easily monitor and track the performance of different processes.
  6. Integrations: combine various systems from different business domains (both internal and external).
  7. Collaboration: social collaboration software that facilitates effective communication within a company.
  8. Data Analytics: define metrics, get insights in real-time, and run reports on demand.
  9. Produce faster: due to high demands and competition, businesses are required to produce more and at a faster rate. Digitizing your business processes allows for more efficiency.
  10. Scale quickly and easily: as your business grows so do the tasks, causing your workflow to get complicated. A BPM system will help you make necessary adjustments to accommodate the growth.

Considerations Before Purchasing a BPMS

Before purchasing a BPMS because it is popular, it’s important to consider the following: first, define and analyze your business’ key processes. You should also consider your business goals, your budget, return on investment (ROI), future scalability, and deployment options whether on-site or software as a service.

A good BPM system should include a workflow, ease of use, ability to customize and collect data, regulatory compliance, and enhanced business agility.

Final Word

Business process management in any business is vital, and BPM systems are meant to make your business more efficient.

Some business owners might shy away from investing in these systems for fear of high costs. Luckily with cloud computing, you don’t need on-premise solutions – especially if you are a small business. You can choose from available software as a service option.

Businesses today have no option but to work with real-time data that will help in speed, agility, and innovation. This has been especially evident with the global COVID-19 pandemic that has affected many businesses, demanding they have systems in place to deal with unexpected situations.