Banking and finance during a pandemic
Experts: What we learned, what’s to come and how to prepare for the future
The way we manage our banking and finances has changed. We reached out to financial experts to discover what we learned about financial planning during a crisis, what to expect in the coming year, and how to protect our investments as business begins to return to normal.
- Jay H. Levy, Measured Wealth Private Client Group. measuredwealth.net
- Dave Lynch and Susan Martore-Baker, Cambridge Trust. cambridgetrust.com
- Nichole D. Raftopoulos, president and founder, Nvest Financial Group. nvestfinancial.com
WHAT WE LEARNED
What has the pandemic taught us about financial planning for emergencies?
Levy: “Discussing saving for an adequate emergency fund is like taking a pacifier away from a baby for the first time: a needed action but still not very pleasant. Some financial surveys estimate that pre-pandemic, 60-70% of Americans age 65 or older had less than $400 in savings. It is no surprise that a significant number of people have had to have local, state and federal governments step in to prevent a massive economic depression last seen in the 1920s and 1930s. Assistance included everything from increased and extended unemployment benefits to moratoriums on evictions for renters, help for those unable to pay mortgages or even establishing sufficient emergency funds. Financial planners recommend having 6-12 months of expenses just in case of emergencies such as what we are currently experiencing. While overall savings has gone up over the last year due to the closure of indoor dining, a decrease in travel and many other social activities, it will be interesting to see if post-pandemic whether saving/spending behaviors will have changed for the better.”
Martore-Baker: “The most important lesson has been the importance of a thoughtful, well-designed financial plan that anticipates emergencies, so that it can endure challenges like those we faced over the past year. A well-prepared financial plan should not need major changes in an emergency, even one as widespread and as long-lasting as the pandemic. The plan should anticipate a variety of situations and life changes, and may change over time for small-scale difficulties and even macroeconomic uncertainty. Changes like asset allocation, suspending gifting or changing spending are common over time in a financial plan. By incorporating good data and life beyond finances, a thoughtful financial plan ensures your life is sound regardless of the markets or economy at large.”
Now that things are returning to normal, what trends do you see driving the market in coming months?
Raftopoulos: “The economy now appears to have entered the recovery phase as a new expansion cycle commences. We expect that overall economic growth should continue to improve broadly as states reopen. Consumer spending has begun to increase and this should continue over the coming months due to pent-up demand, widespread vaccinations being administered, record low interest rates and elevated cash levels. These are potential positive drivers for the stock market in the intermediate term. Currently the stock markets are trading at relatively elevated levels. The next few months could be challenging with possible amounts of high volatility. It’s very important that you have a good handle on your risk tolerance and time horizon. Of course, these things are important for any market environment.”
Lynch: “The overarching question on the markets is whether we’ll see inflation, spurred on and in some ways supported by the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department. Our view is that inflation is a growing risk, and we’re preparing our clients’ portfolios for this possibility. In an inflationary environment, bonds would come under pressure. Therefore, commodities exposure can help offset some of the inflation risk of other assets.
“It also remains to be seen whether the equity market can sustain its current lofty levels in the event that interest rates rise further; we’d expect to see some degree of short-term market correction if there is a rapid increase in rates, even if equities can recover over the long term as the economy ramps up. As a longer-term trend, we’re watching the rotation from growth to value stocks, particularly in technology. Many of the current growth stocks were driven throughout the pandemic by a combination of low interest rates and the forced adoption of more technology due to remote work, remote learning and online commerce. We’re now seeing a rotation towards stocks that were more sensitive to the impact of Covid-19 — the travel industry, entertainment companies, and materials and industrials — amid the gradual reopening of economies across the globe.”
HOW TO PREPARE AND PROTECT
What is a simple step I can take to protect my identity and financial information from fraud and Covid-19-related scams?
Raftopoulos: “There are many steps we should take each and every day to protect our electronic and financial identities. Keep in mind that our information is out on the web whether we can access it or not.
“First, make an effort to be on the offense with protecting your identity. This means you need to make a continual effort in being proactive to protect yourself. In addition, be on high alert for fraudulent attempts that come your way. Many attempts appear legitimate.
“Passwords are the No. 1 way you can protect yourself. As much as this is talked about, so many people still take the easy route with passwords. Be proactive and create a difficult and different password for each and every email address, app, website or program you access. ‘Difficult’ means having at least 12 or more digits containing numbers, letters (lower and uppercase) and special characters in your passwords. It’s important to find a secure way to manage and organize your passwords as well.
“Be on guard with how and to whom you provide your sensitive information. Do not provide anything over the phone to someone who calls you. There are many scammers calling you with a fear-tactic approach. Remember, Microsoft, the IRS, the Social Security office will not call or threaten you over the phone. These calls sound very scary, but they are not real. In addition, if someone demands that you buy gift cards for one reason or another, please hang up.
“Do not let an unsolicited person on your computer at any time, and do not click on any links in emails from unfamiliar sources. This could allow a hacker into your computer to access all of your private data.”
Lynch: “As with any scams, we would remind clients of the five important steps to protecting against fraud:
- Pay attention to emails: Read and double-check the content, including sender addresses, for any misspellings or incorrect information that can indicate a phishing attempt, and never click a link if you’re unsure of the email’s veracity.
- Keep Wi-Fi networks password protected.
- Apply similar scrutiny to text messages as you would emails, and don’t click on a link you don’t recognize.
- Limit work on confidential material in public spaces and on public networks, and secure your physical devices with unique passwords.
- Call your financial institution if you are ever in doubt over a message, email or other form of communication from them.”
I don’t have as much saved for my retirement as I should. What’s the best way to make up for lost time?
Levy: “Questions like these always make me think of the Jack Nicholson line in ‘A Few Good Men’ where he yells ‘You want the truth? Well you can’t handle the truth!’ Short of winning Powerball or marrying very well, there are ultimately consequences to not having properly prepared long term for one’s golden years. The boring but truthful answer is that folks that haven’t properly saved enough will either have to keep working (assuming they control that scenario), figure out the spending conundrum of surviving on what may be meager Social Security benefits (especially if one turns it on before their full retirement age) or trying to cut a deal with their 80-year-old parents to move back into their basement. This latter alternative might be somewhat preferable assuming it is internet-ready for video gaming utilization. Of course, depending on where Mr. Undersaver is age-wise in their life, they may still have sufficient years of socking away every possible penny into their retirement and/or other accounts as soon as possible. Remember, better late than never — especially if your parents don’t have a finished basement.”
Raftopoulos: “It’s never too late to start saving! However, every situation is different. The first thing a person or couple should look at when they are deciding how much to save, is what they currently spend. It is important to gain an understanding of where your money is going. Take control of that first. Programs like Mint.com can help you track your expenses. If you do sign up for Mint.com, make sure to have a very difficult password. If your company offers a 401(k) plan, take advantage of it. By contributing dollars through your paycheck deductions, you will receive an automatic tax deduction. In addition, you are dollar-cost-averaging, which allows for your contributions to buy investments over time. If your company offers a match, that’s even better! Each year, if you do receive a raise, take a portion of that raise and increase the percent of your contribution. It may make sense for you to speak with a financial planner. They can help you in determining your goals, look at how much you need to keep in liquid funds, manage your investment portfolio, etc. If you feel you are late to the savings game, having a planner work alongside you can create efficiencies and help you make up for lost time!”