If you are anything like me, I now find it impossible to turn on the television or pick up a newspaper without reading or hearing about another breach of trust. Sports teams, charities, businesses, politicians are all equally guilty, routinely putting their own interests ahead of the people they serve.
Coronavirus, however, has added another dimension to this. People now wake up every day to read about hundreds of thousands of redundancies or dozens of high-profile businesses struggling to keep the lights on. Trust and transparency has become about more than just behaviour. It is about survival.
I would like to quote a couple of friends (including myself) and their experiences with British Airways — a case study in what not to do.
Like myself, they were booked on a flight this summer which has obviously now been cancelled. Legally, we know we are allowed a full refund. British Airways, however, is offering a voucher which is valid for 2 years. If you want the cash refund you must navigate something akin to the Crystal Maze. Unsurprisingly, if you take the voucher, the system works perfectly. If you want the cash refund, the problems begin.
In 15 minutes of searching you cannot find the information on their website, nor can you find an email address to send your query to. The chat function is run by a machine, not a person, and none of the choices you are offered allow you ask the question you want to.
All of this from a company whose motto is ‘To fly, to serve’ and where its values include respect, responsibility, and fair play.
The thing I think they’ve misjudged is that most of us would genuinely be OK if they were open and transparent and explained that coronavirus is having such an impact on their business that the only way to ensure survival is to issue vouchers rather than refunds.
But they are not. They are avoiding transparency with their customers at a time where it would go a long way. It is something I (and presumably millions of other customers) will never forget.
The lesson in all of this is simple — great companies are simply about how they make their customers feel. And this is particularly true in times of crisis. Companies would do well to recognise that the world is so connected and so transparent that everyone can now see not only what you do but also how you do it. Total transparency is the only way forward.
It is with this in mind that I thought I would update you on how we are faring in light of coronavirus.
While we are still a long way from business as usual, the last few weeks have seen some sense of normality return. Stay safe and healthy.
This is the third update from me. The first one was understandably, a little downbeat in outlook for the world economy and asset prices. The second was more upbeat and this update confirms that I believe there are reasons to be optimistic.
Late last week the US payroll numbers delivered one of the biggest economic data shocks: consensus had been for 7.5 million job losses whereas the report showed 2.5 million job gains! Other data suggests that domestic activity in the US is improving with weekly mortgage approvals and house purchases back to levels seen in mid-January alongside a rebound in new business openings. Why do I consider this to be a reason to be cheerful? Well, the US is nearly always the first economy to come out of recession and at a faster pace than anywhere else and it consistently grows faster than other developed markets. This growth normally spreads to other economies including Europe and the UK. You are probably familiar with the phrase: “when America sneezes, the world catches a cold”.
Last week the European Central Bank (ECB) boosted its pandemic-driven bond buying programme by 600 billion Euros and extended it until at least June 2021. So, central banks continue to support their populations, businesses and financial markets. Governments are also doing “whatever it takes” and it is likely the UK Government is going to have an emergency budget in the coming months that could announce large scale spending plans and other measures to stimulate the economy. Let’s hope that the EU and UK Brexit trade deal negotiators can progress their discussions towards a deal.
The world’s largest pharmaceutical companies at the forefront of COVID-19 vaccine development advise they are making progress and production lines are already set up for when a vaccine becomes available. Positively, they are expecting a vaccine to possibly become available as early as autumn or winter this year. This is a constructive backdrop for getting most people back to work, which would be supportive for asset markets.
Contract tracing and the NHS coronavirus smartphone app have identified infections and reduced the spread of the disease, official figures suggest. Analysis of the system that is being used on the Isle of Wight appears to show that it has contained the infection during the trial. The data gives hope that the integrated system could help to control infection rates as the lockdown is eased.
The world’s health seems to be on an improving trend, which is leading to a slowly normalising society, which, in turn, is generating improving economic data. I hope that all continues.
Finally, for now, the news that the families of front-line workers are to be exempt from Inheritance Tax should they die as a result of COVID-19 will be welcomed by many. The government calls this the “blue light exemption”.
I hope you and your family continue to stay safe and as always, please do not hesitate to contact us if you would value a discussion.
I was delighted to speak with Colin McInnes, IronBright’s Chief Investment Officer recently. During the short video below, Colin provides his views on where we are with markets and the economy in the midst of this crisis and where they may go next. I hope you enjoy the update.
Brunel Capital Partners
One positive thing about juggling 2 jobs and 2 young children during lockdown is that my wife and I don’t have much spare time to dwell on the state of the world outside of our four walls.
That said, when the kids are in bed and we finally have time together, one topic we do talk about is whether lockdown will change how we live our lives in the future and are the things we aspired for before still the things we want from this life.
Undoubtedly, the slower pace of life has been welcomed as well as enjoying lots of quality time with our boys. Being largely confined to our home does however help focus the lens on what is important to each of us and how we could embrace those things when lockdown eases to the extent we can do them. It has helped us realise the importance of our physical and mental wellbeing and, judging by the amount of ways we have found/bought to communicate with others, our relationships with friends and family.
Speaking with friends (I include our lovely clients in this category) and family it has become a common theme that many felt too busy and pressured pre-lockdown. I have had several conversations where (over?) commitment to work at the expense of their home lives is being questioned.
When we do find the time to look beyond our own four walls it is clear how lucky we are. I know that I had taken some things for granted. The freedom and luxury we enjoy compared to most people in this world is put in stark focus when for many of us our most pressing issue is that we can’t buy flour and eggs.
Never again will I take for granted the freedom we all enjoy to travel, to follow our dreams and passions and to hug the ones we love.
Plans are always subject to change which is why we like to be part of the long-term journey with our clients. It is however times like these that bring a sharper focus on these plans.
So, if you are thinking of a change be it working less (or more!), retiring earlier or want to know if you can follow a previously unspoken dream – speak to your planner. We will help you work out if you can do this already or what you need to do to make it happen.
Chartered Financial Planner