Category: General Interest


How to spot fake news

Social media and online platforms are full of misinformation and fake news at the best of times so in the midst of a pandemic, the problem only escalates. Conspiracy theories, fake cures and scams abound – myths that 5G causes coronavirus, that COVID-19 is a biochemical weapon released by China, or that drinking bleach can cure infected patients start to circulate like crazy.        

The power of social media lies in its ability to spread rapidly so the minute we like, share, or retweet something fake, we’re just amplifying it. We’re also more likely to forward something without thinking when we’re scared or angry because we’re anxious to ‘inform’ or protect someone else. 

So now more than ever we need to watch out for fake news. But how to spot what is genuine? And how to stop something going viral? 

Check the source

It’s always good to start from a position of scepticism. Ask yourself, is this real? Look to see who is sharing the information and who has published it. Does the language sound heavily biased or sensationalist? Memes on social media should be viewed with caution. They can often look authentic, especially if they feature a public figure and a quote. But double check the facts – did they actually say that, was it even the right era?   

Look more closely 

Zoom in on a picture to check all the details and confirm whether the location is authentic. Look for shop fronts, billboards, placards, car registration numbers or street signs. Does the language  on the signs in the image tally with the location in the headline? Platforms like Google, Bing, TinEye or Yandex enable you to check when an image first appeared on the Internet so you can tell whether it has been taken recently or it is an old picture doing the rounds.        

Anything odd?

Only the tech companies can really identify a bot account but there are a few things that may ring alarm bells. None of these on their own will mean it’s an inauthentic account but a few  combined begin to look suspicious. So you may see a long string of weird letters and numbers as the handle or username, for example @thedolandld2klht for a fake Donald Trump account. This suggests it has been created by an algorithm. There may be no bio or it may be at odds with the rest of their activity. You can also click on their profile picture and search Google to see if it is genuine or is just a generic stock image. Check through their timeline. Do they post content of their own and engage with other people or do they just keep retweeting content from somewhere else? As a general rule, if you see someone posting 60x times a day on a regular basis, be suspicious.   

If in doubt, don’t share! 


How long is it going to take the economy to recover?

The COVID-19 crisis will push the country into an unprecedented economic slump. Just how big the slump will be is currently unknown but experts’ predictions aren’t optimistic. One independent forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) warned that the economy could shrink by a record 35% by June, in the case of a three month lockdown followed by three months of further restrictions. This is just a prediction, but one thing for certain is that the lockdown will have serious economic implications.

When we start to talk about recovery, things begin to get even murkier as the impact of the current lockdown is unknown. We don’t know for certain how far the economy will fall or whether firms will be able to cope with any partial restrictions when things do begin to return to normality. What’s more, it’s possible that there could be further lockdowns to control future outbreaks before a vaccine is found. 

The government has said that it is “not just going to stand by” and let the economy slide. They have said that they plan to protect millions of jobs, businesses and self-employed people. This said, there is a limit to just how much they can do. The OBR predicts a further rise in the amount of borrowing by the end of the year up to £273 billion, which would represent the largest deficit as a share of GDP since World War Two. 

Robert Chote, chairman of the OBR, said that a drop of 35% in the economy would be “the largest in living memory.” The public body also predicts that unemployment will rise by 2.1 million to 3.4 million by the end of June. This would put the unemployment rate up to 10%, a level not seen since the mid 1990s. 

The total economy is set to contract by almost 13% in 2020. To find an economic shrinkage of a similar size, we need to go back much further than the 90’s or even the Second World War. The last time the UK economy declined by this amount was in 1709 when, again, nature was to blame. ‘The Great Frost’ struck Europe, killing hundreds of thousands and resulting in widespread famine across the continent.

Despite all this doom and gloom, the OBR does expect the UK economy to get back to its pre-crisis growth trend by the end of 2020. They also predict that unemployment will start to  fall, easing to around 7.3% at the end of the year.

Looking further into the future, a large amount of public debt will be the economic legacy of COVID-19. Public debt is expected to remain at 84.9% of GDP in four years’ time after peaking at over 100% by the end of this financial year. Whether this will mean a return to austerity remains to be seen. The UK could place a greater emphasis on tax rises to generate revenue, which could see a rise to corporation tax or higher rate income tax.


Technology bringing the generations together

One positive outcome of the crisis has been the way technology is helping us to stay in touch  with each other, especially across the generations. Various apps are playing a vital role in keeping us entertained in lieu of all the social events and sporting activities being cancelled.   

As staying in becomes the new going out, we’ve highlighted a few ways to keep you connected.    

Video conferencing – not just for work!         

Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts may be effective for those working from home but it’s the video chat app, Houseparty, that has soared in popularity in recent months. 

It’s thought to be more spontaneous than the other apps as it allows you to mimic an actual house party, with friends chatting in different rooms. Previously popular with millennials and Generation Z teeenagers, adults now want to make use of Houseparty for their own connections.    

It’s getting to the point where people are attending more events in the virtual world than they were in the real one. You know you’ve really made it when you’re double booked for two online drinks parties or AperiTVs!

Inspirational ideas on Instagram 

You’ll find many celebrity chefs have taken to Instagram to offer free cookery classes during lockdown. There are lessons on everything from how to cook the perfect curry to how to bake your own bread.

Likewise, famous musicians are giving free ‘virtual’ concerts or even guitar lessons. And, of course, you can recommend your ‘favourite finds’ to friends and family. Why not challenge each other to mini contests, such as who can decorate the best cupcakes?             

Family time  

Regular video calls over FaceTime or Skype are a great way for all the family to keep in touch. Think of novel ways to make this inclusive. We heard of one family, for example, who deliberately arranged the call for lunchtime, propping the tablet up at the table so that it felt like they were all still sharing the meal together.     

Encourage grandchildren to show their grandparents what they’ve been up to. Get them to share stories, music or their artistic creations. Set up a board game challenge. You’ll no doubt find the youngsters can sort out any technical difficulties!   

Keeping fit – online

If you’re worried about what all those baking tutorials might do to your waistline, there are plenty of online exercise classes to sign up for. Joe Wicks has taken the nation by storm with his  YouTube daily P.E.classes. Originally aimed at children, these have proven equally popular with parents and grandparents. Enterprising local gyms and fitness instructors are also offering their usual classes in strength training, pilates and yoga online, so you can stay fit but keep in touch with fellow members at the same time.  

Technology is helping us to keep in touch in new ways with our friends and family through these strange times. Will the tools, which we are embracing now, represent a lasting shift in how we communicate in the future? 


Be wary of Covid-19 email scams

Scandalous though it may sound, cyber-criminals are using the coronavirus crisis to prey on unsuspecting individuals. 

Security experts have said they have seen an increase in email scams over the last few weeks, as if the world pandemic wasn’t bad enough in itself.    

We’re drawing these to your attention not to scare you but to raise awareness and encourage you to be on your guard. Here are 5 in particular to watch out for: 

Click for a cure

This follows the classic technique of tapping into everyone’s deepest wish. People who have clicked on the link, in search of a cure, have had all their personal details stolen. Although the email purports to be from a doctor who claims to have details about a vaccine, the attached document just takes the recipient to a spoof webpage to collect login details.        

The best way to check where a link will take you is to hover your mouse cursor over it. This will  reveal the true web address. If it looks suspicious, don’t click it.

Covid-19 tax refund

This email looks like it comes from HMRC and states that you are eligible for a tax refund. Who wouldn’t be tempted to click on that?!  

But if you do press the “Access your funds now” link it takes you to a fake government web page and encourages you to put in all your financial and tax information.

HMRC would never contact you in this way about a potential refund. The head of e-crime at  Mimecast says, “Do not respond to any electronic communication in relation to monies via email. And certainly do not click on any links in any related message.”

The virus is now airborne

Designed to look like it’s from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this email’s subject line reads, “Covid-19 – now airborne, increased community transmission.” It uses one of the organisation’s legitimate email addresses but is sent via a spoofing tool. By directing you to a fake microsoft page and asking you to enter your details, the hackers can get control of your email account.

The scams are effective not only because the forgery looks highly plausible but because the perpetrators know that everyone is feeling under considerable stress.

Two-factor authentication is one way to protect yourself so that you have to enter a code texted to you to access your email account.    

A little measure that saves

Purporting to be from the World Health Organisation (WHO), this scam claims that the attached document contains details of how you can prevent the disease’s spread. In fact, it will just infect your computer with malicious software which records every keystroke so that the hackers can monitor your every move online.   

Ignore any emails that claim to be from the WHO as they’re highly likely to be fake. Instead, visit their official website or look at their social media channels for the most up-to-date advice.    

Donate to the fight

The last example alleges it is from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and asks for donations in Bitcoin to help develop a vaccine. Although it may sound preposterous, the email address and signature evidently look convincing.

The security experts, Kaspersky, say they have discovered 513 files with coronavirus in their title which contain malware. Sadly, just as the real virus continues to spread, so too are these fake emails.  

The golden rule is that if you’re not sure about something or know that a particular organisation wouldn’t normally contact you by email, don’t click on any attachment. If you’re in any doubt about whether something is genuine, do ask a friend or family member. 


How to avoid going stir-crazy during the coronavirus lockdown

The effects of the government enforced isolation period is being felt across the whole nation. It’s difficult for all of us to stay at home except for essential travel and one form of daily exercise. We need to adapt and find new things to keep our days filled to keep our spirits up.

Give yourself “micro-lifts” throughout the day

One of the main difficulties with self-isolation is that you’ll begin to miss the “micro-lifts” you have peppered throughout the day. Often it’s the little things, like popping out of the office to get a coffee at your favourite cafe or going to the gym, that enrich your daily routine with enjoyment and meaning.

The lockdown obviously means you’re going to lose many of your regular “micro-lifts”. So creating new ones is essential to keep your spirits up.

These could be anything, from a regular Skype call to a daily yoga routine. Be creative and try to turn the situation on its head, looking at what the increased time at home enables you to do rather than what not going out prohibits you from doing.

Learn something new

Not only does learning a new skill slow cognitive ageing, it provides you with the sense of achievement that comes through deepening your knowledge of something. While now isn’t the time to enroll in a face-to-face group class, there are plenty of online options available.

Many education providers, including some American Ivy League colleges, have responded to the coronavirus crisis by offering free courses online. A quick Google search will reveal the wealth of courses available. Studies show that learning which challenges you to come out of your comfort zone has the greatest boost to mental health.

Keep a healthy diet

When staying at home, it can be tempting to regularly snack to stave off boredom. Unfortunately, this means you’re likely to be consuming more calories and unhelpful fats. Mental health charity Mind suggests that healthy eating can improve your mood, give you more energy and help you think more clearly. 

Keeping to regular mealtimes and eating a balanced diet, high in fruit and vegetables, are two important features of a healthy diet. Of course, you can still treat yourself once in a while…

Keep a routine

When you’re at home, it’s easy to end up still in your pyjamas at 3pm because you don’t have to see anyone else during the day. Although it can feel nice to slow down and let yourself be lazy, in the long run this can be bad for your wellbeing.

Try to maintain a sense of routine as far as possible. If you’re working at home, try to work regular hours and get up at a sensible time. 

This said, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s important that routine doesn’t become monotony. Be flexible and remember to change things up from time to time.

Will late payments become a thing of the past?

There’s no getting around it; late payments are crippling for Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Nearly a quarter of insolvencies are caused by late payments. In fact, if all payments were made on time there would be a £2.5 billion boost to the British economy, according to a 2016 report by the Federation of Self-Employed and Small Businesses (FSB). 

Thankfully, there’s a chance that late payments might soon become a thing of the past. At the end of January, Labour peer Lord Mendelsohn introduced a Private Members Bill to the House of Lords that could make things harder for persistent late payers.

The bill would legislate a 30-day limit for all invoice payments, enforced by the Small Business Commissioner, who would have the ability to fine repeat offenders.

What’s more, the bill would also attempt to curb what are known as ‘predatory payment practices.’ This refers to practices that aim to squeeze suppliers by promising fast payment in exchange for a discount and imposing charges for onboarding or staying on supplier lists.

The bill is likely to be welcomed by many small businesses as it represents a strong-armed approach to a practice that regularly damages smaller firms. 

The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), the world’s largest professional body for accountants, “very much welcomes the measures being proposed by Lord Mendelsohn and hopes other politicians, from all parties, back this important Private Members Bill.” 

Previous attempts to crack down on late payments had an emphasis on voluntary measures rather than concrete punishments such as fines. Increasing the power of the Small Business Commissioner might just make frequent late payers take their invoices a bit more seriously.

One of the main problems with late payments is that they cause cashflow problems for companies, compromising the flexibility that is essential to thrive in the fast moving world of modern business. 

Late payments also hamper businesses’ productivity. SMEs spend more than a working week chasing late payments – a total of 56.4 million lost hours a year, according to figures published by Intuit Quickbooks in November 2019. There comes a point where the time and money spent chasing down a payment can devalue the original work to the extent that it becomes questionable whether it was worth doing in the first place.

Research by Tide uncovered that the average late payment has risen to £8,500, an increase of over £2,000 on 2016 figures, suggesting that there is a growing culture of paying after the agreed date.

We’re curious to see whether Lord Mendelsohn’s Bill manages to change anything. Watch this space.


A new £20 note but are we heading towards a cashless society?

A new polymer ‘‘Turner’’ £20 note recently entered circulation which the Bank of England claims is its most secure banknote ever. The new note replaces the ‘’Adam Smith’’ £20 note that has been in circulation since 2007.

Artist JMW Turner is the new face of the £20 note. He is considered one of the finest British artists of all time and painted The Fighting Temeraire which was voted the nation’s favourite painting in a BBC Radio 4 poll.

Security on the new note is tight – £20 notes are the most commonly forged banknote, accounting for 88% of detected forgeries in the first half of last year.

Enhanced security features include a large see-through window with a depiction of the Margate Lighthouse and the Turner Contemporary, Turner’s self-portrait and a metallic hologram which changes between the words “pounds” and “twenty” depending on how the note is tilted. The notes also have a purple foil patch containing the letter “T”, a nod to the Tate Britain where many of Turner’s paintings are displayed.

Sarah John, the Bank of England’s chief cashier, said: “Moving the £20 note to polymer marks a major step forward in our fight against counterfeiting.” There are currently two billion £20 notes in circulation so replacing them all is no mean feat. The Bank estimated, however, that half of all ATMs across the UK would be distributing the new notes within just two weeks of the launch.  Old notes, however, will remain valid legal tender for six months.

The new banknote was produced in association with the Royal National Institute of Blind People, to make money more accessible for people with sight loss. There are three separate clusters of dots along the short side of the note to make handling cash easier. 

The new plastic £20 notes are longer lasting than the paper notes they are replacing. However, there are doubts about exactly how long these “long-lasting” notes will be used for as we move towards a cashless society. Contactless cards and quick online payments have revolutionised how we spend over the last decade.

The Financial Inclusion Commission estimates that cash payments will account for fewer than one in 10 payments by 2028. Campaigners warn that the UK is moving rapidly towards becoming a cashless society with little research into how this will affect the country.

In the last year alone, 13% of free-to-use UK cashpoints have closed and a quarter of all machines now charge people to withdraw their cash. Campaign groups are calling for legislation that will force banks to provide cash access to curb this trend.

The link between human behaviour and investing

Financial planning… Isn’t that based on cold, hard facts and scientific reasoning? Surely feelings  and emotions don’t have much to do with investing?        

We think they do. And here’s why.

A little thing called human behaviour gets involved, you see. Only it’s not so little. 

Human beings are highly complex systems, motivated by many different factors and emotions. This makes us volatile, unpredictable and irrational. We also hold values and beliefs that drive our behaviour; some logical and valid, others not quite so much. 

But despite being so important, human behaviour is often one of the most frequently overlooked aspects of financial decision making.   

Factors that influence us

Our financial behaviours are influenced in many ways, from sensational media headlines about the next downturn or star fund to family members telling us they know best. You know the type of thing: ”It worked for me, so you should do the same.” 

Your situation, your objectives and the current market could be very different, so it’s important to draw your own conclusions.          

Beware of the biases

You may think your decisions are based on sound, rational judgement, and sometimes they may be, but equally, the framework in which you are making the decision could be distorted. And that’s not helpful.

This is where you need to be aware of bias. It’s all part of what makes us who we are, but it’s not always useful when making decisions.   

We suffer from two common biases that can cloud our judgment and impede us from achieving our financial goals:

  • Cognitive bias
  • Emotional bias

Cognitive bias generally involves decision making based on established concepts that may or may not be accurate. Emotional bias typically occurs spontaneously and is based on the personal feelings of an individual at the time a decision is made.

These types of bias can be particularly significant in relation to risk. For example, being either overconfident or excessively cautious could each have a damaging effect on your financial well-being.

If you’re an optimist, you may tend to take too much risk, managing your money in a way that may have severe consequences in the future. On the other hand, if you’re risk averse, you may be holding yourself back from achieving true financial independence.

If you’re what’s known as ‘loss averse’, you may fear losing money to such an extent that you avoid making a loss more than trying to make a profit. So your financial decisions may be driven by the desire not to lose £2,000 rather than to make £3,000. Such a bias can be reinforced so that the more losses you experience, the more loss averse you become.        

Another common issue is inertia. This may cause you to put off making a decision altogether. Maybe the whole process just feels too difficult. Maybe you don’t have the time. Maybe you fear making the wrong decision. Whatever the reason, inertia is the enemy of financial well-being, because it gets in the way of action. 

An objective eye 

Whether your financial decision-making is being impeded by an incorrect bias, be that cognitive or emotional, or an unwillingness to move forward at all, working with an independent financial planner can help. Our role is to help you make clear, objective decisions, free from clouded judgment. Those decisions could help you secure better financial outcomes, whether that be retiring on your own terms or passing money to the next generation. 

So the next time you think of financial planning as ‘boring’ or ‘disappointing’, think of the ‘human behaviour’ element. We think you’ll find it a great deal more enjoyable and emotionally rewarding if approached in this way. 



Love yourself,love your finances

We’ll be the first to admit that your personal finances aren’t the easiest thing to fall in love with. It can be easy to bury your head in the sand when it comes to both your regular expenditure and investments.

There are several reasons for this. First of all, money can be a source of stress. We’re sure you’re well aware of how crunching big numbers in your head can keep you awake into the small hours of the morning. Or how not knowing whether you can afford something you really want can fill your life with uncertainty.

Secondly, some aspects of finance can seem rather boring. To the untrained eye, the daily performance of the FTSE, foreign currency exchange and bond markets can look intimidating. We actually find them incredibly exciting, but we understand that this isn’t for everyone.

We think the best way to fall in love with your finances is to get a bit creative. It helps to really understand the relationship you already have with money so you know what you’re dealing with. As with a partner, you have to really get to know them before you fall in love. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to ‘break the ice’ with your finances:

What’s the most fun, frivolous thing you’ve ever bought?

Answering this should help you get a handle on whether you’re someone who likes to splash out from time to time, or if you prefer to sacrifice a bit of enjoyment for personal security. If you have made any such purchases, do you consider them to have been worth it, or do you find yourself regretting that you hadn’t spent the money a little more practically? The answer to this could provide some guidance if you have the opportunity to make similar purchases in the future.

Do you take pride in knowing your net worth?

If you take pride in your net worth, it suggests that a large part of your happiness hinges on the money you have accumulated over your life. You’re likely to be someone for whom a high salary forms a large part of what they enjoy about their career, rather than someone who’d be content working in a job with lower pay.

What’s your dream retirement scenario?

Looking at what you want in retirement will let you know how much you need to prioritise saving for retirement. If you plan on living adventurously you’ll need to save considerably more than if you think you’ll be happy having a quiet retirement. Trips of a lifetime don’t come cheap, so the sooner you start saving and investing, the more you’ll be able to do.

Like all long-term relationships, your relationship with your finances won’t always be easy. Good relationships take work, but the rewards are more


What does the governor of the Bank of England do?

With the 121st governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, set to take over on 16th March this year, we wanted to take a look at one of the UK’s oldest institutions and its figurehead. 

What is the Bank of England? 

The Bank of England is the UK’s central bank. It produces all the banknotes used in the UK and houses the UK’s gold reserves (a total of 400,000 bars worth over £200bn).

Founded in 1694 to act as banker to the government, the first ever governor was John Houblon – you may have seen his face on a £50 note between 1994 and 2014. The Bank was owned privately until the end of the Second World War, when it was nationalised by the government. 

How long can you be governor for? 

Officially, a governor has a term time of eight years. However, the 120th governor, Mark Carney, agreed to a five-year term with the option of an additional three years. He then agreed to extend his term twice, staying on longer due to delays caused by Brexit. 

What does the governor do?

The governor will represent the UK in meetings with international bodies such as the G7 or the International Monetary Fund, while also chairing important internal committees such as the Monetary Policy Committee and the Prudential Monetary Fund. In addition to this, he is tasked with overseeing the Bank of England’s three main responsibilities:

  • The Financial system: This is the system that connects people who want to save, invest or borrow money. The Bank of England monitors any risks within the system and tries to mitigate them – such as loaning to banks when necessary. It shares this responsibility with the Treasury and the Financial Conduct Authority.  
  • Individual banks: The Bank of England ensures that individual banks, insurers and building societies are of a suitable standard and are being run well.  
  • Inflation: The Bank of England tries to keep the cost of living as stable as possible by setting monthly interest rates and making sure that prices rise within the current target of 2% per year.

Have you got what it takes? 

When Philip Hammond first put up the job advertisement for the role of governor in 2019, the description said that the successful candidate should have experience of being at the helm of a large financial organisation, good communication skills and “acute political sensitivity and awareness”.  If that sounds like you, in eight years time there may be a £495,000 a year job opportunity for you.