Category: General Interest

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Is wearable tech set to turn us into our own Doctors?

Many people reading this article will have a Fitbit, assiduously clocking up their 10,000 steps a day. Others will have taken it further, maybe checking their heart rate on an Apple watch, logging their workouts and maybe even going so far as using the watch’s ECG (electrocardiogram) functions. 

Maybe when you have finished your workout you pop a pulse oximeter on your finger, checking your blood oxygen level… 

These are all medical checks that we can perform at home using wearable technology – and they are medical checks that wouldn’t have been imaginable ten years ago. So what does the future hold for wearable tech? Could we, in effect, become our own doctors? 

The growth in the wearable tech market – by 2024 the market just for wearable devices to monitor vital signs is expected to reach $1bn (£730m) – will be driven by several factors. Populations are getting older, research and development is improving all the time, 5G is going to lead to improved connectivity, and, sadly, the current pandemic has made everyone far more aware of their own health. 

So what will we see? ‘Worn’ tech devices such as watches will continue. But wearable tech will mean exactly that, technology becoming part of your clothes so it is less intrusive. We’ll see sensors, biomechanical and motion, placed at specific parts of the body to communicate with an overall Body Area Network system. And the future will bring ‘implantables,’ including everything from intelligent pacemakers to devices that monitor key wellness levels such as blood sugar. 

These devices will communicate with both the wearer and with their medical practitioner. The information the wearer receives will, in many cases, allow him or her to take immediate action. The medical practitioner will receive vital information, be alerted to key triggers – and will also save time, with the wearable tech gathering much of the key information on a patient’s health. 

“The age of wellness wearables is definitely here,” said one clinical director. “Whether it is middle ear devices that monitor your heart rate, the wearable on your wrist that tells you how you are sleeping, or an ECG monitor around your chest – there are so many technology developments that enhance the care doctors can provide.” 

There is, though, one potential downside. None of what I’ve described will be free – and some of the most sophisticated wearable tech will be very expensive. Could wearable tech widen the health divide between rich and poor? The answer seems obvious – and may well present medical professionals and policymakers with plenty of potential headaches.

Sources
https://www.medicaldirector.com/news/future-of-health/2019/02/new-report-reveals-the-future-of-wearable-devices-in-healthcare

Can being flexible with hours really boost productivity?

In the old days it was simple. You went to work for a company, spent your whole life there and duly retired. ‘Security’ was what people wanted in a job. 

But the world of work was changing, even before the pandemic. As more Millennials, people who came of age around the turn of the century, entered the workforce, employers found their staff wanted very different things: an employer who shared their values; a better work/life balance and – above all – flexibility. 

And as the Millennials were followed by Generation Z, people who entered the workforce in the second decade of the century – the trend was only accentuated. Flexibility, the ability to work from home, the chance to balance work with family commitments… The old days of Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 were disappearing fast. 

But far from that being a problem, could it be a ‘win-win’? Can increased flexibility lead to increased productivity? Are we really more productive in the spare bedroom than we are in the traditional office? 

The pandemic has made that question relevant for thousands of companies – and the early indications are that the answer could well be ‘yes.’ 

Is it just that happier employees produce better work? Or does it go deeper than that? 

For employers, flexible working has one huge benefit as it means that they can employ, or work with, the best people, irrespective of geography. An employer’s pool of talent is no longer restricted to within commuting distance of the office and for some companies it literally becomes the whole world. 

Flexible working also allows companies to employ people who simply might not be able to get into a traditional office, for example, by reason of caring responsibilities or disability. 

It also, subject to the inevitable Zoom meeting, allows people to work the hours that suit them. All of us know people who’d prefer to start work ridiculously early and finish by mid-afternoon. And there are plenty of people who do their best work late at night. 

It is hard to see the trend towards flexible working ending, even when the pandemic is eventually over. Most employers will unquestionably want staff back in the workplace, but they will be wise to to accept employees’ needs for flexibility. Flexible working may become just as important in recruitment as the remuneration package. 

Millennials and Generation Z value companies that trust them, and that allow them to work when and how they feel most effective. A recent Canada Life survey found that 77% of UK employees thought flexible working made them more productive: that is a statistic employers will not be able to ignore.

Sources
https://facilityexecutive.com/2018/03/remote-work-flexibility-positive-impact-productivity/#:~:text=Flexibility%20Improves%20Communication%2C%20Creativity%2C%20Productivity,saying%20it%20remains%20the%20same.

And https://gett.com/blog/how-flexible-working-can-increase-productivity/

Should I worry about “buy now, pay later”?

Buy now, pay later schemes are becoming increasingly popular as firms such as Klarna and ClearPay partner with large online retailers ASOS and JD Sports, as well as many others. According to Statista, the usage of the Klarna app more than doubled between March and July of 2020, hitting over 460.000 monthly active users in the UK alone. 

The promise of try-before-you-buy allows consumers to make their order and send back any items they wish to return before making any payments, which reduces the need to wait for refunds to clear before making further purchases. With Klarna in particular boasting zero interest, customer fees or late charges and making their money through merchant transaction fees it’s understandable that customers are flocking to use the service. 

If it sounds too good to be true, that may mean that it is. What some consumers may not realise is that if they fail to clear their balance not only will their credit score be adversely affected but their debt can be passed on to debt collection agencies. 

The consequences of missed payments vary wildly between different lenders, and as this specific type of loan is so new to the market, the lack of regulation means that the associated fees and rates don’t need to be presented up front in the same way as with credit cards. 

Which? is calling for full regulation of these firms, as people are driven to spend more than intended, and more than they can afford, subsequently falling into debt. 

Research from Which? showed that nearly a quarter (24%) of users of these plans paid more than they intended to, and over one in 10 (11%) reported that they suffered late charges as a result. 

Interestingly, 26% of users reported that they had not planned to use a buy now, pay later plan at all until it was presented to them as an option at checkout. 18% claimed they used the plan as a result of being offered a discount for doing so. 

While these services do have their benefits for consumers, it’s important for consumers to also be aware of the risks associated with accruing debt.

Sources
https://www.creditstrategy.co.uk/news/news-top-stories/which-calls-for-full-regulation-of-buy-now-pay-later-firms–18601

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/nov/17/klarna-buy-now-pay-later-system-that-is-seducing-millennials#:~:text=Klarna%20allows%20people%20who%20shop,pay%20for%20their%20online%20order.

https://www.statista.com/statistics/1137411/klarna-monthly-active-users-uk/

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/14/buy-now-pay-later-plans-are-booming-in-the-covid-economy.html

https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2020/12/15/coronavirus-pandemic-buy-now-pay-later-plans/

The challenge of maintaining healthy habits in lockdown

It can be difficult for anyone to maintain good habits and easy to fall into less helpful ones at the best of times. Those challenges are only made more difficult by the added pressures we all feel while navigating our way through a pandemic, and particularly in lockdown. 

In fact, a study published in Frontiers in Psychology recorded that after 3-4 weeks of nationwide lockdown, more than 8 in 10 respondents reported an increase in unhealthy changes in lifestyle, particularly concerning physical activity. In the same report, less than 4 in 10 respondents reported an increase in healthy lifestyle activities.

But those 4 in 10 are out there, and the best place to start to push that number up is by getting an understanding of the positive things you can be doing.

Keeping structure

For many of us, working from home has become the norm, and even if it hasn’t, our regular routines have been impacted in some way. Not having the structure to your day that you’ve become accustomed to can make it very difficult to keep up a productive daily routine. 

While you may no longer have commutes or fixed break times to keep your day in order there are things you can do to make your life easier. Simply producing a to-do list or daily plan will keep your objectives front of mind so you can focus on what needs doing. Keeping your work environment tidy will help you to focus too, as will preparing for your next day the night before, to reduce any unnecessary stresses in the morning.

Get some fresh air

It’s easy to miss out on the benefits of being outside when you wake up in the same building that your ‘office’ is in. Especially in the winter months, you wake up, start working and before you know it, the sun has set. Make time for yourself to be outside, even a half hour walk can be fantastic for clearing your head and getting some exercise.

Try something new

If you’re finding yourself stuck at home with too much time on your hands, or you’re struggling to separate your work life from your home life and need a way to switch off after work, try picking up a new hobby. Is there something you’ve been meaning to try out for years and just never had the chance? Now could be the time! Perhaps you want to pick up a new language so you can show off your skills when you finally get to go on holiday again. Maybe it’s time to get in touch with your creative side and pick up some paintbrushes. Could you see yourself on next year’s Great British Bake Off? The possibilities are really endless, but the important thing is getting started.

Sources
https://www.psypost.org/2020/11/lack-of-fear-control-linked-to-unhealthy-lifestyle-changes-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-58610

https://lesroches.edu/blog/healthy-habits-during-lockdown/https://www.pybhealth.com/news/article/12-lockdown-health-habits-to-make-or-break.html

Are ESG funds set to become the new normal?

The adoption of Environmental, Social and Governance funds has been rising steadily for some time now, and yet the question has lingered of whether they are to be a flash in the pan or the centre of our financial future. 

With ESG funds reportedly attracting net inflows of $71bn, just between April and June of 2020, there is no denying their significance. Their usage is seeing a rise that is, relative to previous years, meteoric. The transaction network, Calastone, reported data that suggests that the amount of new money invested into ESG funds between April and July is greater than the combined figure for the five years previous. 

Having been described by the Head of ESG Investments at Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management, Patrick Thomas, as a “structural trend, highly unlikely to be reversed,” at present, it would appear that that a u-turn is looking increasingly unlikely.

Why the sudden increase in ESG adoption?

Like many things, the growth of investments into ESG Funds has been accelerated by the pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 has brought into clear focus that the communities worst affected are also those that could be helped most directly by positive environmental, social and governance investment. The real life impacts of climate change, income inequality, and lack of diversity and representation are in the spotlight and investors are becoming increasingly aware of the impacts their investments have.

It’s not only the pandemic, however, that has caused the interest in ESG funds to grow. Some historically popular and profitable industries were already suffering from a fall out of favour. Oil, in particular, had been experiencing a crash on a spectacular scale even before its growth and demand on a global level was impacted by Coronavirus. It seems that investors are looking for more sustainable long term funds, and ESG funds come with the possibility to offer exactly that, with the added bonus of a boost to their reputation as progressive and ethical investors.

But, of course, it’s unlikely that ESG funds would be anywhere near as popular as they are becoming if they didn’t also offer their investors an attractive possibility of return on their investment. 

Looking forward

What can we expect to see in the immediate future of ESG funds and is the trend of their growth sustainable? The professional services firm PwC certainly seems to think so, at least in the coming years. 

Referring to ESG funds as ‘the growth opportunity of the century’ is no small prediction, and they put this prediction down to four factors: the regulatory overhaul that sees non-compliant sectors penalised, ESG’s marked outperformance, the increasing demand from investors and the fundamental societal shifts outlined by the current social, environmental and health circumstances.

Sources

https://www.fidelity.co.uk/markets-insights/investing-ideas/esg-investments/demand-esg-set-surge/
https://www.ft.com/content/e5518f78-0371-4946-b4a6-17addf7143ae
https://citywire.co.uk/wealth-manager/news/pwc-over-50-of-europe-fund-assets-to-become-esg-by-2025/a1414968/print?section=wealth-manager
https://www.ft.com/content/27025f35-283f-4956-b6a0-0adbfd4c7a0
https://www.pwc.lu/en/sustainable-finance/esg-report-the-growth-opportunity-of-the-century.html e

Cash is on the decline in the UK

Is cash still king? As contactless payment options have grown dramatically in availability and popularity in recent years, we have seen a reduction in the use of cash as a result. While there has been a steady decline in cash withdrawals, and the use of cash transactions in general was to be expected as new technology becomes more widespread, the unprecedented events of 2020 have resulted in a marked acceleration in this decline. The UK in particular provides a stark example of this trend, with the use of cash declining faster than the European average.

Where did the decline begin?

According to the banking trade body, UK Finance, debit card payments overtook cash payments for the first time in the UK in 2017. This moment was indicative of a wider trend, with cash payments falling steadily since 2012 and debit card payments rising at a similar rate. Contactless payments, too, have seen a steady increase in their usage since their introduction in 2007. They broke the £1bn in annual transactions landmark in 2013, seeing a further boost in 2014 when Transport For London introduced Oyster card readers that accept contactless bank cards. By 2018, over 60% of people over the age of 65 were reported to use contactless payments, which is a considerable number of the, historically, least tech-savvy portion of society. In the last three years alone, cash usage has effectively halved. In September 2017, there were 170 million withdrawals from cash machines; in September 2020, there were just 88 million. 

That is all to say, the decline in cash withdrawals and transactions, and particularly relative to the use of other forms of payment, comes as no surprise. The speed at which that decline has accelerated, however, is something of note.

Covid Acceleration

The data from Link, who operate the largest network of free-to-use ATMs in the UK, suggests that weekly ATM withdrawals since the first lockdown was lifted are a third lower than they were before the lockdown began. Accenture has reported that between 17th and 25th March 2020, cash usage in the UK declined by 50%. The report has forecast that across the whole of 2020, compared to 2019, the decline will look more like 40%. With the rest of Europe forecast to see a 30% decline in cash usage, that’s a considerable number. That reduction may well be here to stay. As consumers change their behaviours, and opt to avoid handling cash to avoid physical interaction with others throughout the pandemic, they may not return to older habits as time goes on. Time will tell what lasting impact the pandemic has on the UK’s preferred methods of transaction, but as it stands, the future looks largely cashless.

Sources
https://www.paymentsense.com/uk/blog/cash-is-declining-in-the-uk-quicker-than-any-other-country-in-europe/
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48544695
https://www.fintechmagazine.com/digital-payments/barclaycard-flash-history-uk-contactless-payments
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/10/10/cash-usage-halves-three-years-amid-fears-coronavirus-has-accelerated/

Unemployment brings new career challenges for the over 50s

Whilst the furlough scheme continues to be extended, there are reportedly around 377,000 older workers who are at risk of losing their employment, according to the Centre for Ageing Better and the Learning and Work Institute. That constitutes one in ten male, and eight in ten female workers in their 50s and 60s who will likely have to find alternative employment or make their income elsewhere.

Rising unemployment

This is not the first indicator of people in that age bracket being economically affected by the pandemic. In March there were around 304,000 over 50s claiming unemployment-related benefits. This number almost doubled to 588,000 in June, meaning that there are more over 50s claiming universal credit than there are under 25s. This may, in part, be linked to the UK’s ageing population, as within 20 years we can expect one in four people to be over 65. 

While 35% of those over 50 who lose their job are recorded to return to work “quickly”, according to an analysis of data from the Department for Work and Pensions by the Centre for Ageing Better, this places the over 50s as the least likely of all age groups to find fast employment after being made redundant, with 29% finding themselves unemployed for over 12 months. These figures paint a particularly stark view of events as the current labour market problems come on the back of a trend of extremely high employment rates for older workers. 

What can be done

There is, thankfully, something that those over 50 have to their advantage. Experience within the workplace is an invaluable asset, and while the job market is particularly strained at the moment, there are roles available and opportunities for starting new businesses exist. Despite the broader circumstances, there are sectors that are still hiring, specifically retail, farming, financial services, care and tutoring. Your experience can be used in your favour by positioning yourself as a mentor and teacher.

Now may be the time for those with decades of working experience to take their employment into their own hands and consider the path of entrepreneurship. In fact, businesses started by those aged over 45 have proven to be more likely to achieve success than those started by those in the 18-25 age range. 

The opportunity to embark upon a second career of your choosing can be daunting, but also liberating. For those in this position, focussing on their acquired talents and skills and pinpointing a specialisation is a good place to start.

Sources
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/oct/05/how-newly-unemployed-over-50s-can-start-up-again
https://restless.co.uk/career-advice/job-ideas/10-industry-sectors-still-hiring-now/
https://www.ageing-better.org.uk/publications/mid-life-employment-crisis-how-covid-19-will-affect-job-prospects-older

https://www.ft.com/content/183a52a6-d9b6-11e6-944b-e7eb37a6aa8e

Stay on top of your mental health whilst working from home

For many, the coronavirus pandemic has brought with it the necessity of remote working. Globally, those who have been able to do their work from the confines of their own home have been encouraged to do so and, as a result, were thrown into the deep end of remote work.

As the months have passed, the consensus on these new working arrangements has been developing and looking forward from the tail end of 2020, it appears that this new way of working is here to stay. Adaptation to new technologies and working habits has been broadly successful and relatively fast, and remote working has no doubt come hand in hand with certain freedoms. Excessively long commutes are a thing of the past for many, flexible hours have become more widespread and the savings are adding up for those who can now brew their own coffee and make their own sandwiches in their lunch break. 

Naturally, however, the change has brought with it new challenges to which none of us are immune.

Challenges of working from home

The office didn’t function purely as a place of work. For a large portion of workers, it’s a place to socialise too. The feeling of isolation is a real concern for people whose social interactions have reduced, and these can be amplified depending on an individual’s living situation.

Without a clearly designated boundary between work and home life, it’s very easy for us to fall into an unhealthy work life balance while working from home. Thankfully, there are things we can do to mitigate the worst of the downsides of remote working.

Get into a routine

Without a sturdy routine we can easily lose the distinction between work and home life. Try and maintain healthy sleep patterns, and when you clock out for the day, stop working! If you’re saving time where you would normally be commuting, try spending that commuting time exercising or reading, or whatever it is you want to do.

Set boundaries

Setting boundaries with your colleagues and those who you live with is extremely important. If you can, designate a private workspace so that your household knows not to disturb you while you’re there. With your colleagues, it can feel like you’re obligated to answer the email that comes in after you finish for the day, but you’re not. Once you finish working, enjoy your own time as much as you are able to.

Stay Social

Human interaction is important – if and when it’s possible to pick up the phone instead of sending an email then consider doing that. Having a video call allows us to pick up on nonverbal cues, which is integral to communicating and for picking up on each other’s wellbeing. Find time to socialise virtually, when doing so in person just isn’t an option.

Be kind to yourself

The situation we’re in is unusual – it’s totally normal and okay for you to feel the strain. Don’t be so hard on yourself, and if you find yourself struggling then recognise that it’s good for you to speak up about it. Asking for help is a positive action, and support is available should you need it.

Sources
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/coronavirus/looking-after-your-mental-health-while-working-during-coronavirus
https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/7-simple-tips-to-tackle-working-from-home/

Three industries which could be set for a strong 2021

Alongside the obvious contenders of online retail giants and pharmaceutical companies, there are plenty of industries who can expect to see opportunities for growth as the world adapts to the challenges of 2020. 

With digital transformation at the forefront of much of the conversation of growing industries, it can be expected that the industries and companies which are best positioned to adapt to a digital environment will also be expected to thrive.

CyberSecurity

With the pandemic leading to a surge in companies of all ilks developing their presence in online spaces, businesses who provide services in this arena have lots to look forward to. The haste in action required for companies to accelerate their digitisation plans means that some safety and best practice measures have been at risk of being overlooked. Precautions surrounding customer details and user data are particularly vulnerable and considered profitable assets by would-be cyber criminals.

Cybersecurity budgets have seen steady growth year on year for some time now, and with businesses and individuals alike developing a higher dependence on digital tools, that can be expected to continue. More data to protect means more business for the CyberSecurity sector.

Online Learning

While most nations have prioritised the education of their youth rather than choosing to keep schools closed, there has still been an enormous impact on the world of education. With parents and siblings forced into the role of teacher at a moment’s notice and social distancing high on the agenda, it was only natural for the tools which facilitated these priorities to experience growth. 

Online learning tools are by no means a new invention, but educational institutions have traditionally been slow to adopt new technology. The necessity of their use throughout the pandemic has forced the normalisation of home-schooling and online classrooms, and it will be unlikely for this trend to disappear in a post-Covid world. Online learning doesn’t end at schools, however, a combination of rising unemployment and an increase in time spent at home means that people across generations and circumstances are looking to develop new skills and hobbies. In the US during March 2020 alone, Duolingo, the language-learning app, saw a 148% increase in sign-ups. 

Eco-Friendly Technologies

An increasing awareness of the environmental impact of diesel and petrol cars, along with an urgency to act in the face of climate change, has been looming over the traditional car manufacturing industry for some time. As the pandemic developed and non-essential travel was severely reduced, the travel industry more or less ground to a halt. Oil prices were greatly affected, and satellite imagery released by the European Space Agency showed that air pollution across the world had seen a dramatic reduction compared to the same time of the previous year. 

In November, Boris Johnson announced a new green plan for the UK which included the pledge that from 2030 there would be no new cars or vans sold which are powered wholly by petrol or diesel. The plan also includes investment into off-shore wind, nuclear and hydrogen power as well as aiming for net-zero emission planes and maritime vehicles. 

This spells the opportunity for growth for businesses with a focus on developing eco-friendly technologies. Tesla, the electric car producer, saw its stocks skyrocket by 492% in 2020, with the first quarter of the year being their best performing ever. Audi too are committed to pivoting, with their new ‘Artemis’ department which is focussing on bringing electric cars to market faster than they had originally anticipated. 

Sources
https://www.cazenovecapital.com/uk/private-client/insights/strategy-and-economics/covid-19-why-the-tech-giants-have-emerged-as-winners/

https://www.lovemoney.com/gallerylist/95187/industries-that-will-boom-after-coronavirus

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-54981425

How long term home working will affect your finances

There’s a chance that many workplaces may never return to the office. Several prominent tech firms have already said that their staff can continue to work from home even after the pandemic and the evidence suggests that a large number of other employers are thinking the same thing.

Essentially, the pandemic accelerated an already established shift in the way we work, so that a few years worth of changes happened overnight.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development recently conducted a survey and found that the proportion of people working regularly from home has risen to 37%, more than double the number from before the pandemic.

What’s more, employers think that the proportion of staff who work permanently from home full time will rise to 22% post-pandemic. In those pre-pandemic, halcyon days, this figure was 9%.

This shift will have financial implications for those home-working. And, as usual, the good comes with the bad. Here are some things you should consider:

It might affect your insurance costs

Back in March, the sudden change to home working will have been unexpected and you might have overlooked the impact it could have on your insurance. However, now the dust is settling, you should mention it to your home insurer. 

Chances are your home will have an extra printer, laptop and tablet, valuables that should be covered by your home insurance policy. Remember that if this kit belongs to your employer, their insurance should protect it. It’s worth double checking before you add anything to your policy.

Lastly, if you’re working from home permanently and no longer using your car to commute, tell your insurer. You may be able to pay less on your premiums.

You can claim tax relief on expenses

On 6 April, Rishi Sunak raised the claim allowance to £6 a week to cover extra household bills caused by working at home. 

When there is a home working arrangement in place, an employer can pay a weekly amount to its employees tax free. If you think that your costs exceed this amount, you should check with your employer to see if they will make higher contributions.

This benefit will only be available if your employer specifically asked you to work from home. If you’re working from home voluntarily, you cannot claim this tax relief on your bills.

It might be harder to secure a pay rise

By now, it’s widely established that working from home needn’t have an adverse effect on the quality of your work. However, there’s still quite a lot of uncertainty around the effects of homeworking on employees’ ability to secure promotions and pay increases.

When working remotely, it can be hard to keep relationships with people in your firm. There’s also a chance that employees who work from home permanently in a company where some staff still work from the office could get sidelined when promotions come up.

Showing the value of your efforts can be more difficult. It seems like good communication is important to avoid being overlooked. Try to communicate any new skills you have learnt and consistently show how your personal development is supporting you to do your job effectively at home.

Sources
https://www.independent.co.uk/money/homeworking-working-home-permanent-tax-income-insurance-bills-commuting-house-prices-a9652661.html