Category Archives for "Covid-19"

What can we do to Revive the Economy?

By Randall Orser | Business , Covid-19 , Investments , Personal Finances

Canada's financial experts are looking into their crystal balls and predicting what the future might hold for the Canadian economy and how it could rebound post-covid.  Until March 2020 our economy seemed stable and secure despite other world events and trade wars we had reliable growth, strong employment, steady interest rates and cities were booming.  Then the pandemic hit and the world closed down.  

The government issued massive wage and unemployment subsidies and our deficit ballooned.  One million jobs were lost resulting in 13.7% unemployment the highest that Canada has seen since the Great Depression.  The pandemic also brought to light many problems in our society that we had been largely ignoring such as massive inequality, gaps in social assistance and vulnerable supply chains.  

Vaccinations have now arrived and we can see some light at the end of the tunnel and the question is now, what will our economy look like when the dust has settled?  Here are some predictions from financial experts.

1.  "Wage subsidies will help to save retail businesses" - until most people are vaccinated there will be sporadic shut downs so continuing with wage subsidies will help to keep businesses from going under. Pedro Antunes - chief economist, Conference Board of Canada

2.  "Small businesses will need more than government loans to survive and workers will need more support." Werner Antweiler - associate professor, Sauder School of Business

3.  "Businesses will need better access to rent relief, the current government has been a failure so more help is needed."  Laura Jones - executive vice president and chief strategic officer, Canadian Federation of Independent Business

4.  "Employers need to adopt flexibility for their workers to encourage them to grow resulting in better productivity and morale."  Jean McClellan, national consulting people and organization leader, PwC Canada

5.  "Automation will replace millions of jobs - and that's not necessarily a bad thing".  Companies investing in training for their existing workforces will help to sustain livelihoods without major disruption. Linda Nazareth, senior fellow for economics and population change, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

6.  " Business travel will come back safer though it will probably take three years or more to return to normal levels of business travel."  Nancy Tudorache, regional vice-president, Canada, at the Global Business Travel Association.

From an article by Ali Amad

How to be a Smarter Online Shopper

By Randall Orser | Covid-19 , holiday season , online shopping , Scams

Due to the pandemic many of us have moved our shopping online. Sales online have soared in 2020 and they are expected to beat previous records during the holiday season. Most of us are buying from reputable sources that we are familiar with for groceries, electronics, clothing and much more. But as Christmas comes around we might be searching a little wider afield for that perfect gift and buying from vendors that we are not familiar with. You need to be smart when placing that online order to make it a safe experience and avoid potential issue. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind:

1. Read Reviews - Do your research and make sure that your vendor has a good reputation and has reviews that are genuine and are from verified buyers. Check for negative reviews especially from multiple people and how the company responds to them. Be careful to trust reviews that seem over exaggerated they may be fake.

2.  Beware of Red Flags

  • If the site looks unprofessional or is missing important information you could be dealing with a sketchy company which could put you at risk. Important things to look for are contact information, an actual address, phone number and email address.  
  • If the site is poorly designed with many spelling mistakes, bad grammar or broken links.  
  • If the back button does not work and you are stuck on a page, this could be a sign that the site is not legitimate.  
  • The site asks for your credit card information early on, you should not be asked for this until you are ready to finalize the purchase.

3.  Read the Fine Print about returns and refunds.  In BC there are not laws that deal directly with refund, exchange and return policies so retailers can set their own policies for customer returns and they can differ widely. This is especially true during the pandemic where some stores have changed their policies to reduce the risk of infection for customers and staff.  Make sure you read the fine print and know what you are agreeing up.

4.  Confirming your purchase - Before you confirm your purchase, make sure you see the following things:

  • A detailed description of the goods or services
  • The currency
  • The delivery details, including the shipping method and details of delivery
  • The cancellation, return, exchange and refund policies if any.

5. Know your rights should your purchase not arrive - Again due to the pandemic receiving orders can take longer than normal especially if buying from overseas. It is annoying when your purchase does not arrive, you may be able to get some help under BC law, check out How to get a refund if your online order never arrives

6.  Know what you can do when there is an issue with quality -  There are many funny posts on the internet about products bought on line not being exactly as advertised but it might not be amusing when it happens to you.  It is difficult to define a quality issue as everyone has different ideas of what they consider to be poor quality.  However if you are dissatisfied with a product you can read more about what your options are here.

Trust your gut, if a site appears dodgy then it probably is, look for a more reputable vendor and remember it is always good to support your local retailers as much as possible, during this pandemic they really need your help to survive.

From an article by Consumer Protection BC

Surviving the Pink Slip During the Pandemic

By Randall Orser | Covid-19 , Employees , Personal Finances

The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated the Canadian labour market. According to Statistics Canada more than three million jobs were lost in March and April alone due to the economic shutdown. For those affected by job loss the impact goes beyond the statistics, and with all the uncertainty around us being out of work can be very scary.  The usual recommendations for when you have lost your job are no longer totally relevant today but here are some tips that will help you to deal with a sudden job loss during the pandemic.

1.  Understand the emotional toll that job loss is taking on you.  When you lose your job you lose your personal work relationships, daily structures and your self of self-purpose causing you to feel the same stresses which come with other forms of loss.  Asking "why me" does not have an answer any more because we have no control over a global pandemic.  You can expect to have feelings of anger, sadness and denial but it is important to try to cope and live with your new circumstances.   Look up free online programs and counselling that can help you deal with these mental health issues.  It is important to find some benefit out of your loss, so think about reinventing yourself maybe by taking some business classes on-line to help you in your job search.

2.  Review your finances and spending, not having enough cash to pay the bills is a major stress for everyone.  Financial experts recommend having an emergency fund with three to six months of expenses in it but for many people this is not possible. What you can do is track your spending to see where your money is going.  If you need money to buy groceries make sure that you are aware of all the financial and economic support available from the government.  You may also need to withdraw from your RRSP or TFSA to tide you over.  For those with no savings it is important to work on restructuring your debts contact your credit card provider or mortgage lender for assistance and think about using an unused line of credit with a lower interest rate to pay off credit cards with a much higher rate of interest.  

3.  Look for future employment, it is important to boost your LinkedIn profile, update your resume and network as much as you can. Being adaptable to change might be your best asset at this time.  Think about expanding your skills into areas that are in demand or are going to be in demand in the future.  For older workers experience is their best asset so think about offering your assistance to smaller companies that need help but can't afford a full time employee.

From an article by Ethan Rotberg

Will Wage Subsidies Help Retail Businesses?

By Randall Orser | Budget , Covid-19 , Employees , Retail , Small Business

Though the lockdown of last Spring was the right thing to do to keep people safe and flatten the curve, but it did a huge amount of damage to the economy.  Canadian retailers saw a 26% fall in sales during quarantine and 40% of retailers had to close their doors.  

Stores offering non-essential products and services such as clothing stores were the hardest hit, along with gas stations as people were no longer travelling.  However those selling essential goods found themselves thriving and even experiencing surging sales such as in groceries, home renovations, alcohol and cannabis.

Canadian retailers have been slow to transition to on-line sales but the pandemic has forced them to adopt e-commerce techologies to try and keep themselves in business and as a result e-commerce sales have more than doubled year over year.  Although it means that Canadian retailers face competition from others worldwide it also gives them the opportunity to expand their market share at home, especially if they sell niche products.  

In 2021 it is likely that retail business will still suffer a bumpy ride.  As we are seeing now there will probably be sporadic shut downs due to minor outbreaks but these are likely to be more regional.  During this time retailers can expect sales to fall and they will have to deal with high labour costs and the costs of having to comply with health regulations but it is hoped that on-line sales will be a stop-gap solution to keep them in business.

The federal government is continuing to support businesses by extending the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program into 2021, coving 75% of employees wages for those that are eligible.  This will help retailers to avoid bankruptcy and will give employees more disposable income to spend.  

Even with these new ways of doing business and federal help it is unlikely that many in the retail sector will survive another major lockdown.  However localized shutdowns will allow the majority of retailers to stay open and keep some revenue coming in until a vaccine arrives.

From an article by Ali Amad

The Inevitable Second Wave – How to Prepare your Business

By Randall Orser | Business , Covid-19 , Employees

Experts tell us that a second wave of Covid-19 is inevitable and in some places it is already here.  Now is the time for your business to review the lessons you have learned in the past few months, and prepare for future disruptions.  More people have safely returned to work but even though it seems more like normal there is still the threat of a second wave.  It is a tough prospect for businesses already suffering from the impact of the first wave but making plans for further disruptions are necessary if they are to survive at all.  Here are some things that companies should consider.

  • Make sure that all members of the response team who have been working non stop take some downtime to rest.
  • Make an honest assessment of the weaknesses experienced in the first wave.  Everyone was learning so use what was learned and plan what could be done differently and more successfully the second time around.  Areas of concern should be logistics and distribution of equipment for people working remotely.
  • The response team needs to continue to compile best practices for a return to work so that employees can do so safely.  Regular meetings and communications with employees is important so everyone stays in the loop.
  • Plan for the financial impact of reduced hours or closure.  The past few months have been devastating for many businesses even though they have been helped by government subsidies. The decline in business could be even greater the second time around so it is important to be aware of programs still in place to help.  Revenue may not be the same as it was before the pandemic so business plans should be made with this in mind, reducing unnecessary spending and creating a financial cushion are most important. 
  • Creating a phasing out plan so that non-essential employees who have returned to work can quickly pivot to working remotely again and plans can be made for more essential workers to phase out of the office if needed to minimize interaction.  The phase out plan should also include how the organization will continue to operate including supply chains and communications to clients or customers.  It also may be necessary for your company to stockpile supplies.
  • Probably the hardest part of planning for a second wave is preparing mentally.  Employees at all levels will suffer anxiety over a loss of wages in event of a partial or full shutdown while they are still trying to adapt to the new normal.  It is important to create a healthy work environment for employees and if possible the company should consider providing counselling for its workers to help them come to terms with the changes.

From an article by Ethan Rotberg

Business Continuity in a Crisis

By Randall Orser | Business , Covid-19 , Retail

Unplanned events can have a devastating effect on businesses and the beginning of the pandemic was definitely no exception.  As consumers stockpiled goods, stores and their supply chains struggled to keep up and keep shelves stocked.  What came out of this situation is the need for senior decision makers to have risk-management and crisis planning strategies in place.

If a business is to survive in a crisis it is important to have:

  • A well tested business continuity plan already in place 
  • Strong leadership to ensure swift and decisive action in response to a crisis
  • Quick and honest communications with employees, shareholders and other stakeholders and where appropriate the media
  • Compassion for employees and customers impacted by the crisis
  • Being prepared to adopt alternative working, technological or communication systems, including changes to company operations, providing personal protective equipment, continuous sanitizing of workspaces and equipment, training staff in new protocols, and where appropriate facilitating remote working for employees.
  • Having access to financial and other resources to help absorb the costs of the crisis, an early and aggressive review of cash flow and the development of a cash management plan

Unfortunately the Covid-19 crisis unfolded without much warning so it was difficult for businesses to make preparations beforehand. It was and is important for businesses to take advantage of all the help available from governments and other organizations.  There the operations of the business should be continuously reviewed and changes made when necessary.  Everyone involved with the business should be kept fully apprised of all changes to business operations.  Managers must be given the resources to be able to act quickly, decisively and effectively and they should know how to access external help and advice.

From an article by CPA Canada

How Covid-19 has Impacted Offices

By Randall Orser | Business , Covid-19 , Employees

The pandemic left many employers scrambling to provide a safe working environment for office workers returning to work.  Offices had to make physical changes to keep employees apart and personal protective equipment had to be provided for those office employees that needed it.  Workers now had to wear visors or masks, shared workspaces had to be shielded with plexiglass dividers and narrow corridors had to be converted into one way aisles indicated by arrows and if possible it was necessary to have more open doors into the office.

Washrooms had to be refigured, every other stall closed off and the number of employees allowed in the washroom at one time to be reduced.  In-office meetings would have to change format, they would be smaller and had to be held in larger boardrooms or in common areas with better air circulation.  Some companies invested in anti-microbial spray to coat surfaces and desks to protect from bacteria build-ups.  With all these changes offices would definitely look and feel very different.

The biggest change was the number of employees that returned to the office.  The two metre physical distance rule mean't that there had to be fewer bodies in the office at any one time.  Most offices had only had 20-25% of their employees return to work in the first phase of the return to work and Samantha Sanella from Cushman and Wakefield believes that up to 30% of employees will never return to the office without a vaccine.  

Sanella believes that there will be a return to the private walled in offices instead of the open concept style of office. Although these type of offices take up more space and are more expensive to build many companies will make the changes to keep their critical workers safer. As the overall office space will be smaller they will have some workers continue to work from home.

These changes in office format will result in prospective tenants changing their criteria when looking for new office space.  They are going to be more focused on the health certifications of the space and new office spaces may have a new look with more open windows and outdoor space.   

Despite these necessary changes experts believe that offices will survive.   Even though people are working from home they want to return to the office and have a connection other employees.  

From an article by Adrienne Tanner

Be Wary of Adding a Covid-19 Surcharge to your Business

By Randall Orser | Covid-19 , Retail , Small Business

As businesses reopen they have to try and make up lost revenue while at the same time having additional operating expenses due to Covid-19.  According to a survey in May by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) 70% of Canadian businesses reported a 30% drop in revenue and the other 30% reported a 40% drop.  On top of these losses businesses have had to cover the cost of the new health and safety protocols including social distancing, cleaning, sanitizing and personal protective equipment.

To try and offset these new expenses some businesses have introduced a Covid-19 surcharge a fixed amount or percentage which is added to the total bill.  While this surcharge is understandable because of the extra cost of dealing with customers during the pandemic, there are some considerations that should be made prior to passing these costs onto the customer.

1.  Consider the ways that you can make extra revenue - these could include making the surcharge optional or donation based, adjusting services or products offered or increasing prices.  The pandemic has had a greater impact on small businesses but they should still take time to consider what is the best way for them to adjust to this new norm and whether it will be temporary or permanent.  They should make sure that they have exhausted all government relief options before charging customers extra.   It should also be a time to focus on giving exceptional service to clients so as to not lose the ones that you have.  If you do apply a surcharge customers need to understand that it is due to the additional costs to reopen your business.

2.  If a surcharge is the right action for your business you need to decide to how you will calculate this additional fee - either as a percentage of the total bill or a fixed amount and it is important to remove it as soon as restrictions are lifted and your business goes back to normal.  Customers need to know that this surcharge is for a specific time and the cut off date will be honoured by your business.  The last thing that you need is for your clients to perceive that you are gouging in a time when everyone is going through financial difficulties.   It is important to inform customers of this extra charge in advance and explain why it is being implemented.

3.  Be upfront and honest with your customers - you need to clearly communicate to your clients the the surcharge is in place long before they reach your checkout.  Customers would rather know in advance so that they can make the decision whether or not to make the business transaction with you.  You should post on your website and social media, inform customers when they make an appointment or during phone calls, and make sure there is a notice posted on your store window or door.  

The response from consumers to paying a surcharge has been varied depending upon the industry type or products offered.  Once they understand why they are being charged extra most people are supportive especially if they know that there is an end date and they know that it is not an opportunity for the business to extra money.

From an article by Sophie Nicholls Jones

Find the Right Balance for your Remote Workers

By Randall Orser | Business , Cloud-computing , Covid-19 , Employees , Technology

Is your business planning to keep all or some of your employees working from home once the pandemic is over?  Though many giant companies are planning to keep employees working remotely, whether your company should do the same will depend on varying factors such the type of industry the size of your company and your available resources. Here are four things you should consider if you are planning to keep your workers working remotely.

1.  The resilience of your company and your employees - it can be difficult to create a workable balance between how things were done prior to the pandemic and how they will be done under the new conditions, and adjustments will need to be made. Companies can create a plan where some employees work from home and some work in the office, but remote employees should still have some on-site presence.  Distributing a workforce has to take into account business functions, workplace characteristics and office culture and weigh it against the preferences of the employer and employees.  As these changes will have quite an impact on your employees it is important that they are resilient and able to adapt to the changes so that their mental health, productivity and health and safety do not suffer.  

2.  Setting up a distributed workforce will require some logistics - work premises will need to adhere to new health and safety measures including ventilation, proper distancing and limited use of common spaces, but outside factors also have to be considered such as the use of public transit and access to the building.  Outside factors particularly can make it very difficult for a company to isolate itself even though they have the proper rules in place within the workplace they cannot control what is happening outside the office and the building.  Logistics for remote staff will include the home office set up, providing the equipment and technology and security measures to protect the business and it's information.  Clear remote working policies will need to be set including confidentiality agreements and compensation terms, vacation allowances and expense eligibility. 

3. Aligning employer and staff - some workers will want to return to the office but there will be those who prefer to remain at home.  The company needs to take into account each employees risk tolerance and remote working environment.  Not all employee situations are the same and can change, so employers and employees should be willing to be flexible as needs change. 

4.  One of the upsides of having remote workers is the ability to choose new employees from a wider pool of candidates anywhere in the world.  However these workers also come with additional responsibilities for the employer including adhering to different labour laws, tax laws and employment benefit obligations so it is important that the employer is familiar with the rules in each country where employees are working.  It is the new reality that many employees have made the change to work remotely and are looking for work that allows them to do that.  Employers need to pivot to accommodate these workers if they want to hold on to their talent and acquire new staff.  At the same time companies need to create an inclusive culture so that everyone feels part of the work team and this can include attending meetings in the office from time to time to keep in touch as face to face contact is invaluable.

From an article by Sophie Nicholls Jones

Recent and Outlandish Covid-19 Scams

By Randall Orser | Covid-19 , Personal Finances , Scams

During the pandemic fraudsters are endlessly devising new scams to trick us into parting with our money.  Jeff Thomson from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says that " Fraudsters are always targeting Canada with new and old scams.  In 2019 the CAFC received more than 20,000 fraud reports involving more than $43 million in losses.  

Some of the most outlandish scams that have hit the news include: 

  • Homeland Security Agents intercepting a number of fake Covid-19 tests inside a parcel.  Toronto police tracked down the the sender and charged him with fraud and possession of a forgery device.  
  • A Toronto resident received a text message inviting her to click on a link to claim $1375.50 in emergency relief funds and her personal information was stolen.  
  • A California actor who promised a $300,000,00 return on investment to anyone who invested $1 million to back his fraudulent coronavirus cures.
  • An American company offering a coronavirus protocol kit containing tea and cannabinoid tinctures.  The FDA stopped this company from selling a product that claimed to prevent, treat or cure the virus.

Here are some of the latest scams to watch out for:

  1. Social Insurance Number scam - Getting a call from someone pretending to be from Service Canada who says that your SIN has been compromised.  This is the latest variation on the caller id scam when fraudsters disguise the ID display on a phone to trick victims into answering the phone.  Do not provide any personal information to this person as you could be at risk of identity fraud.  If you get such a call hang up then call the number on your account statement or government website to verify.  
  2. Email money transfer fraud - Often seen as a safe and secure way to transfer funds there were 371 million e transfers in 2019 worth more than $132 billion according to figures from Interac Corp.  However the method is not foolproof, the anti-fraud centre received 163 reports in 2018 of bank accounts being compromised and money e transferred out.  
    • To protect yourself from this make sure your password is strong and do not share it with anyone.  
    • Use one password per website and continually change them, choose security questions that are not easy to guess.
    • Use filters to protect from viruses and spyware.
    • Look for strange passwords such as $ being used after the amount.  
    • If you accidentally fill out personal information in a link from a phishing scam change your online banking password and inform your bank immediately.
  3. Bank Investigator Scam - There are many variations of this scam but generally victims receive a call from someone posing as a store employee inquiring about a recent purchase on a credit card and are asked to call the number on the back of their card to verify the the validity of the call.  When victims believe that they have hung up, the original caller who has not disconnected redirects the victims to imposters. To protect yourself from these type of scams.
    • As most of these calls occur early in the morning often when a victim is still sleeping so it is important that you always stay alert when dealing with your finances.
    • Do not assume that phone numbers on your call display are accurate, it easy for scammers to use call spoofing technology.
    • Financial institutions will never ask you to transfer funds to an external account for security.
    • Never give remote access to your computer systems to unknown callers.
  4. Scams targeting lawyers and trust funds - In these scams fraudsters pretend to be a client or someone authorized to give instructions on a client's behalf.  In one case a company was tricked into transferring almost half a million dollars held in trust to a different account than the original set up for the client.  In this case the email used by the trickster was identical to the one used by the client.  To protect yourself:
    • As any client or lawyer's account can be hacked, lawyers or other financial professionals should ensure that any changes to payment instructions should be confirmed by direct contact with the client.
    • Due diligence protocols should are established for transferring funds and it should be ensured that all staff receive training and adhere to the rules.
    • Be on high alert for scams during vacations.  Arrange for a competent staff member to supervise your practice and provide your contact information to your staff.

Identity theft and fraud are big concerns for Canadians so it is important that everyone is aware of ways that they can protect themselves.

From an article by Margaret Craig-Bourdin