So… That Just Happened!


Resetting the World Post-COVID-19

Every few generations we have an epoch defining event.  Life was going along one way and then, seemingly overnight, suddenly we live in a very different world.

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Pearl Harbour and 9/11.  These incidents have all split history and profoundly changed daily life from that point forward.

The current COVID-19 crisis will be remembered as another such event.

Here in Ontario last Thursday morning most of us got up and went about our business in the usual way.  Sure, we had heard about COVID-19 and how it was disrupting life in other parts of the world.  What had started in China and shut down production there had rattled financial markets around the world.  Italy had shut down everything, but the most essential services and we were starting to see similar action in New York City but very little had touched us here.

That changed on Wednesday, March 11 when the first couple of cases were reported here.  Within 24 hours, the provincial government had closed the elementary schools, secondary schools, and day care centers and ordered all nonessential employees to work from home.

Panic buying set in as people scrambled to purchase cleaning supplies and non-perishables.

“Social Distancing” and “Flattening the Curve” became the new buzz words as everyone was ordered to stay at least 6 feet apart.  Churches cancelled Sunday services, Restaurants, Fitness Clubs, Dentists and most non-essential businesses began to implement first, extreme cleaning protocols, then reduced hours but by early the next week only grocery stores, pharmacies, fast food takeout (no dining rooms) and big box household retailers remained open at all.

What started with a handful of reported case, in just ten days, has grown to over 200 cases and resulted in a near total lock down of all non-essential human activity.  Officials are telling us to get used to it, this could go on for several weeks or even months.

I’m not qualified to go into a discussion of why this is happening except to say that I understand that COVID-19 is a highly contagious illness, one that if left unchecked has the capacity to overwhelm the medical system.  I’ve seen the computer simulations; I know what an unchecked spread could look like and how the various social distancing and lock down protocols should prevent the worst-case scenarios.  I get it, so I am doing my part by working from home and going out as little as possible.

For me at least all of this is starting to beg the question, “what’s next?”.

The only thing I know for certain is that COVID-19 has split history, nothing will be quite the same again.  I have no idea what some of the broader implications of this may be, but I have a few suspicions and a few ideas about how to go about life once things return to “normal”.

In no particular order, here are my thoughts on the state of the world post-COVID-19.

1 – Small Businesses will be hurt the most

My friend owns a coffee shop up the street.  He’s closed.

Rents are still due on April 1 and with no revenue coming in I have no idea how businesses will be able to pay.  To date, the government has offered to help employees that are laid off and offered some tax relief, but I have seen nothing concrete that provides income assistance for the owners of these business.  I hope the government will step in with something that will prevent landlords from evicting businesses and extend the income programs to people who are self-employed.  But at the end of the day, most businesses will never get back the revenue that has been lost.  The big chain stores have deeper pockets and stand a better chance of coming back from this, many of the smaller shops may never reopen.

It’s not just retail business and restaurants that are suffering.  Personal service providers, dentists, physio therapists, contractors of all types, (plumbers, roofers etc.), anyone who works in person with customers is effectively closed.  Even my business, which relies primarily on face to face meetings with clients, many of whom are small business owners, has been significantly curtailed.

The world post-COVID-19 will see fewer small businesses and less service delivered in person.

2 – The Rise of Teleconferencing

Teleconferencing is not new.  The ability to put more than two people on the same telephone call has been around for at least 40 years.  In the past decade the technology has exploded on-line with video conferencing over the internet growing exponentially.  Last week as governments and businesses large and small began ordering people to work from home the stock price for video conferencing start-up Zoom Technologies shot up nearly 75% as tens of thousands, myself included, opened new accounts to stay connected with colleagues.  Google and Microsoft have their own versions which have also seen significant growth in just the last couple of weeks.

As people become more comfortable with this technology post-COVID-19 I suspect we may begin to see more and more companies offering permanent work from home solutions to their staff.  We are all taking a crash course in remote work and some companies may realize that this is a cost-effective alternative to the traditional office environment.  We may also start to see less long-distance corporate travel, why fly halfway around the world for a meeting when you can accomplish just as much from the comfort of your own home via video conference?

3 – Emergency Preparedness

I tend to do my weekly grocery shopping on Fridays.  Last week, when the first school closures where announced my wife tried to get me to go early but I refused, saying that there was no reason to panic.

Boy was I wrong?!

Within hours the grocery stores had been overrun, toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, canned goods, pasta and countless other food staples where suddenly the hottest commodities on the market.  By the time I went out on my regular schedule many of those items were simply sold out.

Experts have been telling us for years to always keep a supply of certain things on hand.  Non-perishable foods, batteries, bottled water and a bit of cash, to start.  Financial advisors like me also encourage people to maintain an emergency fund, anywhere from $1000 for essentials up to a savings account containing enough money to cover 6 months of expenses.

Nobody does it.

What this crisis has taught us is that you never know when, or how an emergency might unfold.  Post-COVID-19, financial advisors like me and other experts should redouble our efforts to get the word out and help people prepare for the next disaster, however and whenever it may come.  Will anybody listen?  I hope so, but I’m not holding my breath.

4 – Your Health Matters

When COVID-19 first started its rapid spread around the world health officials were saying that most people wouldn’t get it, and for those that did it would just be a bad flu.  The only people who needed to worry were the elderly and the immunocompromised.  What we know now is that age has less to do with it, the real determining factor is your underlying health.

I’m not qualified to go into a detailed discussion of health, fitness and immunity.  What I do know is that the three are both interrelated and mutually exclusive, it is possible to be both fit and unhealthy for instance.  Nutrition science is the new cutting edge of medical research.  I know you can’t kill a virus by changing your diet, but you can fortify yourself against attack and make your body stronger and better at fighting off all kinds of infections and other illnesses.   Cutting out processed foods, balancing your microbiome (the millions of micro-organisms that live in your gut) and eating the right balance of macro nutrients, (fats, carbs and protein) for your particular lifestyle can go a long way to boosting your immune system and making you better at fighting off illness.

Post-COVID-19 the medical profession needs to do a better job of educating people about healthy foods and supplements and the food production industry needs to stop feeding us poison that damages our overall health and compromises our immune system.  Again, will anybody listen?  Some how I doubt it.

 

 

We are standing an apex of history, how we pivot from here will determine the course of the rest of our lives.  The world has changed, adaptation is going to be hard, but we don’t have a choice anymore.  As Mohammed Ali once said:

Don’t quit.  Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.

See you on the other side.

Holy Moses, What a Week!


Covid19, Oil Price Shocks and a general stock market meltdown. The NBA and NHL are shutting down for the foreseeable future, no air travel from Europe, schools are closing across Ontario for 2 weeks. And the shelves at Costco are eerily devoid of toilet paper.

The world is in facing a crisis like nothing we’ve seen in my lifetime.

Here is my rif on how stay sane and not become too isolated while the world figures out how to deal with a virus no one understands.

 

Putting Insomnia To Bed


Not getting enough sleep? Here are eight strategies that can help.

As the saying goes; “You snooze, you lose.” But when you don’t get enough sleep, nobody wins. When we’re tired, we tend not to exercise or eat right either. We also get more irritable, stressed out and are more likely to get sick. And we don’t work as well when we’re tired. By some accounts, sleep deprivation costs Canadian businesses more than $15 billion a year in lost productivity.

So how do you get the rest you need? Try these strategies to help you get a better night’s sleep.

1 – Create a bed-time ritual

Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning, even on the weekend. Establishing a pattern of calming bedtime activities like taking a bath, reading, meditation or writing in your journal can help to train you mind and body that it’s time to settle down.

2- Put away your smartphone

Blue light from your phone (or tablet) suppresses the production of melatonin. That is why people who spend a lot of time looking at a screen before bed have more trouble nodding off. If you like to read e-books, try a reader that isn’t back-lit or use a screen cover that minimizes blue light.

3 – Take the pressure off

Poor sleep is our number-one response to stress. It’s also a bit of a double-edged sword as not getting enough shut-eye actually increases stress. So how do you break the cycle? Find ways to recharge and calm down throughout the day. Go for a walk, practice mindfulness exercises, or yoga. Small changes to your daily routine can make a big difference.

4 – Cool it

A cool room can help you too relax as well. Our body temperature naturally drops as we fall asleep, an environment that’s too warm may actually inhibit drifting off. Ideal bedroom temperatures range from 19 to 22 C.

5 – Lose the light

Too much ambient light can suppress melatonin production while darkness triggers it. The darker your bedroom the better so if you live in a brightly light city or near a large industrial installation installing blackout curtains and removing electronics with light-up displays can help.

6 – Move more

People who exercise regularly tend to sleep better. Working out three or four times a week can make a real difference. Don’t hit the gym too close to bedtime though, or the adrenalin from your workout could end up keeping you awake. Morning workouts are best but try to give yourself at least 2 hours for your body to return to normal before trying to go to sleep.

7 – Eat to sleep

Certain foods can help you nod off at night too. Vitamin B6 is important for making melatonin. B6-rich foods like fish, bananas, chickpeas, nuts and lentils can help. Drinking tart cherry juice, right before bed has been proven to alleviate insomnia in some cases.

 

8 – Avoid alcohol

We all know that cutting back on caffeine can reduce wakefulness. But most forms of alcohol inhibit sleep too.   This one is a bit counter intuitive until you think about it.  A glass of wine may help you drift off, but as the relaxing effects of the alcohol wear off the fermented sugars take over and you’re suddenly wide awake again.

Still can’t sleep?

Try not to stress about it. Insomnia can happen to almost everyone. If you’re tired all the time, talk to your doctor, maybe you have sleep apnea or another underlying cause.

Sweet dreams….

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

 

 

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Health Insurance – Better Than Cash


As many of you know, before I started working in the Financial Services industry I spent 19 years as a marketing rep in the Music Industry, the last 12 at the same company.  During that time I never had a health plan.

When I started I was in my late 20s and the lack of access to things like routine dental care and the odd prescription really wasn’t that big of a deal to me.  Health plans weren’t for young health people like me; at least that’s what I thought.  That is until my wife was diagnosed with a chronic condition, requiring approximately $200 per month in prescription drugs.  The resulting financial strain on our new marriage was at times unbearable.  Not to mention the fact that neither of us saw an optometrist or dentist for over ten years.

That’s why, when I became a Financial Advisor I started talking to small business owners about the benefits of providing health insurance for their employees.

healthplan

A recent survey from Manulife Financial shows that while most companies believe they are responsible for the health and wellbeing of their employees fewer than 45% of them actually provide any form of health plan.  Cost is a huge factor but most small business owners just don’t know how to optimise the plan and how with the help of a good accountant they can balance the cost against some very generous tax advantages, for both the employer and the employee.  Not to mention the cost of retraining when employees leave for greener pastures at companies who get it.

For many employees, a well designed benefits plan can be better than cash.  For more information on how best to structure a health plan for your employees feel free to write to me at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com and click the link here to read more on the Manulife Financial Small Business Research Report.

Canada’s Gold


 

So last week, more than 20 years after the federal government stopped using asbestos in the insulation of federal buildings and banned the use of the mineral in building materials across Canada, it was announced that they would no longer resist the implementation of similar laws in other countries.  As a result an entire region of Eastern Quebec will no doubt lose its main industry and thousands will be out of work very shortly.  The final nail in the coffin of an industry that was once referred to as “Canada’s Gold” has at last been driven. 

In the 1970s Canada was the world’s largest producer of asbestos and for decades as the world wide demand for the mineral has dwindled we have resisted the listing of it as a hazardous material and the banning of its use world-wide.  In an act of what can only be called arrogant duplicity Canada banned the mineral domestically and spent billions to remove it from buildings all over the country and yet still promoted its export and fought against its ban on the world stage.  In recent years Canada had even attempted to take our friend and ally France to court at the WTO to prevent them from enacting a similar law against the use of asbestos in new construction.  It was the loss of this lawsuit and pressure from the international community that finally caused last week’s announcement.   

Asbestos has been linked to lung cancer and respiratory disease, with the first suspected death due to inhalation of asbestos fibers dating back to 1906 and the first truly documented case of lung cancer as a result recorded in the UK in 1924.  The use of asbestos in construction peaked in the reconstruction boom after World War II but by the late 1960s and 70s the links to illness were undeniable and the law suits started.   By the early 1980s countries all over the world were beginning to ban its use and shut down mining operations.  

The reasons behind Canada’s continued support of the asbestos mining industry had as much to do with domestic tensions within the province of Quebec as with anything else.  But at the end of the day it comes to down to a perverted application of development economics.  While the developed world long ago recognized the hazardous effects of asbestos and weighed the health risks against the economic advantages of inexpensive construction, developing countries couldn’t afford that luxury.  The demand for inexpensive insulation in the construction of infrastructure in developing nations continues to this day and asbestos is still prevalent in everything from government offices to schools and hospitals all across sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia and the middle-east.     The fact that Canada, per capita one of the wealthiest nations on earth, was until know still promoting the export of a known carcinogen to poor nations and thereby placing the health of millions below the economic wellbeing of a few thousand miners was beyond deplorable.  Even though that now a few towns in Eastern Quebec are going to go through some serious economic hardship Canada is more than capable of provided assistance to those individuals without causing further damage to human lives on the other side of the world.    

But let’s be honest, the fact that Canada is officially out of the asbestos business doesn’t mean that a world-wide ban on its use is coming any time soon.  It just means that Russia and China are now unchallenged in their dominance of the industry and I for one am happy to let that dubious distinction remain with them.  Human life is too valuable to be measured in dollars and cents, especially when those dollars end up being the difference between life and death.