Intersection of Sports and Investing: What is Invesco QQQ?

Intersection of Sports and Investing: What is Invesco QQQ?

As someone who has always loved college basketball, watching the Baylor Bears easily defeat the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the 2021 NCAA men’s basketball National Championship game and stop Gonzaga from going undefeated, a feat that has not been accomplished since Indiana did it in 1976, brought back a lot of memories. I’m a University of Virginia fan, and my childhood was filled with plenty of ACC and local high school games. I will never forget when I was in eighth grade and went to see a local prodigy from our rival high school, South Lakes, play against my Chantilly Chargers. Their star player was none other than Grant Hill, who proceeded to absolutely dominate our talented team with a barrage of dunks, 3-pointers, and superb defense. It was awesome to watch. The following year in 1992, he helped lead Duke to a national championship. Due to injuries, Hill had a long, but uneven, pro career and never was able to completely dominate as he did before. 

I couldn’t help but reminisce as I enjoyed this year’s coverage with Hill serving as an analyst for the tournament. It was hard to miss Hill because he was also a spokesperson for an ETF called Invesco QQQ, which was marketed heavily during the tournament. We have fielded a lot of questions about ETFs, and QQQ specifically, so I thought I would blog a little about it to help make sense of the hoopla, a unique intersection of my everyday life and passion for sports. 

What is an ETF?

Before we dive into Invesco QQQ, let’s first cover the basics of ETFs. An ETF is an Exchange Traded Fund that consists of a basket of stocks (or other investments) to diversify the risk. They are similar to mutual funds; however, they are traded on an exchange (Like the New York Stock Exchange) throughout the day and have some important differences that can have their advantages and disadvantages. Most ETFs are index funds as they attempt to mirror the performance of an index like the S&P 500 or Dow Jones Industrial Average. Because they are not usually actively managed, they generally have very low fees and can be traded on many platforms with no commission. They also have some tax advantages over mutual funds because they do not kick out capital gains to the shareholders regardless of a sale of the shares owned. Some mutual funds can even show capital gains when the value of the shares is down significantly at the end of the year! But on the downside, ETFs that are not actively managed can not move to cash or sell investments when they are up to buy others when they are down like an actively managed mutual fund attempts to do. This can hamper the ability to “beat the market” or as we call it “create Alpha.”

Big Man on Campus – QQQ

QQQ is the ticker symbol for a specific ETF that is offered by Invesco that invests in 100 Nasdaq companies such as Amazon, Apple, and Google. Many other companies comprise this specific ETF, but over the previous 21 years, it has amassed an enormous amount of investment and has become the fifth-largest Exchange Traded Fund in the world. It also is the No. 1 performing ETF in the Large-Cap Growth space during that time (out of 327 funds) through December 31, 2020. Large-Cap Growth funds are companies that have a capitalization of over $10 billion, and growth delineates that they have a 70% greater likelihood to grow than other large-cap companies. Many investors that like to have riskier portfolios are interested in things like QQQ because they offer the potential for greater returns if the companies grow and investors continue to buy shares and increase the value of the underlying company. We believe that investments like QQQ make sense as a part of an overall diversified portfolio and should be monitored and rebalanced regularly to keep that portfolio in alignment with your goals and objectives. If you have questions about QQQ and can’t get a hold of Grant Hill, we would be happy to have a conversation with you to see what would make sense in your portfolio. Like Hill’s career, QQQ is a standout, but if you watched his professional career vs. his high school and college career, you would understand why we remind clients that past performance is not always indicative of future success, and your results can never be guaranteed!

Jonathon Jordon, CFP®

Five Technology Tips for Seniors And Older Adults Learned from a Year of Pandemic Life

Five Technology Tips for Seniors And Older Adults Learned from a Year of Pandemic Life

As with many things in our lives, our finances have become increasingly reliant on technology. Instead of receiving paper bank statements or paper bills, we now have e-bills and e-statements. Instead of mailing our tax paperwork, we upload it to a secure online portal. Rather than writing checks, we can easily send money to someone through an app. 

And while technology has increased efficiency and saved us time, it also has the potential to create a lot of headaches and frustration. We’re in a never-ending cycle of adopting a new device or software and learning how to use it, only to have the next version render our knowledge seemingly obsolete.

Because of the tech boom and its subsequent acceleration through COVID-19, we’ve become teachers of tech for our clients on many occasions, and we’ve had to do plenty of learning ourselves. We wrote about tech and working from home at the start of the pandemic (how has it already been a year?). Now, with a year of pandemic life under our belts – a year of virtually meeting with clients and finding solutions to all kinds of tech issues – we put together this list of tech tips for seniors and older adults (or people of any age who want to be more in the loop on technology) that we’ve learned these last 12 months. 

USE A USB, BLUETOOTH, OR WIRELESS MOUSE WITH YOUR LAPTOP

This first tech tip for older adults might not seem like a big deal – until you try to go back to your laptop’s trackpad after having used a mouse for a while. And if you’ve only exclusively used your laptop’s trackpad, you’re in for a real ‘Eureka’ moment when you use a mouse for the first time. Trackpads can be awkward, finicky, and subject to spills and sticky fingers. Now, using a mouse with sticky fingers isn’t necessarily advisable, but it won’t be rendered completely useless by a small smudge like your trackpad can be. And you can get a solid one for less than $30. 

When it comes to selecting a mouse for your laptop, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. If you’re electing to go with a USB mouse, or any type of wired connection, make sure your computer is compatible with it. Newer Apple laptops like the MacBook Pro have what are called Thunderbolt 3 ports (pictured below), so you will need an adapter like this one to be able to use a USB mouse with it. If you have a PC (Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc.), you shouldn’t have to be too concerned about compatibility because most PCs come with a good mix of ports for connecting various devices. The good news about a wired USB mouse is that it doesn’t need batteries because it’s supplied power through the USB port. The downside is that the cord can be cumbersome. 

Many computer mice these days are either wireless or Bluetooth. The difference is that a wireless mouse typically uses a USB adapter that communicates with the mouse (sans wire), while a Bluetooth mouse – such as Apple’s Magic Mouse – has no physical connection with your device and communicates directly with your laptop. The draw of Bluetooth is that you don’t have to worry about having a compatible port, and Bluetooth capability is quite standard on most devices manufactured in the last five years (Bluetooth 5.0, the most recent version, was introduced in 2016).

Although we could do an exhaustive piece on mice alone, PC Mag already has this great resource on the subject if you’re in the market for a mouse. 

MASTER ZOOM AUDIO & USE BLUETOOTH HEADPHONES WITH IT

On the subject of Bluetooth, let’s (briefly) open Pandora’s box and talk about audio on Zoom and other web-conferencing applications for our next tech tip. There are three common Zoom problems we’ve likely all encountered over the last year: 

    1. You can’t hear the other people on the call.
    2. The other people on the call can’t hear you.
    3. You can’t hear the other people and they can’t hear you.

If you’re in a situation where you can’t hear other people on the call, the issue is likely with the speaker that’s selected, also known as the sound output. For people using wired headphones, unplugging them and plugging them back into your computer, while quite simple, might just solve your problem. You can also leave the call and rejoin it.

This can be a little more complicated if you’re using Bluetooth headphones – headphones without a cord – but it involves two steps. First, check to see if your headphones are connected to your computer. In the event they aren’t, your best bet is to deploy a search on your favorite search engine – Google, Duck Duck Go, etc. Entering the brand of your headphones (ex: Apple AirPods) and ‘how to connect [insert your brand here] to my computer’ should return a quick explanation for how to make this happen. Here are links for some of the top headphones to help get you started: AirPods, Beats by Dre, Bose, JBL

Once you’ve connected your headphones to your computer, the second step is to select your headphones as the “speaker,” or sound output device, in Zoom, a process shown in the video below. Here’s a written description of the process of connecting your Bluetooth headset:

    1. Locate the mute button. This is almost always at the bottom left-hand corner of your Zoom window
    2. Click the “^” arrow in the mute button box to open up your audio options. 
    3. Under the “Select a Speaker” text, choose what the Zoom audio will play through, in this case, “Beats Solo.”

If other people can’t hear you, you can follow the same three-step process. In this case, you’ll want to choose your Bluetooth headphones under “Select a Microphone.” If that doesn’t help – likely because your headphones don’t have a built-in microphone – you can pick “Same as System” or select your computer as the microphone. Looking for additional resources on this? Here’s a video tutorial from Zoom on audio setup. 

SAVE YOUR PASSWORDS WITH A SECURE PASSWORD MANAGER 

If we had a nickel for every time we said, “I’ll remember that password later,” we’d have quite a few nickels. But if you’re not using the same password for all your logins – something you should never do anyway – how should you keep track of your different logins and passwords? That’s where this next tech tip comes in.

For many of our older clients, writing passwords down on a piece of paper is the method they’re familiar with. This isn’t a bad option. It’s far more likely that confidential information would be stolen or compromised online versus being taken by someone breaking into your home. The problem here is accessibility. You should be storing this physical document in a safe or locked drawer, so you’ll have to take it out and put it back every time you need to log in.

The better option to combine security and ease of access is through a secure password manager. We have some examples listed below, but first, a couple of things to keep in mind. 

    1. You (usually) get what you pay for – cybersecurity is a necessity and not something you should try to cut corners on. If you’re using free software for virus protection or password management, chances are there’s a reason it’s free. Not that something you pay for is automatically better, but paid services from trusted companies in this sphere are your best, and safest, bet. 
    2. Do your homework – don’t just go with software because a friend told you about it or the company’s website sounds convincing. Use reviews and trusted internet resources from places like PC Magazine or Wired to do some independent investigating on your own. 

Now, here are some recommendations for password managers: 

    1. 1Password
    2. Keeper Security
    3. McAfee True Key
    4. Bitwarden
    5. Dashlane 
    6. LastPass

CHECK TO SEE WHERE YOUR DOCUMENTS ARE BEING SAVED

If you’ve ever gone on a wild goose chase for a document you believe is saved on your computer, you know first-hand how frustrating such a hunt can be. The main issue here is that you likely don’t know the exact name of the file. If you do, you can use your PC’s search bar or file explorer, or Mac’s Finder application, to turn up the file in relatively short order. When you don’t know the name of the file, it turns into a bit of a guess and check approach, plugging in possible names until you find it or give up. Here are a couple of options to find a file once you’ve lost it: 

    1. Open the application you originally saved the file in (Word, Excel, etc.) and locate the “Recent Files” or “Recently Opened” tab.
    2. Go to Mac Finder and click on the “Recents” on the left side of the pane. On a PC, you can click on the File Explorer icon and then click “Recent Files” once the window opens. 

Here are some bonus tech tips for ensuring you can find your files easily: 

    1. Create specific folders and subfolders inside your ‘Documents’ folder to keep yourself organized, ex.: Taxes > 2021 > Tax Forms for your W-2s, 1099s, etc. 
    2. If you’re someone who likes to have everything on your desktop, create your folder hierarchy there so you don’t have a mess of icons to choose from. 
    3. Click “Save As” when you save a document the first time or anytime you’re unsure of where the document is saved. 
    4. Move files out of your download folder to their respective folders and rename them to something that makes sense. A lot of times automatically downloaded files will have funky names that make it hard to know what the file is based on name alone. 
    5. To the last point, name files in a specific way familiar to you. Including things like dates “040821” or “210408” and being specific “Taxes_2021_1040-complete” will go a long way when trying to find things later on. 

Save and Send Your Documents Through Cloud-Based Platforms

An alternative to saving documents directly to your computer, or a great way to back up files so you don’t lose them, is using a cloud-based storage platform. Without getting too far into the weeds, the basic premise of cloud storage is that it allows you to save and send documents from multiple devices without taking up storage space on those devices. It’s like renting a storage container to keep all the stuff you don’t have room to store in your own house. Below are some of the key cloud storage providers to choose from. 

Cloud Storage Platforms

    1. Google Drive
    2. OneDrive (Microsoft)
    3. iCloud (Apple)
    4. DropBox
    5. pCloud
    6. IDrive

Two things you should keep in mind when it comes to electronic files. First, always back up your files in a location separate from the original location, i.e. an external storage device if the original location in the cloud service. Second, encrypt any files with confidential information using Microsoft, Adobe, or another service. You can upload encrypted files to a cloud server, which gives you another layer of protection if there’s a security breach.  

A key part of our philosophy at Walkner Condon is embracing change, including embracing new technology to streamline our clients’ experience and financial journeys. As part of that, we’re also here to help educate our clients on these new technologies, so they can maximize them to their fullest potential. Hopefully, these tips will help you or a friend or family member maximize the technology in your life. 

If you have anything you’d like us to cover in the future, feel free to let us know by sending an email to us here.

Disclosure: this blog post is written as informational only by Dan Corcoran and is not an offer to purchase or sell securities, nor should it be construed as investment related advice. Dan is not registered as an investment advisor, and any securities related inquiries should be directed to an investment advisor representative (IAR) of Walkner Condon Financial Advisors.

Your Work From Home Network Checklist

Your Work From Home Network Checklist

With many of us making our home offices a full-time endeavor and with a future that looks like working from home will be an increasing part of our lives, giving clients and associates a good experience is key. No one wants to go through the hiccups and dropouts of your Zoom meeting, especially when you are discussing important topics! Here we offer some suggestions on how to assure that your home internet is stable and able to handle the load for today’s work environment. 

Internet Speed

Do this little exercise – find a way to see how many devices are actually on your network. Here’s one way to do this, or if you have something like the Google Wifi points, you may use their app. You’ll probably be surprised at the number of devices that are using up bandwidth (check also that all the devices are approved by you!). It’s likely that you have underestimated your needed bandwidth rather than overestimated it. Keep in mind also that streaming and Zoom meetings require a significant amount of bandwidth. I would recommend a minimum of 100 Mbps service, with a preference of 300 Mbps+. This will help alleviate the dreaded buffering or pixelation that dooms business calls to failure. 

Use Ethernet Where Possible

You’ve probably heard that WiFi networks aren’t super secure. This is correct, though there are certainly things that you can do to protect yourself. No matter how good your WiFi is, you also may have dead spots or interference that could impact your signal. Using a wired ethernet connection is a good way to make yourself more secure and stable. Most modern homes now have cabling, though you will want to assure that you don’t have Cat5 wiring since that could potentially be slower than your WiFi in some cases.

Cable Modem and Router

When was the last time you checked on your cable modem to assure you have that equipment up to date? It’s worth a look and/or a phone call to your internet service provider (ISP). Cable modems can be a number of years old and don’t offer the same efficiency that newer models achieve. 

Good performing WiFi is key and provided in a couple of ways. Sometimes the cable modem also has a router in it, though if it is older technology you will probably want to use your own router. Aren’t sure the difference between a modem and router? Here’s a helpful post.

Eliminate WiFi Dead Spots

If you have a larger home or want to assure that your WiFi signal can reach certain areas of the house (workbench, screened in porch, your WiFi enabled birdbath), you will probably want to consider a mesh network. Basically a mesh network is one network created out of a number of devices sending WiFi signals. The one I use is from Google. The nice part about using this type of network is it’s fairly portable, allowing you to move the “pucks” around if you are seeing a decrease in the quality of the signal in any particular spot. Furthermore, you may plug in an ethernet cable in many cases to make the connection wired.

Protect Your Network

There are a number of things you can do to protect your network from cyber attacks. Using strong, unique passwords will help wall off your exposure when (not if!) you are compromised. A password keeper such as 1Password will help you keep track of your passwords instead of that yellow sheet of paper you keep next to your laptop. Running regular virus and malware checks using software is also a good idea to assure you haven’t picked up something while you browse around. Avast offers a free virus protection program that’s easy to use. Finally, using a VPN creates a “tunnel” that shields your web browsing from your internet service provider and other prying eyes. This is also important when you go out to places that may have unsecured wireless networks as well.

Putting It All Together

If all of this seems like a lot, consider the role of each of the items discussed above. The pipeline into the home is provided by a cable. If you’re lucky, it’s a fiber optic one since they offer incredible bandwidth capabilities. The modem receives the signal from the cable, and the router helps move around the signal to different places, including the wireless network in many cases. Some will choose to set up a mesh network as an alternative, sending wireless signals from different points stationed around the house. 

Regardless of how simple or complex your needs are, it is important from a business perspective to have a stable, secure network. Take the time to educate yourself and make the best use of your home office!

Clint Walkner

  

 

Don’t Skip Your Vacation

Don’t Skip Your Vacation

“I need a vacation!” 

Growing up, these are the words I used to hear from my parents when the inevitable stresses and pressure of work, kids, and life would get to them. As a child, I loved to go on vacation, whether it was up to northern Wisconsin or down the East coast to a beach. Some of my greatest memories are from those vacations. Going to the beach, enjoying a campfire, and running around Disney World with my siblings are experiences that I will never forget. Now that I’m older (much older!), I have the ability to go on vacations that I hope will have the same impact on my children. So, why, when they have the means to do it and there are so many benefits to them, is it so difficult for some people to actually take that big vacation? I find myself having this conversation with clients routinely, and there are several reasons that I have found.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first appearance of the word “workaholic” occurred in the Toronto Star in 1947. Many Americans have a hard time actually taking the time off due to an inability to “shut out” their work. They find their identity in what they do, and it becomes an addictive, singular focus. I routinely work with people who have a tremendous amount of unused, “banked” vacation time that they plan on taking as a lump-sum when they retire, instead of using it to take paid rest and relaxation or a trip to a place they’ve always wanted to go. They lament not taking vacations in the prior years, but when it comes to the future, it’s one of the first things they want to incorporate into their financial plan in retirement.  Often, they carry the same habits into retirement and find a myriad of excuses as to why they can’t or shouldn’t go on vacation. They fear the cost, their lives are too busy, and sometimes, I hear those dreaded words, “We are going to go NEXT year.” At that point, I like to remind my clients that this is something that’s going to be a good thing for them, something that we have planned for, and that it’s important to execute on that dream we discussed as we laid out their plan. I’ve even gone so far as to retain a travel agent to help facilitate a “planned-for” vacation when I sensed the clients hesitation. Upon returning, they let me know that it was one of the best, most memorable experiences of their lives.  

According to Project Time Off, a survey from the United States Travel Association (USTA), there are 768 million unused vacation days in America. As financial planners, we work with clients who are currently working, planning to work longer in their careers, and retirees. The topic of vacation is generally one we put into the “goals and dreams” category, but there are several studies indicating that people who regularly take vacations, or even staycations, lead more productive and happier lives. It’s no accident that vacationing creates memories, whether you go on a sabbatical by yourself or take a vacation with your family and friends. When you have a daily routine, the brain tends to go on autopilot, collecting fewer memories. It’s the unusual instances, the aberrations we remember and store for life. Planning for and executing on taking a vacation can be difficult, but we find it to be worth the work.

If you have worked with us, we have more than likely had the conversation about planning for your goals and dreams. Since vacations can have a high financial cost and commitment, let us help you to incorporate them into your plan as well as prioritize those goals. We have resources that can project what the future costs will be, what taking the big vacation now will do to your long-term goals, as well as trusted resources in the Madison community to help you plan your trip. If you feel like you “need a vacation”, or want to plan for the ones you’ll be taking in the future, we can discuss it when we meet. All we ask in return is that you share some of the great stories, happy photos, videos, and memories that will last a lifetime.

Jonathon Jordan

The Opportunity of Disruption

The Opportunity of Disruption

Times Like These…

The last couple of weeks have brought upon each and every one of us a tremendous amount of disruption. The emotions that have caused it have been varied, swift and powerful. There is a great deal of fear and sadness for how COVID-19 is causing chaos in our everyday lives. We know these emotions because we too are human and the constant deluge of information coming at us is overwhelming. But what we are not feeling right now is panic. After all, history has shown us that it is times like these where people have a chance to take a step back, take a deep breath and realize the why behind everything that we are trying to accomplish in our lives.  

Turn Lemons into Lemonade

Right now there are things happening that make some of us very disappointed, like the cancelling of March Madness, the NBA, NHL and The Masters. For others there is chaos trying to line up a way to either work from home, find a babysitter or a place for the kids to go that is safe while schools have been cancelled. It is not a fun time, but it can be a GREAT experience if we make it that way. This gives us a chance to slow down and spend some time with those that mean the most to us. To turn off the TV during the times that the games would have been on and read that book that has been collecting dust next to the bed. To reach out to a friend or family member that has grown distant because of the constant hamster wheel of life that many have been on for a long time.  It seems that the pause button has been hit, but it is not permanent. It is only temporary. Things will return back to normal and what we do during this time matters.  It is not a time to panic.

Go Back to Your Plan

The same goes with your financial goals and the decisions that we make regarding investments.  When the markets get volatile like this, in the past it has presented an opportunity to those who have goals and are investing towards them. That is why we have our GAPP process here at Walkner Condon Financial Advisors. We identify the Goals our clients have, Analyze their situation, Plan for the future and how to best accomplish them and then Personalize the advice based on all of that information.  We see this time as a great opportunity for our clients that entrust us to be patient, resolute and focus on the long term. There will be more disruptions in our lives like this. The media will scream how terrible things are. We will have a chance to tell someone about how during COVID-19 it was an opportunity to focus on what matters and what an impact it had on our lives. It is times like these… let’s not let this opportunity pass us by.

Take Action

Wash your hands. Be aware of those around you that could use a helping hand, a meal, or just some company through a phone call or a visit. Fred Rodgers once said, “when I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ’look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.‘ ” Thank your friends in the medical field and law enforcement. Go be a helper. This too shall pass.

Jonathon Jordan

A New Look at New Year’s Resolutions

A New Look at New Year’s Resolutions

As the calendar flips to 2020, we will all look back and wonder where 2019 went and how it went by so fast. We all did the same thing when the calendar flipped from 2018 to 2019. And we will all do the same thing again when it flips from 2020 to 2021. However, I think we are asking ourselves the wrong question – not how did the year go by so fast, but more so, are we better now versus a year ago? What changes did we make to improve our lives? Did we actually do something different or alter our behavior in some way? Or did we simply do the same things as the years past and expect different results?

I promise that this blog post isn’t intended to make you feel bad about a failed New Year’s resolution. It is more so calling out that if we focus on the process and not the outcome, we will achieve meaningful change. Our firm started to work with a business coach last year who helped us to understand business planning in a different way. He wholeheartedly agrees that annual goals are a must for any business. However, he suggests a different approach to reach those goals. His recommendation to achieve annual goals is to break them down into 12 monthly goals. This, in his opinion, is the best way to actually achieve success. Said a different way, don’t focus on the large annual goal, but 12 smaller, less intimidating monthly goals. Whether it be losing weight, starting a gym routine, or saving money, New Year’s resolutions always begin with a genuine desire to change our behaviors for the better. But by mid-February, most have died off because the desired result became overwhelming. For example, if your goal is to lose 18 pounds by the end of the year, then think about it as losing a pound and a half every month. If your goal is to save $15,000 this year, then put $1250 away every month. Mountains are climbed one step at a time! =

My challenge to you is to set a 2020 goal and map out the monthly results. This gives us a better scoreboard to check progress. It also keeps us accountable starting right away in January, in addition to providing more on-ramps throughout the year for getting back on track if we miss a month or two. Achievement doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor or some grand plan that’s ruined by the first inevitable pitfall. Please share your 2020 resolutions with us. We love to hear what our clients are striving for each year and how we may be able to help get there or simply lend a word of encouragement. We will do the same in our strategy meetings in 2020. Let’s all set ourselves up for a different view at the end of 2020. Not how did the year go by so fast, but how I set a resolution and finally kept it!    

 

Nate Condon