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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.

The Evolution of the S&P 500: Where Do We Go From Here?

The Evolution of the S&P 500: Where Do We Go From Here?

The year of 2020 was a very strange one indeed. For the U.S. stock market, however, if you looked at the beginning and the end of 2020, you’d see the S&P 500 up about 16.6% and conclude that this year was merely more of the same ol’ U.S.-dominated bull market that prevailed throughout the prior decade as U.S. stocks led global markets out of the very deep bear market experienced during the Great Recession. The leadership experienced by the blue chip S&P 500 stocks over smaller stocks indeed persisted in 2020 just as large caps have outperformed small and mid-cap stocks over the bulk of the post-recovery bull market. The similarities don’t end there, as 2020 was a year again dominated by winning sectors within the S&P that have been doing the heavy lifting for quite some time, led by mega cap darlings that epitomize innovation and success in their dominance of our digital economy. Here are the top three sectors ranked by performance in 2020:

  • INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY (THINK APPLE & MICROSOFT) +42.8% +42.8%
  • CONSUMER DISCRETIONARY (THINK AMAZON) +32.3% +32.3%
  • COMMUNICATIONS SERVICES (THINK ALPHABET, FACEBOOK & NETFLIX) +22.4% +22.4%

Yes, those predicting the demise of “FANG” stocks are going to have to wait at least another year (or another 10 years) for vindication, because COVID-19 not only caused investors to gravitate toward what few stocks were still showing earnings growth, it actually caused businesses and consumers alike to lean even more heavily on the digital economy in their day-to-day affairs to navigate the new reality of pandemic, lockdowns, and social distancing. Indeed, it’s entirely fair to say that many of the trends that had long benefited the digital economy stalwarts, such as the migration to social media, streaming entertainment, online shopping, etc. truly accelerated further because of the Covid-induced recession.

On the other side of the coin, 2020 and the Covid-induced recession predictably brought on hard times for those parts of the S&P that contracted sharply from an environment of staying at home, shopping online, and near-zero prevailing interest rates. These are the three worst performing sectors of 2020, which all managed to finish in the red (as did utilities) in a well above average year for the S&P 500 on the whole (percentages shown are negative):

  • ENERGY (THINK EXXON, CHEVRON & SLUMBERGER): 36.9% 36.9%
  • REAL ESTATE (THINK SIMON PROPERTY GROUP & MARRIOTT) 4.6% 4.6%
  • FINANCIALS (THINK JP MORGAN CHASE & BANK OF AMERICA 3.8% 3.8%

So, we see that 2020 was a year that no one will likely ever forget, and yet, from the perspective of the S&P 500 index, it was very much a continuation of 2019 and before, with the largest growth stocks leading a new digital economy and doing almost all of the heavy lifting underneath the surface of a rampaging S&P 500, while value/dividend investors suffered yet another disappointing year of dramatic underperformance.

Let’s put this technology-driven trend in proper perspective, comparing the S&P 500 at the dawn of the post-Great Recession recovery to the end of 2020. Pulling figures from this blog from DataTrek research last March, let’s consider the migration during this nearly 11-year period for the leading and lagging sectors of 2020 in terms of their share of the overall S&P 500. Keep in mind, of course, that the communications services sector did not exist in 2009, so we’ll follow DataTrek’s appropriate and reasonable lead and put Alphabet and Facebook back in the technology sector, and return Disney, Comcast and Netflix back to the consumer discretionary sector (leaving the traditional telecom stocks out of the equation as there is no comparing the old telecommunications sector with the current “communications services” sector). Likewise, real estate was not a recognized separate sector in 2009, so we must also return the real estate stocks to the financials sector to fairly compare 2009 and 2020 figures. Here are the approximate weightings in the S&P 500 for the traditional technology and consumer discretionary winners of 2020 and the energy, real estate and financials laggards of 2020 vs. their relative S&P 500 weightings in March of 2009 (the dawn of the great bull market recovery):

SECTOR WEIGHT END-OF-YEAR 2020 WEIGHT END-OF-Q1 2009
TECHNOLOGY

32.3%

18.0%
CONSUMER DISC. 14.2% 8.9%
ENERGY 2.3% 13.0%
FINANCIALS 12.8% 10.8%

Those numbers put the two obvious megatrends at the sector level within the S&P into a clear numerical perspective. First, technology was the largest sector at the dawn of the post-Great Recession bull market, and its share of the S&P 500 pie has somehow doubled in size during this period to now constitute nearly one-third of the index. Second, companies that extract dinosaur fossil materials (energy) from the earth are now on the verge of extinction within the S&P, as energy’s sector weighting declined about 82% during this period.

As Clint’s discussion of the electric car megatrend thoughtfully points out, Teslas consume energy, too, right? Clearly, the secular and technological changes in the industry that brought oil below $20 at one point in 2020 have dramatically altered investors’ appetites for crude and its derivative products, and the ESG trends that Mitch discusses clearly aren’t helping, either.

Trends persist, often much longer than most imagine they can persist, and this has been a classic example within the S&P 500 for years. However, there is no bigger curse for investors than to be late to the party. Even the most persistent trends eventually give way and reverse course, and often violently. Think NASDAQ circa 2000 with the pricking of the internet bubble. That was a painful time for many investors that bought into the idea that the secular trend of internet adoption would rewrite the rulebook on investing and that traditional fundamental analysis of technology/internet investments was no longer applicable. This was an age when I distinctly remember repeatedly hearing the most dangerous four-word sentence on Wall Street: “This time it’s different.”

Would we dare utter those words today? What if I told you that the Information Technology sector of the S&P 500 in December was trading around 45 times trailing one-year earnings, and about 40 times the estimated earnings for the coming year, while the Consumer Discretionary sector was trading at 85 times trailing one-year earnings and 38 times estimated earnings for the coming year? That seems quite frothy indeed. This illustrates a major premium that has been paid (and continues to be paid) for growth, not at a reasonable price, but at any price, in a world where there was (and there remains) a scarcity of growth (i.e., the Covid-induced recession). 

However, there are many metrics by which we can judge the current S&P 500 in the context of history. I recently revisited one thoughtful article from October 2018 by a very seasoned Wall Street veteran who expressed concern about the froth within the S&P 500 back in 2018, echoed my revulsion of the most dangerous sentence ever heard on Wall Street, but keenly observed that adjustments in historical time frames could dramatically alter the perception of relative froth in the S&P 500. There truly is a data point for every argument.

Therefore, as we happily put 2020 in our rearview mirrors and look to the future promise of 2021, what can we expect for the S&P 500 and its component sectors? Prognostications are dangerous and common sense negates the follies of both ignoring a trend and blindly riding a trend into oblivion. In other words, it would be unwise to overly commit to the notion that, because the S&P 500 has led world stock markets, and technology, communications services, and consumer discretionary stocks have dominated the S&P, that you should cash in your chips and place all bets elsewhere. On the other hand, the magnitude of the outperformance of the S&P 500, and particularly of those sectors and mega cap stocks most responsible for that outperformance, has increased the risks associated with those investments relative to other sectors within the S&P 500 and relative to other stock indexes, foreign and domestic. 

The prescription for navigating the market ahead is an ageless remedy:

  • Examine your portfolio and the underlying allocations to U.S. stocks, to sectors within those U.S. stock holdings, to non-U.S. stocks, to bonds, to alternative investments, etc.;
  • Determine the extent to which the trends discussed above have left your portfolio over-exposed to U.S. stocks and particularly to the growth stocks and the favored growth sectors that have led the S&P 500 to new heights in 2020; and
  • If you determine that the weightings in your portfolio make you uncomfortable with the potential eventuality that money flows reverse away from these investments into more neglected segments, sectors, and regions within the global stock markets, then by all means REBALANCE — sooner, rather than later.

Given the new highs for all the major stock indexes in the U.S., it is probably safe to assume that investors, in general, are anticipating a smooth rollout of Covid vaccines as we move into 2021 and a major economic rebound as life starts to return to something resembling normal. If this occurs, we could very well see outperformance in sectors of the S&P 500 that massively underperformed in 2020, and that could very much come at the expense of 2020’s market stalwarts. After all, for money to move to the less-loved sectors of the S&P, it has to come from somewhere and, right now, practically one-half of the money in U.S. blue chips is in technology (infotech and comm. services) and consumer discretionary stocks. More breadth in a rising market would be quite welcome. However, only time will tell whether and to what extent the underlying economy will have a robust recovery and to what extent the current pandemic has produced long-term fundamental shifts within the economy that could provide continued challenges for certain sectors and industries within the domestic and global economy. 

Stan Farmer, CFP®, J.D. 

2021 INVESTMENT & OUTLOOK GUIDE

This piece was part of Walkner Condon’s 2020 Review & 2021 Investment Outlook Guide, a comprehensive interactive PDF covering a wide range of subjects and trends, including the S&P 500, electric cars, and more. To read the full guide, please click the button below.