The year 2020 has been a tough year. In March we watched with horror as the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) dropped seven years of accumulated returns in a matter of days.
Local financial markets have certainly suffered under the weight of COVID-19, and international stock markets have nor fared much better.
Behind the curve
Many have recovered from their Q1 lows, but only to an extent. The JSE, for example, is near where it was in 2015. And with lockdowns continuing for the foreseeable future, it is not easy to predict what happens from here.
It's during times like these that many customers realize the importance of liquid savings, the proverbial 'money for a rainy day', I suppose it's human nature to overvalue precautionary measures after a crisis and undervalue them before. People always want to buy fire insurance after their house has burned down; but the day before, they will complain that premiums are too high.
Store of Value
It seems we can hardly go a few years without running into yet another global crisis, which begs the question: What would have been a good store of value through the pandemic? Interest rates, both locally and abroad, have been relatively low. And we've already seen what's happened to equity markets.
Real estate has traditionally been considered a stable investment; but if you call a real estate agent today you will discover that the market is flooded with cut-price homes and cheap rentals, offered by owners who can no longer meet their mortgage payments. Gold has suddenly become attractive to many. I have relatives who ran to the local coin shop only to discover that Krugerrands were sold out. And although Bitcoin lost value in March, it has since climbed above pre-crash levels, to north of $10,500.
I have heard people ask whether economic instability is going to be bad for the financial services industry. Certainly it is not easy to tell people that their retirement portfolios have been knocked and they might have to alter their financial plans. But is this even the right question to ask? Is it not our responsibility to help consumers prepare for their financial futures, especially during times like these? The proverbial 'rainy day' is the reason insurance exists in the first place.
While some will lament the loss of investor confidence in global markets, others will see this as an opportunity to help customers get back on their feet. In the meantime, there is much the financial services industry can do, whether it is developing new kinds of savings products, making sure clients are adequately insured, or even helping customers better understand their financial situations.
An Economic and Healthcare Crisis
In November 2019 I wrote an article on the importance of having an emergency fund, which turned out to be a little too prescient. But even in times like these we need to prepare for tomorrow. These are hard times, and there may be harder times still. But it is in times like these when the financial services industry can show its worth.
Just as healthcare workers have an important role to play right now, so too do we. Our role might not be as glamorous or as vital; but it remains valuable. COVID-19 may be a health crisis; but it is an economic and financial crisis too.