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The art of armchair travelling

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The art of armchair travelling

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

The Covid-19 outbreak has meant that it’s unlikely any of us will be travelling any time soon. However, virtual escapism remains on the cards for anyone with an internet connection. You can now see some of the world’s most amazing travel experiences from the comfort of your chair. Best of all, you don’t even have to bother with flying or crowds of tourists. Don’t let anyone tell you that the lockdown doesn’t have its positives!

Here are some of our favourite virtual tours:

The Louvre

The Louvre is the world’s largest art and antiques museum, and is definitely an essential visit for any culture aficionados. The museum closed its doors on 13 March as Paris went into lockdown but this doesn’t mean that you can’t see some of its world class exhibitions. From Egyptian antiquities to the Galerie d’Apollon, online visitors are blessed with a wealth of cultural gems. You aren’t able to marvel at the famous glass exterior, but you can find out about the history of the paintings and the gallery.

The northern lights

The northern lights are one of nature’s most incredible sights. Caused by electrically charged particles from the sun interacting with the earth’s magnetic field, the aurora borealis can be seen in the world’s most northerly and therefore coldest regions. Well, the virtual tours courtesy of Lights Over Lapland mean that you can see them without braving the biting arctic cold. The tour takes visitors on a five-minute journey through a series of high definition 360 degree videos.

Zhāngjiājiè national forest park, China

This is a wonder of the world you might not have heard about before. The quartz-sandstone pillars of Zhāngjiājiè (pronounced jaang-jyaa-jie) are simply breathtaking. These dramatic pinnacles rise out of the thick forest creating a landscape like no other, full of mystery and awe. The interactive video tour allows visitors to see the landscape from a high-definition 360 tour.

Jerusalem, Israel

Jerusalem is blessed with a rich history that dates back to 3000BC and is home to religious sites important to Muslims, Jews and Christians. Israel is currently promoting a series of virtual tours which let you visit many of the city’s religious sites with an informative voiceover that gives you an insight into the history of the city.   

Grand Canyon, Arizona

At 277 miles in length and 1,857 metres deep at its deepest point, it’s not hard to understand how the canyon got its reputation as one of the world’s most breathtaking places. This virtual reality archaeological tour lets you go a little deeper than most other tours. Click on geological features to learn about their formation.

Self-employed? Will you fall through the cracks?

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

The Chancellor’s coronavirus support package for the self-employed and freelancers has been   welcomed. Many in that category were worried that they had been forgotten.

Rishi Sunak reassured them, however, that this was not the case and outlined the details of the new scheme that would treat them in a similar way to employees who had been furloughed and were receiving 80% of their salaries through PAYE under the Job Retention Scheme.    

Under the new scheme, the self-employed will be eligible to receive 80% of their average monthly profits for the last three years up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. This is subject to them having an overall trading profit of less than £50,000. Initially, the scheme will last for three months but this may be extended. 

Although the scheme is thought to cover 95% of those who make their income from self- employment, it is feared there will be a few people who could fall through the gaps.     

Who won’t qualify? 

The first issue is that the support won’t be available until June. Individuals will need to apply through an online portal which has not yet been launched although they have been assured that payments will be backdated to 1 March.    

Secondly, in order to qualify for the scheme, a self employed person has to have submitted a 2018/19 self assessment tax return. This condition has been included to mitigate against fraud but it means that if someone has been freelance for less than a complete tax year, they will not be eligible.

The Chancellor indicated that anyone who only started trading in 2019/20 would need to look to the welfare system for extra support by applying for a business interruption loan or for universal credit.    

This would also apply to those who have dissolved a limited company recently and become a sole trader in response to the impending changes to the IR35 rules.    

Where one-director companies sit 

It’s believed that people who are self-employed but who provide their services through a limited company are likely to fall through the cracks. The HMRC self-employed guidance does say that, “If you’re a director of your own company and paid through PAYE you may be able to get support using the Job Retention Scheme (JRS).” 

It’s unlikely, however, that people with personal services companies (PSCs) will be able to benefit from the self-employed package. Directors often pay themselves a low salary but top up their income with dividends. So even if they qualified under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, they would be unlikely to receive a significant payment as they would be eligible for up to 80% of their salary and dividends would not count for support.

As Heather Self from the accountancy firm Blick Rothenberg explained, “If you’re an employee of your PSC, it’s going to be difficult (impossible?) to be furloughed and qualify for the Jobs Retention Scheme.” 

Mr Sunak has admitted the rules have had to be devised in haste and will not be perfect for everyone straightaway. On the positive side, a group of fintech entrepreneurs are developing a prototype to help self-employed workers use historic banking information to prove previous income and predict any future loss of income.   

If you have any queries about where you stand, do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

Why the panic about cryptocurrencies?

Thursday, February 14th, 2019

With cryptocurrencies being a relatively new phenomenon, it’s understandable that those who are yet to learn the ins and outs might approach them with a sense of scepticism. After all, any financial undertakings should be approached with a certain degree of caution, and with a solid understanding of the processes and the risks that come along with them.

With traditional currencies, since the departure from the gold standard, we rely on governments and central banking authorities to assign value to the denominations we use for trade. It’s a system that has worked for us up until this point with no need for an alternative, and it works because we trust in the ledgers keeping track of our transactions by banks across the world.

Where people generally feel at unease with cryptocurrencies is that the ledgers which track our transactions are replaced by a decentralised, anonymous, digital blockchain. Central banking authorities and governments are replaced by advanced algorithms which act as guarantors for the money. In theory, this isn’t anything new as we’ve happily put our trust in such algorithms to keep our chip and pin cards and our passwords secure in the past. Using independent blockchains, separate from a central authority which can hold a monopoly, allows transactions to take place not only more quickly, but also more cost efficiently.

Cryptocurrencies are no different from traditional currencies in that there are people out there who take the opportunity to commit fraud. One particular highly publicised example was from Australia in 2017, when AUD $2.1million losses were reported as being due to cryptocurrency fraud. Although this number is not to be discounted, the total losses attributed to fraud overall were AUD $340million so, in reality, less than 1% of all reported fraud was related to cryptocurrency.

We’re hardwired to fear change and be sceptical of new developments, and we’re much more likely to hear about isolated incidents of fraud than the masses of generally safe transactions. That being said, if you do decide to start using cryptocurrencies, make sure you’re sufficiently protected so you don’t find yourself in the position of one of the unlucky few who fall victim to fraud.

What does Warren Buffett read?

Thursday, January 3rd, 2019

Warren Buffett, the famous American investor, speaker and philanthropist attributes his success to reading. An Investing student once asked him what the key was and he pointed to a pile of books and said, ‘Read 500 pages every day – that’s how knowledge works, it builds up like compound interest.’

His favourite books range from economist John Maynard Keynes’ classic Essays in Persuasion to former U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s Stress Test, which offers some fascinating reflections on some of the financial crises over the last ten years.

Following Buffett’s example, a book always makes a great present. It shows you’ve thought about the person, their interests and what you think they might enjoy.

Of course, there are lots of bestsellers out there; fiction, crime, fantasy but there are also some fascinating non-fiction titles too. If you’re buying for someone who’s in business, the books we’ve highlighted below may be particularly relevant. You may also find them of interest yourself.

So here are some top tips from the ‘smart thinking’ category:

Timekeepers by Simon Garfield

This is an engaging look at the way our lives have become dominated by time and the way technology is making everything faster and faster. Garfield examines our obsession with time and our desire to measure it and control it. You may identify with the ‘cauldron of rush’ of modern-day life.

Unlearning Leadership – Guy Bell

The subtitle of this book is ‘Know yourself – Grow your Business’. Bell challenges businesses that put shareholder value before their people, showing that companies which do so often have poor results. Instead, he encourages empathetic leadership and transformative thinking.

The Motivation Trap – John Hittler

If you’re a manager or in some other sort of leadership role, how do you keep your team motivated? Hittler unwraps some of the underpinnings of motivation, explores its limitations and shows when it can be an effective tool, based on his years of coaching experience.

The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg

Why do we do what we do? How can we change? This is an intriguing insight into what prompts behaviour from exercise to weight loss, market disruption to social revolution and what leads to success.

There you have our recommendations. Happy Book Buying or Happy Reading!