It is not just the Chinese government that mistrusts its people and thinks they cannot handle the truth. Today, it transpired that even the UK government fears public scrutiny and prefers to cloak its knowledge and actions with a shroud of mystery – or, somewhat less poetically, employ a black marker pen to blot out key parts of documents drawn up by the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage).

Interestingly, the behavioural scientists of the Sage subcommittee that in early April advised the cabinet on the likely public response to the lockdown measures under consideration noted that only the critical parts of their report had been heavily redacted. At least one of the advisers considers stepping down in protest against the government’s secretive approach that, he fears, may undermine public trust.

The collective of psychologists, epidemiologists, and anthropologists had warned the cabinet that the proposed lockdown measures, including stiff penalties for those failing to abide by them, could cause a public backlash. A suggestion to use smartphones to track people’s movements was also rejected by the subcommittee.

Though the government did listen to the scientists and toned down most of the draconian proposals submitted to the subcommittee, the cabinet apparently does not want the public to know how far it was prepared to go in restricting movement.

The scientists deplore the UK government’s unwillingness to accept criticism. This bespeaks of a misplaced lack in self-confidence. Most people would readily agree that the scope of the pandemic justifies some early mistakes. Going into the crisis, few within government had any experience in handling a pandemic. There was no tried and tested protocol to fall back on and a response had to be found quickly as the outbreak unfolded.

That the government of China does not believe in transparency is a given, considering its now resurfaced communist nature. Elsewhere, and particularly in Europe, one would hope that those elected to rule over us know plenty better. In the UK, now the epicentre of the pandemic in Europe, that seems not the case.

When asking a great sacrifice in the name of a common good, most will immediately respond positively. Asking is always better than demanding. Now more than ever before in living memory, people need to be able to trust their government and believe it is honest and forthright in all dealings. Transparency is without doubt the greatest weapon in the fight against the novel virus. Without it, the battle is lost. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a victim of covid-19, should know this better than most.


And now for something completely different… Florian Schneider has passed away. French synthesiser virtuoso Jean-Michelle Jarre wished him Godspeed on eternity’s autobahn. Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet acknowledged his debt to the architect and builder of music’s new Metropolis.

In 1970, Florian Schneider founded the German electro pop group Kraftwerk which grandfathered most, if not nearly all, that followed. However, the band’s music, though outwardly beguilingly simple in structure and texture, proved impossible to replicate. Iconic British 1980s groups such as Joy Division and its reincarnated-self New Order tried very hard and drew oodles of inspiration from the German Meister Gesellschaft, but never came close to the original mesmerising Kraftwerk sound.

Called the ‘Beatles of electronic dance music’ (by The New York Times), Kraftwerk showed that accoutrements deemed essential to pop music, such as drums and guitars, could easily be replaced by new-fangled synthetic instruments. At a time when the music charts were dominated by glam rock bands such as Slade, Roxy Music, and the rather lazily-named The Glitter Band, Kraftwerk burst onto the boring scene with Autobahn, a 23-minute long hypnotic ode to high-speed driving on Germany’s fabulous freeways.

In a highly fruitful cross fertilisation, Kraftwerk paid careful attention to David Bowie’s Station to Station for its own ground-breaking Trans-Europe Express album, and saw the favour promptly returned on Heroes, the equally revolutionary LP Bowie released in 1977 and which paid tribute to the Kraftwerk leadman with its track V2 Schneider.

Mr Schneider once remarked that Kraftwerk was not so much a band as a concept: a meeting of man and machine, and a vehicle for the expression of ideas. Long before computers became ubiquitous, Kraftwerk had already incorporated the digital realm its music.

Taking great care to cultivate a meticulously crafted image and preserve their undeniable mystique – a quality not usually considered a key element of German culture – Mr Schneider and his three fellow band members operated a machine running with clockwork precision, projecting a uniform yet somehow always novel image.

After a 17-year hiatus, Kraftwerk in 2003 released its final studio album Tour de France Soundtracks, incidentally the musical backdrop to the writing of this journal entry.

Florian Schneider, born April 7, 1947, died last week from cancer. He was 73 years old.

Demand for financial advice surges 24% as priorities shift in new era

As individuals, households and businesses readjust and look ahead to a new era and recovery, demand for financial advice is up by almost a quarter, reveals one of the world’s largest independent financial advisory organizations.

deVere Group, which operates in 100 countries worldwide, says the number of enquiries from new clients was up 24% in April, compared to the previous month.

Of the findings, Nigel Green, the founder and chief executive of deVere Group, observes: “Disruption and dislocation have hit entire economies and businesses of all sizes and in all sectors.

“This has had a very real and very immediate impact on the finances of individuals, households and businesses around the world.

“Suddenly, unexpectedly, many have realised that they didn’t have sufficient money behind them, they didn’t have contingency plans.

“This, as they know, could have consequences for the lifestyles and life opportunities of themselves and loved ones and, for those in business, for the long-term sustainability of their firm.

“With financial matters back in sharp focus, for many ‘I should have’ becomes ‘I need to have.’ 

“This most unusual situation has dramatically underscored that no-one really knows what is around the corner. Now more than ever people are seeking to be as financially prepared as they can for any eventuality.”

He continues: “The same thing happened following the 2008 financial crash. That too served as a wake-up call to many people to ensure that they become financially secure and there was a subsequent increase in demand for advice.

“Even then – when confidence in financial institutions, especially traditional banks, was at an all-time low – people understood that as the world evolves, your financial planning strategies might need to also.”

This, says Nigel Green, is driving the increasing demand. But in this tech-driven era, how do people want this advice delivered? 

According to a poll carried out by deVere amongst existing and prospective clients, 52% said ‘face-to-face, 42% said they prefer videocall platforms like Zoom, and 6% answered ‘by telephone.’ 

“Given the circumstances and how much things have changed, I quite was surprised that the preferred option for the delivery of financial advice remains face-to-face.

“But video communication is only 10% behind, which is quite something as it is a new platform for most people.  

“The survey underscores that increasingly people want bespoke financial advice combined with innovative technology.”

Mr Green goes on to add: “We can be in no doubt that the world has already fundamentally changed – and it will do so more and maybe at a faster pace.”

This was highlighted by the deVere poll which revealed that 72% of client respondents feel the world has changed permanently.

In addition, 80% said that in a similar way to after the 2008 crash, new companies will emerge and the same ones that were successful in the past were not guaranteed to succeed again.

“With these shifts impacting people’s finances, the majority of our new clients are seeking advice on savings plans, investments, foreign exchange, pensions and retirement planning and tax planning,” he notes.

The deVere CEO concludes: “2020 has been a year of change.  For an increasing number, this includes a change in the way we prioritise, with long-term financial security for ourselves and our loved ones ever-more important.”

Hail to the Chief

Look and read, but please don’t tell. This is, believe it or not, a defence of US President Donald Trump as he stumbles, trips, and bluffs his way through the corona pandemic whilst its centre of gravity shifts towards the United States. It is easy, almost gratuitously so, to deride the present occupant of the White House: He regularly makes a right old fool of himself with outlandish performances, blessing the nation with his peculiar out-of-the-box thinking and novel approaches to virology and immunology.

If anything, President Trump is as much at a loss as everybody else. Regrettably, he has much experience in being rather clueless but has nearly always managed to bluff his way out of a corner. Except, of course, for the four times that businesses he owned were forced to file for bankruptcy. Even so, Chapter 11 can be used as a clever stratagem to offload debt. Mr Trump is a smart, if not overly successful or trustworthy, businessman.

As commander in chief he is now expected to plot a course through uncharted waters. Like many of his counterparts elsewhere in the world, President Trump proved slow on the uptake. He was by no means the only one needing some time to let the true scale of the pandemic sink in. Being the greatest president, negotiator, and businessman ever to have walked the face of the earth, Mr Trump just had to insist that he was aware of the corona virus’ spread and impact long before anyone else.

Mr Trump tried to make the best of a bad situation in the only way he knew how to: proffering a white lie a New York minute – the Washington Post has now tabulated well over 18,000 alt-truths and false claims – whilst hoping that his ignorance would not show and, when it did, swooping doubters aside with an overpowering display of self-confidence.

It is of little use to blame President Trump for the thousands of deaths that might possibly have been prevented had he managed to live up to his self-aggrandisement. It is not as if Mr Trump suffered a sudden change in personality when he assumed the presidency. The man is who he is and has most certainly not fooled voters into believing him to be someone else.

In that sense, President Trump he been true to himself from his first day in office and has been scrupulously honest.

Initiatives such as the ‘death clock’ unveiled yesterday are, however poignant, slightly misplaced. The clock aims to track the number of corona fatalities directly attributable to the Trump Administration’s failings. Next time, US voters may perhaps want to be a bit less flippant and a bit more discerning when selecting their chief. In 2016, Americans wanted a showman as their president and that is exactly what they got.

How to Choose the Best Performing Mutual Funds

The total net assets of mutual funds worldwide were over $14 trillion in March of this year.

Mutual funds are a hugely popular investment vehicle globally. However, there are a huge number of them out there, with the quality of returns varying significantly from one to the next.

For a newcomer to the world of investment, it can be difficult to know what to look for in a mutual fund. The best performing mutual funds in the past may not continue to post exceptional returns in the future, especially in these uncertain economic times.

Read on as we take a closer look at mutual funds, and what to look for when investing in one.

What Is a Mutual Fund?

A mutual fund is a type of investment fund. A team of professional investment managers take capital from a large number of investors and invest the resulting pool of money in various securities.

Essentially, it is a means of investing in capital markets indirectly. Rather than picking stocks or bonds and putting money into them yourself, you allow a mutual fund manager to make the choices for you.

The advantage of this is that your investments are made by a highly experienced investment professional. This is safer than picking investments yourself, especially if you’re new to the world of investment.

The Different Types of Mutual Fund

There are many different mutual fund types. You can categorize them on the basis of the types of securities they invest in, the way they are managed, and the level of risk they take on in seeking returns.

To pick the best mutual fund for your needs, you need to know what your investment objectives are. These will dictate the type of fund you should pick.

Index Funds

Index funds are so named because they track the performance of a given index. Common indexes that form the basis for these funds include the S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), and the Nasdaq Composite (IXIC).

Index funds are an example of a passively managed fund. No input is required from investment managers, as the fund simply tracks an index.

Passively managed funds typically have much lower fees than actively managed funds for this reason. As outlined below, many investors who want a passively managed fund opt for an ETF rather than a mutual fund.

Stock Funds

Stock funds invest in a range of different stocks. Unlike index funds, fund managers actively pick these stocks individually and will chop and change them based on market trends.

Stock funds are therefore an example of an actively managed fund. Their fees are higher than some alternatives.

Stocks are riskier securities than bonds or other fixed-income securities. The risk of loss with a stock fund is therefore relatively high, but the opportunity for gain is greater as well.

Investment approaches vary widely from one stock fund to the next. Some managers will make more of an effort than others to diversify their holdings and hedge risks.

Specialty Funds

Specialty funds can be thought of as occupying a kind of middle ground between stock funds and index funds. Investment managers pick the stocks themselves, but within certain boundaries.

These boundaries typically relate to a market type. For instance, a cannabis market specialty fund will only invest in cannabis stocks.

Fixed Income Funds

Fixed income funds invest in low-risk securities. These include Treasury notes and bonds, as well as highly-rated corporate bonds.

These mutual funds cater to investors who prioritize income over growth.

If you’re simply trying to manage your money better with a view to long-term savings, a fixed-income fund might be just the thing for you.

Mutual Funds vs Other Fund Types

There are other types of investment fund that you may have heard about. While these can bear similarities to mutual funds, there are important distinctions to be drawn in each case.

Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)

The ETF is a close cousin of the mutual fund. Both types of fund take payments from investors and use these to invest in a variety of different securities.

ETFs tend to focus more on passive strategies than active ones. Many ETFs track indexes.

Mutual funds also tend to have more complex structures and a greater variety of share classes.

Hedge Funds

Hedge funds are another type of pooled investment fund. However, there are a number of important differences to be aware of with hedge funds.

Hedge funds use a number of complicated strategies to extract higher returns from their investments. These include high-frequency trading and short selling. 

Hedge funds typically charge much higher fees than mutual funds.

Because of their complex, risky strategies, hedge funds are generally only available to professional investors, or those with a large number of investable assets.

What Sets the Best Performing Mutual Funds Apart?

There are certain mutual funds that regularly outperform their competition. While it is impossible to say exactly what the winning formula is for these, there are certain things that profitable funds have in common.

The first thing you should look for is a low expense ratio. A better approach to cost management means lower costs for you, and also indicates fiscal prudence on the part of the fund managers.

For actively managed funds, quality management is the key consideration. Look for managers with a proven track record of providing results.

Putting Your Money to Work

Mutual funds are a diverse family of investment vehicles. Some are designed to seek huge gains, while others simply aim to provide steady growth for clients looking to retirement.

The best performing mutual funds have consistent objectives that they stick to. The best investors do exactly the same thing. 

When you’re deciding on your next mutual fund investment, start with a clear goal in mind.

If you’d like to learn more about the work we do or the topics we cover, contact us today.

Working from home: Are you breaking confidentiality laws?

What happens to confidential waste while working from home?

With employees working from home because of the Covid-19 outbreak, how safe is the information they’re accessing and disposing of now it’s out of the office?

According to one specialist waste handling organisation, remote working means new headaches for companies and their data security.

UK waste collection agency knows that even during the crisis of a pandemic, confidential waste must be disposed of correctly in order to protect businesses and their customers from fraud or blackmail.

“Even if people are working from home, they need to be mindful that any waste they create needs to be destroyed in the same ways it would if they were in the office,” says  company spokesperson Mark Hall. Companies could still be in line for massive fines if they get it wrong, Hall warns.

What counts as confidential waste?

Essentially, confidential waste refers to documents possessed by any company that can expose discrete information about suppliers, customers, or employees.

“Basically, if it details any information about the nature of your work or anyone associated, then it counts as confidential information which will need proper disposal,” says spokesman Mark Hall.

However, it can be very tricky to distinguish what counts as confidential waste, as many businesses work with different mediums of materials. has compiled a list of different types of confidential waste, making it easier to understand which work-related items will need expert disposal.

  • Personnel files and contracts – including CVs and application letters
  • Financial records – such as order forms, invoices, bills and statements
  • Health and social care records
  • Criminal Records
  • Business cards, ID badges, and security passes
  • Letters, memos, and other items containing names and addresses.
  • New business proposals and business plans
  • Used notebooks
  • Product samples or profiles
  • Research data
  • Diaries
  • Photographs

“If you’re working from home, you need to be aware that any of these resources could contain confidential details which could be dangerous in the wrong hands,” says Hall.

“So please make sure you or your staff don’t throw this information into the household waste!”

What could happen if it’s not disposed of properly?             

Failing to dispose of confidential waste can lead to a variety of outcomes, ranging from prosecutions under the law to identity theft and fraud.

“Your company could fall victim to industrial espionage, so it’s really important to make sure that private information cannot be leaked to rival companies through improper disposal,” says Hall.

Although it might be easier to just chuck all rubbish into your household waste bin, there are legal implications such as breaching the UK 1988 Data Protection Act, which regulates the collecting, storing, and destroying of confidential data.

Any companies that fail to oblige the act can face crippling fines from the UK data watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office.

“This is serious stuff that could ruin a company’s reputation and lose customers,” says Hall, “and if you’re the one discovered to be doing it, you could be fired.”

Confidential waste needs to be disposed of by a licensed waste removal company in order to comply with the latest laws and guidelines.

Actions you can take now recommends that all members of staff be reminded about company policies regarding waste, and firmly told not to chuck any work materials into their household rubbish.

Mark Hall says that in an ideal world, sensitive information should not leave the office, so the best thing for businesses to do is to try to restrict what is essential and needs to be taken home.

Another suggestion from Hall is to make as many work tasks computer-based as possible, with sensitive files only accessible from a secure device approved by your company.

 “The best thing you can do if you’re unsure is to keep all information secure and together at your home workspace, and when it is safe to do so, take it all back to work for proper disposal,” says Hall.

“If in doubt, don’t chuck it out.”

For further information see and


In a bizarre paint by numbers exercise, the world map of the corona pandemic is constantly being redrawn as viral hotspots suddenly appear, and others slowly fade away. Until recently relatively immune to corona, Russia is reporting a jump in the infection rate whilst in the United States the virus is spreading quickly into rural areas.

Yesterday, The New York Times revealed its reporters had obtained internal documents from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that project a seven-fold increase in the daily number of reported new cases to 200,000 by early June. The number of corona deaths is set to rise as well, reaching 3,000 a day a few weeks from now.

Monitoring the progress of the pandemic as it sweeps the nation, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), part of the University of Washington, forecasts a total death toll of about 135,000 by early August though it concludes that the disease will peak in the first half of May. The Trump Administration prefers to take guidance from the more upbeat IHME predictions over the more sombre outlook presented by its own scientists.

President Donald Trump is anxious to get business going, and the economy growing, before the start of the campaign season. The self-proclaimed master of growth and greatness, President Trump has nothing to run on but an economic platform. With the country in the dumps, even the rather uninspiring Joe Biden can enjoy a field day. Mr Trump will need all his resourcefulness, and plenty of bluster as well, to find a silver lining to an otherwise dismal economic outlook.

Americans, given to impatience and always living in the here and now, seem no longer willing to postpone trips to the shopping mall. Restaurants are slowly filling up too and there is talk of reopening large sports venues. States are busy lifting restrictions, encouraged to do so by the federal government and by the news from New York, Chicago, and other hotspots that seem to have contained the outbreak and flattened the curve.

Yet any notion of the pandemic fading away is based on wishful thinking. For every hotspot that gets a grip on the disease, new ones pop up. The virus now appears in rural counties that until recently had not reported any known cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that states lifting the lockdown restrictions will see a 20 percent or higher spike in the number of infections and hospital admissions.

On average, attempts to control the spread of the virus only yield results after five to six weeks. This is why calling ‘Mission Accomplished’ early, a well-known American habit, is so dangerous: it threatens to undo the sacrifices made by all to contain the virus and battle the disease. In the absence of a vaccine, plenty of patience is needed to ensure the desired outcome. It is a commodity in short supply.

Power Grab

It is time to revisit China. Of late, Xi Jinping, the country’s ruler, seems to be taking fashion advice from his elusive counterpart just across the border in North Korea, replacing his stylish suit and tie for the drab attire that marked the Maoist Era. With a somewhat disconcerting frequency, President Jinping seems to dress for the occasion – one that calls for strict state control of civil society and the ruthless repression of dissent.

China clearly wishes to exert full control over the corona narrative in order to seize the moment – and the global leadership position vacated by the United States. However, President Jinping’s power grab is meeting stiff resistance. The world, it would seem, is not quite ready yet for the Chinese Century. The country’s government has only its own incompetence to blame for being exposed as the tinpot-quality dictatorship it actually is.

What President Jinping has failed to realise is that his country’s phenomenal ascendency was built, almost exclusively, on privileged access to the juicy markets of North America and Europe. Those markets can be closed as well. In fact, that is likely to slowly happen in the wake of the pandemic.

Beijing’s increasingly arrogant posturing on the world stage does it no favours: calling Australia ‘gum stuck to the bottom of China’s shoe’ is no way make friends. The Australian government had provoked Chinese ire by suggesting an independent scientific inquiry be set up to determine the origins of the virus.

The Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party next turned its anger to The Netherlands which had dared change the name of its liaison office in Taiwan without consulting with Beijing. The Dutch were promptly told that they could forget about receiving any additional medical aid from China which considers Taiwan a rebel province.

Next up Poland where President Andrzej Duda was pestered by Chinese diplomats for days on end to call up Mr Jinping and thank him profusely for a shipment of subpar facemasks that had been supplied. The Polish president finally placed the call which was then used by Chinese state media to illustrate the deep gratitude felt around the world for the generosity displayed by its visionary leader.

Almost all Chinese ambassadors to EU member states have now run into trouble with their hosts. A backlash is building up quickly. European governments are particularly sensitive to the early prowling by state-backed Chinese companies of their pandemic-stricken economies. A number of businesses in Germany, Denmark, and The Netherlands have reported takeover attempts by Chinese companies, proxies for the state, eager to buy their way into advanced technology.

China will not become the world’s pre-eminent superpower as envisioned by its supremo. The country remains a dictatorship that locks up millions and is singularly unable to set an example for anyone not inclined to monopolise political power. China must bide its time, improve its morals, and stop behaving like a teenager when challenged. President Jinping may also want to stick to a more conventional dress code.

Presidential Indifference

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil takes the prize. Mr Bolsonaro not only mimics the behaviour of his US counterpart Donald Trump, whom he considers a good friend and model leader, but takes the art of indifference to an entirely new level.

President Bolsonaro doesn’t seem to care that more than 6,000 Brazilians succumbed to covid-19. Questioned if he had anything to say about the matter, he merely shrugged his shoulders and asked in turn what the reporter thought he should do about ‘it’. Compared to Mr Bolsonaro, President Trump positively acts and sounds like a fount of carefully weighed and considered wisdom.

Moves are now afoot in the Brazilian congress to impeach the hapless president, albeit over another impropriety. A few commentators have also detected unease in military ranks and raised the possibility of a coup d’état, albeit one carried out with the tacit approval of a congressional majority. Almost all Brazilians agree that Mr Bolsonaro is quite unfit for office and singularly incapable of leading the country.

At every twist and turn of recent events, the Brazilian president has downplayed the corona outbreak. The surreal nature of his televised appearances surpasses by far any of President Trump’s more remarkable moments. Whilst even his most vociferous critics agree that President Trump is guided by some vague policy values and notions, President Bolsonaro’s cabinet appears to get by without any such broad principles. In fact, the predatory nature of the Brazilian government, led by a clique mostly intend on furthering their own private interests, prompted its only well-respected minister to resign. He went with a bang.

Justice Minister Sérgio Moro, who as a federal judge gained the respect of the nation for ruthlessly tackling corruption, could no longer accept the pork barrel politics and the trafficking of raw power he was confronted with in Brasília. His departure dealt a severe blow to President Bolsonaro who just days before had sent his public health minister packing for daring to oppose his own peculiar ideas about the pandemic.

Brazil has suffered more than most countries from corrupt, power-hungry, and inept presidents. In fact, one has to go back to the early 1960s to find the last demonstrably incorruptible president. That was Jânio Quadros (1917-1992) who caused consternation by abandoning the capital and the presidency mid-term without giving notice or an explanation. It is, however, widely suspected that Mr Quadros was so disgusted by what he saw and experienced whilst in power that he refused to serve the nation. His sudden departure resulted in a political crisis that ended in 1964 with the generals taking power – to popular acclaim – and clinging to it for the next 18 years. A lesson in history: Be careful what you wish for.