All Posts By

jessica.higginson@podiem.com

An upside-down view of currencies and interest rates

Whatever your politics, one has to feel a bit of sympathy (maybe) for the new Chancellor. It has been a very tough first week in a new job; lambasted by the media, accused by the Labour leader of ‘crashing’ the pound and causing higher inflation and interest rates; and a bad report from the IMF. It is certainly true that Sterling has been falling, and inflation and interest rates rising; yet to suggest that this is solely down to recent Government incompetence is to take a very narrow view. Putting hyperbole, politics and the minute-by-minute gyrations of the market aside for a moment, let’s take a step back and look at what has been going on.

Sterling’s woes or Dollar strength?
Sterling has been falling against the US dollar for some time, but turning this upside down, the dollar has been strengthening against Sterling. In fact, due to its status as a ‘safe-haven’ currency, and the Fed’s more aggressive rate raising strategy, which has resulted in more attractive shorter-term yields, the US dollar has strengthened against most major currencies over the past year, attracting global capital. It is also a major energy exporter, which adds extra support. The DXY index that tracks the dollar against six major currencies stands today at a 20-year high. As the chart below illustrates, Sterling is largely unchanged against the Euro and the Japanese Yen over the past year.

Figure 1: Dollar strength is the key driver of currency ‘weakness’ – 1 year to 27-Sep-2022


Data: Google.

A consequence of the weak Pound is importing inflation, as around one third of household consumption is made up of imports, which are now more costly.
Narratives that suggest that Sterling is turning into an emerging market currency and that this could lead to a currency crisis are headline grabbing but flawed. The UK has a flexible exchange rate (it is not pegged to any other currency); its financial markets are highly established and liquid; the Bank of England operates independently of the Government; and unlike emerging economies, almost the entirety of its debt is denominated in Sterling .

From an investor’s perspective, a rising US dollar provides a positive contribution to Sterling-based returns, as US assets are worth more – over 20% more – in the past year. This has helped to shore up portfolio returns for many. The UK equity market is down only around 3% in the past year , supported by large holdings to sectors such as energy and low holdings to technology, combined with the fact that a majority of earnings are from overseas, benefitting to some degree from these exchange rate movements. No-one really knows where Sterling will go from here and over what timeframe. Hedging fixed income assets remains sensible as this reduces their volatility and remaining unhedged (i.e. exposed to currency movements) in equity assets continues to make good sense and will support portfolio values if Sterling falls further.

Inflation and interest rate rises
Again, reading the news one might get the impression that rising inflation and interest rates in the UK is a pain inflicted on the population entirely by its Government. Yet to turn this inward looking view outward, rising interest rates are a global phenomenon as the countries grapple with high inflation caused by a rapid growth in the money supply (quantitative easing), supply side issues caused by Covid, and the price pressures on energy and food created by Russia’s war in Ukraine. The fact that the UK Government needs to borrow more, as a consequence of the energy cost support packages and its unfunded tax cuts, is also contributing to rising yields. But take a look at inflation, central bank interest rates, and bond yields in a number of major economies in the chart below.

Figure 2: Inflation and interest rates on 27th September 2022

Data source: Countries’ central banks (note inflation for Germany and Italy is the Eurozone inflation rate).

It is evident that inflation is universally high. Five-year bond yields are at or near 4% in all but one of these economies, and all have risen materially in the past six months. Whilst that is bad news for mortgage and other borrowers, who have benefited from an extremely low cost of borrowing for many years, it is better news for those holding cash or investing in bonds. Despite bond price falls as a consequence of yield rises, long-term investors will be better off, over time , from yields at 4% than at near 0%, which we saw 18 months ago. In the UK real (after inflation) yields on index linked gilts are now in positive territory for the first time since 2010. That is good news for investors. As a consequence, investors’ future liabilities are likely to be more easily funded by their assets .

A few commentators have even begun to question whether the UK will be able to service its debts in the future, grabbing headlines. Yet, the UK still remains a major global economy and while the debt service burden will be increasingly heavy, it issues bonds in its own currency, can print money to pay its debts (in-extremis) and has a maturity profile with around half of its bonds maturing beyond 2030 – far longer than most major economies – reducing the short-term refinancing risks that often accompany defaults. Insurance against UK government debt default over five years implies the risk of default is negligible at less than 0.5% .

There is a school of thought, including that of the Chancellor, that the recent support for the supply side of the economy (i.e. increasing productivity and output) by incenting companies and entrepreneurs through tax reductions, may lead to higher rates of sustainable growth in the future, which will, in turn, help to reduce inflation and allow the Government to bring down debt. Obviously, this would take time. The markets currently seem unconvinced. In essence, no-one knows how this all plays out exactly. There is no doubt that there will be uncertainty ahead, but investors who own globally diversified portfolios of equities and higher-quality shorter-dated bonds are well-positioned to weather any possible storms.

The view from a bat’s perch, as we have seen, can provide useful perspective in a world full of politicians, central banks, economists, pundits and active investors all bumping around in the dark.

‘This too shall pass!’, as the late, great John C. Bogle used to constantly remind investors.

Risk warnings
This article is distributed for educational purposes and should not be considered investment advice or an offer of any security for sale. This article contains the opinions of the author but not necessarily the Firm and does not represent a recommendation of any particular security, strategy, or investment product. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable but is not guaranteed.
Past performance is not indicative of future results and no representation is made that the stated results will be replicated.

Employee Spotlight Special – Lisa Jiang

This week’s special edition of Employee Spotlight features Lisa Jiang. Lisa is a 6th form pupil at Ashfield Girls School, Belfast and has been with us for a 6 week internship over the summer break. Lisa has been a great asset to Pacem over the summer break bringing a positive attitude to the team and work.

Lisa tells us a bit more about her experience at Pacem below.

I had first heard of Pacem from the leader of my Career Ready Programme, mentioning how they won an Eastside Award for Employer of the Year. At the time I was not yet interested because I had no idea what Pacem did, and even when the leader suggested a work experience at this company known as ‘Pacem’, I was still indifferent. To my surprise, I was then informed that two representatives of Pacem would come to my school to tell us about ‘Finance’ and ‘Accountancy’. Two words I hear way too many times when people talk about future jobs but have never delved deep enough to know what they actually are beyond money. In the presentation, I asked questions and I had questions answered but everything remained a blur to me. In hindsight, I think the presentation was an excellent idea as it actually left me thinking about it.

As Pacem had been kind enough to lend some of their time to visit my school, I thought it was only fair to offer some of mine and visit their company when they provided a date and time. I thought that there was no harm in coming to see them, with the bonus of getting a glimpse of a real office during real working hours. It was about half an hour before my agreed time that I actually started to panic. Mostly because I was later told that all young people were to be interviewed individually but also because this is a real office with people actually working. I called my mentor and told her all my worries, and she reassured me well. Later that day I got a phone call from the leader of the Programme saying that Pacem was incredibly impressed with me, even though I did not think I was presenting the best version of myself.

Hearing such positive words about me from Pacem made me really happy. I appreciate people’s words a lot and if ‘impressed’ is what Pacem were then I wanted to prove that I am up to their standards. A few weeks later, after signing all the forms, I was in the work experience and prepared to start my first day.

It was better knowing that Pacem aimed to offer young people the opportunities leading into Finance & Accountancy. This meant that there were other young people my age in the work experience too, which, consequently, made me feel more confident in knowing that I was not the only one who would be nervous. It was even better to arrive into Pacem’s building and be greeted so politely and kindly, and to be treated like a friend by all the adults despite our major difference in work. I find that during my experience in Pacem, I did not just talk about work but also talked about myself, and in turn, I got the chance to learn about the roles of Pacem’s employees and their amazing characters. I felt like an equal. I felt like I belonged in Pacem. I felt like I was at home. Everyday I had something that I would look forward to in the next day.

I was finally put into a position where I would be able to properly develop my skills and qualities, primarily communication, creativity and confidence, as not just a student or an employee but as a person.

Through Finance & Accountancy, I was familiarised with app softwares such as Intelligent Office, AutoEntry and QuickBooks. It certainly opened my eyes as I never knew that this field of work was so substantial that it required many, many helping hands. The supporting systems and the different kinds of people to make it successful. Out of all the possible skills that I exist, I think I exercised my patience skills the most as many tasks involved a lot of repetition. As a result of this (hopefully) improved patience, I feel confident in going back to school and enjoy my education more. I can also go back home feeling more appreciative for the people around me, because like a work experience, some of the people that you spend your time with – without even thinking of an end – will not last forever. But that is clearly not the end of it. Patience was not the only skill I developed.

Finance & Accountancy is not for everyone. And even if you were interested, Pacem would still not be for everyone as much as it was for me. However, it would not be sensible to miss an opportunity to add something to your CV, or explore an area in which you’ve never stepped into before, or even miss the opportunity to meet really great people.

If you fear the idea of working with adults handing you work that is actually crucially important to their business, just remember, this is a work experience. These are adults who know that you are young and perhaps confused and unsure of what you want to do in the future. They will not make you feel uncomfortable – because why would they? No one would want to stop you from exploring the different possibilities of your future.

Employee Spotlight Special – Angie Dzenite

This week’s special edition of Employee Spotlight features Angie Dzenite. Angie is a 6th form pupil at Ashfield Girls School, Belfast and has been with us for a 6 week internship over the summer break. Angie has brought enthusiasm and has been a great addition to the team over the summer.

Angie tells us a bit more about her experience at Pacem below.

I was given this exciting opportunity by a programme called ‘Careers Ready’ which is organised through Ashfield Girls’ High School. This programme helps you gain a qualification as well as gaining confidence in yourself and experiencing the world of work and being able to have a mentor from different companies who help answer all your worries and problems. Pacem was invited to my school and they then invited us for interviews to see who would get in! When I got accepted, I was over the moon because it was a new experience, new place, and new people! From a young age I was always told to dream big and take every opportunity what came at me, and that is exactly what I did, I took it and have no regrets whatsoever joining this work experience where I learned so many skills and enhanced my qualities making me more confident in myself and ready to take on the world of work and the challenges what come with it.

When I first arrived at Pacem, I was nervous and excited to get stuck into the world of office life. At first, I thought it would be boring, but it wasn’t because the work atmosphere is so welcoming and friendly, every work colleague is always there to help you and even have banter and daily check-ups! You truly feel like your apart of a family and I can see why Pacem is a winning business company at Eastside awards.

When working with Pacem I got to work in both Accounting which was every Tuesday and Wednesday then Finance was every Monday and Thursday. While working for Finance I did a lot of scanning for clients and realised how even the small things are valuable towards the whole financing sector. I also advanced my skills in Excel and IO (intelligence office) which holds loads of client information in which I had to solve queries and problems. I also organised letters and helped with other aspects of finance which is great.

When I was working for accounting, I found it very challenging as you were learning about bank statements, commissions, Cheques, VAT, Net and Gross which was interesting as there were times you literally couldn’t figure out what was happening and when completing tasks, you felt an instant relief. If I was to consider studying in this sector, I would pick accounting because I am always up for a challenge even if stresses you out, you just know that it is worth it in the end. I also used excel, auto entry and tax calc which has deepened my knowledge in accounting.

If I was to summarise this experience working with such a talented company, it was spectacular as you never felt alone and always had tasks set out for you, always had people to talk to and you even had laughs. One thing I will remember be is that although I am an Eastside award winner, I also caused a lot of printer/scanner problems and at one point they both went on system failure and everyone just laughed and tried their best to help! Pacem is a hard-working company and when you get to work with you just realise how privileged you are to be in such a team with very co-ordinated, friendly and determined people. I would recommend anyone to take the opportunity to work for them as they support you through the entire way and you learn a lot.

Employee Spotlight – Lizzy Crossan

Each fortnight we will be spotlighting a member of the team so that you can get to know the people behind the Pacem brand. This week we feature our Director of Accounting & Tax, Lizzy Crossan. Lizzy has been at Pacem since the beginning in 2017 and leads our Accounting and Business Advisory team.

Lizzy tells us a bit more about herself below.

Employee name
Elizabeth Crossan

Your role at Pacem
Director of Accounting & Tax

How long have you been with Pacem?
Since Pacem started in 2017, it’s hard to believe it has been 5 years

What does your day-to-day role entail?
A typical day involves managing our client work and helping the team through any queries. Client work ranges from tax and accounts to VAT or Payroll.
I spend a lot of my time meeting with clients (either in person or online) to review quarterly accounts, do pre year end tax planning or advise and help with any questions or issues they are facing in their business.

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Genuine, Practical, Hard-working

Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
I took quite a while to decide on my chosen career path. I did a degree in Journalism & Psychology, a Masters in Communication, Advertising and PR and spent many (mostly enjoyable) years working in hospitality before entering the world of accountancy and tax.

What do you like most about your job?
The people I work with. The team are great and everyone wants to help out in any way they can. Everyone gets on so well and there is always a bit of fun in the office!

Favourite food
Cheese, with wine. Cashel blue is my all-time favourite.

What interests/hobbies do you have outside of work?
Apart from the fore mentioned cheese and wine, I love going to my PT- that’s my polytunnel. I spend most of my free time in there potting, planting, watering, weeding, chillin’, closing my eyes and pretending I’m on holiday in the sun, etc.
The whole cycle is so rewarding and being able to make something delicious from things you have grown is a plus.

Where is the best place you’ve travelled to and why?
The best place was Japan, on Honeymoon. The trains are amazing- and never late. We travelled from Tokyo to Hiroshima and stopped off in Kyoto, Osaka and lots of lovely towns on the way. I would go back tomorrow if I could.
But, in saying that, some of the most beautiful places I have been are in Ireland. Over lockdown my husband did a campervan conversion so we have been on a lot of road trips. We went to Cork last summer which was amazing but we usually go to the west coast. Sligo is his favourite and obviously Donegal is the greatest place on earth (I’m not at all biased).

Employee Spotlight – Sean O’Donnell

Each fortnight we will be spotlighting a member of the team so that you can get to know the people behind the Pacem brand. This week we feature our Senior Planning Analyst, Sean O’Donnell. Sean joined the firm in July 2020 as a Planning Analyst Intern and supports our Financial Advisory team in achieving our client’s goals alongside completing his Level 4 Diploma.

Sean tells us a bit more about himself below.

Employee name
Sean O’Donnell

Your role at Pacem
Senior Planning Analyst

How long have you been with Pacem?
Just shy of 2 years

What does your day-to-day role entail?
No 2 days are the same at Pacem and my tasks can be quite different each day but generally my role is to assist the Advisors and Paraplanners in preparing to client annual reviews of their Investment Portfolios. I also spend a lot of time working with the Advisers and Paraplanners analysing all of the information on new clients and help prepare detailed financial plans to include cashflow analysis and investment projections.

How would you describe yourself in three words?
I’d have to say that I’m affable, engaging and ambitious…however some may disagree with these adjectives!

Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
I didn’t begin my career in financial services until I was 30 years old! Before this, I had a varied work experience from working in hospitality to health and safety but the job which surprises most people is my many years of working for our family Funeral Business!

What do you like most about your job?
Definitely the best thing about my job is the people, both clients and colleagues. I really enjoy engaging with people from various walks of life and to try and assist them with their questions and concerns as much as possible and really look forward to more of this as I progress through my career. We have an amazing team at Pacem and working with these guys every day makes going to work vastly more enjoyable.

If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do?
As cliché as it sounds, the first thing I would do is buy a ridiculous car. I’m a huge car fan and have dreams of owning a really silly supercar such as a Ferrari F8 or Lamborghini Huracan…I’d even settle for a BMW M3! After that, I’d make sure that my family’s bills are settled and use the remainder for a once an a lifetime holiday…although I don’t think there would be much left!

Favourite Food
I would consider myself as a foodie! There is nothing that I will not eat, although my own culinary skills are not the best. That being said…..my favourite food of all time is crisps!!

What interests/hobbies do you have outside of work
Before lockdown I was training regularly at Brazilian Jujitsu. Although lockdown and studying towards my Level 4 qualifications has made it difficult to get back into the swing of things, I fully intend to get back as it an get my blue belt by the end of the year!

Pacem Double-Winners at the 2022 Eastside Awards

The much anticipated Eastside Awards, in association with George Best Belfast City Airport, celebrating all that is good about East Belfast, returned in 2022 with a glittering awards ceremony hosted by television presenter Tara Mills. There was double delight for Pacem as we took the titles of ‘Eastside Award for Business Growth’ and the ‘Eastside Awards Employer of the Year’.

 

The Business Growth Award was open to businesses or social enterprises operating within the East Belfast area that were able to demonstrate growth in terms of business performance and or employment. The award was sponsored by Kainos and there was much joy at the Pacem table when Kainos’ Adam Donnelly announced the we had overcome some very impressive competition to claim the title. According to the judges, this was a very difficult category to judge, and all organisations were commended. Judges were impressed by Pacem’s growth over the last three years in terms of staff numbers, client base and turnover. Our investment in staff training and development was singled out for particular praise.

 

Having won the previous Eastside Award for Employer of the Year in January 2020 (pre-pandemic) we were especially proud, and humbled, to retain the crown of East Belfast’s Employer of the Year. Entries for this award, which was sponsored by Fleet Financial, were invited from organisations who were able to demonstrate their commitment to and the provision of a positive working environment, especially in the areas of employee engagement, employee development, employee health and well-being and opportunities for growth. Judges commented that the standout for them was Pacem’s consistent, balanced focus and investment on our team’s professional and personal development, captured and managed through our ‘personal development plans’. They also highlighted our financial contribution to staff to fit out a comfortable, functional ‘working from home’ set up during and beyond the Covid-19 crisis.

 

Another proud night for Team Pacem

Tips for unsettling times

The news today can feel a little bit unsettling.  There is no doubt that these are tough emotional times for investors.  Russia’s invasion and brutal war in Ukraine is unsettling on both a human and an economic level.  The plight of the people of Ukraine and the broader pitting of Western values against totalitarian oppression weigh heavily.  The impact of the war on energy, fertilizer, commodity and food prices, combined with global supply bottle necks and continuing Covid lockdowns in China are exacerbated by the growth in money supply from quantitative easing and financial support measures taken during the pandemic. This has led to a rapid rise in inflation globally to levels not seen for several decades. That can feel uncomfortable.

From an investment perspective, the impact has been more varied than the news might suggest[1] so far this year.  Global equity markets have handed back some of the, perhaps, unexpected gains of 2020-2021, but not in a uniform manner.  Of note, high growth stocks with poor or non-existent profits have been particularly hard hit, impacting the US broad market (down 18%) and the tech-oriented Nasdaq (down 28%).  Yet, global markets, in GBP terms, are down only 10% or so.  Sterling’s recent fall against the dollar has helped, as overseas assets now buy more Pounds.  The UK equity market is more-or-less flat.  It is worthy of note that a well-constructed exposure to global value stocks has delivered gains of nearly 4% so far this year, from which diversified investors will have benefited.  A similar value outcome has been seen in emerging markets.

Over the longer time horizon that most investors face, equity assets should provide inflation-plus returns to protect the value of wealth. Unfortunately, there are no certain inflation hedges.

The fears of inflation have pushed bond yields higher, with resultant falls in bond prices.  Shorter-dated, higher quality bonds – favoured in client portfolios – have been impacted to a lesser degree than long-dated bonds.  As an example, short-dated UK gilts are down 1.5%, whereas a portfolio of all UK Gilts is down a little over 10%.  The positive is that – going forward – bonds are now yielding materially more than a year ago.

All-in-all, a well-diversified global equity portfolio, with exposure to value stocks and holding shorter-dated high quality bonds, has probably been more solid that the news might suggest, and performance certainly sits well within the bounds of expectation.

Here are some tips to help keep things in perspective at this challenging emotional time:

Tips for unsettling times

  1. Accept the uncertainty of markets – a well-diversified portfolio protects you from any one area of the markets suffering particular pressures. Your portfolio will probably be performing better than the headlines suggest.
  2. Don’t measure your portfolio’s performance from the previous top of the market, but over a longer and more sensible timeframe, and from where you started. The last few years have been really good to investors.  Giving a little back is part of any investing journey.
  3. Try not to look at your portfolio too often. Get on with more important things in your life.  Once a year is more than enough, but that takes some will power!
  4. Accept that you cannot time when to be in and out of markets – it is simply not possible. If you resign yourself to this fact, investing feels much less stressful.
  5. If markets have fallen, remember that you still own everything you did before i.e. the same number of shares in the same companies, and the same bonds holdings.
  6. Most crucially, a fall does not turn into a loss unless you sell your investments at the wrong time. If you don’t need the money, why would you sell?
  7. The balance between your growth (equity) assets and defensive (high quality bond) assets was established by your adviser to make sure that you can withstand temporary falls in the value of your portfolio, both emotionally and financially. A recent fall in the markets does not change this.
  8. Be confident that your (boring) defensive assets will come into their own, protecting your portfolio from some of the pain of material equity market falls, if they occur.
  9. If you are taking an income from your portfolio, remember that if equities have fallen in value, you will be taking your income from your bonds, not selling equities when they are down.
  10. Your adviser is there – at any time – to support you. They are a source of fortitude, patience, and discipline on which you can draw.

These are unsettling times, but your best defense is to keep to your plan, remaining invested in a well-diversified, robust portfolio and leaning on your adviser if necessary.

‘This too shall pass!’ as the legendary investor and founder of Vanguard used to say.

Risk warnings

This article is distributed for educational purposes and should not be considered investment advice or an offer of any security for sale.  This article contains the opinions of the author but not necessarily the Firm and does not represent a recommendation of any particular security, strategy, or investment product.  Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable but is not guaranteed.

Past performance is not indicative of future results and no representation is made that the stated results will be replicated.

Data source

World equities (developed) iShares Core MSCI World ETF USD Acc
Emerging markets value Dimensional Emerging Mkts Val A USD Acc
Emerging markets Vanguard Em Mkts Stk Idx £ Acc
Global Value Dimensional Global Value GBP Acc
US broad Market Fidelity Index US P Acc
Tech stocks (NASDAQ) Invesco QQQ ETF
Short-dated Gilts iShares UK Gilts 0-5yr ETF GBP Dist
All Gilts iShares UK Gilts All Stks Idx (UK) H Inc

Market data used in this article represent the returns from funds capturing these specific market risks. They are provided for informational purposes only. All performance in GBP terms, except for US markets (USD).

[1] Data used in this paragraph uses market returns from funds capturing these specific market risks, as examples.  See endnote for details.

Employee Spotlight – Tony Glover

Each fortnight we will be spotlighting a member of the team so that you can get to know the people behind the Pacem brand. This week we feature our Group Director, Tony Glover. Tony is a Chartered Tax Adviser with over forty years’ experience in all stages of business life from start-up, through growth and development to merger and acquisition. He has specialist expertise in the use of trusts and complex estate planning strategies.

Tony tells us a bit more about himself below.

Employee name
Tony Glover

Your role at Pacem
Group Director

How long have you been with Pacem?
Pacem evolved from a previous professional partnership that I had been part of for over forty years, so I guess, from day one would cover it!

What does your day-to-day role entail?
The short answer – problem solving. Pacem exists to help our clients navigate their way through the complexities of their business and financial worlds.

How would you describe yourself in three words?
I’ll go with, cool, calm and collected.

Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
I trained and qualified as a Gestalt Psychotherapist!!

What do you like most about your job?
The variety that it offers and the challengers that it brings to be continually learning. It has been a privilege to be able to support so many clients over so many years and, in some cases, across generations. It is also a source of some pride to have been part of building such a vibrant, energetic and progressive advisory firm such as Pacem.

What would you do (for a career) if you weren’t doing this?
This question stumped me for a while until inspiration emerged in the form of a fictional TV character – Detective Inspector Morse! I love a good puzzle and experience has taught me that through willpower and patient, rational enquiry it is possible to get to the bottom of any conundrum. While I very much enjoy being part of a team, my independent and curious nature leads me to be self-reliant and innovative in decision-making and achieving goals. So yes, I reckon I could have been a detective, well the TV version anyway.

Where is the best place you’ve travelled to and why?
Travelling has been one of my great delights in recent years, there’s nothing more that I enjoy than exploring new places and different cultures. Our trip to South Africa was particularly enjoyable as we were able to go on safari and got to see the ‘big five’; we visited Nelson Mandela’s Soweto home and his prison cell on Robben Island; and we also got to visit the Cape of Good Hope and the lush wine regions north of Cape Town. It was also quite shocking to witness the abject poverty that millions of people have to ensure. So, all in all a very stimulating experience in many different ways.

What interests/hobbies do you have outside of work
Rita and I have three children and six grandchildren, so family holidays and time together has also been a priority for us. Also, I play a bit of golf, but i think the photo below is the closest I’ll get to lifting the Claret Jug. The family recently bought me a new bike and I really enjoy getting out for an early morning cycle on the country roads at home.

Travelling to Anfield to watch Liverpool play is always a great adventure as you re never certain what the outcome will be. Luckily in recent years there have been many memorable successes.

A few years ago, I was invited to join the board of a sizeable local charity in the role of treasurer. This has been a new and challenging adventure, and I have found it very rewarding being able to offer my experience and expertise to an organisation that works to improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Winners Crowned at Belfast Business Idea Award 2022

Belfast-based entrepreneurs gathered at the Belfast Business Idea Award finalists’ night on Friday May 6 at Danske Bank to hear this year’s winners announced.

A Belfast City Council initiative, supported by Danske Bank and Pacem Accounting & Tax Advisory, the competition is designed to unearth, recognise and help fast track the best business ideas in Belfast. Councillor Ryan Murphy, Chair of Belfast City Council’s City Growth and Regeneration Committee said: “The beauty of the Belfast Business Idea Awards is that it’s the strength of the idea that’s assessed, rather than the achievements of the venture.  So people who have yet to set up a business have just as much chance of winning as those who’ve already started to trade successfully”.

Five winners pitched their idea to an independent judging panel, with the overall winner being decided live on the night via audience vote. The overall winner secured a cash injection of £2,500 to help their business grow. Each of the five winners also received a support package worth over £3,000.

The 2022 Belfast Business Idea Award Winners were:

  • Emma Corbett – Insurin – Overall winner
  • Eimear O’Rourke – Allergy Act
  • Harry Mc Anulty – The Plant Alchemist
  • Orla McKeating – Still I Rise Diversity Storytelling
  • Conleth Mallon – Injuiced

Speaking at the finalists’ night, overall winner, Emma Corbett from Insurin commented: “From my own experience as a type 1 diabetic, I understood that more could be done to guide and help those newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes physically, mentally and emotionally. Insurin started out as my final year project at Ulster University whilst studying Interaction Design. Then I realised it had a lot of commercial potential, but needed help to build both the product and business – which is why we entered the Belfast Business Idea Award. I want to say a huge thank you to Belfast City Council, Danske Bank, Pacem, Innovation Factory and Enterprise Northern Ireland for their support. There’s so much talent and innovation here, so I’m honoured to win and look forward to growing Insurin with the help of the generous support package.”

The finalists also had the opportunity to hear from, and put questions to, two of NI’s most successful entrepreneurs, David Johnston and Lynsey Bennett, founders of Belfast businesses, OutsideIn and Lusso Tan which have gone on to compete, and win, on a global scale.

Speaking at the finalist’s night, Elizabeth Crossan commended all applicants and expressed her enthusiasm towards working with the winners,

We are looking forward to working alongside the newly crowned winners of the 2022 Belfast Business Idea Award by providing six months free accountancy services. We love helping new businesses develop and grow and to play a part in their journey is a real privilege. We can’t wait to see what is in store for these blossoming businesses and predict great things ahead –  watch this space”.

Digital assets and blockchain technology

Blockchains, Web3, the metaverse, NFTs, cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin, Dogecoin, dApps and DAOs. These terms have surged into mainstream media, from nowhere over a decade ago. At time of writing the total value of crypto assets, if instantaneously and in a costless manner converted to USD (a large assumption), sits at around $2tn[1]. To provide some perspective, Microsoft’s total market capitalization currently sits at around this figure[2]. Are they now too big to ignore? This note explores ten important points to remember if considering an allocation to digital assets.

  1. Complexity and perceived sophistication do not make something a good investment: An innovative product will not necessarily be revolutionary. There are many highly technical solutions in the digital assets space with exciting prospects, but without the benefit of hindsight it is impossible to know what technologies will become commonplace.

‘Investors read confusing, jargon-laden articles and become convinced that smarter people than themselves are investing, so they should too’ [3]

For most, it is not necessary to gain an in-depth understanding of the mechanics and nuances of digital assets and blockchain technology. Many people drive cars without a detailed knowledge of how the gearbox works or how the engine uses the fuel to generate power. It is, however, useful to understand some high-level characteristics and considerations.

  1. There are legitimate challenges to the future of many digital assets: A philosophical debate exists around what derives an assets’ ‘value’. What gives a verifiably ‘owned’ 600×600 digital image – which can be infinitely reproduced – worth? Why is a bitcoin[4], with little use in daily life and not in physical form, valued at tens of thousands of dollars based simply on its verifiable scarcity? Why Bitcoin, and not any of the other 10,000 or so cryptocurrencies? How can widespread adoption get round the challenge of high transaction fees and slow transaction times – Ethereum (another decentralised blockchain) for example can only process up to around 30 transactions per second[5], whilst Visa claims capacity for over 65,000[6]? It’s difficult to give firm answers to these questions, though they are valid challenges for these technologies to overcome to achieve mainstream adoption.
  2. Watch out! Fraudulent activity, hacks and outright theft are real risks that exist in the space, with little-to-no route to compensation for investors. Currently, there do appear to be some significantly vulnerable points – in the process of purchasing digital assets – whereby illicit activity occurs at a cost to investors. Examples of hacked wallets, stolen funds, corrupt exchanges, and fake cryptocurrencies are frequent in financial media. These are unfortunate realities that exist. The Twitter account @web3isgreat provides insights into illicit activity in the digital assets space, with a sobering regularity[7].
  3. Transaction costs are high: Owning digital assets directly can be costly. Transaction fees are high, and liquidity could reasonably be an issue, particularly at time of large market swings. According to bitinfocharts.com, median transaction fees for bitcoins tend to be around $1, though have been as high as $28 in 2021. Ethereum’s fees have been higher and more variable[8]. There are limited options to buy pooled investment products to gain exposure to digital assets, and those that are available are expensive.
  4. Much of the digital assets world is unregulated: A reasonable starting point as an investor is to first avoid any investment that is unregulated. A lack of regulation gives rise to increased risks of criminal activity at a cost to the investor, and most likely an investment in which it is more difficult to know the true inherent risks. Much of the digital assets world is unregulated. This may change in time, though the very nature of true decentralisation makes it difficult for a central regulator to engage in necessary oversight.
  5. Environmental impact concerns are valid and material: Although the digital assets industry is broadly aware of the issue and has taken steps to improve the climate impact, it is still significant. The method of verification of bitcoin transactions is energy intensive, as miners compete for newly minted bitcoins by producing the most powerful processing units. The Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption index provides some interesting comparisons[9], such as the fact that the estimated energy usage from mining bitcoins is comparable to the energy usage of countries such as Poland and comprises over 0.6% of global energy consumption. As another example, energy consumption of the Bitcoin network in a single year could power all kettles in the UK for over 30 years!
  6. There have been some great innovations: There is no doubt that there are some exciting and potentially disruptive innovations in the space. The challenge investors face is that without the benefit of hindsight it is impossible to know which innovations will pervade.
  7. Many investors can benefit from indirect exposure to digital assets: By owning a diversified basket of securities one can own the public companies that are developing, selling or implementing the technology. Investors calculate the expected future cashflows of firms – giving them a market value – and so owning these firms in a market weight gives investors the aggregate view of each company’s future.
  8. Ownership of many digital assets comes with a highly volatile journey: Significant price swings are regular in the world of digital asset ownership. In the past five years, the price of a bitcoin has seen daily movements of up to +26% and down to ‑39%[10]. It’s a bumpy ride.
  9. Many are unaware of the tax consequences of ownership: Many investors are unaware of any potential tax liabilities that may arise due to ownership. A nationwide survey[11] in the US issued by Wakefield Research – commissioned by CoinTracker – found that just 3% of respondents correctly answered a list of questions correctly relating to when crypto investors would be liable to pay tax. Proceeding without due caution can land investors in hot water.

Revolutionary technological advancement is a brilliant consequence of the capitalist system, and a key factor in economic growth. The world of digital assets and blockchain technology is exciting and it would not be entirely surprising to see some of the innovations (many of which might not even exist today) become commonplace. There is, however, a relatively deep technical knowledge required to understand digital assets, even at a high level. This does not make them a sensible investment, and any investment in cryptocurrencies should be seen as a sunk cost.

Risk warnings

This article is distributed for educational purposes and should not be considered investment advice or an offer of any security for sale. This article contains the opinions of the author but not necessarily the Firm and does not represent a recommendation of any particular security, strategy, or investment product.  Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable but is not guaranteed.

Past performance is not indicative of future results and no representation is made that the stated results will be replicated.

[1]      https://coinmarketcap.com/charts/, accessed 20th April 2022

[2]      https://companiesmarketcap.com/, accessed 20th April 2022

[3]      Pickard, A. (March 2022). ‘Cryptocurrencies: The Power of Memes’. https://www.researchaffiliates.com/

[4]      For those eagle-eyed, grammar focussed readers the ‘b’ in bitcoin is not capitalised here. The official Bitcoin glossary states: ‘Bitcoin – with capitalization, is used when describing the concept of Bitcoin, or the entire network itself. e.g. “I was learning about the Bitcoin protocol today.”

        bitcoin – without capitalization, is used to describe bitcoins as a unit of account. e.g. “I sent ten bitcoins today.”; it is also often abbreviated BTC or XBT.’

[5]      https://www.ft.com/content/16eaf1b9-08fb-4454-a4eb-ac662cdd8590 Accessed 15/04/2022

[6]      https://www.visa.co.uk/dam/VCOM/download/corporate/media/visanet-technology/aboutvisafactsheet.pdf

[7] https://twitter.com/web3isgreat

[8] https://bitinfocharts.com/comparison/median_transaction_fee-btc-eth.html#3y

[9] https://ccaf.io/

[10] Data source: http://www.investing.com/

[11] https://www.cointracker.io/blog/crypto-taxes-youre-not-alone Accessed 15/04/2022