One trick to traveling cheaply: flexibility Shield Insurance Agency Blog

One trick to traveling cheaply: flexibility

By SAM KEMMIS of Nerd Wallet July 14, 2021

So you want to travel on a budget. Who doesn’t? Yet it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the cheap travel tips, hacks and strategies out there that promise unbelievable deals on airfare and hotels.

In reality, there’s only one important tactic for traveling cheaply: being flexible with your travel dates, destination and plans. It might sound simple — or even simplistic — but you would be surprised how few travelers are willing to take this piece of advice to heart.

To be fair, this flexibility-first mindset requires a paradigm shift for many in terms of how they start planning vacations. It requires moving from this type of planning:

“I want to go to Amsterdam from Sept. 5th through 13th.”

To this:

“I want to go somewhere fun in September.”

For some, this degree of flexibility is simply impossible. Yet for those who can loosen their preconceptions about how to plan travel, it can lead to big savings — and maybe even more fun — whether you’re paying with cash or using points.

WHY RIGIDITY IS SO EXPENSIVE

The cost of travel depends on the interplay between many factors, including:

— Demand.

— Supply.

— Randomness.

— Number of options.

When you make specific plans from the get-go, you essentially constrain the last variable — you give yourself fewer options. This means that the cost of your trip will depend entirely on the first three variables, which are completely outside of your control.

This economic interplay will sometimes fall in your favor, and you’ll score a good deal on the exact destination and dates you wanted. But more often than not, you’ll end up paying more than average simply by starting with a severely limited set of options.

HOW TO PLAN TRAVELS WITH FLEXIBILITY

You can still set some boundaries around your search. Example parameters might include:

— I want to travel in the fall.

— I want to sit on the beach.

— I don’t want to spend more than $X.

From here, you can begin weighing different destinations and dates to see which could maximize your preferences. For example, you might start with flights to Hawaii, but notice that airfare is through the roof. So you switch to the Caribbean, narrow your interest to a few destinations with cheap flights, then start researching hotel prices.

Finally, you can find the dates and destinations that offer the best combination of price and features, then book your travel.

Think about how many times you (or someone you know) have gone about it the other way — by starting with dates and a destination, then accepting whatever costs come up.

THE RIGHT TOOLS FOR THE JOB

As this flexible travel approach gains in popularity, travel booking sites and services have begun offering helpful tools specifically designed for the task.

AIRFARE DEAL ALERTS

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Don't Wait to Renew Your Passport Shield Insurance Blog

Don’t Wait to Renew Your Passport

Americans planning international travel face processing delays

by Larry Bleiberg, AARP, Updated July 19, 2021 

En español | If you’re planning an international trip, check your passport’s expiration date now. It could take more than four months to get a new one.

The U.S. State Department projects a wait of up to 18 weeks for renewals, and some customers are reporting even longer delays. Those paying an extra $60 for expedited service can still expect to wait up to 12 weeks for their document. Those processing times begin the day the department receives your application, not the day you mail it.

And appointments for last-minute, in-person processing are extremely limited.

The problem is — what else? — COVID-19.

In March 2020, when pandemic restrictions were first imposed, the State Department sent most employees home, and severely scaled back processing applications. When workers began to return to the office, in June 2020, they faced a backlog of applications. Now, a year later, they still haven’t caught up with the demand, a State Department spokesman said. There are also mail delivery delays, according to the State Department website, which notes that the 18-month processing-time estimate includes up to six weeks for mailing.

As more people get vaccinated and begin to plan international trips, the backlog is likely to grow, resulting in even longer processing delays. “Put your forms in as fast as you can,” says Jeremy Scott Foster of TravelFreak.com, a travel advice website. “Unfortunately, there is no workaround. All queues are long.”

The passport delay has caused some travelers to cancel trips. For example, Samantha Meabon, a physician assistant from western Pennsylvania, needed a new passport because of a name change. The process took four months, forcing her to cancel a planned trip to St. Lucia and Martinique in the Caribbean in May. “Although we planned much further ahead of time than we normally would, we ended up having to continue to postpone international travel,” she says.

Another reason to renew early: Some countries won’t admit travelers with passports that expire in less than six months.

How to apply for or renew a passport

Travelers can renew their passport online at travel.state.gov, but first-time applicants and those replacing a lost or stolen passport must apply in person at an acceptance facility. The standard cost in all cases is $110, plus a $35 application fee.

The State Department does offer limited in-person immediate processing at its 26 regional passport agencies for life-or-death situations or for travel within three business days (both require documentation). But travelers must have an appointment for this service, and because staffing has been scaled back in some areas due to COVID-19, they can be difficult to obtain. Travelers are apt to find that the closest agency with an open appointment is hundreds of miles away.

In the past, travelers could pay private passport courier agencies to handle these rush requests. But since the pandemic hit, many businesses have stopped offering the service because the State Department has sharply reduced the number of last-minute appointments available, says David Alwadish, CEO of New York-based ItsEasy Passport & Visa.

Alwadish’s company is one of many that provide such services; other popular options include RushMyPassport.com and PassportVisasExpress.com. The State Department notes that because these businesses are not government agencies, using them adds to the fees charged by the government. In addition, applicants won’t receive their documents any more quickly than if they applied in person at a passport agency office.

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How automation in manufacturing can improve worker safety, satisfaction, and productivity Shield Insurance Agency Blog

How automation in manufacturing can improve worker safety, satisfaction, and productivity

COVID-19 has put a strain on the manufacturing industry across the globe, as supply chain limitations and new health and safety regulations increase risk and threaten output. In fact, according to a recent report by Hitachi Vantara, three key challenges manufacturers struggle to manage as the pandemic continues include worker health and safety (74 percent of respondents rated a 3 or more on a scale of 1-5), productivity (66 percent), and supply chain disruption (65 percent).

As manufacturers look to address these challenges while managing costs, one solution shows significant promise: automation.

The effective deployment of automation equipment and processes can fundamentally change your business – and potentially reduce employee exposure to leading causes of workplace injury. In this article, we’ll review key reasons why the manufacturing industry is shifting to automation and three practices on how to incorporate it into operations for maximum impact.

Automation can increase productivity.

Even before COVID-19, manufacturers were looking for solutions to increase productivity despite significant reductions in the labor force.

According to FRED economic research, data indexed against 1990 benchmarks show that output has grown 44.2 percent in U.S. factories despite a 32.2 percent reduction in employment over the last 30 years. That means that the United States is producing 44 percent more goods than it did 30 years ago, with only 70 percent of the labor. In addition, according to Assembly Mag, more than 2.3 million manufacturing jobs created in the next 10 years will go unfilled.

Labor shortages are an ongoing problem for manufacturers, and automation offers a viable solution. According to Boston Consulting Group, manufacturing tasks performed by robots are expected to increase in the U.S. by 30­–45 percent from 2015 to 2025, in large part because robots are less expensive and thus more accessible for smaller factories. But labor shortages aren’t the only motivation for automation. Automation technology also helps to increase labor productivity significantly, both by increasing efficiency and by reducing workplace injuries that result in the need to hire and train temporary workers.

Automation and worker safety: a symbiotic relationship

Workplace injuries are a key driver of loss for U.S. businesses, costing more than $1 billion per week and $59 billion annually according to Liberty Mutual’s 2020 Workplace Safety Index. And for the manufacturing industry, the top five injury causes account for almost $5.2 billion (or 63 percent) of injury-related costs. Looking at these top causes, which include handling objects, falls on the same level, being hit by objects, running equipment, and awkward postures, it becomes clear how automation can help improve safety and reduce costs.

With automation technology, employees can work smarter and safer, avoiding many tasks that lead to workplace injury in the first place. For example, collaborative robots, or cobots, can work alongside human workers to help increase efficiency on the factory floor. Workers may also be able to avoid or limit heavy lifting, repetitive tasks, and contact with machinery or harmful materials — top causes of injuries and workers compensation claims and costs.

In addition to creating a safer work environment, adopting automation can benefit workers in other ways:

  • By leveraging cobots to help with physically demanding and repetitive work, employees can focus on upskilling to more intellectually challenging jobs, which can lead to higher pay and greater job satisfaction.
  • Rather than doing repetitive manual labor, employees can focus on maintaining and reprogramming cobots and managing other automated systems.
  • And because cobots aren’t human, they can help improve overall factory safety – they are never sick or tired, and they never forget safety checks.

Three practices for effective automation installation

While the benefits of automation are clear, it can be challenging to determine the best strategies to implement automation effectively at your company. Here are three best practices to guide your process.

1. Focus on the most critical business needs.

Automation is modular, which means you don’t need to implement it across the board. Taking an agile approach and putting automation where it’s most critically needed will help you manage expenses and reduce confusion as you change procedures. If you want to reduce slips and falls, for instance, install sensor technology. To help drive more productivity, consider cobots. When you take this approach, you don’t need as much upfront investment, and you can more closely monitor how automation is impacting your bottom line.

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Insurance Solutions for your Industry | Shield Insurance Agency Blog

Insurance solutions for your industry

Liberty Mutual Small Commercial: Insurance solutions for your industry

As an expert in your business, you know your operation inside and out – from how to market during your high-selling season to what equipment is best to use in your production lines. At Liberty Mutual Insurance, we know how to protect your business. With industry expertise in areas such as underwriting, risk control, and claims, we know how to keep your specific type of business and employees protected. Whether you manage a clothing store, operate a farm, or run a publishing house, you need the right coverage to ensure your business is protected.

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CR's Guide to Getting Better Internet Without Busting Your Budget | Shield Insurance Agency Blog

CR’s Guide to Getting Better Internet Without Busting Your Budget

How to solve WiFi problems and trim your monthly bill. Plus, what CR is doing to get everyone faster, cheaper broadband.

By Consumer ReportsJuly 13, 2021

Over the past 18 months, our home internet connections have helped us reach family, friends, and colleagues. They’ve been both practical tools and a needed source of entertainment during a difficult time.

That may be why 76 percent of Americans agree that internet service is as important as electricity or water, according to a February nationally representative Consumer Reports survey of 2,514 U.S. adults (PDF).

But using the internet at home can be frustrating, too, as many people confront dropped video-calls and sputtering movies—along with confusing bills and poor customer service. The good news is that some broadband problems are easy to fix. The following information can help you do that and maybe even help you save a bit of money.

To learn more about the issues that affect internet customers, Consumer Reports is launching a project called Broadband Together along with several other nonprofit organizations to collect and analyze tens of thousands of internet bills. You can read more about the project, and then consider joining the effort by taking an internet speed test, sharing a bill, and providing us with some basic information. 

The information we gather will help us learn how much people are paying in neighborhoods across the country, whether they’re getting what they were promised, and whether prices are fair.

If the internet is glitchy in your home, the first step toward a solution is to pinpoint the problem. And it helps to understand how online material—be it a Netflix show, Zoom call, or social media post—gets to you.

As you can see in the illustration below, movies, email, and other data are funneled by internet service providers (ISPs) through a series of cables and wires to homes with wired service. 

If something’s not working, the problem could lie outside your home and may require a call to the company to fix. Or the trouble could be with your home WiFi network, which distributes information wirelessly to your computers, TVs, and other devices.

Which is it? To figure that out, an easy first step is to test your internet speed.

How to Test Your Speed For Better Internet

It’s useful to know how fast data moves into and out of your home. To find out, you can check your speed at Measurement Lab or Speedtest. With a click or two, you’ll learn your download speed (how fast data such as a movie streams into your home), and your upload speed (how fast data like your end of a Zoom call streams out). The numbers, measured in megabits per second (Mbps), will vary a bit each time. If possible, first run a test with a computer that’s physically plugged into your router using an Ethernet cord. The results may vary a bit each time you run the test. But if the speeds are consistently much slower than the maximum speeds promoted by the ISP for your plan, call the company. Then do the same test wirelessly (over WiFi) throughout the house. If it’s only the WiFi speeds that are slow, focus on your router to find a solution. 

Is Your Service Level Fast Enough?
ISPs generally offer several plans, each promising a different range of speeds—the faster the connection, the more you pay. So which plan is right for you?

It depends on how many people you have at home and what they do online. You need only around 1 Mbps to listen to a Spotify song and 4 Mbps for a Zoom call—but 25 Mbps to watch a 4K movie on Netflix.

The numbers are cumulative. If two TVs are streaming 4K movies at the same time, that’s 50 Mbps.

Every ISP has its own tiers, but you can use the speed ranges below to see where you fit in. Many people may pay for more speed than they really need.

Up to 100 Mbps
This is plenty for two or three people with routine needs. That includes Zoom calls, high-definition movie viewing, and some online game play.

100 to 300 Mbps
These speeds should accommodate even a data-hogging family that plays several 4K movies and taxing online games all at the same time.

300-Plus Mbps
Few households need more than 300 Mbps. If you have internet problems, the solution is probably not to slap down the plastic for your ISP’s priciest superfast service.

Make Your WiFi Better

Let’s say you’ve signed up for the right internet service tier, and your speed testing confirms that your ISP truly is delivering the speeds it has promised. If your internet service is still acting finicky, the problem very likely lies with your WiFi network. You can probably fix things by fiddling with the equipment in your home. Below, CR has four expert tips to help, starting with the simplest and cheapest. And we have more detailed WiFi advice, as well. 

1. Try Moving Your Router
Tempting though it may be to banish your router from public view, exiling it to a cabinet or the outskirts of your home can hinder performance. That forces the WiFi signal to pass through more walls and other barriers, and to cover longer distances, to reach every corner of the house.

Place the router out in the open, away from corners, and high in the room. (The signal tends to be stronger below the router than above it.) Also, locate the router as close as possible to the middle of your home. You may be able to move it yourself, or you might need some help from your ISP or a handy friend.

2. Use an Ethernet Cord
If you’ve ever had a movie night derailed by sputtering WiFi, you know the feeling (major letdown). Need a more stable signal? A $10 or $20 Ethernet cable can save the day, linking a TV, streaming video box, or video game console directly to your router.

3. Use an Inexpensive WiFi Extender
Need to push a WiFi signal a little deeper into your home? A $30 palm-sized WiFi range extender could be the answer. Plug it into an outlet midway between your router and, say, the comfy reading chair in your bedroom, and it stretches the signal. There’s a catch, however: That extended signal can be only half as fast as the rest of your WiFi network, making this a great fix for emails, but maybe not movies.

4. If Needed, Invest in a Mesh Router
If you’re looking to improve WiFi coverage throughout your home, a mesh router system may be the way to go. Unlike a traditional router, which toils away on its own, a mesh router uses multiple units—a hub and one or two satellites—that work together to spread the WiFi network from one end of your abode to the other. If there’s a dead zone in the den, you can move the satellites around to eliminate it. You can also add satellites to broaden the network’s reach. Mesh routers used to cost up to $500, but prices have fallen in the past 15 months. You can now find highly rated mesh routers for less than $200.

Avoid Overpaying

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5 tips for contractors moving from nonstandard to standard surety | Shield Insurance Agency Blog

5 tips for contractors moving from nonstandard to standard surety

Moving from nonstandard to standard surety

It’s been a challenging and uncertain year for the construction industry. According to Deloitte, construction was finally returning to pre-recession levels of employment and economic growth in February 2020. Then COVID-19 hit, and the industry lost more than $60 billion in gross domestic profits and nearly one million jobs. Although 2021 projections are looking up, this unprecedented economic situation put many contractors in a tough spot, with uncertain financials making them only eligible for more expensive nonsurety bonds.

While it’s not always a quick fix to move back into standard surety eligibility, there are concrete steps you can take. The ultimate goal of any underwriter is to help contractors move back to standard surety — whether you’re new to the industry or you’re an experienced business owner going through a period of financial difficulty. In this piece, we’ll share five best practices for a return to the standard market.

1. Clean up your financials.

In general, it’s a best practice for contractors to work with a trusted CPA to maintain clean books. As Brian O’Neal, director of Liberty Mutual Surety Vista, a specific program for nonstandard contract accounts, says, “Multiple irregularities or errors in a contractor’s financials are going to raise red flags.” To move out of nonstandard surety, underwriters need to see that contractors are doing their due diligence to improve accounting procedures and correct these irregularities. 

Often, these errors and inconsistencies occur because of poor internal controls. Along with providing a CPA-reviewed Percentage of Completion statement, contractors should work with their CPA to improve their internal processes. Those processes will vary based on the size and scope of the business.

2. Maintain quality Work in Progress reports.

Work in Progress reports, or WIPs, are critical pieces of information to help underwriters determine the current state of a contractor’s business. WIPs include ongoing projects and income for the current period and help underwriters evaluate future profits, on-time payments, and cash flow. Contractors need to keep WIPs up to date and ensure the data they include accurately reflects the current state of their business. After all, a report is only as good as the data it contains.

3. Understand loan requirements.

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How to transform your backyard | Shield Insurance Agency Blog

How to Transform Your Backyard Into a Restaurant-Worthy Oasis with Outdoor Lighting

How to Transform Your Backyard Into a Restaurant-Worthy Oasis with Outdoor Lighting

We asked the pros how to install magical, twinkling outdoor lights — on a budget.

This year’s hottest venue? Your own backyard. Maybe you’ve got the plants and furniture down, but you want to take the space truly over the top, so it looks just as incredible as your favorite restaurant’s outdoor dining setup. Short of splurging on a fancy firepit area building outdoor awnings, there’s a functional, budget-friendly move you can make that’ll totally set the mood. And that’s installing outdoor lighting like a pro.

Many restaurants hire lighting companies to put up their twinkly string lights, but that can set you back thousands. With the right tips and tricks, you can totally DIY. That’s why we turned to event and experience production company Cloth and Flame. Their team is so adept at installing lighting, they can rig it up in the even the most remote places (think: the top of the Grand Canyon or the middle of a dessert). Here is their creative, resourceful advice.

Choose the Right Type of String Lights

Google “string lights” or “café lights” and hundreds of different varieties will pop up. Nathan Lesueur, the lead designer at Cloth and Flame gives us guidance.

Avoid interior lights. Stay away from Christmas lights or anything that’s labeled as an interior light, because these won’t be weather-proof.

Read buyer reviews. Amazon and Costco are great sources for inexpensive string lights, but terms on sellers’ pages like “industrial” or “commercial” don’t mean much. “My only reliable source, no matter what I’m buying is doing the research and reading verified reviews of what other people have experienced that item,” Lesueur says.

Make sure the bulbs are generic and replaceable. Bulbs might break when you install the lights, and they’ll burn out over time. You want to make sure that you can buy generic replacements that screw in. Proprietary bulbs will be more expensive and harder to source down the line.

Buy long strands instead of connecting strands end to end. 25-feet-long lights are the most common, but for safety reasons there’s usually a limit to the number you can plug together. To achieve lots of light yardage, look for 50-foot or even 100-foot light strands.

Use warm light, not cool light. “Warm bulbs are more natural and better on skin tones that bright white daytime lights or LED bulbs. Warm light is like the glow of the sun as opposed to a bright refrigerator light,” explains Lesueur. Plus, warm light photographs better than cool light. “It’s fun to create a sanctuary at home that’s also photographable so people want to share it,” says Lesueur.

Install Your String Lights with Upcycled Materials

There’s no need to buy a crazy expensive lighting kit. Instead, there are some simple, inexpensive ways to repurpose items around your home as lighting poles. “The best things you can use are practical, everyday things and are also reusable for other functions,” Lesueur says.

Some smart ideas? Home Depot sells flagpole yard inserts, which lots of people use. You can also buy inexpensive electric polls that are usually used as conduits. Home Depot will cut these lightweight polls to whatever height you’d like — they’re easy to mount to a wall, stick in the ground in your yard or even secure upright in an umbrella stand. If you prefer a wooden look, head to Ikea, and snag some wooden poles.

If you don’t want to hang your lights between poles, use natural suspension points like the side of your house or the support beams underneath a deck ceiling.

One thing to keep in mind? You should hang your lights so they fall in arches. “I’ve noticed with a lot of installations of this type of light, people trying to pull the lights too tight and that causes tension issues on the poles,” Lesueur explains. Plus, allowing the lights to drape down adds dimension from multiple angles — above you and to the side of you.

Make Your Setup Pop with Other Lighting Too

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7 Tips For Finding Flight Deals Now That Everything Is So Expensive Shield Insurance Agency

7 Tips For Finding Flight Deals Now That Everything Is So Expensive

7 Tips For Finding Flight Deals Now That Everything Is So Expensive

It feels impossible to book cheap flights at the moment, but experts say there are still deals to be found.

If you’ve tried to book a flight lately, you might have noticed a couple of things: The prices are looking high, and the options are looking limited.

This isn’t particularly surprising. On Sunday, the Transportation Security Administration says, it screened 2,167,380 passengers at airport security checkpoints, the highest volume since the beginning of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, airlines have not yet resumed offering as many flights as they did pre-pandemic, after making schedule reductions over the past 15 months. The result is higher demand and lower supply ― ergo, expensive tickets.

“As of June 2021, it seems flights have rebounded back to their pre-pandemic pricing,” said Rocky Trifari, travel blogger at The Rocky Safari. “In some cases, I’m noticing flight costs are even higher than they were during the summer of 2019. I believe prices are especially expensive at the moment because of all the last-minute travelers who are looking to take advantage of the summer to travel now that many domestic and even international destinations have reopened.”

Although air travel is generally pricier now compared to a year ago, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a deal. Below, Trifari and other experts share their advice for securing cheap flights.

Prioritize cost over date and destination.

“To book cheap flights, you must make cheap flights a priority,” said Darci Valiente, a senior member operations specialist at Scott’s Cheap Flights.

“All too often when people think about booking a vacation, they first sit down and think about where and when they want to go,” she explained. “Imagine you and some friends are planning to take a trip together and it is decided, ‘Let’s go to Greece for the last two weeks of August.’ As a result, when you go to book your flight, you’ll likely end up paying $1,200 round-trip for one ticket to Athens for your dates.”

It’s common to prioritize destination and dates over cost, particularly for families limited by school holiday schedules. But if you’re able to take another approach, Valiente advises beginning your search by asking, for example, “Where are there cheap flights to out of our airport?” and “Are there any destinations that are cheap in August?”

“In [this] scenario, you might find that there are $480 roundtrip fares to Rome available for the first two weeks of August,” she said. “You and your friends book these tickets instead, have a great time in Italy, and save $720 per person on airfare.”

Use flight search engines.

“If you’re looking to find affordable flights, you should always use a source that aggregates flights from numerous airlines so you can compare the rates,” Trifari said.

This can be useful for search purposes even if you intend to book through the official carrier ― though you may change your mind.

“You may find certain websites can shave a bit off from the bottom price, scoring you an even better deal than had you booked directly through an airline’s own website,” Trifari said.

He advised checking out websites like SkyscannerExpediaGoogle Flights and CheapOair to score good deals. Brian Kelly, CEO and founder of The Points Guy, told HuffPost he recommends OrbitzTravelocityHotwire and CheapTickets as well.

In addition to comparison-based search engines, there are other tools aimed at helping travelers find affordable options.

If you’re willing to give up “some of the comforts of travel such as taking direct flights, you can use booking tools like Skiplagged to discover connecting flights that have layovers to secure a better deal,” Trifari suggested. “The trade-off is that it will take you longer to arrive at your destination, since you may have to stop at one or two other airports along the way.”

Set up alerts.

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Recovering your business after a storm Shield Insurance Agency

Property losses to anticipate after a severe weather event

Recovering your business after a storm: 5 property losses to anticipate after a severe weather event

As natural disasters become increasingly costly, property damage claims are on the rise. Since 2011, the U.S. has seen at least $20 billion a year in estimated insured property losses. Alarmingly, that number has risen annually, culminating in a 2020 insured property loss of more than $74 billion, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Property claims are often a given in the aftermath of a severe weather event, meaning that business leaders need to have a plan to prepare for potential property loss or damage. Follow along to learn about five common property losses businesses can expect after an extreme weather event.

1. Property damage

After the storm has passed, evaluating and addressing the damage done to your business’ infrastructure is a pressing concern. Extreme weather events like hail, tornadoes, flooding, and even strong winds can cause extensive property damage, and you’ll need to work with your insurance provider to determine the extent of the damage and the estimated funds required for repair. If property damage has destroyed your building or rendered it temporarily uninhabitable, you should have a contingency plan in place to resume normal business operations, store equipment, and protect existing inventory.

2. Equipment breakdown

Weather events, particularly those that involve flooding or heavy rainfall, can damage equipment needed to maintain business operations. Servers, electrical systems, heavy machinery, and other equipment might be damaged or destroyed entirely. Before reopening, ensure your equipment is functional and safe for use. You should also talk to your insurance provider about how to account for unexpected wear and tear, which may shorten the life of your equipment and lead to financial losses down the road.

3. Theft and vandalism

During and after natural disasters, many business owners worry about theft and vandalism, although sometimes it can be hard to determine whether looting has occurred, given the existing property damage. Regardless, vacant buildings can be susceptible to vandalism and theft without proper security and oversight. If your property requires post-event construction, you should work with your insurance provider and contractor to discuss potential liabilities during rebuilding. You can also take precautions, like hiring security, to help reduce your risk.

4. Business interruption and continuity plans

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Retail banking, bonds, and Bitcoin - 3 financial institution trends to watch in 2021

Retail banking, bonds, and Bitcoin: 3 financial institution trends to watch in 2021

Retail banking, bonds, and Bitcoin: 3 financial institution trends to watch in 2021

“The banking industry can uniquely act as a primary source of stability,” McKinsey journalists wrote in an article on U.S. banking and the pandemic in May 2020. Despite the fluctuating economy, financial institutions rose to meet the challenges posed by the pandemic. They stayed strong for the last year and a half, acting as a stabilizing force for both national and local economies—and that stability makes them an attractive market for sureties in 2021 and beyond. But stability isn’t permanent. In this piece, we’re investigating three trends that will likely shape financial institutions and their relationships with surety agents this year.

1. Banks expand in underserved communities

In the surety underwriting space, larger financial institutions remain strong, particularly in major metro areas like New York City. While the pandemic has shifted the need for retail space across the industry, many banks continue to grow their retail footprint in select growth markets and underserved communities. According to a recent article from S&P, many large consumer banks experienced a net growth in retail space—particularly ATM locations—in select urban areas, despite a net decline in retail space for financial institutions nationwide. JP Morgan’s 2020 Annual Report reflects that trend. The report states that the bank will open “16 new community branches in traditionally underserved neighborhoods and hire 150 community managers by 2022… Another 100 new branches are being opened in low- to moderate-income communities across the United States as part of the firm’s market expansion initiative.”

For surety underwriters, this trend offers the opportunity to provide major consumer banks with several types of bonds:

  • Mechanic’s lien bonds, which protect contractors that have filed a lien by guaranteeing that any payment that is due to them (including interest) will be paid should they win the case.
  • Site improvement bonds, which protect the local government by guaranteeing that the improvements will be done in accordance with the applicable regulations.
  • Utility bonds, which protect utility companies by ensuring the banks pay for their utilities on time

3. The rise in court bonds

In the aftermath of Covid, many industries—not just financial institutions—will likely experience a greater need for appeal bonds. A type of court bond, surety firms offer these bonds to guarantee payment of monetary damages from civil lawsuits during and after the appeals process.

The need for additional appeal bonds across industries is due primarily to pandemic-related litigation. One study by an analytics company tracking the rise in Covid-related court filings found more than 1,500 cases in just four months, from March 1 to July 4, 2020. By May 2021, that number had increased to 6,900 Covid-related cases, with pandemic-related filings likely to continue for months, or even years. For some companies, audits and investigations prompted by pandemic-related suits may uncover other areas for potential scrutiny—for example, if a company is not following a proper procedure.

Surety companies should anticipate a rise in appeal bond demand for years to come, both from pandemic-related filings and cases brought to light by Covid-era investigations.

3. Accelerated interest in cryptocurrency

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