Senior citizens of the country are in for a serious long term haul. They are the most venerable category to be effected by corona virus. On the one hand they are stuck up at home and are totally at the mercy of the family members, with absolutely no freedom. Secondly, they are emotionally burdened with the tragedy of perceived financial loss.
But senior citizens in our country bid fair to survive this colossal threat as the age old traditions followed by them all these years is their greatest shield. Washing of hands and feet on coming home from outside, simple living, avoiding outside food, practicing yoga, meditation, spiritual prayers , never to fail morning and evening walks, quality chats with other fellow seniors in the evenings and the sideways glances at their spouses are the greatest assets that will help them to tide over these testing times.
However, the biggest threat they face at present is the constant worry and mental stress about their deteriorating financial investments and failure of banks where they have invested their lifelong savings. Senior citizens who have their savings in post offices and fixed deposits of PSU banks may have some comfort but all those who have invested their hard earned savings in bonds, mutual funds and equity market are the ones who will be hit very hard.
They will see the following effects:
1. Continuous flashes in television channels and social media posts about the fall in equity markets.
2. Gossip about stock markets / MFs / and even global economy from people who don’t know the difference between IPO and NPO.
3. Fund managers and news anchors parroting what they want to you to believe.
4. Your investment advisor or RMs will not respond to your calls or messages.
5. You will hear statements like never withdraw in a falling markets, the recovery will also be steep like a V, not the right time to discontinue SIPs, stay calm etc. etc.
Honestly it’s very difficult to understand all this mumbo jumbo and make sense of it. But let’s understand the situation dispassionately and take some informed decisions.
1. The Covid-19 is a medical emergency. It is still spreading across the globe. As of date there is no drug or vaccine to cure the illness. Different countries are trying various methods to stop the spread - social isolation being one of them. No one has any idea about this virus as experts are still researching on it.
2. Historically all medical epidemics have lasted for over 11/2 to 2 years before humans could manage to get control over it. This has been well researched and documented. The virus has to be contained first, cure/vaccine found, tested, manufactured and then distributed. Now all this takes time and is not actionable within a very short time period. Yes, we are in for a long haul.
3. The government is making all efforts to stop its spread. But in a country like India it’s easier said than done. Ill-advised and ill-informed citizens, coupled with the “don’t care” attitude of certain people are neutralising all the efforts of the government.
4. Social distancing and lockdown is hurting the economy. The exact effect cannot be measured as of now. Previously the cost of a one day bandh in Maharashtra was estimated to be Rs7 billion. (BS dated: 4 Jan 2018). Now this is a global lockdown. The cost is going to be gigantic. Economies are going to collapse, some countries will be devastated.
5. India is a growing economy with a decent reserve capital, reputation, intelligent workforce and very good leadership at the helm of the state. There will be a definite turnaround, slowly but surely. This time the country will possibly lead the world in recovery.
Having understood all this the senior citizens are advised take the following steps:
1. Keep yourself sanitized from all rumors and messages by verifying the same from the websites of governments and regulators like RBI, SEBI, IRDA. All government websites have the extension .gov.in
2. Stop watching debates on TVs. Research has shown that after Tom & Jerry, News debates are the most violent shows on television. Honestly the good old Doordarshan is a clean, unbiased channel for
3. Subscribe to Star Gold and Zee classics channel. They air good classic movies. Watch them during your periods of social isolation. In case you love English movies then Turner TV is a good option.
4. It’s an excellent opportunity to bond with the family. Show the present generation your skills in carom and bridge. Tell them about your college days and your pigtailed girlfriends / bellbottom boyfriends. This will keep them entertained and away from the electronic gadgets.
5. In case you have a karaoke system at home, use it extensively. There are many apps too. Sing, hear, hum, record your favorite Kishor or Rafi hits on Smule and share with others. Stay connected with your old friends on telephone and WhatsApp continuously but just to chat and not for talking about finance and the economy.
6. In case you love reading, subscribe to Kindle and Magztar to get access to excellent books and magazines.
7. Don’t forget your walks. Walk within your home. Step on every tile in your house and the common space on your floor at least five times a day.
8. Just follow your passion to do whatever you love to do. It’s great fun being inside the house and do remember to take your medicines as per schedule.
As regards to investments, just stay away from financial markets. Maintain total financial isolation like social isolation. Either way you cannot do anything about the situation. Discussion about it with anyone including your investment advisor, the financial pundits and the so called experts will only add to your emotional misery. Honestly they also cannot foresee anything in future and will just give the usual ’wait-n-watch’ response. Withdrawal of the investments in present times and thereby incurring losses is a bad idea. Remember, financial investments are not like a loss due to fire or any other natural calamity where you have to pull together your belongings to save them from fire or rain to avoid getting it completely destroyed forever. Hopefully some time in future these investments will recover and will give back your principal and a decent interest.
Finally stay away from news about finance and investments, stay safe and healthy. Remember, all your wealth is useful only if you stay alive, so better stay alive taking all the precautions as prescribed by the doctors and elders. We will revisit this topic three months down the line.
(Dr. Sampath Iyer (PhD) is a retired senior vice president from a large private sector bank with over 30 years’ experience in public as well as private sector banks. He has a doctorate in banking and besides writing, is a visiting faculty in various business schools/ corporates in and around Pune. He can be contacted on [email protected]