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/// Posted by Ellen Bohn Gitlitz & Bill Smeltzer

No one would have predicted that we’d all be spending our spring, summer, and possibly beyond working remotely and restructuring how we engage with our coworkers, clients, and lives in general. Unfortunately, this extended period of disruption and uncertainty has also made us all more vulnerable to those who would capitalize on the moment.  As we’ve all turned to online solutions to remain connected, hackers, fraudsters, and thieves across the globe have unleashed their arsenals toward exploiting any weakness. Now more than ever, stringent cybersecurity protocols, backed by a comprehensive insurance policy, are necessary.

Ellen Bohn Gitlitz, Executive Vice President of Property & Casualty Insurance at The Hilb Group of New England, has seen a sharp uptick in social engineering fraud, reverse social engineering fraud, and phishing hacks. From an insurer’s perspective, she states that, “Everyone needs cyber coverage, now. It’s not a matter of if your company will be hacked, but when.”

Most every company she works with has been covered by a cyber insurance policy when they’ve run into trouble. Every carrier is a little different in terms of what and how they cover their policyholders—including cyber business interruption, affected server coverage, data breach recovery, legal claims coverage, and more. One company she knows of, however, did not have cyber liability insurance when it was hacked last year and held up for cyber ransom. Today, after losing more than 50% of their clients, they are still wrestling with a tenuous future. “The threat is very real,” she cautions.

Social engineering fraud is a confidence scheme where a would-be thief impersonates a vendor, client, employee, or partner of your organization to trick the system into sending money or diverting a payment. This can be a sophisticated incursion including seemingly internally sent email requests to pay fake invoices or follow detailed wiring instructions. She recommends that every invoice should be checked with vendors and billing records, and that credit card bills, informational requests, and any computer system irregularities be examined with a fine-toothed comb.

Bill Smeltzer, Chief Strategy Officer for Focus Technology, a leading information technology and cybersecurity partner for the Northeast, shares some tips and insights to maximize system and network security during this time of remote connection. There are some basics you can do at home to maximize network security, include deleting any phishy emails without opening them, and ensuring that your spouse, children, and roommates remain equally vigilant around online messages. Hackers are targeting kids and less tech-savvy elderly as everyone is now online and active, making networks more porous that in the past.

We also recommend that you ensure your home Wi-Fi networks are not set to the “default” password that your routers came with. Following guidelines for creating a complex, personalized password for your Wi-Fi is something you can and should do right now. Another potential point of weakness comes with the influx of various points of smart technology to your home. Smart TVs, Wi-Fi enabled home thermostats, the always listening Alexa, Echo, or other smart-speaker system, and even an App-controlled fish tank monitor can and have proven to be points of potential infiltration for clever hackers.  

And for the many business teams that are now operating via video-chat or telework technology, consider these six key Focus Technology recommendations to mitigate the chances of a hack:

  • Update VPNs, network infrastructure devices, and devices being used to remotely connect with the latest software patches and security configurations.
  • Alert ALL employees to an expected increase in phishing attempts.
  • IT security personnel should ramp up the following remote access cybersecurity tasks: log review, attack detection, and incident response and recovery.
  • Implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) on all VPN connections to increase security. If MFA is not implemented, require teleworkers to use strong passwords.
  • IT security personnel should test VPN limitations for mass usage and, if possible, implement modifications, such as rate limiting, to prioritize users that will require higher bandwidths.
  • Communicate to your whole team who and how to report security incidents, phishing, malware, and other cybersecurity concerns.

Whatever your remote work situation, take this moment to communicate the very real dangers of cyber-crime to your teams and housemates. It is also a good time to consider both a cyber insurance policy that meets your needs and a partnership with an outside cyber security specialist to bring professional-grade protection to your organization.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out directly with any questions or needs:

Ellen Bohn Gitlitz, EVP of Property & Casualty, Hilb Group New England

ebohn@hilbgroup.com

Bill Smeltzer, Chief Strategy Officer, Focus Technology

bsmeltzer@focustsi.com

 

 

Tax Efficiency: It’s Not What You Earn; It’s What You Keep

/// Posted by Jeffrey Tomaneng

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As a general rule, the more money you make, whether in work generated income or capital gains, the more you will pay in taxes. But rules are meant to be broken, and there are ways to mitigate tax losses with the right planning and advice.

The after-tax return vs. the pretax return. Everyone wants their investments to perform well. But for many investors it’s their after-tax return that may make all the difference. After all, even if your portfolio is earning double-digit returns, it may not matter if you’re also losing a percent of those earnings to taxes.1

Holding onto assets. One method that may increase tax efficiency is to simply minimize buying and selling in order to manage your capital gains taxes. The idea is to pursue long-term gains, instead of seeking short-term gains through a series of steady transactions. In the words of Warren Buffett, “Only buy something that you’d be perfectly happy to hold if the market shut down for 10 years.”2

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Jeff Tomaneng, Director of Financial Planning at Sapers & Wallack, answers questions about our April blog, Tax Efficiency: It’s Not What You Earn; It’s What You Keep.

 

Many people believe in giving back, but under the new tax laws, it may not be as tax advantageous as it used to be. With the steady appreciation in the stock market – the longest bull run in history – some folks have achieved a level of wealth they never imagined. Our Charitable Strategies work is focused on smarter, tax-efficient ways to help people give back a bit of that wealth to various philanthropic causes. But we are often surprised to find even large, well-established, donors who are still not familiar with the benefits of donating appreciated stock and how to use Donor Advised Funds (DAFs).

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How Will the SECURE Act Change the Way You Plan for Retirement?

/// Posted by Rob Simons

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On December 20th, 2019, new legislation was signed into law as part of a larger government spending package that promises to have wide ranging and lasting effect on saving for retirement. Called the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, the legislation includes many long-sought common-sense reforms that could make retirement saving both easier and more attainable for many Americans.

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Rob Simons, Senior Retirement Consultant at Sapers & Wallack, answers questions about our February blog, How Will the SECURE Act Change the Way You Plan for Retirement? 

Student Loan Repayment as Employee Benefit

/// Posted by Hilb Group of New England

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According to recent statistics, there are now more than 44 million unique borrowers who collectively owe $1.6 trillion in student loan debt—making student loans the second largest consumer debt category after mortgages. Those are staggering numbers.

For the considerable Millennials and massive Gen Z workforce to follow, student loan debt is a primary economic concern, often before mortgages and retirement savings can even be considered. Smart businesses have taken notice in a growing trend toward creating student loan repayment assistance programs as a necessary company benefit to attract and retain younger talent.  

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Podcast Q&A: Student Loan Repayment as Employee Benefit

/// Posted by Paula Drozdal Connors

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Paula Drozdal Connors, Senior Vice President, Sapers & Wallack The Hilb Group of New England, answers questions about our January blog: Student Loan Repayment as Employee Benefit.

 

Do You Know Where Your Money is And What it is Doing?

/// Posted by Wealth Management Team

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As 2019 closes and a new year starts with a fair amount of uncertainty, it is a good idea to take stock of your financial situation. While markets have been going strong and the economy seems largely sound, upheaval in both domestic and world politics, an increasingly fragile interaction with the environment, and uncertainty in global trade policies will continue throughout the immediate future. We’d like to ask all of our clients, both individual and as part of an organization—how is your money working for you and do you have a cohesive plan to maintain and grow your wealth?

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Mega Backdoor Roth Conversion Primer

/// Posted by Rob Simons

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Background

There is growing interest in a design strategy known as the Mega Backdoor Roth Conversion (the Conversion). The Conversion allows 401(k) or 403(b) Plan participants who are already deferring the maximum allowed to contribute After-Tax funds to the plan. The participant may then convert the money from After-Tax funds to Designated Roth funds. This two-step process has the effect of allowing plan participants to contribute additional Roth money to the plan and shelter the gains from taxes.

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