How the financial impact of coronavirus could haunt consumers for a long time

While the U.S. stock market bounced back quickly amid global lockdown orders, the pandemic will undoubtedly have a lasting economic impact that could change the way investors save for retirement.

“This is going to have a longer lasting effect as people rebuild retirement and frankly rethink retirement,” said Penny Pennington who leads financial advisory giant Edward Jones as its managing partner, during Fortune‘s virtual Most Powerful Women Summit on Tuesday.

In theory, many 401(k) and retirement account have benefitted from the quick bounce back in the stock market, with the S&P 500 now back to pre-pandemic levels in part thanks to aggressive moves from the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates and early stimulus from Congress. But as the executives on the panel pointed out, there are still many red flags for investors, including underlying economic weaknesses, an unemployment rate of 8.4% and a still uncertain number of small businesses that have closed or are in peril.

All this has had an impact on retirement accounts, said Pennington, who was joined on the panel by Thasunda Brown Duckett, the CEO of JPMorgan’s Chase Consumer Banking division, and Michelle Seitz, the CEO of Russell Investments.

Citing a recent study by Edward Jones, Pennington observed that 68 million Americans say their retirement savings have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, noting that 24 million say they have provided financial support to their adult children as a result of the pandemic. Some 71% of the study’s participants said they would help their children financially—even if it could jeopardize their own financial future.

Wealth inequality is also exacerbating the retirement crisis, the panelists noted. One in three Americans, according to a 2018 study, have just $ 5,000 set aside for retirement. One in five have nothing at all.

That said all three panelists were relatively optimistic about the recovery continuing, and accelerating into 2021.

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For restaurants, the pandemic has been brutal: It’s meant fewer customers and higher cleaning costs. But it’s also introduced new technologies aimed at making dining safer—and that could permanently change how we go out for dinner.

The latest example is a new service from payment giant Square that reduces social interactions by eliminating many tasks performed by a waiter. Instead of looking at the menu and placing orders with a server, customers instead rely on their phone to receive their food and pay the check.

The service uses QR codes—a technology that’s been around for eons but has gotten a boost during COVID—placed at the tables. While many restaurants have used the codes since the start of the pandemic to let customers see a menu, the Square tool takes it a step further by integrating with a restaurant’s kitchen printers and payment systems.

Square has recently rolled out the service to a handful of restaurants—mostly small, independent ones—in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia. One of them is Pizzahacker in Mill Valley, just north of San Francisco.

Pizzahacker’s owner, Jeff Krupman, says the service makes customers and staff feel safer but also improves the efficiency of the pizza joint’s operations.

The efficiency comes about because it eliminates the time customers spend waiting for a server to come to the table to take an order or bring the check. Instead, customers handle these functions on their own, while a food runner brings the meals and beverages. The new Square tool also makes it easy to split checks, eliminating an annoyance for both servers and customers.

According to Square’s head of commerce, Dave Rusenko, the QR-based service routes orders directly to the kitchen, which reduces the possibility of mix-ups. He adds the system also offers new marketing opportunities for restaurants—letting them obtain customers’ contact information they can use to follow up with emails or special offers.

Rusenko says customers have been so pleased by the service that, in the case of another Mill Valley restaurant, they posted a spate of positive Yelp reviews.

It’s unclear, however, if the service will find traction outside of urban tech hubs like the San Francisco Bay Area, or in eateries where most customers use cash. Rusenko acknowledges that QR-code ordering may not be for everyone and notes that it is designed as a complement rather than a replacement for traditional service from a waiter.

Also unclear is whether such services will remain popular beyond the pandemic. While they are hygienic and offer a means for restaurants to save on staffing costs, many people regard chatting with a server as a quintessential part of going out for a meal.

For Square, meanwhile, the new restaurant tool represents another opportunity to expand Square Online—a service focused on helping retailers take payments online. Traditionally, the company’s bread-and-butter has been providing devices to help stores and kiosks take credit cards. But more recently, the company has been making inroads in fields like loans, payroll, and person-to-person payments with its Cash App.

Square is hardly the only one pushing to expand its presence among retailers and promote the use of QR codes. Other payment companies like PayPal, Stripe, and Shopify have all been thriving during the pandemic, as customers turn away from cash and businesses look for no-touch payment services.

Fortune

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