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Column: Communication, software to use in the time of COVID-19

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Earlier this year I interviewed two local entrepreneurs — Denis Salle, president of eC3, and JR Robinson, founder of Financial Planning Hawaii — to examine how their businesses successfully pivoted with the emergence of COVID-19.

In this column I asked them to offer tips for readers in their areas of expertise.

Salle, who is also honorary consul in Hawaii for Germany, founded Kaimuki- based eC3 as a medical information technology services company specializing in billing and medical records for doctors with medical practices.

Over the past few months, his clients have been compelled to set up remote practices, and Salle has been the one to configure their communications technology. He said what physicians use can also be applied to any small business.

So what type of video communications software does he recommend?

For ease of use, security and access, Salle favors Google Meet or Zoom for groups from several participants on up. Both are free, but he prefers Google Meet, which he feels is more stable. For one-on-one meetings he suggests WhatsApp (for a mobile phone).

Are you going to need special hardware such as a video camera or microphone on your desktop?

“No,” said Salle. “You can use a laptop for everything. That way, you always have your data with you, and in the office you can add a monitor.”

The only hardware he suggests you buy is a good wireless microphone with noise canceling on the mic. (For under $100 on Amazon, I like the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2, which is ideal for home offices. I’ll have a detailed review in a future column.)

In retrospect, Salle said, “We all learned a valuable lesson about the power of online meetings. We can save so much fuel and time doing this.” However, he lamented, “I miss the handshakes and hugs.”

Getting your financial house in order

JR Robinson, the financial planner, reckons that this era of “nesting,” where planting vegetable gardens and tackling home improvement projects are front and center, is also a perfect time to get one’s financial house in order.

He recommends a couple of free or low-cost programs.

One is Mint, a budgeting app that syncs to your bank, credit card and investment accounts. Essentially, it puts your financial data in one basket, allowing you to track your wealth and spending habits. Once you’ve signed in and linked your credit card, bank, investment accounts, etc., you can follow every piece of your financial life through Mint’s dashboard.

Personal Capital offers similar account aggregation capabilities and a retirement spending feature to help ascertain the tax liability of your retirement distributions. It also can store important records in the cloud such as beneficiary forms, old military benefits, paperwork, etc., so that if you’re sidelined (or get hit by a hurricane), the documents are available. You won’t get barraged with ads (unlike with Mint), but be advised you can expect to be paired with a personal financial adviser whose primary job is to encourage you to invest at least $100,000 in one of Personal Capital’s actively managed stock portfolios.

For strictly budgeting, Robinson suggested YNAB. It’s based on a zero-based budgeting system, which means you allocate all your money to expenses, savings and debt payments. The goal is that at month’s end your income minus your expenditures equals zero. That doesn’t mean you blow it all! Rather, you know exactly where it’s allocated. A subscription to YNAB costs a reasonable $84 per year. If used correctly and routinely, the app should more than pay for itself.

Finally, with banks paying low to nonexistent interest rates these days, Robinson suggested consumers can get a sizable bump in interest rates from online banking apps such as Ally, Synchrony and Marcus by Goldman Sachs. They are easy to use and just as safe (i.e., FDIC-insured) as any bricks-and-mortar bank. What’s more, you can easily link these accounts to your existing local bank accounts at First Hawaiian Bank, Central Pacific Bank, Bank of Hawaii, etc., to allow you to make on-demand bidirectional funds transfers.

Rob Kay, a Honolulu-based writer, covers technology and sustainability for Tech View and is creator of He can be reached at

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