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Passwords and Their Ability to Bring Down Even the Largest of Enterprises

passwords hacking

The dangers of using passwords as a means of authentication cannot be overemphasized. According to reports by IT Governance, poor password behavior is the number one cause of data breaches. Despite this, passwords are still very common in the average person’s personal and work life. Here are passwords and their ability to bring down even the largest of enterprises.

Passwords are difficult to manage, and bad password habits are easy to develop because of how difficult it is to store multiple complex passwords.

They are also very insecure because passwords are just too easy to guess, hack or intercept. What’s more, the legacy of bad password habits, reusing and sharing online credentials, leads to constant cybersecurity attacks of both people’s personal accounts and enterprises.

The consequences of a cybersecurity attack from a leaked, stolen, or shared password could be disastrous; a hacker could launch a highly sophisticated attack on you or your business, causing serious short-term and long-term damages. This could lead to serious financial and legal implications. In a worst-case scenario, a malicious attack could even sabotage your business and its operations to the extent that it may never be able to recover.

Too Many People Use Old Passwords — STOP THAT!

According to a 2019 HYPR password usage study, a study that involved analyzing data from over 500 American and Canadian full-time workers, about 72% of people surveyed reuse an old password when forced to change to a new one, and 78% percent of them forgot their passwords in the previous 90 days.

This can be said to be due to the overwhelming number of passwords users have to manage because the study further showed that over 37% of respondents have over 20 passwords in their personal life, which in most cases is too much to manage effectively.

Hackers will Always Try to Attack Your Employees

Many negative implications come with your business’ security being compromised due to poor passwords, some of which are discussed below.

  • Financial Implications

On average, cybersecurity attacks in 2017 alone cost enterprises $1.3 million and $117,000 for small and medium scale businesses to repair hardware and software. A data breach can also lead to legal consequences for your company if data leaked belongs to a third party or contains sensitive information.

  • Data Theft and Sabotage

Every single day, companies from around the world lose about 5 million records containing sensitive data due to vulnerability in their system or a human factor failure, with only a mere 4% of escaped data being protected by strong encryption and, therefore, cannot be misused.

In some cases, millions of email addresses and passwords are leaked during a single data breach.

Hacking and data breaches may also negatively affect digital data or even physical equipment. Some hackers may intentionally modify or damage data in order to harm their targets.

  • Poor Web Presence

For many businesses, especially small ones, most sales and operations are made online – as an online presence exposes businesses to larger markets, with two-thirds of small businesses relying on websites to connect them to customers.

Hacking or data breach, in this case, however, may be seriously detrimental to your online presence; it may lead to your website being slowed down considerably as hackers try to upload and run files on your company server.

Also, if hackers try to use your IP address to attack other websites, your web hosting might be suspended, or your website may shut down entirely and only display a “PAGE NOT FOUND – 404 ERROR” message; all these will also cause your company’s SEO ranking to take a big hit.

  • Damages to Company Reputation

When a business is hacked, its reputation also takes a huge hit, either temporarily or permanently. A large percentage of a hacked company’s customers may choose to switch over to their more secure competitor.

According to a 2019 study published on BitSight, nearly two out of five (38%) enterprises admit that they have lost business due to either a real or perceived lack of security performance within their organization. Nearly half of all executives surveyed in that same report admit that their ability to attract new customers was harmed following a security incident.

  • Business Failure

Many businesses, especially small ones or those in their early stage, operate on low margins and may not withstand the significant financial loss resulting from data breaches.

Depending on the severity of such attacks, how stolen data is used, or the damage caused, your business might not be able to withstand the financial implications. It may be forced to close all operations and shut down.

How Enterprises Can Protect Themselves

Data breaches due to bad passwords are bound to happen when you ask employees to create and manage their passwords without providing them with the proper tools to do so.

There are limits to how many passwords your employees can remember and how complex they can be; this, coupled with the ever-growing number of online accounts, makes it easy for your employees to settle for poor password habits and security shortcuts put your company at risk of a data breach.

Employees often create passwords that are easy to remember and very predictable, as creating and storing different complex passwords is a burden.

Hence, employers and enterprises need to sensitize their employees to keep good password behavior with some of the solutions below.

A. Password Managers

Password managers are secure software applications designed to store and manage your online credentials. They make your accounts more secure by freeing you from generating and remembering sufficiently complex passwords, thus allowing for single-purpose passwords that meet a much higher security level.

From auto-filling to encrypting passwords, password managers ensure that credentials stored with them are kept secure.

B. Two Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication makes use of newer improvements to authentication by combining two out of the three types of authentication; what you know (password, pin), what you have (bank card, sim card), and who you are (fingerprint, facial recognition).

Two-factor authentication is far more secure than passwords alone because it considers two forms of authentication rather than one. Other methods of two-factor authentication include using an authenticator app like Google authenticator or Microsoft authenticator, SMS Codes, and biometrics alongside your password for more secure verification.

C. Passwordless Authentication

One major shortcoming of both password managers and two-factor authentication that is commonly overlooked is the fact that they don’t completely eliminate the burden that is passwords’; this is where passwordless authentication comes in. This provides enterprises the ability to deploy desktop MFA and strong customer authentication.

The passwordless authentication technology removes hackers’ most popular target by completely replacing passwords, forcing them to attack all devices individually. This provides enterprises with increased security and a more secure means of authentication.

In Conclusion

It is becoming clearer that passwords are more of a burden or headache than they are a security tool. As a business owner, protecting your personal and customer data and ensuring your website’s security has to be one of your top daily priorities.

Hackers will always try to attack your employees, the weakest link in your security infrastructure.

The best way to strengthen your entire security system is to make sure both your employees and IT admins are aware of their responsibility to maintain good password security and that necessary steps are taken to provide employees with the necessary tools to fulfill this responsibility.

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Question Everything You Know about Your Business Processes

business processes

There may have been a time when an organization’s automation strategy was defined primarily by siloed, ad hoc, and task-based workflows. Now, however, the most effective and impactful initiatives require business leaders to ask bigger, more challenging questions beyond simply what tasks can be automated and the ROI on cost reduction. Here is how to question everything you know about your business processes.

Successful digital transformation in today’s landscape necessitates leaders having a better picture of how things are working interconnectedly and how users are truly operating within the process boundaries to be enhanced and improved universally to improve customer outcomes.

True digital transformation does not simply digitize analog processes. It’s about integrating intelligence into business-critical processes across every facet of your business and engagement. As more companies realize they need to become digitally intelligent in a new era of digital-first consumers, accelerated automation adoption, and advancements in technology, organizations will benefit from adopting a more holistic approach to transforming their business.

Question the Status Quo

Questioning how things have always been done enables business leaders to find more effective ways to drive results.

Every business process within your organization contains an opportunity to improve outcomes, revitalize customer experiences, fix inefficiencies, or find new service opportunities for revenue generation. Here are three questions that business leaders need to ask to unlock opportunity and advance digital transformation initiatives that have the greatest impact.

  1. Do you really know your process workflows?

By their very nature, highly manual processes, such as inputting invoice data or new customer information, are prone to human error and oversight. In highly regulated industries, such as financial services and insurance, this can be problematic and can contribute to increased risk and decreased compliance. Likewise, in healthcare, inefficient processes can lead to negative patient outcomes.

Understand processes.

Understanding your processes and pinpointing potential vulnerabilities is a good first step to take before deploying automation initiatives. Then, leveraging the right solutions to automate important processes intelligently.

Negotiations

These processes include all such negotiations as mortgage and credit card applications, account opening, and business loan applications helps organizations minimize inefficiencies and inaccuracies, therefore helping facilitate improved internal and regulatory compliance.

Machine Learning

With advances in machine learning and predictive analytics technology, you can understand exactly which processes are ripe for transformation, not just automated, to drive real change. Process Intelligence is a form of process mining and discovery that provides granular insight into an organization’s ecosystem of processes and behaviors, enabling you to pinpoint opportunities for operational improvement.

Understanding how your processes are truly performing — down to knowing each worker’s performance – is indispensable to successfully deploy automation initiatives that deliver business results and accelerate tangible improvements.

  1. Are you accessing business-critical information?

You’d be surprised if you look close enough to how much paper (and fax) still exists in some processes. Those that are heavily paper-based can slow mission-critical workflows and negatively impact customer experience.

Likewise, valuable information is locked away in siloed systems. Various digital formats such as email correspondence, PDF, fax, and EDI can prevent you from having the right informatito make informed business decisions quicklyons.

Transform Content Centric Processes

Supercharge Growth

To supercharge growth and enhance profitability, organizations need to digitize and streamline content-heavy processes.

Digital

Digitizing, transforming, and automating customer forms, invoices, receipts, onboarding documents, application forms, claim submissions, and account documents can help lower administrative costs, reduce time to invoice and provide customers quicker service.

Data

When it comes to transformation projects, leveraging the right data and then sharing that data with key systems and stakeholders can be the difference between failure or success for meeting KPIs, service-level agreements, and other business outcomes.

  1. Are you getting the most out of your automation investment?

Optimizing and automating the right processes can significantly reduce costs and strengthen competitive advantage.

However, by themselves, automation platforms can only do so much, and in fact, many projects stall or fail. That’s because most automation platforms now employ software robots, which have a hard time understanding unstructured data and will repeat poorly designed workflows.

Intelligence Leveraging

Leveraging intelligence capabilities driven by OCR, natural language processing, and machine learning technologies can turn hard to process unstructured data into actionable information.

The knowledge gained is then ready for automation platforms such as robotic process automation (RPA), business process management (BPM), customer relationship management (CRM), and electronic resource planning (ERP).

Process intelligence capabilities can identify process bottlenecks or variances and recommend the best workflows for optimal efficiency.

Raising Your Organization’s Digital Intelligence

When organizations re-think the way they have traditionally approached digital transformation projects, they unlock opportunities to strengthen and revitalize their business.

Asking the right questions and leveraging the right technology enables organizations to transform critical operations and turn the vast amount of data into a wealth of meaningful, actionable information.

Automation isn’t the end goal but rather a vehicle for achieving better business outcomes.

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Why Big Tech Companies are Building Cities, and Why Many are Worried

tech companies building cities

Situated in Menlo Park, south of San Francisco, is a 59 acre of land adjacent to the Facebook campus, this piece of land is proposed to be a fully self-contained and functional city called Willow Village. Here is why big tech companies are building cities, and why many are worried.

However, there is one notable thing about Willow Village that makes it different from other communities in the US; it is owned and being developed by American social media giant, Facebook Inc. Proposed Plan for Willow Village, source: menlopark.org

The Facebook Village

In a few years’ time, Facebook employees will be able to work, live, and sleep without leaving the property of the 5th most valuable tech company in the world. This city is proposed to have more than 1500 homes, a pharmacy, a grocery store, office buildings, conference spaces, a 193 room hotel, and a public park.

Recently, there has been a trend of big tech getting involved in large construction projects with Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, investing One Billion Dollars in its plans to build 20000 homes in Mountain View and Apple finishing one of the world’s most expensive buildings; Apple Park estimated at Five Billion Dollars.

Privately Owned Cities

The future will surely see employees of large tech companies living luxury lives in private owned cities, rent-free, and with many benefits in the comfort of the property owned by the company they work for.

The financial crisis of 2008 ushered in a dramatic change in the way individuals choose college degrees. While the total number of available jobs took a downward turn during the recession, college students were far more likely to stay in school or go back and apply for a more marketable major. More people applied to majors that were more marketable or could provide better jobs rather than majors that interested them. 

According to a 2005 study, unemployment rates have an effect on the way people choose college majors, this can be seen in the way majors related to healthcare, engineering and computer science exploded after the great recession while the number of applicants in education, philosophy, and religious studies saw a decline. 

With the average salary of a US computer and information technology worker being $88,240which is $39,810 more than the average salary of all other occupations — it is easy to see why high school graduates are flocking to these majors in large numbers. 

Computer science students

With the influx of computer science students, many people wonder why the market is not saturated. Students are picking college majors according to their career prospects, getting a degree in computer science is easy to obtain and salaries are exceptionally high, which means the market should be flooded with computer scientists.

The problem is that demand for computer scientists has increased tremendously, however, the market is not flooded because universities have a hard time producing computer science professors, which in turn reduces the number of computer science graduates.

Rather than having to wait at least nine years to get a bachelor’s, masters, and then a doctorate, CS graduates would rather enter the job market and get paid the same salary they would have if they worked as a college teacher or even more because of the extra five years experience.

Why Are Tech Companies Building Cities?

The shortage of computer science professors has put universities in a tight spot, they can either choose to accept a particular amount of high school graduates applying for computer science majors, or they can increase class sizes to increase the number of CS graduates and risk hitting the staff to student ratio and lowering the schools ranking.

New shortage in grads

Today, there is a shortage of computer science graduates, so tech companies or organizations that wish to employ these graduates have to go the extra mile to please them with high salaries, stock options, bonuses, and many more benefits or, risk losing them to other nearby tech companies, leaving employees with an advantage.

Due to the fact that tech companies are so concentrated in certain areas like Silicon Valley, changing jobs is especially easy with huge tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple; being just a couple of miles from one another, Tech companies have a hard time retaining their employees as employees do not even have to change homes if they decide to switch jobs. Tech companies, therefore, have especially low turnover rates.

Average stay of employee in one company

The average employee at Google or Apple stays a little less than 2 years before calling it quits. The low retention rates of tech companies pose a huge problem and many are striving to remedy it.

Ways to garner retention of employees

With the low retention rate of employees, companies have to find new ways to retain their employees thus employers have to go the extra mile to make workers happy, with gym memberships, cell phones, fitness, and wellness programs, wifi equipped busses and subsidized uber rides.

A very good and effective way of keeping employees though is to involve themselves in every aspect of their lives. This is where company-owned homes come in, It is much harder to leave a company if that same company owns your home and that of your friends and family. 

By increasing employees’ dependence on the company, we can surely expect to see the average lifespan of employees increase, Companies have been trying to do this by building homes, with Facebook, even going as much as paying a $10000 bonus to employees who live close to the office.

Why Many Other Businesses (and People) are Worried

All the many benefits employees get from companies trying to keep them, surely increase employees’ well-being and retention rates, which is beneficial to both staff and organizations but might come at the expense of society.

Companies try to make commuting to work more enjoyable and living with the ultimate goal of increasing employees’ retention rates by providing transport like wifi equipped buses, cab rides and houses for employees, but by doing so, they use public infrastructure like bus stops without improving the quality of public transportation.

Affordable housing

Because of the tech boom and the concentration of tech companies in tech hubs like New York and San Francisco, housing has been made less affordable as there has been an increase in the average rent of these cities.

There have been a lot of concerns about the fact that as big tech companies expand their physical presence, the line between public and private is blurred.

Not only are the lines blurred, but local governments find themselves not governing but being governed by these companies.

Take for example; in 2014, facebook funded a police station next to its campus along with offering to pay an officer $200000 as a yearly salary. It is time for the country to reevaluate the power companies have over the government.

Please add your opinion in the comments. I’d like to know.

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How to Use an Agile Workflow to Grow Your Business

agile workflow

Agile was born as an iterative approach to software development. Since then, it grew beyond the IT field. Now companies apply Agile workflow across industries for everything from marketing to developing hardware and aerospace engineering.

And the reasons for that are entirely obvious. They include an impending economic crisis, an unstable business environment, increased competition, market transformation, shift to customer focus culture, and many more. All of them force companies to seek a more flexible approach to running a business.

If you are no stranger to these challenges, it’s the right time to consider Agile values and principles as a new direction in uncertain times.

I’ve been practicing Agile for around six years. First, as a software development methodology, and later for other processes in the company – marketing, human resources, etc. From my own trial and error experience, the shift to an Agile mindset is full of challenges.

It took us a great deal of time until we worked out an Agile adoption strategy that perfectly fits our company goals. As a result, we managed to improve workflows, increase business performance,  get higher revenues, reduce time to market, and satisfy customers.

That is why I’ve packed what I learned into six simple steps. They’ll help you reform business processes with Agile thinking within a much shorter time frame.

A Six-Step Guide to Make Adoption of Agile Workflow a Success Story

Step 1: Explore the Agile Concept up and down

Most businesses start shifting to Agile without a clear understanding of the concept.

There are two reasons why you need to dive deeper.

Firstly, it is expectations. You need to understand how this set of rules works to define a clear-cut intended outcome.

For instance, even in software development, we start a new project by acquainting our clients with the basics of Agile terminology and workflows. For this purpose, we wrote a step-by-step guide (mindk dot com) in other words, an Agile tutorial. It helps people understand what to expect from the process and determine areas of responsibility.

In case you are unfamiliar with the Agile, its main idea, as a software development methodology, is to split the project into small parts (called iterations). Each of the iterations focuses on releasing a small valuable piece of the product as quickly as possible and learning from the feedback. Besides, this feedback is used for further improvements.

Secondly, you need to define your ability to apply Agile workflow or adjust it to the needs of your organization.

One of the authors of Agile Manifesto, Dave Thomas, says that to improve the agility of the whole organization, you should follow a cycle of simple actions, namely:

  • find out where you are at the moment;
  • take small steps to your goal;
  • adapt your understanding given what you’ve learned; and
  • repeat.

Сonsequently, business agility is all about taking baby steps and continuously checking whether you are moving in the right direction.

Short Success Story: PepsiCo and Agile mindset

Here is a case in point.

In 2017, global food and beverage leader PepsiCo suffered a decrease in growth rate. Searching for a way to boost top-line growth, the company came to an Agile mindset.

By adjusting its principles to their internal needs, the company balanced the adoption of new technologies with a focus on clients and staff. For PepsiCo, agility meant a less formal, less rule-based, and more fruitful way of working. Hence, this venture led to a completely new company culture, better growth rate, stoked innovation and increased employee satisfaction.

Step 2: Check out Precautions and Challenges

Although Agile can bring huge business value, it is more successful in certain situations than in others.

As far as the whole Agile software development life cycle relies on flexibility, teamwork, and transparency, it’s adoption in large organizations may present certain challenges. As it means applying changes across the entire corporate chain, starting from processes to operation, culture, and behavior.

The most critical thing Agile workflow demands is a shift in behavior.

Thus, large organizations need to understand that embracing Agile at scale may reveal certain problems. Some of them may not be evident when embracing Agile for individual projects or within small and medium-sized companies.

Additionally, there are certain types of projects when full Agile adoption is questionable. They are mostly long term projects with a stable set of requirements where mistakes may be catastrophic for the whole company.

On the contrary, Agile suits well for projects where the problem is complex, solutions are still unknown, changes are possible during the process, and the team works in close collaboration.

Such conditions are common for several processes like product development, marketing campaigns, supply-chain operations, sales activities, recruiting, allocation of resources, etc. While for others, like accounting, legal branches, or other types of strictly regulated units, using Agile may be challenging.

However, challenging doesn’t mean impossible.

The best way is to analyze the operational model of departments in your company and decide which activities are better suited for Agile. That is, where you can break a complex problem into parts and hand it to a multifunctional transparent team.

In this way, you are proceeding to the next significant step.

Step 3: Draft a Kick-off Plan

Starting has never been easy, so start small.

For a start, identify the part or parts of the company you want to transform and how. After this, decide what Agile practices you will use, taking into account all the elements like processes, people, technology, etc.

Do not forget about Agile enthusiasts that will drive the adoption inside the units and defining time frames needed for such a transformation. This is how Agile adoption happened in one of the leading enterprises in winemaking, Mission Bell Winery.

The company decided to use Scrum (one of the most popular Agile frameworks) to meet the criteria of Safe Quality Food Level 2 certification. They introduced Scrum training, set a goal, and appointed Agile pilots in each department.

After they noticed its positive impact, the company continued implementing Agile and increased the yearly finished goods inventory process by 90%.

Step 4: Build a Shared Vision

Business results are a collective effort. Moreover, employees feel a personal and emotional commitment to their work when they work towards a common goal. This rule works perfectly in the Agile transformation process, too.

Thus, a clearly stated vision is more than a values statement or a mission. It is what guides your company through changing environments. It presupposes that all team members should base their work on the same list of priorities.

A shared vision during the Agile adoption will help you measure the progress and success, as well as make major decisions.

For example, CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, states that one of the pillars of their success is explicit and transparent purpose statements on all the organizational levels. The whole company is operating like a city, where decentralized decision-makers are united by common values.

Step 5: Adopt Experimentation and Continuous Learning at All Levels

Innovations are intimately related to Agile. In general, we can define innovation as an effective application of creativity that focuses on building a solution to cover people’s problems most cost-effectively and flexibly.

This is exactly what Agile does.

The process relies on experimenting, testing, and learning from mistakes.

This is great for startups, but other organizations can benefit from Agile workflow, too. Just think about how your company works toward developing business strategies, or guidelines to senior executives, or product launch strategies.

As a rule, these processes involve too much guessing and assumptions. In the end, you might even find out that you followed the wrong plan.

Instead, try to involve the stakeholders during the whole process, keep yourself up to date, thus ensuring your team focuses on what really matters. Testing, creating “safe to fail� tryouts, and learning from mistakes gives you a great opportunity to respond quickly to changes.

This is the heart of Agile experimentation.

This is how micro failures you can afford to prevent you from macro failures you can’t endure.

Embracing the iterative agile lifecycle to building machines helped the farm equipment company John Deere to shorten the innovation project cycle up to 75%.

Previously, they required about nine months to identify a new market opportunity and five to ten years to develop the product and bring it to market. With the Agile approach, they can go from idea to a working prototype in just eight months.

Step 6: Shift from Authority to Partnership

The organizational structure of traditional companies is synonymous with hierarchy – relationships between superiors and subordinates.

Agile organizations reject authority. Instead, they opt for autonomous cross-disciplinary teams. This requires partnership based on freedom, trust, mutual respect, and managing by agreement. Without this critical shift, Agile is a waste of breath.

Besides, leaders in agile companies are not inspectors. They focus their efforts on supporting rather than micromanaging. They are creating environments where each employee is welcome to contribute to the process, take part in problem-solving, and take over the responsibility for the results. The seniority in such teams rests on the depth of knowledge and behavior.

Massive two-year research by Google found out that one of the common characteristics of high-performing teams is a sense of psychological safety. It makes employees feel comfortable, talk openly, suggests ideas, and be comfortable enough to admit they don’t know something or disagree.

Introducing Agile workflow to the legal team of the largest travel guides publisher Lonely Planet helped to improve productivity by 25%. Previously, the team suffered from exhaustive daily demands, lack of transparency in priorities, and unrealistic deadlines.

Business Agility: Key Takeaways

Implementing Agile thinking throughout the firmly established company is no easy thing.

However, these steps are the pivot point in Agile adoption, and they focus on changing the mindset of the business. Sure, it is only a start, and much more work should be done further.

But a correctly applied iterative approach will enable companies to move faster than before, drive innovations, and adapt to the changing environment of here and now.

Remember that any attempts to implement Agile practices independently may fail until they are combined with an Agile mindset!

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An Obscure Program Shows How FinTech Can Fight Stimulus Fraud

fraud

Sen. Chuck Grassley offered a scathing critique of the federal government’s EB-5 immigrant investor program and the potential for fraud when the Senate passed a bill last year reforming the three-decade-old program.

The money from foreign investors — who in return for investing $500,000 to $1 million were promised green cards — was supposed to spark economic activity in distressed and rural areas. “All of a sudden, investment dollars intended for communities in need were being sucked up for glitzy projects in America’s most well-to-do neighborhoods,� Grassley wrote in an opinion piece at the time.

If that were true, the episode would be another disgraceful nail in the coffin of an American dream that’s stimulated hard work, ingenuity and brought the dreamers and ambitions of the global community to this country. A dream that made it the glorious example of human achievement it once was. Now, just like an Ivy League education, can your parents buy it for you?

What’s EB-5?

Understanding what went wrong with the EB-5 program, and how policymakers and the private sector adapted over the past decade, is instructive. It’s especially instructive, urgently so, as we deal with a new wave of funding, ostensibly managed by the federal government, but largely relying on the vetting and fraud-detection capabilities of private financial services, from big banks to boutique investors.

We could be entering a golden age of financial crime. Six trillion stimulus dollars have been injected into the financial system. That’s equivalent to 27 percent of the U.S.’s gross domestic product with more than half of it in cash sent out in only about three months. I can’t think of a larger structural change in the economy, ever. Even after Pearl Harbor, it took a year to get the vaunted World War II economy moving.

Follow the money

Early criticism of the spending has focused on where the money is going. The Small Business Administration allowed funds to go to parts of the country that weren’t as hard hit, according to reports. It went to companies that many felt didn’t fit their idea of small main street shops. Billion-dollar sporting franchises have allegedly been exploiting the “small� business loan. The list only starts there.

Much of the money has already been lost to fraud and deception. In the banking sector the talk is all about “Know Your Customer.” Too late. There have been a huge number of projects to try to “knowâ€� the customer.

But the silos of diverse and distributed data, incompatible technologies and processes within a firm, and poorly executed mergers have all undermined really understanding the customer. Banks lose insight into the customer’s behavior, sentiment, risk and expectations. Or whether even the customer is real, or honest.

As we face a long road ahead in figuring out who inherits the debt and the associated risks from COVID-19 stimulus spending, what was Senator Grassley stewing over with the EB-5 jobs program?

Easy money

The EB-5 program started to grow in popularity after a previous series of reforms in 2005. Those reforms made the application process faster and easier. In 2015 alone, there were 17,691 applications for visas through the program.

As EB-5 activity increased, so did abuse of the program, ranging from a couple accused of double-dealing in their operation of a regional center for investment in California, to developers in Vermont accused of a “multi-year wire fraud scheme.�

The massive investments into New York City property, particularly Hudson Yards, also showed how a program meant to bring brains and ideas into the country, may have been just getting Green Cards for kids with more money.

There’s one particularly important lesson from the EB-5 program’s past troubles. The government and investors are quick to blame financial institutions. Due diligence and identifying fraud is a must.

The Government Accountability Office wrote in a 2015 report that “fraud risks in the EB-5 Program are constantly evolving, and continually identify new fraud schemes.� Like nearly all specialized conduits for high volumes of funds outside of normal channels, EB-5 is susceptible to bad actors.

How technology figures in

There are many stories of past scandals. But proponents have plenty of evidence to argue EB-5 works. It works when it’s effectively and correctly used. It is actually highly beneficial to the U.S. economy and job creation.

Looking back on the jobs created or saved by EB-5 during the Great Recession, the 174,000 jobs the Department of Commerce discovered came from EB-5 represented 4.3 percent of U.S. job growth during that time.

What few realized, and realize even today, is the role played by the rise of technology to support fund administration, like the work of NES Financial in Silicon Valley, which has since been acquired by JTC Group.

Purpose-built technology and processes enabled end-to-end process management beyond middle and back-office accounting and administration. Speed and quality have advanced. Early machine learning has delivered.

Investors and fund managers need a clear picture of investment, compliance and impact information. They need to manage and report on large pools of small limited partners. That had to be done regardless of average investment size. Doing that established best practices, protected investors and helped limit fraud.

Getting to success

Senator Grassley may continue to be concerned about where the money goes. But the financial integrity of the program is now impressive. Past problems with fraud have not reemerged.

Policy-making is now shoring up technology. Just recently a 2019 bill made many seemingly minor changes. But together they create myriad new opportunities. New chances to stop funds from going to bad actors. They also significantly increase the demands on the private and public actors involved.

The 2019 law established an “EB-5 Integrity Fund� — funded by fees from investors — to be used by the Department of Homeland Security for international anti-fraud activities including audits and site visits.

It required background checks of project principals; more disclosures to investors regarding business risks and conflicts of interest; and more oversight of projects and closer monitoring for securities compliance. The technology that’s now in place is key.

It makes these requirements possible. And it allows them to work, and not choke oxygen off from the program with frustrating paperwork.

A success? Actually, yes. But crime evolves quickly and so the test will be how long this success stays on target.

A menagerie of fraud

The government is not the only one shouldering the threat of fraud. That’s true, in both the EB-5 program and the more recent employment-based loans. It also falls on the various banks and contractors involved in the deals.

Here are a few examples of what could be coming our way.

Employee stuffing or shedding is a problem. For instance, it occurs when companies fraudulently expand their payroll to increase their fund eligibility. They may then get rid of staff and continue making ghost payroll payments to avoid violations of the loan agreement.

There are shuck and clean operations. Organized crimes take over distressed firms for cash. It’s not just for fraud. These operations are a wholesale assault by establishing hundreds of shell companies. And this one troubles us the most.

We should be very concerned about opening up the financial markets to easy access to crime. Entities are dangerous when ownership is the same, but control over it has changed without the bank knowing.

Identity theft and elder abuse are the types of petty fraud that often plague government-assistance programs. They will continue but will get worse, supercharged by the $350 billion in US stimulus.

Finally, cross-system abuse is another problem. This is where companies use multiple bank relationships to make multiple applications for the same staff pool and the same receivables. Don’t confuse this with legitimate companies trying to switch banks mid-process.

Due diligence

The government’s approach has a major weakness. The rush of stimulus occurring now is running through relaxed due diligence.

“If the PPP loan is being made to an existing customer and the necessary information was previously verified, you do not need to re-verify the information,� the Department of Treasure advised in April.

And this creates a perfect account takeover scenario both from within and now from outside the country. Companies can change hands and shed half their employee base without anyone noticing. The scale and urgency of the coronavirus crisis measures are enormous.

It’s understandable why the federal government has tried to get money out the door with limited friction. As we learned with EB-5, the risk of reducing friction is inviting fraud.

Technology has to be the answer again. It is the only answer frankly.

It will likely be years before we are able to account for the billions in COVID-19 stimulus funds distributed. The sooner we make smart investments in anti-fraud efforts, the more we will actually help legitimate companies. We can help companies hoping for a chance at recovery.

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Less Data Transparency Means Less Investor Trust

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The business world can take two lessons away from the countries that have been most successful in fighting COVID-19. Data operations, data transparency and clear communications matter. Those are particularly important lessons for asset managers that need trust almost more than anything else right now.

Singapore and data

Singapore’s initial response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) has been among the better in the world, though they are not out of the woods by any stretch.

Attention has been focused on what decisions Singapore, as well as South Korea and Taiwan, have made, and when they were made. But more attention should be paid to how those decisions became possible, and how they have been communicated. That is true for how these countries and their businesses approach economic contagion as well.

In many cases, efficient data operations have been the “how.� It’s a lesson other governments and businesses can learn in order to try to catch up to what is happening now, what will happen next, and what can happen after that.

Data operations

A review in The Lancet found that Singapore’s data and information handling during the pandemic has been superior relative to the rest of the world. South Korea has admirably rolled out testing and used geolocation data to identify whom to test.

China is faulted for not moving fast enough early enough. Transparency continues to be a concern. But once in motion authorities used mobile apps to support 14-day quarantines and infrared cameras in train stations to quickly identify travelers with fevers. Chinese authorities have to work hard to regain trust. Fears that something is being hidden will turn into more problems.

Contrast that progress with Europe, where cases in Italy have surpassed those in much-bigger China. European authorities have been called bureaucratic and often technophobic.

Transparent communications

It’s not just how data operations have enabled decision-making. It is how information is shared rapidly, clearly, consistently, and in detail.

We’re faced with a public health crisis where well organized and transparent data is crucial. Poorly organized data, shared inconsistently, leaves a vacuum filled by conspiracy and fear.

South Korea quickly deployed a central tracking app that publicly informs citizens of cases within 100 meters of their current location. Koreans have embraced clear and credible access to information. They want to make informed decisions. Citizens want data transparency. They don’t want hidden realities.

Taiwan has shared details quickly and openly with an analysis of COVID-19 mortality rates. These efforts provide every citizen with a war room dashboard that allows them to feel that nothing is being hidden. Singapore releases detailed information on each COVID-19 case.

Lines of communication

There has been a longstanding fear in the asset management world of allowing too much transparency. Nobody wants investors trying to grab the steering wheel. Due diligence to earn investment in the first place is one thing. GPs suffer frustration if the questions keep coming after the money has changed hands.

Allocators have built up their own data teams. They’ve pushed for more data, faster. To keep up funds and fund administrators have learned to build dashboards and to automate. But it hasn’t been with enthusiasm. There is a worry about setting expectations for data sharing that the fund will regret later.

When there’s no good news, there is anxiety over what the LP will believe they see in the data.

Funds will do better when they show trust first, share data, and have established the infrastructure to offer transparency. Asset managers will be in for more trouble than they’ve bargained for if they don’t fight disinformation with reliable data.

Image Credit: Savvas Stavrinow; Pexels

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5 Post-Pandemic Changes to Expect in the Workplace

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Disrupting businesses in every sector of the economy and infecting nearly 7 million people at the time of this writing — with 400,000 deaths globally. The coronavirus pandemic that sprung up December 2019 has had negative effects on businesses across the world, and the economy as a whole.

The stay-at-home orders that have been mandatory in several countries have caused our work lives to be affected in so many ways, from working in open offices and interacting with coworkers daily to working from home and having to rely on video conferencing apps for effective communication.

These many changes in our current work-life have left many of us wondering whether it’ll have any lasting effects on our work-lives once the pandemic is over and the current lockdown measures are eased. How will how our new work lives proceed from here?

The many effects the pandemic will have on our current work-life include:

  • Higher Prioritization of workers’ health.

The current attention that employee well-being has been garnered recently by organizations and employees themselves will surely increase. We will surely see employee health, wellness, and well-being being of greater importance in a post-pandemic situation.

We can predict more sick day allowances and health initiatives like the full health checks and examination of employees before they enter their workplaces.

After the pandemic and for a short period of time, signs may be posted to remind everyone to wash hands and perhaps limit how they give handshakes and hugs, and to maintain personal space.

To avoid overcrowding, keycards and sensors will monitor your whereabouts throughout the day and alert you whenever you’re in close proximity to another individual.

In the long run, contact-tracing apps for co-workers may also become part of the work-life experience to avoid the spread of future diseases and infrared body temperature scanners before access to the office building. These contact-tracing apps might even show areas with high coworker traffic similar to apps like Waze.com.

  • Remote work

The role in-office collaboration has to play in a company is overwhelming as it is important for building personal bonds and relationships between coworkers and boosting employee productivity, it is also essential for the creation of company culture, but what is more important is the safety of an organization’s employees.

The importance of remote working at a time like this has shown as many organizations have looked too remote working as a means of sustaining their businesses and to keep them up and running.

In a post-pandemic situation, it’s likely that we see the retention of remote working as a means of working for non-essential workers by organizations. However, office and in-house collaboration are surely not going away and higher-ranking workers may still work in-house.

  • Restructuring of office spaces.

The fundamental design of office workspaces and offices will surely be altered. More personal space, elevator capacity limits, and demarcating spots to stand in elevators to limit physical contact.

More space between desks with coworkers sitting on every other seat, partitioning may be installed to reduce the risk of spreading diseases, fewer chairs in conference rooms, private cubicles or offices, there’s an endless list of how the overall design of the office space might evolve in a post-pandemic situation.

  • Business travel and conferencing.

The coronavirus pandemic will definitely have a lasting effect on meetings as a whole, we should expect fewer conferences and curtailed travel plans in the post-pandemic era. Essential meetings will still hold, but ones with lesser importance will be moved to emails, phone calls, and video conferences.

We should expect employees will only have physical meetings when a project is crucial and cannot be done via video conferencing. Conferences, meetings, and conventions will be halted for the foreseeable future with meetings that aren’t necessary would now be done with video conferencing.

  • Work shifts and office hours.

Organizations will have gradual returns and might not require most people to come back until there’s widespread testing, treatment, or a vaccine. Work shifts might be put in place to ensure there’s a limited amount of employees in the workplace at any given time.

Limiting the number or set of people required to come to the office has been important for employee safety as it reduces the chances of them getting the disease. Only requiring essential workers to come to the office might be the norm in a post-pandemic situation.

In Conclusion

How business around the world is going to be changed due to the current global pandemic is unknown as we cannot predict the future with a 100 percent accuracy but by making educated guesses we might know how the impacts of the pandemic might shape our work life.

Workplaces may have significant changes in the long run, these may include new seating arrangements and the addition of building materials that discourage the spread of germs.

In order to reduce the risk of spreading future diseases, it’s a great time for new technology and innovation. We will need to be provided with access to rooms and elevators without employees having to physically touch a handle or press a button. Innovations in automatic door sensors, automatic sinks, soap dispensers, and maybe even voice-activated elevators.

Measures will surely be put in place to reduce the spread of any future diseases and pandemics to guarantee the general public and employee safety.

Image Credit: Andrea Piacquadio; Pexels

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