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The latest news headlines about the pandemic and its impact on employees, organizations, and governments.

Aug. 7, 2020

U.S. Agencies Lift Global Travel Advisories for Citizens

The U.S. government has lifted its blanket "Do Not Travel" advisory for U.S. citizens and has returned to country-specific warnings, based on health and safety conditions in each locale. According to an article in Reuters, the Centers for Disease Control still includes most countries in its highest level 3 advisory, which recommends avoiding all nonessential travel. However, a few countries were ranked as low risk, including Fiji, New Zealand, and Thailand. The State Department similarly has categorized many countries as "Level 3: Reconsider Travel," while 30 countries still have its strongest advisory, "Level 4: Do Not Travel." In a recent IIA survey (PDF), 46% of IIA members from 95 countries reported that their organizations had eliminated travel.

Study: Working From Home Means Longer Work Days, but Less Time in Meetings

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A longer workday, but less of the day spent in meetings, are among the finding of researchers at Harvard University and New York University. Researchers collected data across three continents to determine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on productivity now that many employees are working from home. Their findings, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (PDF), found that the average workday increased by 48.5 minutes, while the number of meetings went up, as well. However, the average length of those meetings fell by 20%, meaning that overall workers are spending less time in meetings than before COVID-19. Internal audit can assist companies in analyzing issues related to corporate culture and procedures.

California Bill Would Mandate Racial Diversity on Corporate Boards

California Democrats recently introduced AB 979, a bill that would ban all-white corporate boards, according to this DiversityInc story. If the bill is enacted into law, the 600 publicly listed companies headquartered in California will be required to have at least one person of color serving on their boards by 2022. This follows a 2018 state law that mandated women hold seats on all corporate boards. The racial diversity law would be the first of its kind in the U.S.

Capital One Agrees to $80 Million Fine For 2019 Customer Data Hack

Capital One has agreed to pay $80 million to settle federal bank regulators' claims that it lacked appropriate cybersecurity protocols, The New York Times reported. The settlement comes more than a year after a Seattle-based software engineer hacked into a cloud server and stole customers' Social Security numbers, bank account information, and credit card applications. The U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said Capital One failed to establish appropriate risk assessment procedures in 2015 after it began using cloud storage technology, and its board failed to hold the managers in charge of the area accountable for their neglect. As part of the settlement, the bank also must develop plans to improve its security procedures. Internal audit plays a key role in reviewing and testing the adequacy of organization's financial controls.

Aug. 5, 2020

U.S. Companies Struggle to Move the Needle on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity

U.S. companies continue to grapple with the systemic and institutional racism that has limited diversity in their senior ranks, a sense of inclusion among employees, and equity in the larger society. According to this Society for Human Resource Management article, more than 80% of organizations surveyed have released or plan to release statements to employees about racial injustice and protests, yet more than two-thirds have not sought input or feedback from those employees. To have a meaningful impact, the article advocates: 1) facilitating humble and honest conversations with employees to build empathy; 2) committing senior management to prioritize and empower long-term diversity, equity, and inclusion goals, programs, and leaders; and 3) implementing accountability measures.   

Europe's Banks Report Waning Use of Cash

Could ATMs go the way of the phone booth? According to the European startup site Sifted, there are certainly signs of the cash machine's demise. An article cites a recent European Central Bank report that shows double-digit growth in the volume of online and mobile payments since the start of the pandemic. The Bank of France also reported on the dwindling use of cash, noting a 13% drop in cash usage in France since 2012 and a "strong jump in contactless payments" during the pandemic. In France, banks have slowly been removing ATMs — their numbers fell 4% from the previous year. According to the article, online shopping has certainly spurred the use of electronic payments, but shop retailers have also encouraged customers to use bank cards. In Europe, fintech companies such as TransferWise and are poised to benefit from the behavior shift.

Survey: Companies Offering More Childcare Accommodations to Employees

Many parents now working from home have been juggling the demands of their jobs with the responsibilities of caring for their children. These responsibilities have been made more challenging as childcare operators shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the challenges will continue as the school year gets off to a halting start. Many companies have stepped up to assist their employees, with 40% of companies surveyed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (PDF) saying they have offered additional childcare accommodations, assistance, or benefits. Internal audit can assist companies in analyzing and developing such programs.

Report: Hacker Leaks Private Data From 900 VPN Servers

A hacker has published a list of usernames and passwords, along with IP addresses for more than 900 Pulse Secure virtual private network enterprise servers, ZDNet reported. The technology news website said it obtained the list with the help of a threat intelligence firm and verified its authenticity with multiple cybersecurity sources. ZDNet said the list has been shared with a hacker forum frequented by multiple ransomware gangs. Pulse Secure is a U.S.-based company that offers security solutions to the government and private sector. The theft underscores the importance of internal audit in ensuring companies assess their IT risks and develop appropriate controls.

Aug. 3, 2020

Global Manufacturing Picks Up as Europe Recovers

Europe's ongoing recovery is having a positive effect on global manufacturing, according to an article in Reuters. Manufacturing in the euro zone began improving in July, which may be easing the pain on some export-dependent counties in Asia. A Reuters poll predicted an 8.1% growth rate in the euro zone this quarter, compared to a 12.1% contraction last quarter. Meanwhile, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are showing some growth or easing in their manufacturing sectors, with China's manufacturing activity growing at the fastest rate in almost a decade. China is responding to stronger domestic demand as well. However, factories in India, the Philippines, and Vietnam are still in a slump, indicating that the global recovery is uneven as regions struggle with the pandemic.

Nearly Three-fourths of Americans Missing Work Due to COVID-19 Aren't Getting Paid

A U.S. Census Bureau household survey began at the end of April and aimed to identify how the pandemic is impacting people's social and economic wellbeing. According to this article published by JUST Capital, the results for the four weeks from June 18 to July 14 show that 71% of adults who didn't work because they had COVID-19 symptoms in the seven days before taking the survey did not receive any pay. Only 10% reported using paid leave during their time away from work. A detailed analysis of the data shows that low-wage workers and people of color comprise most of the people missing work because of COVID-19 illnesses. "These workers are also among those least likely to have access to paid sick leave benefits prior to the outbreak," the authors note, citing research from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

ISS Launches Research Into Compensation Changes

Last week, Institutional Shareholder Services commenced its annual Benchmark Policy Survey (PDF), which asks investors and companies to weigh in on policy development related to governance topics. According to an article in Agenda (paywall), the survey is expected to shed light on views on executive compensation, racial and ethnic diversity on boards, climate change and the wide-ranging effects of COVID-19. The results of the survey are considered to reflect investors' views and inform potential amendments to proxy voting policies for meetings held in 2021 and beyond. The article cites as an example that questions about gender diversity in previous years' surveys led to a negative vote recommendation policy for all-male boards. The author suggests that this year's questions about racial and ethnic diversity on boards could lead to similar negative vote recommendations for committee chairs if boards comprise all white directors. The survey closes on Aug. 21.

Corporate Leaders Calls on U.S. Congress to Help Small Businesses

More than 100 current and former CEOs sent an open letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and other top lawmakers calling for more aid to small businesses in the U.S. The signers of the letter, who were brought together by former Starbucks chief Howard Schultz, warn of a "wave of permanent closures if the right steps are not taken soon." The letter calls for federally guaranteed loans at favorable terms, which it claims will enable small businesses to sustain operations well into 2021. Release of the letter comes as the House, Senate, and the Trump administration wrangle over the terms of a new relief package for the economy. Internal audit can play a vital role in advising businesses in evaluating risks in an uncertain economy.

Electronics Sales Forecast to Lift Back-to-school Shopping to Record

Back-to-school is the second-biggest shopping season, after the end-of-the-year holiday season. This year's season comes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and despite the disruptions and uncertainties, some retailers are expected to benefit from purchases of electronics for home schooling, with the National Retail Federation forecasting a record shopping season. However, one analyst sounded a cautionary note, saying the increased demand for electronics will be offset by households where parents are unemployed because of the pandemic. Internal audit can assist businesses in navigating the economic uncertainties of the pandemic.

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