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The latest news headlines on issues and developments affecting the internal audit profession.

Jan. 29, 2021

Brokers, Regulators Grapple With Repercussions Following Wall Street's Wild Week

Wall Street is trying to understand the full repercussions of a chain of events that saw popular brokerages such as Robinhood, Charles Schwab, and TD Ameritrade restricting the buying of stocks linked to the short squeezing trend originating on social news aggregator Reddit. Although Robinhood, for example, is facing criticism from traders for its actions, some experts say the decision may have been warranted due to the reputational risk. "If I'm the [chief compliance officer], I will be very conservative and overreact rather than underreact because it is easier to fend off an angry customer than fend off an angry regulator," Global Market's Advisory Group's Charles Dolan told CNBC. TD Ameritrade, meanwhile, has decided to raise margin requirements for noted stocks to minimize traders' ability to participate in a squeeze. According to experts, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Financial Institute Regulatory Authority, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission have a difficult challenge ahead of them. "The regulators have to be thinking, how do you remove the incentive?" said Amy Lynch, a former SEC compliance official. Many lawmakers, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), are demanding swift action.

International Police Raid Dismantles World's "Most Dangerous" Hacking Network

Police from six European countries, Canada, and the U.S. have dismantled a malware network called "Emotet," considered to be one of the most dangerous criminal hacking networks in the world, Reuters reports. In a narrative that reads like a Hollywood spy film, the international collaboration led to raids in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, where police seized computers used by the hackers and took photos of "piles of bank cards, cash, and a room festooned with tangled computer equipment." Emotet has been used to steal billions of dollars from businesses and private citizens worldwide, allowing cybercriminals to gain access to a victim's computer and then download malicious software, such as trojans or ransomware. Operators of Emotet sold access to the hacking network in a "malware-as-a-service" business model. In a statement, Germany's BKA federal police agency said, "The smashing of the Emotet infrastructure is a significant blow against international organized Internet crime."

Businesses Promote COVID-19 Vaccine to Employees

As businesses consider how they might try to return to the office or reintegrate some employees into in-person situations, corporate leaders are taking steps to encourage their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 — and combat widespread and unfounded skepticism that the vaccine will be safe or even effective, Agenda (paywall) reports. United Airlines is strongly considering making it mandatory for all employees to get vaccinated, according to NBC News. Other companies, such as facilities-management giant Sodexo have launched social media efforts to encourage their employees to get the shots. Meanwhile, Consumer Affairs reports that retailers including Aldi, Dollar General, and Trader Joe's have offered employees financial incentives to get the vaccine. 

Bloomberg: Gender Diversity Is a Business Imperative

The 2020 Bloomberg Gender-equality Index (GEI) finds that companies led by a female CEO reported having more women in senior management positions than companies with a male CEO. Such companies had more women in the top 10% of compensation and more women in revenue-producing roles than male-led firms. The index (PDF) tracks the financial performance of publicly listed companies committed to supporting gender equality through policy development, representation, and transparency. This year's report included 325 companies across 50 industries and headquartered across 42 countries and regions, up from the 230 companies across 36 countries and regions in last year's index. Bloomberg also expanded the types of metrics included in the GEI framework this year. Transparency into how companies are tackling gender equality in the workplace and their local communities supports the business case for an inclusive corporate environment, said Bloomberg Chairman Peter Grauer.

Jan. 27, 2021

Interactive Map Displays Risks From WEF Global Risk Report 2021

A newly published risk map offers an interactive look at the risks identified in the World Economic Forum's (WEF's) Global Risk Report 2021 (PDF). Published by Visual Capitalist, the animated visualization shows the risk probability and impact of the report's five risk categories: economic, environmental, societal, technological, and geopolitical. In his latest blog post, Using the New Global Risks Report to Be Risk Beacons in Our Organizations, IIA President and CEO Richard Chambers writes about the valuable insight internal auditors can glean from the global research of organizations such as the WEF, World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation, and the International Monetary Fund. Chambers points out that the Global Risks Report 2021, which shows infectious diseases as one of the top societal risks in terms of both likelihood and impact, "presents a stark reminder that risks are not just a theoretical inventory of things we should worry about." He adds, "Internal audit leaders must assess if they are positioned to offer foresight at this critical time, when stakeholders appear most attuned to the value of understanding what risks may lie just beyond the horizon."

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink Gives Companies a Stark Climate Change Warning in Annual Letter

Larry Fink, CEO of asset manager BlackRock, has released the latest edition of his influential letter to the management of companies across the world. In his annual letter, he warns companies that they will need to show a game plan for surviving in a world aiming for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. "The world is moving to net zero, and BlackRock believes that our clients are best served by being at the forefront of that transition," Fink said. "We are carbon neutral today in our own operations and are committed to supporting the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner. No company can easily plan over 30 years, but we believe all companies — including BlackRock — must begin to address the transition to net zero today." Additionally, BlackRock warned it would act against companies it has invested in that have a high carbon intensity and that do not align with its own net zero goals.

Telecommuting Creates Major Tax Problem for States and Cities

As U.S. teleworkers move from city to city or simply stay at home, they are creating a huge tax problem, according to a report by Axios. Tax laws are not built for telecommuting, because by and large, Americans owe income taxes where they work. As a result, this new way of working could have dire implications for city and state budgets. It is a question that has reached the Supreme Court, where New Hampshire, which does not have a state income tax, is suing Massachusetts for requiring telecommuters for Massachusetts businesses to pay income taxes on work completed outside the state.

Data Privacy Day Is a Day to Revisit Best Practices

Thursday Jan. 28 is Data Privacy Day, an international effort to empower individuals and businesses to respect privacy, safeguard data, and enable trust. The National Cybersecurity Alliance's (NCSA's) Data Privacy Day website provides a calendar of events such as webinars about data privacy and data breaches, as well as a resources library featuring videos, tip sheets, and checklists for businesses. The NCSA maintains a blog with the latest privacy-related news and provides a page of direct links to updating privacy settings on popular devices and services.

World Leaders Converge Digitally for Davos Agenda

G20 world leaders, international organizations, and businesses are participating in virtual dialogues this week during the WEF's Davos Agenda. According to, "the Davos Agenda aims to inform the global public and the Forum's 25,000,000+ social media followers on the key issues shaping the year ahead." Industry leaders and public figures are discussing how to advance and accelerate public-private collaboration on critical issues such as COVID-19 vaccination, job creation, and climate change.

Jan. 25, 2021

Four Steps Organizations Can Take to Seamlessly Return Employees to the Workplace

As vaccine distribution expands, the time for employers to finally welcome back employees to the office is rapidly approaching — if they have not already done so. In a recent Forbes article, contributing writer Rhett Power highlights four steps employers can take to make the transition back to a filled office as seamless as possible. The steps include letting data drive real estate decisions, resisting the oversimplification of safety measures, preparing for a temporary strike in "presenteeism" (when a worker is on-site but not contributing fully), and crafting and disseminating clear reopening information. "As a leader, your role is to make the homecoming process as smooth as you can by anticipating and removing foreseeable hurdles," Power writes. "In other words, you'd be wise to embrace caution and a dash of patience."

Report Exposes Link Between Forced Labor and Solar Industry

A new report links the global solar industry to forced labor practices in China, according to Greentech Media. In the forthcoming report, U.S. research group Horizon Advisory points to "indicators of forced labor" from Chinese suppliers of polysilicon, a raw material used in the production of most solar panels. More than one-third of the world's supply of polysilicon comes from China, with a significant amount linked to the Xinjiang region where Uighur populations have been used as forced labor. Among solar panel producers, exposure to the polysilicon suppliers in Xinjian may be quite broad, said Xiaojing Sun, a senior solar analyst at energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie. "My sense is that up until a few months ago, not a lot of attention was paid to the upstream supply chain, so there is a chance for Xinjiang-based polysilicon to end up in the U.S." Companies mentioned in the report have been linked to projects in the U.S., Canada, Spain, Vietnam, and elsewhere.

Small-business Owners Struggling to Pay Rent

Rent payments were a struggle in January for 33% of U.S. small business owners, according to a poll from Alignable, an online network for small businesses. For the second month in a row, 49% of minority-owned businesses were unable to pay their full rent on time, compared to 35% of women-owned businesses and 31% of nonminority-owned businesses, according to a poll of 10,325 business owners. In 10 different industries, more than 40% of small-business owners were unable to cover their rent, led by restaurants/bars at 57%. That is up from six industries in December, indicating the growing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on small firms. 

Report: Cryptocurrency Trends and Predictions for 2021 has issued a research report (PDF) that reviews the developments of cryptocurrency in 2020 and projects 2021 trends. The report indicates that cryptocurrencies are reaching the tipping point for mass adoption, with institutional brokerages, custodians, and asset managers showing some form of support for Bitcoin. Examples include a Singapore bank's launch of a digital asset exchange and PayPal allowing its users to purchase cryptocurrencies directly. According to the report, in 2021 the crypto trading market will likely see increasing activity in crypto options; global regulatory frameworks will be established; blockchain-based nonfungible tokens will grow; smart contract chain platforms (Ethereum) will become scalable; and decentralized financial applications and services, known as DeFi, will continue to revolutionize digital finance.

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