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While making digital the main channel of customer engagement, banks are also looking to move beyond business as usual, says Amit Anand, a Vice President in Cognizant Consulting’s Banking and Financial Services.
COVID-19 made online channels indispensable for bank customers, including those who preferred in-person banking. This accelerated their digital strategies and created an opportunity to go beyond the basics and become partners in their customers’ pursuit of financial wellness.
As banks bet big on digital, they are looking at technologies such as AI, advanced analytics, and automation to provide personalization, prediction and speed in creating powerful customer experiences. Banks are also increasingly relying on machines to automate repetitive tasks and make complex decisions, creating demand for human skillsets that complement intelligent machines.
Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work (CFoW), working with Oxford Economics, recently surveyed 4,000 C-level executives globally, including 287 senior banking and financial services executives to understand how banks are adapting to fast and dramatic changes.
The earliest forms of digital banking trace back to the advent of ATMs and cards launched in the 1960s. As the internet emerged in the 1980s with early broadband, digital networks began to connect retailers with suppliers and consumers to develop needs for early online catalogues and inventory software systems.
By the 1990s the Internet became widely available and online banking started becoming the norm. The improvement of broadband and ecommerce systems in the early 2000s led to what resembled the modern digital banking world today. The proliferation of smartphones through the next decade opened the door for transactions on the go beyond ATM machines. Over 60% of consumers now use their smartphones as the preferred method for digital banking.
The challenge for banks is now to facilitate demands that connect vendors with money through channels determined by the consumer. This dynamic shapes the basis of customer satisfaction, which can be nurtured with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. Therefore, CRM must be integrated into a digital banking system, since it provides means for banks to directly communicate with their customers.
There is a demand for end-to-end consistency and for services, optimized on convenience and user experience. The market provides cross platform front ends, enabling purchase decisions based on available technology such as mobile devices, with a desktop or Smart TV at home. In order for banks to meet consumer demands, they need to keep focusing on improving digital technology that provides agility, scalability and efficiency.
Seven Ways to Capitalize on Digital
Institute front-to-back digitization. Banks can effectively compete with fintech competitors by becoming digital institutions.
Explore new customer segments and business paradigms. Digital makes it easier than ever for banks to explore small business segments, even as they pursue existing markets.
Emphasize platform centricity and smart aggregation. Open banking standards can help banks to provide personalized products to customers in collaboration with third-party providers and fintechs.
Invest in personalizing the customer relationship. Banks should use personalized experiences to make customers’ lives as frictionless as possible.
Focus on re-building trust and resiliency. Banks need to eliminate any biases in decisions made by machines.
Enshrine inclusivity into your digital strategy. Banks should use digital to reach customers who are left out by being physically and cognitively challenged.
Balance machine-driven and human-centric work. Create sturdy human-machine collaboration by reevaluating jobs for a shared environment.
Amit Anand is Vice President and North American Practice Leader for Cognizant Consulting’s Banking and Financial Services. Amit has 20 years of experience with firms such as Accenture, Infosys and Cognizant. He has successfully led and managed large business transformation, digital and IT transformation, and associated organizational change management for several financial services clients. Amit is a recognized thought leader with more than 15 publications on topics such as Open Banking, Digital 2.0 and new-age operating models. He can be reached at Amit.Anand@cognizant.com
Manish Bahl leads the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. A respected speaker and thinker, Manish has guided many Fortune 500 companies into the future of their business with his thought-provoking research and advisory skills. Within Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work, he helps ensure that the unit’s original research and analysis jibes with emerging business-technology trends and dynamics in APAC, and collaborates with a wide range of leading thinkers to understand and predict how the future of work will take shape. He most recently served as Vice President, Country Manager with Forrester Research in India. He can be reached at Manish.Bahl@cognizant.com
Krispy Kreme is ramping up its efforts to encourage customers to get the COVID-19 vaccine. This week, the company unveiled its second free doughnut promotion for vaccinated people, and it’s even sweeter than the first one.
Two days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccine, Krispy Kreme announced that customers who show proof of vaccination will be able to get two free doughnuts every day at their local store between Aug. 30 and Sept. 5, and and one free doughnut daily for rest of year.
Customers who have received at least one vaccination shot are eligible for the weeklong “Show Your Heart” offer and can choose from the chain’s Original Glazed Doughnut or a limited-edition Original Glazed Heart Doughnut. The special heart-shaped treat will also be available for sale throughout the week.
In March, Krispy Kreme launched its first free doughnut promo and announced that customers who had received at least one jab and show a valid vaccine card could score a free glazed doughnut every day at participating locations through the end of 2021.
The campaign has been quite popular (Krispy Kreme has given away 2.5 million+ Original Glazed doughnuts so far), and it’ll continue through the end of the year. But the company was inspired to step things up a bit once the FDA officially approved the Pfizer vaccine.
“We all hoped we’d be near the end of this pandemic by now. We’re not,” Krispy Kreme’s chief marketing officer Dave Skena said in a press release. “So, please consider getting vaccinated if you’ve not done so already. And then enjoy and share two amazing doughnuts with our heart-felt thanks.”
Krispy Kreme started the trend of incentivizing customers to get the vaccine by offering edible freebies. In April, many other companies followed suit, including Shake Shack, Budweiser and Nathan’s Famous.
But not everyone was eager to cash in on the sugary doughnut deal. Shortly after Krispy Kreme launched the promo, the company faced backlash from some critics who argued that the offer discriminated against those who don’t want the vaccine.
At the time, Krispy Kreme addressed vaccine hesitancy, calling it “a highly personal decision.” The chain also offered a free coffee and doughnut to all customers on Mondays through May 24, whether or not they were vaccinated.
Other critics expressed concern about the health effects of a free daily doughnut. In response to this sentiment, writer Kate Bernyk penned an NBC News op-ed arguing that it was a form of fat-shaming and food-shaming.
“I think for me, it wasn’t about the doughnut,” she wrote. I think that it’s just another opportunity to pass judgment on someone’s choices or the way someone looks.”
TODAY Food asked Krispy Kreme CMO Dave Skena what inspired the company to release this second doughnut promo, despite the backlash it had received in previous months, and he explained that the chain is passionate about “Acts of Joy.” He also referenced the other free doughnut promotions the company has rolled out for health care workers, students, teachers and other groups throughout the pandemic.
“We are a warm and generous brand. Providing free Original Glazed doughnuts to those who get vaccinated is another gesture that we hope sweetens people’s lives as the country tries to put this virus behind us,” said Skena.
“Like many sweet treats, our doughnuts are an occasional indulgence best enjoyed in moderation and we know that’s how most of our guests enjoy them,” he added. “We’re certainly not asking people to get a free Original Glazed doughnut every day; we’re just making it available through the end of the year to show support to those doing their part to make the country safe by getting vaccinated.”
The lockdown that we’ve all just lived through created a period during which a lot of people had the opportunity to reflect on plans for a career change. But reflection alone doesn’t get people very far. Those who are mostly likely to act during this kind of period are those who actively engage in a three-part cycle of transition — one that consists of separation, liminality and reintegration. The author explains how to make the most of each of these stages to effect real change.
Many of us believe that unexpected events or shocks create fertile conditions for major life and career changes by sparking us to reflect about our desires and priorities. That holds true for the coronavirus pandemic. A bit over a year ago, when I asked people in an online poll to tell me how the pandemic had affected their plans for career change, 49% chose this response: “It has given me downtime to rest and/or think.”
That’s a good start. But if there is one thing I have learned from decades of studying successful career change, it’s that thinking on its own is far from sufficient. We rarely think our way into a new way of acting. Rather, we act our way into new ways of thinking — and being.
Yes, events that disrupt our habitual routines have the potential to catalyze real change. They give us a chance to experiment with new activities and to create and renew connections. Even in the seemingly “unproductive” time we spend away from our everyday work lives, we conduct important inner business — asking the big existential questions, remembering what makes us happy, shoring up the strength to make difficult choices, consolidating our sense of self, and more.
Enough has happened during this past year to make many of us keenly aware of what we no longer want. But the problem is this: More appealing, feasible alternatives have yet to materialize. So we’re stuck in limbo between old and new. And now, with most Covid restrictions at last falling away and a return to the office imminent, we confront a real danger: getting sucked back into our former jobs and ways of working.
How can those of us who want to make a career transition avoid that? How can we make progress toward our goals by building on what we’ve learned this past year?
Research on the transformative potential of a catalyzing event like the coronavirus pandemic suggests that we are more likely to make lasting change when we actively engage in a three-part cycle of transition — one that gets us to focus on separation, liminality, and reintegration. Let’s consider each of those parts of the cycle in detail.
The Benefits of Separation
“I spent lockdown in this idyllic, secluded environment,” I was told by John, a businessman whose last executive role came to an end around the onset of the pandemic, enabling him to move out into the country. “I got to see the spring come and go,” he said. “I got to see a lot of nature. It was just an amazingly peaceful backdrop. I got married last year, so my wife and I had an enormous amount of time together. My son, from whom I’d been estranged, came to stay with us. So I got to know him again, which was a great experience. This was a very blessed period.”
John’s experience wasn’t unique. Research on how moving can facilitate behavior change suggests that people who found a new and different place to live during the pandemic may now have better chances of making life changes that stick. Why? Because of what’s known as “habit discontinuity.” We are all more malleable when separated from the people and places that trigger old habits and old selves.
Change always starts with separation. Even in some of the ultimate forms of identity change or rehabilitating substance abusers — the standard operating practice is to separate subjects from everybody who knew them previously, and to deprive them of a grounding in their old identities. This separation dynamic explains why young adults change when they go away to college.
My recent research has shown how much our work networks are prone to the “narcissistic and lazy” bias. The idea is this: We are drawn spontaneously to, and maintain contact with, people who are similar to us (we’re narcissistic), and we get to know and like people whose proximity makes it easy for use to get to know and like them (we’re lazy).
The pandemic disrupted at least physical proximity for most of us. But that might not be enough — particularly as we rush back into our offices, travel schedules and social lives — to mitigate the powerful similarities that the narcissistic and lazy bias create for us at work. That’s why maintaining some degree of separation from the network of relationships that defined our former professional lives can be vital to our reinvention.
Tammy English, of Washington University, and Laura Carstensen, of Stanford University, found that the size of people’s networks shrank after the age of 60, not because these people had fewer opportunities to connect but because, increasingly, they perceived time as being limited, which made them more selective. Quite possibly many of our experiences of the pandemic, like John’s, will foster our reinvention by encouraging greater selectivity in how and with whom we spend our limited time.
When the pandemic hit, Sophie, a former lawyer, was transitioning out of a two-decade career and found herself wanting to explore a range of new work possibilities, among them documentary filmmaking, journalism, non-executive board roles, and sustainability consulting.
Lockdown created a liminal time and space, a “betwixt and between” zone, in which the normal rules that governed Sophie’s professional life were temporarily lifted, and she felt able to experiment with all sorts of work and leisure pursuits without committing to any of them. She made the most of that period — taking several courses, working on start-up ideas, doing freelance consulting, joining a nonprofit board, and producing two of her first short films.
Taking advantage of liminal interludes allows us to experiment — to do new and different things with new and different people. In turn, that affords us rare opportunities to learn about ourselves and to cultivate new knowledge, skills, resources and relationships. But these interludes don’t last forever. At some point, we have to cull learning from our experiments and use it to take some informed next steps in our plans for career change.
What is worth pursuing further? What new interest has cropped up that’s worth a look? What will you drop having learned that it’s not so appealing after all? What do you keep, but only as a hobby?
When Sophie took stock, she was surprised to realize that she hadn’t grown in her board role as much as she had expected, whereas she had very quickly started to build meaningful connections linked to the film industry. These were vital recognitions for her to make before she committed herself to next steps in her transition plan.
Reintegration: A Time for New Beginnings
Most of the executives and professionals with whom I have exchanged pandemic experiences tell me that they do not want to return to hectic travel schedules or long hours that sacrifice time with their families — but are nonetheless worried that they will.
They are right to be worried, because external shocks rarely produce lasting change. The more typical pattern after we receive some kind of wake-up call is simply to revert back to form once things return to “normal.” That’s what the Wharton professor Alexandra Michel found in 2016, when she investigated the physical consequences of overwork for four cohorts of investment bankers over a 12-year period.
For these people, avoiding unsustainable work habits required more than changing jobs or even occupations. Many of them had physical breakdowns even after moving into organizations that were supposedly less work-intensive. Why? Because they had actually moved into similarly demanding positions, but without taking sufficient time in between roles to convalesce and gain psychological distance from their hard-driving selves.
Our ability to take advantage of habit discontinuity depends on what we do in the narrow window of opportunity that opens up after routine-busting changes. One study has found, for example, that the window of opportunity for engaging in more environmentally sustainable behaviors lasts up to three months after people move house. Similarly, research on the “fresh start” effect shows that while people experience heightened goal-oriented motivation upon after returning to work from a holiday, this motivation peaks on the first day back and declines rapidly thereafter.
The hybrid working environments with which many organizations are currently experimenting represent a possible new window of opportunity for many people hoping to make a career change, one in which the absence of old cues and the need to make conscious choices provides an opportunity to implement new goals and intentions. If you’re one of these people, it’s now up to you to decide whether you will use this period to effect real career change — or whether, instead, you’ll drift back into your old job and patterns as if nothing ever happened.
In times of crisis, don’t look to the past or the future for answers. That’s according to social psychologist and behavioral science expert Amy Cuddy. The Harvard University lecturer and author of Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challengesexplained in a virtual keynote to Inc. 5000 honorees this week that productivity-sapping emotions such as anxiety, dread, and distraction come from thinking too much about the past and future.
Staying present, Cuddy explains, can help you approach difficult situations with composure and find solutions with confidence. “It’s the power to bring yourself forward to express your most confident, competent, trustworthy, decent, awesome self in stressful situations,” Cuddy says. “It is the ability to control your own states, your own behaviors, and, to some extent, your own outcomes.”
Here are three of Cuddy’s tips for how to make the most of a bad situation.
View challenges as opportunities.
When presented with a challenge, Cuddy advises reframing the situation. If you feel nervous to approach someone, for example, think of them as a collaborator or an ally, rather than as a competitor. Changing viewpoints can make you feel more in control of coming up with a solution to your problems.
“When we feel powerful, it leads us to act,” Cuddy says. “When we feel powerless, we don’t act.”
Don’t fake it until you make it.
Faking it until you make it works in some situations, but not when it comes to relationships. The best relationships are built on trust and authenticity–not on overstating your abilities.
“Unfortunately, we often make the mistake in work situations of showing off our skills and our strengths before showing that we are trustworthy,” Cuddy says. “When we neglect that piece, this other piece–the strength, the competence, the skills–they just don’t matter, especially for leaders who really need to inspire people to do their best work.”
Avoid panicing at all costs.
When presented with something that makes you panic, Cuddy advises business owners to think of a time when you felt your best, whether it was finishing your first successful fundraising meeting, landing your biggest client, or even at a personal event such as a wedding. By contrasting the panic with a good feeling, it can help you reset your approach to the situation and feel more present.
“When we feel present, we’re not doubting who we are [and] we believe in ourselves,” Cuddy says. “And when we believe in ourselves, we believe in what we’re selling.”
With the fourth Now we have a quarter on us, all industries are faced with the challenge of managing a holiday production schedule that will deliver the products. The key for startups looking to defend the quarter from disruptions is to take a proactive, data-driven approach to inventory management.
Here are five methods we’ve been advising clients to adopt:
Use data and analysis to identify and map inventory that is impacted by the global shipping crisis. If you don’t have the data on what’s on a ship carrying your materials, use this crisis as an opportunity to justify prioritizing supply chain digital transformation with advanced data, IoT, and analytics (e.g. machine learning and simulation).
You need to know the location of your products at all times if you are to successfully assess the impact a shortage will have on your operation. Eventually, AI will aid startups realize how myriad disruptions impact their provide chain so they can better respond with a Prepare B when the unthinkable comes about.
If you don’t have the data available, you should partner with a vendor and use a secure environment to share third-party data to provide actionable AI-driven insights on business impact on all parties involved, from start-up to commissioning. retailer. to the consumer.
Simulate and forecast the impact of these problems on the supply side on the demand side. Perform scenario planning exercises and inform critical business decisions. If this capability is not in place, an emergency such as a pandemic, civil unrest, or an uncontrollable rate hike will wreak havoc on your business plan. Use this situation as an opportunity to implement a disaster management program to prepare for potential risks.
Ahmer Inam is the chief synthetic intelligence officer (CAIO) at Pactera EDGE. He has greater than 20 years of expertise driving organizational transformation. His expertise contains management roles at Nike Inc., Wells Fargo, Sonic Automotive and Cambia Well being Options.
Across industries, businesses are now tech and data companies. The sooner they grasp and live that, the quicker they will meet their customer needs and expectations, create more business value and grow. It is increasingly important to re-imagine business and use digital technologies to create new business processes, cultures, customer experiences and opportunities.
One of the myths about digital transformation is that it’s all about harnessing technology. It’s not. To succeed, digital transformation inherently requires and relies on diversity. Artificial intelligence (AI) is the result of human intelligence, enabled by its vast talents and also susceptible to its limitations.
Therefore, it is imperative for organizations and teams to make diversity a priority and think about it beyond the traditional sense. For me, diversity centers around three key pillars.
People are the most important part of artificial intelligence; the fact is that humans create artificial intelligence. The diversity of people — the team of decision-makers in the creation of AI algorithms — must reflect the diversity of the general population.
This goes beyond ensuring opportunities for women in AI and technology roles. In addition, it includes the full dimensions of gender, race, ethnicity, skill set, experience, geography, education, perspectives, interests and more. Why? When you have diverse teams reviewing and analyzing data to make decisions, you mitigate the chances of their own individual and uniquely human experiences, privileges and limitations blinding them to the experiences of others.
One of the myths about digital transformation is that it’s all about harnessing technology. It’s not.
Collectively, we have an opportunity to apply AI and machine learning to propel the future and do good. That begins with diverse teams of people who reflect the full diversity and rich perspectives of our world.
Diversity of skills, perspectives, experiences and geographies has played a key role in our digital transformation. At Levi Strauss & Co., our growing strategy and AI team doesn’t include solely data and machine learning scientists and engineers. We recently tapped employees from across the organization around the world and deliberately set out to train people with no previous experience in coding or statistics.
We took people in retail operations, distribution centers and warehouses, and design and planning and put them through our first-ever machine learning bootcamp, building on their expert retail skills and supercharging them with coding and statistics.
We did not limit the required backgrounds; we simply looked for people who were curious problem solvers, analytical by nature and persistent to look for various ways of approaching business issues. The combination of existing expert retail skills and added machine learning knowledge meant employees who graduated from the program now have meaningful new perspectives on top of their business value. This first-of-its-kind initiative in the retail industry helped us develop a talented and diverse bench of team members.
AI and machine learning capabilities are only as good as the data put into the system. We often limit ourselves to thinking of data in terms of structured tables — numbers and figures — but data is anything that can be digitized.
The digital images of the jeans and jackets our company has been producing for the past 168 years are data. The customer service conversations (recorded only with permissions) are data. The heatmaps from how people move in our stores are data. The reviews from our consumers are data. Today, everything that can be digitized becomes data. We need to broaden how we think of data and ensure we constantly feed all data into AI work.
Most predictive models use data from the past to predict the future. But because the apparel industry is still in the nascent stages of digital, data and AI adoption, having past data to reference is often a common problem. In fashion, we’re looking ahead to predict trends and demand for completely new products, which have no sales history. How do we do that?
We use more data than ever before, for example, both images of the new products and a database of our products from past seasons. We then apply computer vision algorithms to detect similarity between past and new fashion products, which helps us predict demand for those new products. These applications provide much more accurate estimates than experience or intuition do, supplementing previous practices with data- and AI-powered predictions.
At Levi Strauss & Co., we also use digital images and 3D assets to simulate how clothes feel and even create new fashion. For example, we train neural networks to understand the nuances around various jean styles like tapered legs, whisker patterns and distressed looks, and detect the physical properties of the components that affect the drapes, folds and creases. We’re then able to combine this with market data, where we can tailor our product collections to meet changing consumer needs and desires and focus on the inclusiveness of our brand across demographics.
Furthermore, we use AI to create new styles of apparel while always retaining the creativity and innovation of our world-class designers.
Tools and techniques
In addition to people and data, we need to ensure diversity in the tools and techniques we use in the creation and production of algorithms. Some AI systems and products use classification techniques, which can perpetuate gender or racial bias.
For example, classification techniques assume gender is binary and commonly assign people as “male” or “female” based on physical appearance and stereotypical assumptions, meaning all other forms of gender identity are erased. That’s a problem, and it’s upon all of us working in this space, in any company or industry, to prevent bias and advance techniques in order to capture all the nuances and ranges in people’s lives. For example, we can take race out of the data to try and render an algorithm race-blind while continuously safeguarding against bias.
We are committed to diversity in our AI products and systems and, in striving for that, we use open-source tools. Open-source tools and libraries by their nature are more diverse because they are available to everyone around the world and people from all backgrounds and fields work to enhance and advance them, enriching with their experiences and thus limiting bias.
An example of how we do this at Levi Strauss & Company is with our U.S. Red Tab loyalty program. As fans set up their profiles, we don’t ask them to pick a gender or allow the AI system to make assumptions. Instead, we ask them to pick their style preferences (Women, Men, Both or Don’t Know) in order to help our AI system build tailored shopping experiences and more personalized product recommendations.
Diversity of people, data, and techniques and tools is helping Levi Strauss & Co. revolutionize its business and our entire industry, transforming manual to automated, analog to digital, and intuitive to predictive. We are also building on the legacy of our company’s social values, which has stood for equality, democracy and inclusiveness for 168 years. Diversity in AI is one of the latest opportunities to continue this legacy and shape the future of fashion.
Despite the lifting of most legal COVID-19 restrictions on July 19, the pandemic’s effect on the health, economy and wellbeing of the English public is far from over. The latest development is in the form of the “pingdemic” –- the term referring to the hundreds of thousands of people who have been instructed to self-isolate in recent weeks via the NHS COVID-19 track and trace app.
The so-called pingdemic has had a massively disruptive effect on businesses, who are suffering from widespread staff shortages across sectors. Another casualty is the food supply chain. We are missing items on our supermarket shelves as a result of shortages of workers both because of the pingdemic and Brexit complications.
Meanwhile, there are concerns that people may be deleting or disabling the app, posing a threat to the attempts to control the spread of COVID variants. Business leaders, confused by conflicting government guidance, are now caught between the need to protect their employees’ health and safety, and to avoid the financial impact of closures after many months of lost income.
The government has attempted to combat this through an emergency plan to exempt NHS staff and some key workers, such as in the food supply industry, from isolating if they are pinged, so long as they take daily COVID tests and are fully vaccinated. But food bosses say they have not been properly briefed on what they think is a bureaucratic process to exempt workers.
Get coronavirus updates from health experts
The app, despite its various flaws, is doing what it is designed to do -– businesses cannot ignore requirements to self-isolate, but must be flexible in how they handle employees who have been pinged.
Of course, as has been highlighted throughout the pandemic, there is a vast gap between jobs that can and cannot be done remotely. While no solution will be one-size-fits-all, there are a few things that businesses affected by isolating workers can do to mitigate the disruption and ensure the safety of both their employees and their business success.
How can businesses respond?
Now that we are hopefully on the way out of the depths of the pandemic, the pingdemic calls for businesses to persevere and innovate. This means that in the short term, they may need to rotate employees into different roles, as well as change existing ways of working.
Employers should make workplace changes to reduce the likelihood of contact with others and being pinged – whether this means returning to early-COVID days of social distancing, reduced opening hours, or more people working from home.
If they have not done so already, businesses who can afford to should set up isolation funds, independent of the government’s support payments for low-income individuals, to ensure that workers experience no financial impact from being asked to isolate. If a job cannot be done from home, employers could use the opportunity to invest in remote training or development for workers who are healthy but have been asked to isolate.
For sectors like social care and construction, partnerships with employment agencies could temporarily increase their pool of workers and provide a “safety net” of employees.
Businesses in sectors like retail and hospitality may have to initially operate under reduced hours. But looking to the longer term, they could learn to cope with staff shortages in different ways. For example, a warehouse operative may rotate to an administrative position while they are in isolation, or help to train agency workers remotely, or work on their own development and training.
HGV drivers are currently in high demand due to staff shortages in their industry. This has led to a potentially dangerous situation where some are driving for too many hours. Government plans to improve working conditions and recruit more drivers have not been received well, and industry groups are calling for longer-term proposals to combat the shortage, including better pay and new recruitment techniques.
Business leaders, like all citizens, have a moral responsibility to protect others and prevent further pressure on the NHS. They should respond in a way which protects their employees, and gives them adequate financial protection and flexibility to self-isolate, as well as making workplace changes to reduce the likelihood of being pinged.
Finally, as much as the pingdemic is a concern, it may also be a distraction from wider sociopolitical issues like Brexit, an ageing population, inflation and increasingly also youth unemployment – not to mention the continuing health threat of COVID-19.
Misinformation and outlandish claims are reaching a wider audience now more than ever. The Conversation publishes research-informed journalism by academics to help you understand what’s really happening. Our only aim is to make sure people hear from experts. But without your support, we won’t be able to keep going.
As water shortages and drought become increasingly common, cities will need to invest in infrastructure and find ways to recycle their supply.
Cities across time have stretched to secure water. The Romans built aqueducts, the Mayans constructed underground storage chambers, and Hohokam farmers dug more than 500 miles of canals in what is now the U.S. Southwest.
Today’s cities use portfolios of technologies to conserve supply — everything from 60-story dams and chemicals to centrifugal pumps and special toilets. And yet, the cities of tomorrow will have to do more.
A recent United Nations report on drought says climate change is increasing the frequency, severity and duration of droughts, which contribute to food insecurity, poverty and inequality. The report also asserts that “drought has been the single longest-term physical trigger of political change in 5,000 years of recorded human history.” It calls for urgent action and a transformation in governance to manage modern drought risk more effectively.
Examples can be found globally. In 2018, Cape Town, South Africa, narrowly averted a “Day Zero,” when the taps would have run dry. Indian aquifers are falling fast. The Colorado River, a water source for 40 million people, faces dire shortages as the American West slides deeper into “megadrought.”By 2050, the world’s population is projected to near 10 billion, increasing water demand by 55%. And by then, two-thirds of people will live in cities.
“As cities continue to grow, they will have more water demand from many sectors: residential, industrial, ecological,” says Enrique Vivoni, a hydrologist at Arizona State University. “City planners have to think ahead, and not only 5, 10 years, but perhaps 50 or 100 years.”
Every place is different when it comes to preparing for these challenges, but some tactics are universally applicable enough that they can be united into a blueprint for the water-smart cities of tomorrow.
Experts point to one way everyone on the planet can conserve water: Use it more than once. We recycle plastics and metals, but why not water? Dragan Savic, chief executive officer of KWR Water Research Institute in the Netherlands, believes recycling at home is a “huge” opportunity. Newsha Ajami, director of Urban Water Policy at Stanford University’s Water in the West initiative, says onsite reuse is perhaps the best way to improve efficiency.
“If we think about the cities that we have right now, it’s pretty much a one-use system,” Ajami says. “So, water comes in, we use it once, it goes out. You flush down the toilet the same water that you drink, which is not very efficient, if you think about it.”
Homes should use water many times, according to Ajami. A multi-use approach is possible because several uses — landscaping, gardening and toilet water — don’t require drinking-quality water. Many of these needs can be met with greywater, meaning waste-free recycled water. As much as 75% of domestic water can be reused as greywater.
Consider the toilet. Toilets account for up to 30% of indoor domestic water use. However, toilet water could be second use, routed from sinks, showers and dishwashers, cutting demand. Some cities are acting on this knowledge. Sydney, Australia, has designed Green Square, a town center designed for sustainability and water reuse, including as toilet water. Microsoft’s office in Herzliya, Israel, is routing greywater to toilets as well.
Greywater can also help meet water needs for landscaping, which comprises almost one-third of residential American water use. Additionally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that informed plant selection can save 20% to 50% of landscaping water. Proper irrigation can save even more.
More precise data on water usage could also aid conservation. With better water metering, people might better understand their home usage, both indoors and outdoors.
“Water is less measured than other systems, like transportation,” KWR’s Savic says. “If you don’t measure it, you cannot manage it.”
Ajami says she believes a “Nest-like device” that measures water usage by category could aid in such efforts. It might, for one, “let you know that you’re using too much water in the shower.” She also advocates for reforming water utilities themselves, since those companies profit from increased usage. Rate structures must be decoupled in a way that lets utilities recover their costs regardless of the water volume they sell.
“If you want to promote conservation, these utilities are not set for these consumption patterns,” Ajami says. “They’re selling you a commodity.”
As water becomes scarcer, some have even returned to the ancient art of rainwater harvesting, which can relieve pressure on surface water and groundwater sources if scaled broadly.
Cities across the globe are encouraging the practice, and, even in the driest of places, people have found a way to collect and store rain. In Tucson, Arizona, resident Brad Lancaster meets 95% of his water needs via rain. Many American cities offer financial incentives to people who install rainwater harvesting systems, making local water systems more resilient. In India, mandatory rainwater harvesting laws have arisen in some states and cities, like Tamil Nadu and New Delhi.
“Every drop of water we harvest from an alternative source is a drop of water we’re not taking out of the environment in a different way,” Ajami says.
Air conditioner condensate is another water source with potential, though it’s not likely to be a major contributor, especially in cities lacking humidity. Water is a byproduct of air conditioning. Places like the San Diego Airport and the Austin Public Library are collecting this water condensate and using it for power-washing, gardening and even brewing beer.
Desalination is another possibility. Turning salt water to fresh water has proven an important water source even in wet cities like London. The largest desalination plant in North America, in San Diego, produces tens of millions of gallons of freshwater per day. The process, however, is energy intensive and often uses fossil fuels (for now), meaning cities must balance costs and carbon emissions with their water needs.
Additionally, there are offsite water sources with narrower applicability, like the fog-catching machines of Lima, Peru. Even the International Space Station treats astronaut sweat, urine and breath moisture for water reuse.
Tackle the Underlying Cause
Cities can employ a range of solutions to tackle water scarcity, but climate change remains the root cause of many looming water issues. It drives supply-side water problems — lowering rivers, increasing evapotranspiration and disrupting precipitation patterns. If greenhouse gas emissions can be curbed, supply-side problems might be mitigated, according to water experts. (Demand, however, will continue to rise with population.)
Even so, some warming is already a certainty, and cities will need to become far more water efficient and invest in related education. Outdated pipes and water infrastructure must be updated. Savic emphasizes the need to equip water systems with cybersecurity. There are also a host of potential policy changes, including requiring buildings to reuse water, encouraging greywater systems, and pursuing innovative financing, like the Green Stormwater Infrastructure Fee that Tucson charges residents. That money funds rainwater capture systems and the development of green spaces.
“We are buildings future cities today,” says Ajami. “Every new development that goes up is going to be around for another 20, 40 or 100 years.”
When to build the necessary water-smart future cities? In a perfect world, 20, 40 or 100 years ago. But in our world, now.
It’s become a parlor game in Washington, on Wall Street, and in Silicon Valley to figure out where U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler stands on cryptocurrencies. Industry lobbyists tune in when he testifies before Congress. Lawyers parse his speeches. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. wealth advisers recently boasted in a research report about looking for clues in 29 hours of the Blockchain and Money course he developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
That’s an arduous but perhaps not novel undertaking, since videos of the classes have garnered millions of views online, something that amazes even Gensler. In his first extensive interview about the digital money craze, Gensler signaled that his deep interest in the subject doesn’t mean he’s simpatico with the hands-off oversight approach that many enthusiasts would like to see.
Policymakers have struggled with how to respond to the mostly unregulated $1.6 trillion market, which has seen explosive growth and wild price swings. Gensler is contemplating a robust oversight regime, centered on establishing safeguards for the millions of investors who’ve been stocking their portfolios with tokens. “While I’m neutral on the technology, even intrigued—I spent three years teaching it, leaning into it—I’m not neutral about investor protection,” says Gensler, who on Tuesday will give a speech about crypto at the Aspen Security Forum.
“If somebody wants to speculate, that’s their choice, but we have a role as a nation to protect those investors against fraud.” Gensler has asked Congress to pass a law that could give the agency the legal authority to monitor crypto exchanges, but he says the SEC’s powers are already broad. There’s been much discussion over the years about which kinds of digital assets fall under the SEC’s purview.
Some such as Bitcoin that act like currencies are considered commodities, not securities. But there are thousands of other coins, and Gensler believes most are unregistered securities that must comply with SEC rules. Broadly he noted that technology has sparked economic progress throughout human history, and he sees a similar boost from digital assets. That may only come, however, with strong and thoughtful regulation.
As an analogy, he says the automobile industry didn’t fully take off until governments laid out driving rules. Speed limits and traffic lights provided public safety but also helped cars become mainstream. “It’s only with bringing things inside—and sort of clearly within our public policy goals—that a technology has a chance of broader adoption,” he says.
Hester Peirce, a Republican commissioner on the SEC known for her advocacy of light-touch regulation of digital assets, says she’s eager to work with Gensler. “A lot people just want more clarity,” she says. “I come from a perspective that people should have the maximum freedom to engage in transactions they want to engage in voluntarily. Society needs to have that discussion about what is the right regulatory framework.”
Gensler didn’t give a timeline for any SEC action. He has a to-do list that includes 49 non-crypto policy reviews that could slow progress on cryptocurrencies. Many are high-profile and time-consuming efforts, like responding to the GameStop Corp. trading frenzy and the blow-up of the Archegos family office. The SEC is also working to impose new rules that would require companies to disclose carbon emissions and other environmental risks, a Biden administration priority.
Nor would Gensler comment on the potential for approving a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund, a decision that many in the crypto world are eagerly awaiting, because it would provide an easy on-ramp for investors. A Bitcoin ETF would invest in the cryptocurrency and then trade its shares on the stock market. So far the SEC has balked at permitting such funds, citing concerns about the risk of fraud and manipulation in the Bitcoin market.
Gensler has spoken positively about the ETFs during his days at MIT, giving advocates hope that he’s a supporter. Peirce says it’s “high time” the SEC approved a crypto ETF. Behind the scenes, Gensler has pushed the agency’s staff members to take a look at an array of potential policy changes. He says there are at least seven SEC initiatives looking at different crypto issues: initial coin offerings, trading venues, lending platforms, decentralized finance, stable value coins, custody, and ETFs and other coin funds. “I’ve asked the staff to use all of our authorities anywhere we can,” he says.
Gensler says he thinks regulating crypto exchanges is perhaps the easiest way for the government to get a quick handle on digital token trading. But he’s also concerned about new ways people are getting into crypto, such as peer-to-peer lending on so-called decentralized finance, or DeFi, platforms. If firms are advertising a specific interest-rate return on a crypto asset, Gensler says, that could bring the loans under SEC oversight. Platforms that pool digital assets could be seen as akin to mutual funds, potentially allowing the SEC to regulate them.
Gensler was chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) during the Obama administration, where he was responsible for bringing federal oversight to the huge market for derivatives known as swaps after the financial crisis. Patrick McCarty, who teaches a class on cryptocurrencies at Georgetown University’s law school, says Gensler’s understanding of digital assets means he will give the industry a “fair hearing,” though he will likely disappoint many proponents.
“When the crypto people say they want legal certainty, they don’t mean that—they want to be unregulated,” McCarty says. “That’s never been Gary’s point of view.” Christine Trent Parker, who focuses on crypto assets as a law partner at Reed Smith in New York, says that although new SEC rules would bring more certainty to the industry, they also could divide the policing of the market more starkly—with the CFTC focused on markets linked to virtual currencies such as Bitcoin and the SEC handling much of the rest.
“Right now the lines are fuzzy because we have speeches and enforcement and court orders,” instead of bright-line regulation, she says. “If the SEC has sort of a broad framework that pulls in all of the other digital assets, then you have this bifurcated marketplace.” Others have argued that new token developers need some regulatory flexibility to encourage innovation.
Gensler also sits on the Treasury-led Financial Stability Oversight Council and the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, which recently held a meeting on the impact of stablecoins. These are crypto tokens that are supposed to be backed by traditional currencies such as the U.S. dollar, and they’ve become a huge part of the crypto trading system. Regulators worry about what could happen if some stablecoin didn’t turn out to be worth what it was supposed to be—prompting an exodus akin to a run on a bank or a money-market fund.
Gensler’s views on the panels carry weight, people who follow the issue note, because unlike, say, the Treasury secretary or Federal Reserve chairman, he has real crypto cred. His understanding of blockchain and digital assets comes largely from the several years he spent at MIT. Along with creating the cryptocurrency course, he’s been a frequent guest at industry conferences—sometimes speaking 30 to 50 times a year—mixing with deep thinkers and entrepreneurs.
He quotes writings of Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous creator of Bitcoin, from memory and knew some of the core developers of the digital currency. The 63-year-old former Goldman Sachs partner traveled an unlikely path to becoming one of the government’s foremost cryptocurrency experts. It started in 2017, when as chief financial officer of Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign he had the lonely job of closing up shop, paying off the final bills, and deciding what to do with the abandoned computers and office supplies.
Like many of his shell-shocked former colleagues, Gensler was looking for something to do—and somewhere to sit out Donald Trump’s presidency. The answer came from economist Simon Johnson, an MIT professor who encouraged Gensler to come to Cambridge, Mass., and teach. Looking to nurture a long-held interest in the intersection of technology and finance, Gensler jumped at the opportunity.
Although he didn’t know much about digital tokens, he connected with people who were part of the university’s burgeoning Digital Currency Initiative and even audited a course in crypto programming. When he suggested MIT teach more about finance and digital money, he was given the job. Little did he know that in a few years he’d have a chance to put his academic studies to real-world use. “Life sometimes is a bit of serendipity,’’ he says.