Eight Ways To Emerge Stronger From The Crisis

With the pandemic easing, it’s time for businesses to square their shoulders and aggressively move toward a digital-first strategy, says Paul Roehrig, Head of Strategy at Cognizant Digital Business & Technology.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken millions of lives and triggered trillions of dollars’ worth of economic wreckage. And while news regarding vaccines is encouraging, now is not the time for the world to turn its back on safety measures proven to help slow the spread of the virus.

Nevertheless, vaccines are taking hold at various rates worldwide, and there is every reason to believe the grip the coronavirus has held on the world for over a year is easing.

Early in the crisis, we explored steps businesses should take to eventually emerge from the pandemic in a strong position. We believe that advice has held up, and that now is the time for forward-looking companies to accelerate digital initiatives.

Eight ways to catalyze post-crisis gains:

A year ago, “becoming digital” was seen by many as a desirable elective, but now — in our new world — it’s mandatory. The most common questions from business leaders from every industry and region have been: “I get the theory, but where do I start? What specific steps can I take today to ensure a healthy tomorrow?” These eight critical tactics will help:

1) Modernize data

It’s more important than ever to turn data from a liability into an asset. Companies that haven’t gotten control of their data are already behind, and the new economy will make it harder to recover. It’s no longer justifiable to pay to maintain terabytes (or more) of data and then not use it for business outcomes.

Improving decisions and experiences — and growth — with applied intelligence is infinitely more difficult (or impossible) without data that is relevant, accessible, secure and used to improve decisions or customer experiences. A data audit — figuring out what data is available, being accessed and for what purpose — was a no-regret decision 13 months ago. Now it’s a condition for survival.

2) Unshackle from legacy applications 

Roughly $3 trillion of economic value per day still runs on COBOL. That’s a staggering reliance on a programming language dating back to 1959. Going forward, business pressures will make it unsustainable to be trapped by this heritage software. Consumer relevance, faster time-to-market and cost savings have never been more important.

Many companies feel trapped by their legacy software, but there are new tools, processes, engineering methods and partners to help unlock value that is trapped in data centers. The first step is a complete software audit to understand which applications make the most sense to modernize, which should be left alone and which can be turned off.

3) Modernize how employees work

Remember going into an office? Getting on a train? The TSA pat-down? We’ll do all that again, but ideas and practices about how we work together will never be the same. The pandemic shock accelerates the imperative to be able to work from an office, the home, the car, the … well, anywhere! Today’s employees seek the same high-quality experience as a consumer using the best software.

Old, difficult-to-use interfaces and systems hinder how employees interact and collaborate, and store and exchange information. Seamless, secure connections across web, mobile, voice, collaboration systems, platforms and processes have made great strides during lockdowns. We aren’t going backward, so the time is now to extend the modern employee experience.

4) Modernize consumer experiences

In just a few painful weeks in 2020, elegant, secure, scalable online content and commerce went from critical to essential for every consumer-facing industry. Content has always been important, but with more transactions online, the ability to deliver that content to the right person, at the right time, in any place, via any device, via beautiful software is now and forever a business imperative.

Regardless of industry, expectations for engagement have shifted. The immediate reaction for too many businesses was to throw cash at front-end consumer-facing apps. A better bet is to take a step back and understand how the lifecycle of demand can be changed longer-term. That starts with deeply understanding how human wants and needs are likely to unfold in line with specific products and services.

5) Engineer software for the new economy

Every modern business needs software that can be built quickly and scaled effectively to deliver modern (human-first) experiences across the value chain for employees, partners and customers. It’s not necessary to be better at software engineering than Google or Microsoft, but it is necessary for every company to become more software-centric.

Tools, engineering methods and technologies already exist to help an enterprise become a better bank, a better insurer, a better retailer. This requires rethinking how core IT teams are structured, how they work and how they are incented, plus reevaluating the partner ecosystem critical to the business. Every major company is building software all the time, but it’s now time to explore new methods. Starting small can show near-term progress while mitigating risk.

6) Virtualize core work

The total impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will take years to become clear. However, one irrefutable shift is the new requirement for companies to modernize core process work. Middle- and back-office work that is slow, labor-intensive, expensive, opaque and unchanging is no longer allowable. Nearly every organization we know of can improve supply chain management, HR, finance and industry-specific process work.

Notably, the pandemic unlocked virtualized medical care as medical workers used technology to provide at-home solutions or even in-hospital solutions more safely and effectively. And that’s just one example. Automation, applied intelligence and worker enhancement have all moved from “helpful” to “critical” during the COVID crisis. Now is the time to begin exploring which points on the value chain make the most sense to modernize today.

7) Modernize the cloud foundation

For years, IT has been chipping away at costs by moving work to service providers and pushing centralized computer loads to the cloud, but that was really just Phase One. The unprecedented economic downturn has shone a spotlight on how much more can be done, and how rapidly. Threadbare arguments against reducing IT costs — e.g., by more aggressively moving into the cloud, deploying cost-effective software-as-a-service platforms, reducing operating costs of non-core work – must be overruled. We recommend a pivoting from, “What can we move into the cloud?” to, “What can’t we move to the cloud?”

8) Make every space smart (and safe)

For years, sensor-enabling industrial equipment has improved productivity, reduced downtime and paved the way for more “as-a-service” business models. In the post-pandemic economy — as demand evolves and our expectations and concerns about staying safe in public spaces remain top of mind — nearly every company that operates in physical space will have to adopt the same philosophy.

COVID accelerated the development of technologies that assess occupant health and help us maintain safe distances, clean surfaces, etc. This takes a coordinated solution linking sensors, analytics and software. Business leaders must continue to be proactive in applying instrumentation, analytics and software engineering to make every space intelligent, less expensive to manage, more comfortable and safer.

To learn more, read our report “From Chaos to Catalyst,” visit the Digital Business & Technology section of our website or contact us.

Paul Roehrig is Head of Strategy for Cognizant Digital Business & Technology. He is the Founder and former Global Managing Director of the Center for The Future of Work at Cognizant. Along with Malcolm Frank and Ben Pring, he is a coauthor of What To Do When Machines Do Everything: How to Get Ahead in a World of AI, Algorithms, Bots, and Big Data and Code Halos: How the Digital Lives of People, Things, and Organizations are Changing the Rules of Business. Paul’s most recent work is Monster: A Tough Love Letter on Taming the Machines that Rule our Jobs, Lives, and Future, which he co-authored with Ben Pring. He can be reached at Paul.Roehrig@cognizant.com.

Source: Eight Ways To Emerge Stronger From The Crisis

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Emerging from crisis requires humanity not strategy | Daily FT

As Pandemic Fatigue Sets In at Work, Employers Try to Help

People are tired. Between a global pandemic, economic crisis, social unrest, & political upheaval, the past year has been physically and emotionally draining for just about everyone, and perhaps most for essential workers.

Across industries, workers struggling with pandemic fatigue are facing burnout more than ever. For leaders, keeping these employees engaged and motivated is a challenge in itself. While some leaders are turning to incentives like gift cards and cash to help support employees, others are taking a softer approach, investing in relationships and focusing on workplace communication.

Money Talks

When the pandemic began, the hospitality industry fell off a cliff, says Liz Neumark, founder and CEO of Great Performances, a catering company in New York City. She knew keeping everyone employed would be difficult until her business could find another source of revenue apart from events, which eventually came in the form of preparing meals for essential workers and people unable to quarantine at home. While some of her employees, such as those in sales or event production, saw salary reductions, chefs, kitchen staff, and other employees making food for essential workers kept their full salaries and got help with transportation as well.  

The founders of P. Terry’s, an Austin, Texas-based fast-food restaurant chain, give employees gift cards and cash to help pay for groceries and offer them interest-free loans. They also incentivize employees to participate in community and civic causes, including paying hourly wages for volunteer work.

Justin Spannuth, chief operating officer of Unique Snacks, a sixth-generation, family-operated hard pretzel maker in Reading, Pennsylvania, increased hourly wages by $2 for all 85 of his employees. The company also hired additional temporary employees to provide a backup workforce. Spannuth says the move helped persuade employees with possible symptoms to stay at home by easing the guilt that employees can have about not coming in and potentially increasing the workload on their colleagues. 

“The last thing we wanted our employees to do was get worn out from working too many hours and then have their immune system compromised because of it,” says Spannuth.

Helping Employees Connect

Andrea Ahern, vice president of Mid Florida Material Handling, a material handling company in Orlando, Florida, says it was difficult to keep morale up when the business was clearly struggling; employees were uncertain about the company’s future, and their own. To help ease the stress, the company held a wide array of picnic-style meals in the company’s parking lot. It was a light distraction that still followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Now, she says, morale has started to rise.

“With the release of the vaccine and the so-called ‘light at the end of the tunnel,’ we’re starting to see the industry get a lift in activity, and associates feel good when they know their jobs aren’t at risk. However, it wasn’t always this way.”

These kinds of events can, of course, also take place virtually. Company leaders across industries are encouraging staff to treat Zoom as a virtual water cooler. But while casual online gatherings after work can help colleagues maintain friendly relationships, they can also contribute to “Zoom fatigue”–the drained feeling that comes after a long day of video calls, which often require more concentration than in-person meetings.

Matt McCambridge, co-founder and CEO of Eden Health, a primary/collaborative care practice based in New York, says while his teams hold regular virtual water coolers, they switch it up. For example, the company hosted an interactive “dueling pianos” virtual event over the holidays, as well as a magic show. 

Better Communication From the Top

Communicating support work-life balance at a time when many people are remote and facing trauma is critical. Neumark notes that when her catering company was pivoting and in the process of providing hundreds, if not thousands, of meals, the team was relying mostly on sheer adrenaline. Months later, now that the novelty is gone and fatigue has fully set in, the boundaries she set are crucial.

One rule, for example, is weekends off, unless there’s an urgent, unavoidable request. “The weeks are still so intense, and people need their private time right now,” says Neumark.

It’s essential that leaders understand the issues their employees may be facing and not try to gloss over them, says Dr. Benjamin F. Miller, a psychologist and chief strategy officer of Well Being Trust, a foundation aimed at advancing mental and social health. “When your boss is pretending that everything is OK, it doesn’t create a conducive work environment for someone to talk about having a bad day,” says Miller. That’s one reason virtual water coolers often fail, he notes. While they’re great at getting people together, there’s little benefit if people can’t speak openly and honestly.

It’s also OK to tell employees that you, as a leader, are not having an easy time. Showing vulnerability doesn’t show weakness, Miller adds. You’re setting an example that shows that it’s OK to be honest and acknowledge that not everyone is not having the best time. If you aren’t aware that someone is in a crisis, he says, you may lose the opportunity to reach out to that person and help.

By Brit Morse@britnmorse

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ZDoggMD

Cases rising, news orgs banging the drums of doom, yet Americans seem to be throwing up their hands. Here’s what’s up with #pandemicfatigue​, LIVE. Transcript, audio podcast, and more: https://zdoggmd.com/pandemic-fatigue-…​ Your support keeps this content independent and awesome, so join the Supporter Tribe to get exclusive videos, live discussions, and other crazy perks: YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/zdoggmd/…​ Facebook: http://facebook.com/becomesupporter/z…​ Patreon: http://patreon.com/zdoggmd​ PayPal: https://www.paypal.me/zdoggmd​ Merch! https://supportertribe4lyfe.com/​ (Facebook and YouTube supporters get 25% off) Website: https://ZDoggMD.com​ Podcast: https://ZDoggMD.com/podcasts​ Facebook: http://facebook.com/zdoggmd​ Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gD8_D1​ Twitter: http://twitter.com/zdoggmd​ Instagram: http://instagram.com/zdoggmd

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A blog about your mental health and developing your human potential http://www.drrodolfoatrivisonno.com – December 29, 2020[…] y da consejos para prevenir la infeccion This post explains the current psychological phenomenon of COVID19 fatigue and gives you information as to how to cope with it Este articulo explica que es el narcisismo […]3

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U.K. Hit By Worst Economic Contraction On Record Amid Covid-19 Pandemic

Britain’s economy shrank by a record-breaking 9.9% in 2020, new figures by the Office of National Statistics show, highlighting the impact of Covid-19 restrictions, employment uncertainty and reduced demand, with limited growth in the final quarter narrowly avoiding a double-dip recession.  

The Office for National Statistics said Friday that the U.K.’s economic output fell by 9.9% in 2020, the largest annual fall on record.

Though the economy grew 1% in the last quarter when looser restrictions boosted the services industry, overall output was down 7.8% from the last quarter of 2019, the ONS said. 

The slump is twice that of the 2009 financial crisis and is possibly the worst in 300 years, with models from the Bank of England suggesting a decline of 13% during the Great Frost of 1709.

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U.K. finance minister Rishi Sunak said the figures show that the U.K. has suffered a “serious shock” as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“While there are some positive signs of the economy’s resilience over the winter, we know that the current lockdown continues to have a significant impact on many people and businesses,” Sunak said, adding that his focus “remains fixed on doing everything we can to protect jobs, businesses and livelihoods.”

Key Background

The pandemic and associated public health restrictions made for an economically bumpy 2020, especially in economies like the U.K. which are heavily reliant on services. In the U.K., the first and second quarters of 2020 shrunk the economy by 2.9% and 19% respectively, but there was record growth of 16.1% in the third as restrictions were lifted. 

Tangent

In contrast, the U.S. economy shrank by a record 3.5% in 2020, the worst year since the aftermath of World War 2.    

What To Watch For

Strict public health measures and a resurgent wave of Covid-19 infections driven by a dangerous new variant of the virus have the U.K. economy likely falling again in 2021. While the U.K. has the worst coronavirus death rate in the world, it also has one of the best vaccination records, priming the country for an economic comeback. The BBC reported Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane describing the economy as a “coiled spring” ready to release large amounts of “pent-up financial energy”.

 Further Reading

GDP first quarterly estimate, UK: October to December 2020 (ONS)

UK economy suffered record annual slump in 2020 (BBC)

UK economy shrinks by most in 300 years (Financial Times) Follow me on Twitter. Send me a secure tip

Robert Hart

Robert Hart

I am a London-based reporter for Forbes covering breaking news. Previously, I have worked as a reporter for a specialist legal publication covering big data and as a freelance journalist and policy analyst covering science, tech and health. I have a master’s degree in Biological Natural Sciences and a master’s degree in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge. Follow me on Twitter @theroberthart or email me at rhart@forbes.com 

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BBC News

The “economic emergency” caused by Covid-19 has only just begun, according to the UK’s Chancellor Rishi Sunak, as he warned the pandemic would deal lasting damage to growth and jobs. Please subscribe HERE http://bit.ly/1rbfUog​ Official forecasts now predict the biggest economic decline in 300 years. The UK economy is expected to shrink by 11.3% this year and not return to its pre-crisis size until the end of 2022. Government borrowing will rise to its highest outside of wartime to deal with the economic impact.

The government’s independent forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) expects the number of unemployed people to surge to 2.6 million by the middle of next year. It means the unemployment rate will hit 7.5%, its highest level since the financial crisis in 2009. Newsnight’s Political Editor Nick Watt and Policy Editor Lewis Goodall report. #BBCNews#Newsnight#Coronavirus​ Newsnight is the BBC’s flagship news and current affairs TV programme – with analysis, debate, exclusives, and robust interviews. Website: https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsnight​ Twitter: https://twitter.com/BBCNewsnight​ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bbcnewsnight

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Bankruptcy Cases In Singapore At 5-Year Low Amid Covid-19 Relief Measures

SINGAPORE – Even as the Covid-19 pandemic ravages the economy, the number of people who were made bankrupt last year sank to the lowest in five years.

Bankruptcy orders tumbled more than 40 per cent to 965 from 1,645 in 2019. Figures from the Law Ministry’s Insolvency Office website showed more than 1,600 bankruptcy orders were made annually between 2016 and 2018.

Experts said the drop in numbers could be due to the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act and government support schemes which provided temporary relief for financially distressed individuals.

Lawyer Chia Boon Teck of Chia Wong Chambers said: “Pre-Covid-19, the law allows a debtor 21 days to pay up on a statutory demand. However, the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020 extends the 21 days to six months. This in effect puts a five-month moratorium on outstanding debts.”

The Covid-19 law also raised the minimal debt from $15,000 to $60,000 so debtors owing less than $60,000 are not exposed to threats of bankruptcy, he added.

Last year, bankruptcy applications fell to 2,833 from 3,473 in 2019, reversing an upward trend since 2014.”The twin measures probably account for the drastic drop in bankruptcy applications,” said Mr Chia.

Maybank Kim Eng senior economist Chua Hak Bin said bankruptcies could have been far worse if not for the fiscal support and relief measures that also saw “the freezing of creditors’ rights to commence legal action for default until late 2020”.

Figures from the Insolvency Office website also showed corporate insolvency numbers fell, with 206 applications filed for winding up between January and November last year, down from 368 in the same period in 2019.

Said Dr Chua: “We expect the number of bankruptcies to increase in 2021 as the fiscal support and temporary relief measures are wound down.”

He added that such measures can help only firms suffering from a temporary liquidity crunch, “but cannot save firms which are no longer viable in this new normal”.

Among the high-profile bankruptcy proceedings last year was a bankruptcy bid filed against local hardware chain Home-Fix’s founder Low Cheong Kee and his younger brother by paint manufacturer Nippon Paint (Singapore) over a debt of $500,000.

Political party Peoples Voice’s leader Lim Tean also faced bankruptcy claims totalling about $1.45 million.

Mr Nelson Loh, who was behind an audacious bid to buy English Premier League football club Newcastle United last year, was adjudged a bankrupt by the Singapore High Court in December. He had failed to pay an outstanding debt of over $14 million to DBS Bank.

His cousin Terence Loh is also facing bankruptcy proceedings filed by Maybank over a $3 million debt.

George (not his real name), a 50-year-old bankrupt, said: “The government relief measures only helped to delay the proceedings. Financially distressed individuals would still be struggling to raise enough money to pay their debts amid the pandemic.”

He said he filed for bankruptcy as he was unable to pay his debts of over $100,000 to various banks.

“Some people may think I had chosen the easy way out, but it’s not. It was a difficult decision to make. Many companies will not hire me because I am a bankrupt. And I also can’t manage a business or act as director of a company.”

As at Dec 31, there were 10,269 undischarged bankrupts.

A bankrupt may try to have his bankruptcy status annulled after paying off all outstanding debts. He can also apply to the High Court to grant him a discharge or the court-assigned administrator may discharge him after at least three years of good conduct, provided his debts do not exceed $500,000 and his creditors do not object.

By: Joyce Lim Senior Correspondent

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Five Lessons From The Pandemic Light A Path Forward To The Future Of Work

Finally, we are nearing the end of the 2020 tunnel and seeing encouraging glimmers of light. While the pandemic is not yet under control, we do have promising vaccine news as 2021 approaches, and many countries in the Asia-Pacific region have returned to on-site work. We see stabilization in US government after months of uncertainty, and the beginning of commitment and action to address longstanding racial and social justice inequities.

At a more granular level, these months of operating in survival mode have provided valuable insight into how organizations and people can truly move forward from this disruption and position themselves to navigate the future disruptions that are bound to occur. In short, we see a path toward thriving, not merely surviving.

The lessons learned over the past eight months bring sharp focus to global human capital trends that have been evolving for years—trends in well-being, reskilling, superteams (combining humans with machines), workforce strategies, and the role of HR. Even more, these lessons reinforce the overarching need to build the human element into everything an organization does in order to create lasting value for workers, organizations, and society at large.

1. Human potential is our greatest untapped asset.

Organizations have tended to think about what people can do in terms of the bullet points on their resumes and job descriptions. But none of us really knows what we’re capable of and what our limits are until we’re tested and pushed to those limits. The past eight months have been a defining test. They’ve taught us that people can operate differently. They can adapt and perform in ways far beyond what their jobs and roles specifically call for and do what has to get done.

We must now challenge how we think about the workforce and use technology to help identify and unleash human potential within and beyond the organization. This includes retaining the magic that comes from empowering people to break through hierarchy and bureaucracy, lead at all levels, and roll up their sleeves to get the job done.

2. True top-of-the house leadership looks like nothing we’ve seen before.

For years we’ve talked about “tone at the top” and the importance of top-down leadership. Now we have stellar examples of what that looks like: examples of CEOs being more transparent and human than they’ve ever been before. This includes opening dialogues on tough issues like racism and well-being and allowing them to be front and center, and generally leaning into issues that go way past the traditional C-suite agenda.

Senior leaders now have the opportunity to embody the organization’s purpose—its set of values supporting economic, social, and human interests—to infuse meaning into work that mobilizes employees around common, meaningful goals.

3. Leadership and culture are about connection and empowerment.

As people isolated at home, team leaders became the organization’s lifeline. It became their responsibility to not only focus on outcomes and organize the work accordingly, but also think about the moments that mattered culturally and foster trust in the organization. If they didn’t have empathy, listening skills, the trust of their teams, and the ability to communicate, manage, and lead, work suffered or at times didn’t get done at all.

Going forward, leaders and teams at all levels (not just higher levels) must develop capabilities that enable them to work and lead effectively while supporting the human needs of their team and representing the organization’s culture.

4. Work is the most underutilized source of value.

Work is more than simply the output it produces. It’s a powerful human force—a way for people to connect to a purpose, feel motivated, build relationships, and showcase their true capabilities. Yet no one is responsible for driving work transformation, keeping up with the pace of change, or harnessing what it can bring to the enterprise.

Organizations now have the opportunity to re-architect work for the future, not as a mechanized process, but as a flow that aligns with ways humans think and engage, and that continues to evolve. By its handling of COVID-19 challenges, HR has earned the right to spearhead this effort on behalf of the organization.

5. Ecosystems are essential to extend organizational capabilities.

The sheer enormity of the past year’s challenges proved the value of being able to leverage external partners and resources to accomplish what organizations couldn’t do on their own. For example, one transportation industry CEO related to us that, given the company has no Chief Medical Officer, he was able to enlist a top academic medical center to provide that guidance. In another example, we’re working with a group of 10 CHROs to build a cross-organizational learning program aimed at moving Black and Latinx professionals from the director to the executive level.

Going forward, organizations should deliberately cultivate an ecosystem of partners, vendors, alternative workers, and professional networks, realizing it’s the new reality of how work gets done.

From hard-learned experience to a leap forward

It would be a tremendous waste to treat the past year as a detour—a momentary delay that leads us right back to the path we were on. Instead, we need to treat 2020 as a shortcut that showed us how to leapfrog to our desired destination: a place where we’re not merely surviving, but thriving.

With the end of 2020 in sight, we have the means to createthe light we want to step into. There’s no “waiting for a better time”—the time is now. We’ll be sharing more insights on how organizations can get this done in the coming weeks in Deloitte’s 2021 Global Human Capital Trends (sign up to receive a copy here).

This piece was co-authored by Jeff Schwartz, principal and US leader for the Future of Work, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Erica Volini

Erica Volini

Erica Volini is the Global Human Capital leader for Deloitte Consulting. Throughout her career, she has worked with some of the world’s leading organizations to link their business and human capital strategies. She is a frequent speaker on how market trends are shaping the future of work and the HR profession and is a recognized thought leader in the trends shaping the world of human capital today.

Steve Hatfield

Steve Hatfield

Steve Hatfield is a Principal with Deloitte Consulting and serves as the Global Leader for Future of Work for Deloitte. He has over 20 years of experience advising global organizations on issues of strategy, innovation, organization, people, culture, and change.

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A new global initiative will use nuclear science to better manage pandemic threats, such as COVID-19. The IAEA Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (ZODIAC) project will establish a global network to help national laboratories in monitoring, surveillance, early detection and control of animal and zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19, Ebola, avian influenza and Zika. ZODIAC is based on the technical, scientific and laboratory capacity of the IAEA and its partners and the Agency’s mechanisms to quickly deliver equipment and know-how to countries. Subscribe for more videos: http://goo.gl/VxsqCz Follow IAEA on social media: Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/iaeaorg/ Twitter – https://twitter.com/iaeaorg Google+ – https://plus.google.com/+iaea Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/iaeaorg/ LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/company/iaea © IAEA Office of Public Information and Communication http://iaea.org

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How The Pandemic Has Changed Our Lives in 2020

To say that 2020 was a year unlike any other would be putting it mildly. The COVID-19 pandemic left few parts of daily life unscathed. From forcing legions of children to attend school via Zoom to revising how we work, travel, and shop for food, here’s a look at some of the most notable ways life changed in 2020.

Related: Americans’ Top 10 Biggest Fears About the Coronavirus Pandemic

With urban hubs like New York City making headlines for being COVID-19 hotspots, the suburbs have never been quite so appealing. A variety of studies have found that Americans of all demographics began adopting suburban life during 2020. In particular, the moving resources and information company MyMove conducted a study of change of address data from the U.S. Postal Service and found that more than 15.9 million people moved during coronavirus. The MyMove report notes that “people are leaving big, densely populated areas like Manhattan, Brooklyn and Chicago and spreading out to suburbs or smaller communities across the country.”

Related: Pandemic Phrases That Have Infected Our Vocabulary

COVID-19 also triggered a massive shift in how we work. At the onset of the pandemic, countless Americans created home offices overnight in order to adapt to the new normal. And while it seemed initially that the shift would be temporary, more than a few of America’s most well-known employers have since announced long-term work from home plans and policies. In fact, Flexjobs has said working remotely may very well be the way of the future, pandemic or not, with some companies even deciding to let employees work from home permanently, including Coinbase, Infosys, Lambda School, Nationwide Insurance, and Nielsen.

Related: 18 Big Companies Letting People Work From Home Long-Term

Students of all ages have seen their worlds altered dramatically. Remote learning has become the norm for all ages, from elementary school through college. As 2020 draws to a close, the remote learning continues for many, with many school districts around the country — from San Diego to Chicago and Boston — pushing back any plans to return to in-person education as the pandemic rages. Zoom classes, it seems, are here to stay for a while longer.

Related: 25 Top-Rated Products on Amazon for Working From Home and Remote Learning

School and work aren’t the only parts of life that have moved almost entirely online. More Americans than ever are grocery shopping online, we’re holding virtual happy hours, and even taking part in Zoom doctors’ appointments more routinely. Computers have likely never played a more central role in our lives. An article from MyMove calls it the “telepresence boom” noting that entire families are now performing basic functions from their homes via a computer and an internet connection. And many of those changes are not likely to ease any time soon.

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Ah, the good old days when we attended big concerts without a second thought, as well as weddings, festivals or sporting events. The year 2020 significantly altered this part of life with social distancing and lockdowns being the rule. As an article in Physician Sense notes, all of these things will be back at some point, but even after the pandemic has subsided, large gatherings are likely to be forever altered in some ways.

Related: 12 Things You Likely Won’t See at the Next Wedding You Attend

The pandemic of course, changed our eating habits, a topic worthy of an entire article of its own. But let’s start with the renewed or increased focus on beans. This humble, protein-filled staple has taken on new importance amid COVID-19. The New York Times reported in March a huge boom in bean sales, which makes sense, right? Beans are filling, nutritious, and inexpensive.

Related: Best Beans and Rice Recipes From Around the World

The past year has been stressful, unnerving, boredom-filled, and more. So, it’s no surprise that we’re reaching for comfort food more regularly. A poll released in September found that two out of three people are eating more comfort food. This includes an increase in the consumption of pizza (55 percent), hamburgers (48 percent), ice cream (46 percent), and more.

Related: 20 Comfort Food Recipes That Freeze Well

While we’re seeking out the comfort food, we’re ditching the healthy stuff. Forbes found Google Trends data suggesting that searches for terms like “salads” and “veggies” were lower in 2020 than at the same time in 2019.

Related: Top Google Searches Before & After Covid-19

With restrictions on dining inside restaurants in 2020 thanks to social-distancing guidelines, drive-thru became the next best thing for many people. Restaurants far and wide responded by redesigning their customer experience to include many adding drive-thru lanes or creating spaces for curbside pickup — even if they already had drive-thru lanes. What’s more, a recent article from Forbes says that curbside pickup is here to stay, even after the pandemic ends. The publication reported that Starbucks CFO Pat Grismer says curbside service is part of the chain’s plans for longer-term recovery.

Related: How Drive-In Restaurants Are Catering to Customers Amid the Pandemic

Before COVID-19 altered our world, about 20 percent of Americans shopped for food more than three times each week. A study by consulting firm McKinsey, however, found that number was down to 10 percent by June 2020. Meanwhile, Supermarket News reported that online grocery sales skyrocketed, rising from $1.2 billion in August 2019 to $7.2 billion in June 2020.

Related: Online Grocery Delivery Comparison: Is One of These Services Right for You?

Remember when it seemed almost rude not to greet the individual who delivered food to your home? The days when we would meet him or her at the door and perhaps provide a cash tip. That’s a distant world, isn’t it? Now we practically cower inside our homes fearing human contact, requesting the delivery driver drop our food on the doorstep and be gone. Close contact with strangers became a health hazard in 2020 and we have adapted accordingly. Doordash, Seamless, and many smaller delivery services offer a contact-free option.

Outdoor dining used to be far more prevalent in Europe than the U.S., but with social distancing being the new normal and the fact that the hazards of COVID-19 are reduced in fresh-air environments, restaurants that never before considered al fresco offerings have scurried to set up tents and tables in parking lots, on sidewalks and in roadways. Some 67 miles of streets were closed to vehicular traffic in New York City, with more 2.6 miles dedicated to the city’s Open Restaurants program, which has been made permanent. Some restaurants are also making structural alterations, building patios and decks. As Architectural Digest reported: “Masked waiters, tables spaced six feet apart, plexiglass barriers, and even stuffed animals occupying seats — these are some of the changes you might encounter the next time you dine out.”

Related: Beloved Restaurants and Bars That Closed Permanently This Year

A Statista survey conducted during the earliest days of the pandemic revealed our personal hygiene habits had also begun to change significantly in 2020. Back in April, 79 percent of the Statista survey participants said they wash their hands more regularly. Not surprising under the circumstances. And the reality is that stepped-up hand washing is still a necessity as the pandemic rages on.

Related: How to Disinfect Without Harming Your Stuff (or Yourself)

Headline-grabbing protesters aside, it seems the need for making face masks a part of our lives has begun to sink in as the year draws to a close. A HealthDay/Harris Poll found that “more than nine in 10 U.S. adults (93%) said they sometimes, often or always wear a mask or face covering when they leave their home and are unable to socially distance, including more than seven in 10 (72%) who said they always do so.” And until vaccines become more widely distributed, masks will continue to be an important part of life.

Related: Masks and Accessories to Make Covering Your Face More Comfortable

To say the travel experience changed in 2020 would be an understatement. This is a topic that has received immense coverage. Some of the most immediate impacts to our lives include the lack of travel altogether and the bans on Americans visiting many countries around the world because of the COVID-19 rates in this country. But travel has changed in more subtle ways as well, with some airlines blocking middle seats from being used to keep passengers from sitting too close together, and cruise lines practically ceasing operations, while hotels are redoubling efforts to provide clean, sanitized rooms when you check-in.

Meanwhile, more Americans are taking road trips and rediscovering America again. A survey conducted by Cooper Tires and reported by the New York Post earlier this year found that 43 percent of those surveyed had replaced canceled travel plans with a road trip of some sort.

Related: I Drove Cross-Country During the Pandemic — Here’s What I Learned

Another sign of the times, public transportation has become a highly undesirable way to get from place to place. A Statista survey conducted in April found 38 percent of respondents said they had begun avoiding crowded modes of public transport. It’s a shift that’s not likely to reverse course any time soon.

The gym industry has also taken a beating this year as have the exercise habits of Americans in general, with many hesitant to spend extended periods of time in confined spaces with fellow exercisers who are sweating and breathing heavily.

As Time reported, sweeping and repeated lockdowns have made Americans more sedentary than ever before and the effects are likely long-lasting. One survey reported by Time revealed a 32 percent reduction in physical activity among U.S. adults who had previously been meeting recommended exercise guidelines. Meanwhile, many gyms and personal trainers began offering virtual exercise sessions in 2020 in order to stay afloat, bringing their services to our living rooms for a change. No more rushing to get to your gym in time for an exercise class.

Related: 18 Fitness Challenges to Keep Pace (and Your Distance) During the Pandemic

While carrying cash was largely becoming a thing of the past prior to 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak has hastened this trend. It’s not unusual to walk into a store these days and see a sign that says “Credit cards preferred.” That April Statista survey found that cash is being used far less day-to-day by 36 percent of survey respondents. For those still not clear on the why behind this shift in daily life — a scientific study explains that “paper currency by its very nature is frequently transferred from one person to another and represents an important medium for human contact.” And as we all know so well now — human contact is the big no-no of 2020.

Related: Cash-Based Businesses That Must Change to Survive in the COVID-19 Era

By: Mia Taylor

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Billionaire Eric Lefkofsky’s Tempus Raises $200 Million To Bring Personalized Medicine To New Diseases

On the surface, Eric Lefkofsky’s Tempus sounds much like every other AI-powered personalized medicine company. “We try to infuse as much data and technology as we can into the diagnosis itself,” Lefkofsky says, which could be said by the founder of any number of new healthcare companies.. But what makes Tempus different is that it is quickly branching out, moving from a focus on cancer to additional programs including mental health, infectious diseases, cardiology and soon diabetes. “We’re focused on those disease areas that are the most deadly,” Lefkofsky says. 

Now, the billionaire founder has an additional $200 million to reach that goal. The Chicago-based company announced the series G-2 round on Thursday, which includes a massive valuation of $8.1 billion. Lefkofsky, the founder of multiple companies including Groupon, also saw his net worth rise from the financing, from an estimated $3.2 billion to an estimated $4.2 billion.

Tempus is “trying to disrupt a very large industry that is very complex,” Lefkofsky says, “we’ve known it was going to cost a lot of money to see our business model to fruition.” 

In addition to investors Baillie Gifford, Franklin Templeton, Novo Holdings, and funds managed by T. Rowe Price, Lefkofsky, who has invested about $100 million of his own money into the company since inception, also contributed an undisclosed amount to the round. Google also participated as an investor, and Tempus says it will now store its deidentified patient data on Google Cloud. 

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“We are particularly attracted to companies that aim to solve fundamental and complex challenges within life sciences,” says Robert Ghenchev, a senior partner at Novo Holdings. “Tempus is, in many respects, the poster child for the kind of companies we like to support.” 

MORE FOR YOUTony Hsieh’s American Tragedy: The Self-Destructive Last Months Of The Zappos VisionaryWhy 40 North Ventures Bought GE Ventures’ Stakes In 11 Industrial StartupsAt-Home Health Testing Company Everlywell Raises $175 Million Series D Round At A $1.3 Billion Valuation

Tempus, founded by Lefkofsky in 2015, is one of a new breed of personalized cancer diagnostic companies like Foundation Medicine and Guardant Health. The company’s main source of revenue comes from sequencing the genome of cancer patients’ tumors in order to help doctors decide which treatments would be most effective. “We generate a lot of molecular data about you as a patient,” Lefkofsky says. He estimates that Tempus has the data of about 1 in 3 cancer patients in the United States. 

But billing insurance companies for sequencing isn’t the only way the company makes money. Tempus also offers a service that matches eligible patients to clinical trials, and it licenses  de-identified patient data to other players in the oncology industry. That patient data, which includes images and clinical information, is “super important and valuable,” says Lefkofsky, who adds that such data sharing only occurs if patients consent. 

At first glance, precision oncology seems like a crowded market, but analysts say there is still plenty of room for companies to grow. “We’re just getting started in this market,” says Puneet Souda, a senior research analyst at SVB Leerink, “[and] what comes next is even larger.” Souda estimates that as the personalized oncology market expands from diagnostics to screening, another $30 billion or more will be available for companies to snatch up. And Tempus is already thinking ahead by moving into new therapeutic areas. 

While it’s not leaving cancer behind, Tempus has branched into other areas of precision medicine over the last year, including cardiology and mental health. The company now offers a service for psychiatrists to use a patient’s genetic information to determine the best treatments for major depressive disorder. 

In May, Lefkofsky also pushed the company to use its expertise to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The company now offers PCR tests for Covid-19, and has run over 1 million so far. The company also sequences other respiratory pathogens, such as the flu and soon pneumonia. As with cancer, Tempus will continue to make patient data accessible for others in the field— for a price. “Because we have one of the largest repositories of data in the world,” says Lefkofsky, “[it is imperative] that we make it available to anyone.” 

Lefkofsky plans to use capital from the latest funding round to continue Tempus’ expansion and grow its team. The company has hired about 700 since the start of the pandemic, he says, and currently has about 1,800 employees. He wouldn’t comment on exact figures, but while the company is not yet profitable he says Tempus has reached “significant scale in terms of revenue.” 

And why is he so sure that his company’s massive valuation isn’t over-inflated? “We benefit from two really exciting financial sector trends,” he says: complex genomic profiling and AI-driven health data. Right now, Lefkofsky estimates, about one-third of cancer patients have their tumors sequenced in three years. Soon, he says, that number will increase to two-thirds of patients getting their tumors sequenced multiple times a year. “The space itself is very exciting,” he says, “we think it will grow dramatically.” Follow me on Twitter. Send me a secure tip

Leah Rosenbaum

Leah Rosenbaum

I am the assistant editor of healthcare and science at Forbes. I graduated from UC Berkeley with a Master’s of Journalism and a Master’s of Public Health, with a specialty in infectious disease. Before that, I was at Johns Hopkins University where I double-majored in writing and public health. I’ve written articles for STAT, Vice, Science News, HealthNewsReview and other publications. At Forbes, I cover all aspects of health, from disease outbreaks to biotech startups.

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Eric Lefkofsky

To impact the nearly 1.7 million Americans who will be newly diagnosed with cancer this year, Eric Lefkofsky, co-founder and CEO of Tempus, discusses with Matter CEO Steven Collens how he is applying his disruptive-technology expertise to create an operating system to battle cancer. (November 29, 2016)

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Coronavirus Crisis Has Led To ‘Bleak’ Perception Of The Economy, Study Says

As the coronavirus crisis wears on, new research from the Pew Research Center shows that public perception of the economy has “turned bleak” in large parts of the world.

A median of 68% of people considered their country’s current economic situation to be bad, the researchers found, while 31% said conditions were good. 

Italy had the largest portion of people who rated the economic situation negatively, with 90% describing the situation as “bad.” 

In eight of the 14 countries surveyed, including the U.K., France, and South Korea, the majority of people expected their countries’ economies to get worse.

In the United States, Germany, and Canada, however, people were more likely to say that the economy would improve over the next year than to say it would get worse. 

The researchers noted that in nearly every country they surveyed, the perception of how bad the economy is tied to how the country handled the coronavirus crisis: people who viewed their country’s response negatively were more likely to have a negative view of the economic situation. 

Crucial quote

“In addition to the broadly negative assessments of current economic conditions, few in the countries surveyed are hopeful things will get better in the next year,” researchers Shannon Schumacher and Mara Mordecai wrote. 

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Key background

Countries all around the world are now faced with the dire economic consequences of the pandemic. Australia has entered its first recession in almost 30 years. The United Kingdom has entered its first recession in more than a decade; CNN reports that the U.K.’s economy shrunk by more than 20% between April and June.

France just unveiled a $118 billion stimulus  plan to combat its own economic woes. Japan’s economy saw its biggest downturn on record, the BBC reported, after its GDP fell nearly 8% between April and June. In the United States, trillions in stimulus spending is on track to push debt to GDP levels above 100% next year. 

Further reading

Views of the economy have turned sharply negative in many countries amid COVID-19 (Pew Research Center)

Thanks To Stimulus Spending, U.S. Debt Expected To Exceed The Size Of The Entire Economy Next Year (Forbes)

Economy Shrank At Historic 33% Annual Rate In Second Quarter—But That’s Not The Whole Story

Sarah Hansen

Sarah Hansen

I’m a breaking news reporter for Forbes focusing on economic policy and capital markets. I completed my master’s degree in business and economic reporting at New York University. Before becoming a journalist, I worked as a paralegal specializing in corporate compliance.

The coronavirus pandemic has put unprecedented pressure on the global economy. CNN’s Chief Business Correspondent Christine Romans explains everything you need to know to understand the Covid-19 economy. CNN Business brings you the latest news about the companies, personalities, and innovations that are driving business forward. Interested in more of CNN Business? Subscribe to our channel: http://bit.ly/3cz80Ta More of CNN Business Facebook: http://bit.ly/2Ts9w1T Twitter: http://bit.ly/3au548r Instagram: http://bit.ly/2VQPuzF#CNN#News#Business#Coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has killed thousands of people, crashed stockmarkets around the world, driven 10m Americans to claim unemployment and caused businesses to haemorrhage money. With economies in turmoil, how bad will the damage be? Sign up to The Economist’s daily newsletter to keep up to date with our latest covid-19 coverage: https://econ.trib.al/StVR1bU Find The Economist’s most recent coverage of covid-19 here: https://econ.st/2QXX9sJ Find Philip Coggan’s weekly column here: https://econ.trib.al/PgPDmFu Read our leader on the trade-offs the pandemic are forcing governments to face: https://econ.trib.al/yaRMCFK Read our article on rich countries trying radical economic policies to counter covid-19: https://econ.trib.al/L7GLNmn Read our leader on how to prevent a covid-19 slump, and protect the recovery: https://econ.trib.al/EsZrcxT

Estee Lauder Is Slashing Up To 2,000 Jobs and Closing Up To 15% of Its Stores Globally

Estée Lauder announced its “Post-COVID Business Acceleration Program” on Thursday, a plan that involves a series of sweeping cuts in order to account for sales slumps during the pandemic. 

As part of the plan, up to 2,000 jobs will be slashed and up to 15% of freestanding global stores will be permanently shuttered. However, CEO Estee Lauder CEO Fabrizio Freda said in a call with investors on Thursday he is confident that growing categories like skincare will bolster the company moving forward.

 Beauty giant Estée Lauder is slashing up to 2,000 jobs and permanently closing up to 15% of its total stores due to sales slumps amid the pandemic.The company reported a 4% decrease in annual sales for the fiscal year ending on June 30 on Thursday, while at the same time announcing its “Post-COVID Business Acceleration Program,” a two-year initiative designed to “rebalance investments to address the dramatic shifts in the distribution landscape and consumer behavior post-COVID-19.”

According to a post on the Estée Lauder website, the plan involves a series of sweeping reductions, including cutting between 1,500 and 2,000 positions, “primarily point of sale employees and related support staff in the areas that were the most disrupted.”

The plan will also involve the permanent closure of between 10-15% of its international freestanding stores, “as well as certain less productive department store counters that the company elects to close,” the post reads. 

Like many sectors of the retail industry, cosmetics have taken a hit due to shifting consumer demand, record unemployment rates, and the economic recession. Product categories lipstick have especially struggled, given the widespread use of masks that conceal the lips, though beauty companies including Estée Lauder have found bright spots in skincare and eye makeup. 

“COVID-19 and its wide-ranging impacts have also influenced consumer preferences and practices due to the closures of offices, retail stores and other businesses and the significant decline in social gatherings,” Estée Lauder said in the press release. “The demand for skin care and hair care products has been more resilient than the demand for makeup and fragrance.”

In a call with investors yesterday, Estée Lauder CEO Fabrizio Freda said skincare has “performed exceptionally well.” Freda said that while the lipstick index — a term coined by Estee Lauder chairman Leonard Lauder in 2001 to explain the growth and resilience of lipstick sales during economic decline — may be obsolete, it has instead switched categories to skincare.

“Somebody was asking me if the lipstick index is finished … [the] concept was that beauty is a resilient category, both in situations of crisis like this one and in particular situation of recession risk, because they are affordable purchases for indulging and taking care of yourself,” Freda said on the call. “Consumers really love their routines. Now this has remained exactly true also in this crisis. What has changed is the category.”

Source: Business Insider

ScaleFactor Raised $100 Million In A Year Then Blamed Covid-19 For Its Demise

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Accounting is the bane of small business, a tedious task made worse by its costly expense. Kurt Rathmann’s startup had a magic fix: artificial intelligence-powered tools that could replace the accountant, and do so much more. For a fraction of the cost, ScaleFactor promised to take care of bookkeeping, bills and taxes. If customers had doubts, they were reassured by the $100 million invested by big-name venture capital firms. “Because evenings are for families, not finance,” ScaleFactor’s website proclaimed.

But some of the startup founders and cafe owners who did take the night off soon regretted their decision to hire ScaleFactor: they didn’t get what they paid for. Instead of software producing financial statements, dozens of accountants did most of it manually from ScaleFactor’s Austin headquarters or from an outsourcing office in the Philippines, according to former employees. Some customers say they received books filled with errors, and were forced to re-hire accountants, or clean up the mess themselves.

None of this was known publicly last month, when Rathmann announced that ScaleFactor was closing. In an interview with Forbes on June 23, the CEO blamed the Covid-19 pandemic for almost halving ScaleFactor’s $7 million in annual recurring revenue as demand from small businesses crumbled. About 100 people would be laid off with three months of severance, and cash would be returned to investors — a seemingly tidy end to another startup afflicted by the pandemic.

Customers were the first to cry foul. “If you’re one of the investors that gave these clowns $100 million…You should know they’ve flushed it down the toilet with poor product and poor service,” Lindsey Reinders, a ScaleFactor customer, wrote online after seeing the news. “COVID-19 is just a convenient scapegoat.”

Though the pandemic may have been a death knell, ScaleFactor was on rocky ground long before, Forbes found. Technology startups are often rewarded for a “fake it ‘til you make it” mentality by venture capital firms willing to throw money at a product until it meets expectations. But ScaleFactor used aggressive sales tactics and prioritized chasing capital instead of building software that ultimately fell far short of what it promised, according to interviews with 15 former employees and executives. When customers fled, executives tried to obscure the real damage.

Along the way, big name VC shops including San Francisco-based Bessemer Venture Partners, Canaan Partners of Menlo Park and New York’s Coatue Management continued to pour more money into the business, compelling ScaleFactor to keep growing with a software product that proclaimed to replace accountants, but was relying on them all along.

“That’s what I found out ScaleFactor is: pretty much a glorified bookkeeping firm,” says one accountant, who, like other former ScaleFactor employees that spoke to Forbes, asked to remain anonymous because they signed non-disclosure agreements and feared retaliation from the company.

The typical process of accounting involves thorough consultations to understand the nuances of a company’s books; for instance, whether to consider an Amazon purchase as an expense or bill payment. Errors in this process can lead to bills being paid twice or not being paid at all, snowballing into disaster.

ScaleFactor promised to digitize this process with a dashboard centered on five main automated tools: bookkeeping, financial forecasting, bill pay, tax completion and payroll. Customers just had to hand over paperwork, receipts and login information for their sales software.

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For its core bookkeeping tool, ScaleFactor told customers that after an initial consultation, the artificial intelligence-powered product would do the work: pull numbers from other software, like Quickbooks or Xero, and then figure out how transactions should be listed or organized. Rather than monthly statements, ScaleFactor’s software would show real-time updates on its portal, according to sales materials seen by Forbes.


“If you’re one of the investors that gave these clowns $100 million…You should know they’ve flushed it down the toilet with poor product and poor service.”


But in reality, the tool was glitchy and couldn’t be relied on to accurately sort transactions, so ScaleFactor employed a team of bookkeepers and accountants who instead would manually complete a customer’s books or correct errors from the software, according to employees who worked on its product, accounting and customer sales teams. To bolster this effort, ScaleFactor hired The Outsourced Accountant, an offshore firm in the Philippines, to help. But no matter where they worked, the unpredictable technology continued to lead to errors in customers’ books.

After cancelling her contract in April, Reinders, who complained online, says that she learned a ScaleFactor employee had incorrectly credited $17,000 to a customer of her e-commerce business. But by the time the error was realized more than 6 months after the fact, she was unable to recoup the money because a collectable term period had expired. “We had really good, clear, clean books when we hired them,” she says. (ScaleFactor offered her a partial refund on her annual $23,000 contract, Reinders says, if she signed a non-disclosure agreement barring her from talking about her experience; she didn’t.)

Now that the company is closing, other ScaleFactor customers are reckoning with the risks of doing business with a startup that might over-promise and under-deliver. San Francisco-based coffee shop owners Cornelia and Robert Stang, are hiring a new accountant to scrub months of erroneous bookkeeping. “How hard can this be? We are a coffee shop,” Cornelia recalled telling ScaleFactor when she abandoned her contract this year. “If you can’t fix our problem you can’t fix anybody’s.”

ScaleFactor declined to make Rathmann available for an interview for this article and would only respond to emailed questions, before replying: “The email below is filled with numerous factual inaccuracies and misrepresentations,” said Rathman in an emailed statement sent by a spokesperson. “I have no further comment.”

“That’s what I found out ScaleFactor is: pretty much a glorified bookkeeping firm,” says one accountant.


Investors Bessemer and Coatue, two of the firms that led funding rounds into the company, also declined to comment while the third, Canaan, didn’t respond. (Bessemer partners with Forbes on its Cloud 100 list.)

Rathmann, 33, was born an entrepreneur. While his friends saved pennies for video games, he mowed lawns to save for his first business. At 17, he owned a company that installed lighting in Houston homes. By the time he launched ScaleFactor in 2014, he had worked as an auditor at KPMG, and as a CFO at a small telecommunications company. In these roles, Rathmann saw firsthand a glaring need for technology to help small businesses with their bookkeeping services.

ScaleFactor got its big break in 2017 at Techstars Austin, a startup accelerator, that was a co-investor in an early $2.5 million funding round. It then caught the attention of Michael Gilroy, an associate at Canaan Partners (now at Coatue). “Great products built by teams that understand their customer will win,” Gilroy wrote in July 2018, when his firm led a $10 million investment in the company. “We’re just getting started at ScaleFactor.”

Momentum built fast, and six months later ScaleFactor landed $30 million in a financing round led by Bessemer partner Byron Deeter, a prominent Silicon Valley cloud-computing investor who had made prescient bets on Box, DocuSign and Twilio. (He was also a founding partner of the Forbes Cloud 100.)

Despite the votes of confidence from well-known investors, customers were finding that ScaleFactor was falling short. Patrick Coddou, whose e-commerce business paid ScaleFactor more than $10,000, requested to cancel in April 2019 after his statements, expected to be delivered on a real-time basis, were delivered monthly because they were being processed manually. “They just didn’t deliver on the promise,” he says.

Potential investors were coming to similar conclusions. Ahead of yet another funding round, multiple venture capital firms passed on investing, according to people familiar with their decisions, having determined that ScaleFactor was more of a services business than a software platform.

During due diligence, one of these potential investors learned that ScaleFactor had a customer service team who they were told functioned as “account managers.” Further inquiry revealed the employees were accountants. “So the software might look automated, but they actually had all these people on the backend,” the potential investor said.

The fact was further obscured by ScaleFactor’s creative accounting: rather than budgeting the customer service team under “cost of goods sold,” ScaleFactor listed related costs under a separate category, clouding the true amount spent on servicing the product, according to two people familiar with the business.

In the end, the only tool with a true automation component, the potential investor found and employees confirmed, was an internal workflow engine, or “a guided to-do list” for ScaleFactor employees that organized tasks required to close a customer’s books.

Even as doubts about its product emerged, ScaleFactor scored a term sheet for a $60 million funding round at the start of June 2019. Coatue Management, a large technology investor overseeing $16 billion in assets, led the new funding round, joined by Bessemer, Canaan and others.

At a meeting to announce the impending funding to employees, ScaleFactor’s then-chief revenue officer David Loia told the sales team that if it could sell $800,000 in new bookings for the month of June, ScaleFactor would double the team’s bonuses, several employees say. (Loia declined to comment.) “This is the chance of a lifetime,” one person who attended the meeting recalled Loia saying. “No deal is off the table.”

Even though ScaleFactor was under confidentiality provisions barring it from discussing the funding round outside the company, Robert Stang, the coffee shop owner, says he was offered a discount because ScaleFactor was chasing a sales target ahead of an impending series C funding round. “This gave them a push for sales,” Stang recalled the ScaleFactor employee saying. He signed the $6,000 contract on June 18 to lock in the discount, even though his first bill wasn’t due until October, according to a copy of the contract seen by Forbes.

Some customers were offered discounts in exchange for a reference; others were signed on without billing information, former sales employees say. At the end of the month, the sales team was told the target had been met. The company celebrated by throwing them a party at an arts and crafts factory in East Austin, where employees took photos with oversized bonus checks.


“We really thought we could automate the entire back office of a small business,” said Kurt Rathmann.


But a few weeks later, the sales team learned they would not receive bonuses after all: some of the deals had been illegitimate, and the target had in fact not been met. ScaleFactor got the funding anyway, in a round that valued the company at $360 million.

As ScaleFactor scrambled to add new customers, existing customers were demanding refunds. The outflow only increased after the funding round closed.

David Rathmann, the CEO’s brother hired in April 2019, held weekly meetings called “Churn Desk” where cancellation requests were prioritized rather than immediately processed; if a customer threatened to complain on social media, they would be let go quicker, for example. This had the effect of delaying the true churn figures from appearing in ScaleFactor’s Salesforce data, which was used in board presentations. The true backlog of pending cancellations and cancellation requests were recorded in a private Google spreadsheet, four people who attended the meetings say. (ScaleFactor would not make Rathmann available for comment.)

Executives, including Kurt Rathmann, were stunned during a different weekly meeting in October 2019 when an employee responsible for tracking churn showed that close to $600,000 in annual recurring revenue was at risk of being lost — in part due to customers indicating or requesting cancellation — according to multiple people with knowledge of the matter. An informal limit on the value of contracts allowed to be cancelled during Churn Desk meetings was then imposed in an attempt to slow the outflow.

In January 2020 Kurt Rathmann called an all-hands meeting to announce that ScaleFactor would pivot to a marketplace model that connected traditional accountants with their clients. About 40 employees, mostly accountants and bookkeepers, were laid off when it was announced in February as ScaleFactor “2.020.”

Covid-19 swept the United States the following month, and existing customers weren’t buying in; Robert and Cornelia Stang balked after being told their contract would jump from $500-a-month to $1,700. In the spring, investors discussed ScaleFactor’s future before deciding to shutter operations, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions.

At the end of the day, Kurt Rathmann explained to Forbes last month, customers were craving a person, rather than a computer to do their accounting. “We really thought we could automate the entire back office of a small business,” Rathmann said. A lofty goal that more money couldn’t achieve.

Additional reporting by Alex Konrad.

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I’m a staff reporter at Forbes covering tech companies. I previously reported for The Real Deal, where I covered WeWork, real estate tech startups and commercial real estate. As a freelancer, I’ve also written for The New York Times, Associated Press and other outlets. I’m a graduate of Columbia Journalism School, where I was a Toni Stabile Investigative Fellow. Before arriving in the U.S., I was a police reporter in Australia. Follow me on Twitter at @davidjeans2 and email me at djeans@forbes.com

Source: https://www.forbes.com

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