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North American Edition
12th October 2021
Banks rattled by Biden proposal to empower IRS
To raise money to fund President Joe Biden's expansive social policy bill, his administration has proposed mandating banks to give the IRS new details on their customers and provide data for accounts with total annual deposits or withdrawals worth more than $600. Consequently, banks say they are being deluged with calls, emails and in-person complaints from both savers and small-business owners worried about the proposal. JPMorgan Chase has issued talking points to bank tellers on what to tell angry customers who call or come into a branch to complain. After the initiative made its first appearance in the Treasury’s annual budget proposal in May, the American Bankers Association said it and its state-level partner groups quickly heard from hundreds of member banks, raising questions about the idea and its implications. The Independent Community Bankers of America began flagging the potential changes to its members, prompting many of them in turn to alert their customers. Trade groups also helped gather signatures for a September letter to congressional leaders complaining about the proposal. “Indiscriminate, blanket data collection would amount to a troubling effort to profile American taxpayers based on account characteristics without grounds for suspicion of tax evasion,” the letter argued. It was signed by more than 40 business groups, including the Mortgage Bankers Association, Global Cold Chain Alliance and Foodservice Equipment Distributors Association.
Office worker return figures slowly rising
Office workers are returning to workplaces at the highest rate since the beginning of the pandemic, with Lions Gate Chief Executive Jon Feltheimer telling employees: “There are things we can accomplish together in the office that we can’t do remotely.” Michael Squarzini, co-chief executive of engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti noted: “There’s definitely been a gradual increase of people to the office post-Labor Day. We always knew it was going to be slow.” Meanwhile BlackRock told employees last month that as of November, staff will have the option to work as many as two days a week from home, with the firm stating: “No longer bound by the traditional ways of working, we have learned valuable lessons on how to reorganize both our work and our workplace.”
Remote work greatly improves the employee experience for Black staff
Black workers in so-called “knowledge” roles are more likely to say they feel more valued and supported by management when working from home, according to a survey by the Future Forum, a research consortium created by software maker Slack Technologies. The poll of over 10,000 workers saw a 26 percentage point increase in Black respondents reporting “I am treated fairly at work” compared to a year ago, and similarly big increases in other questions about their work lives. Overall, Black workers in the U.S. said their job experience was steadily improving. Responses plateaued among other racial groups in the most recent survey. Ella Washington, a management professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, observed: “Going virtual levels the playing field . . . Because everything is virtual, there's less of this informal chatter we had in person. So that’s going to make anybody feel more like they belong, especially folks that are not usually in those conversations.”
Microsoft to hire 2,500 in Israel
Microsoft wants to more than double its headcount in its research and development operation in Israel over the next four years, increasing the firm’s number of local employees from about 2,000 to 4,500. The US tech giant plans to open five new sites in Israel in the coming years, in Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Jerusalem, and Beersheba, and at one as yet undecided location. The announcement comes as the company has increased its Israeli R&D workforce by 30% across sites in Herzliya, Haifa, Tel Aviv and Nazareth. “The establishment of the new development sites, along with the recruitment of thousands of new employees in Israel, is proof of Microsoft’s commitment and confidence in our technological impact and talented workforce," said Michal Braverman-Blumenstyk, Corporate Vice President and General Manager of Microsoft’s Israel R&D Center. "This expansion will help us grow, retain, and recruit the most talented people to build the most cutting-edge solutions. We want Microsoft to be accessible to any candidate no matter where they live, so establishing campuses in Jerusalem and Beersheva is especially significant."
U.S. House expected to pass bill to hike debt ceiling
The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives is expected on Tuesday to give final approval to a Senate-passed bill temporarily raising the government's borrowing limit to $28.9tn, putting off the risk of default until early December. The Democratic-controlled Senate last Thursday passed the bill raising the $28.4tn statutory limit with the help of 11 Republicans, as the country crept closer to an estimated October 18th deadline when the Treasury Department will no longer have the ability to make debt payments to lenders. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who was one of the 11 members of his party voting for the stopgap debt limit increase, has promised to withhold his support for another extension in December. He hopes to force Democrats to use a special "reconciliation" procedure allowing the next debt limit increase to be enacted just with Democratic votes.
Goldman Sachs trims U.S. economic growth forecast
Economists for Goldman Sachs have lowered their forecasts for U.S. growth this year and next, citing a delayed recovery in consumer spending. The Wall Street bank now expects the economy to expand by 5.6% this year, compared to a previous estimate of 5.7%. In 2022, growth is projected to expand by 4%, down from 4.4%. It's the second time Goldman Sachs has revised its 2021 forecast lower in two months. The bank's team of economists said two main factors drove the change in its outlook. One is that COVID-19 relief programs are set to wind down "significantly" through the end of the year, eliminating a source of income for some households. The other concern is that consumers are not spending out enough money on services to compensate for a drop in spending on goods.
CFOs expecting robust growth over the next year
Finance leaders say they’re bullish on their companies, and want to improve environmental, science, and governance (ESG) reporting and diversity and inclusion efforts, according to PwC’s latest Pulse Survey. They are interested in the growth of the digital economy, lasting shifts in consumer behavior, and the prevalence of work-from-home arrangements. Finance leaders are also looking to grow their influence within their companies and are keen to learn how to navigate staffing challenges. CFOs’ top priority for the finance function in 2021 is to establish finance as the business partner across the enterprise (47%). While driving deeper collaboration among functional business partners isn’t a new goal for finance, the pandemic has been a catalyst to expand the level and access of these partnerships. CFOs’ second-highest priority is automating processes using intelligent automation (41%).  In the meantime, economic optimism is high. Nearly half (46%) of respondents polled in March 2021 anticipate high growth from the rise of the digital economy, while 36% predict moderate growth. 
Google to invest $1bn in Africa over five years
Google wants to invest $1bn in Africa over the next five years and will give its backing to start-ups to support the continent's digital transformation. The company’s newly-launched  Africa Investment Fund will invest $50m in start-ups, providing them with access to its employees, network and technologies. Nitin Gajria, managing director for Google in Africa, said: "We are looking at areas that may have some strategic overlap with Google and where Google could potentially add value in partnering with some of these start-ups."
Protests get harder for women in Afghanistan
The Taliban, since returning to power in Afghanistan, has promised greater freedom for women, including in education and employment, in accordance with their interpretation of Islamic law, but older girls are still not back at school and there are no women in senior positions in the new government, reports Reuters. Meanwhile, the Women's Ministry in Kabul has been closed down and the Taliban has said women will only be allowed to work in a small number of jobs. The new administration says protests by women who want to demonstrate their anger about the situation were not banned, but those wanting to hold demonstrations needed to seek prior permission. Nasima Bakhtiary, a former commerce ministry worker in Kabul, said: "We have seen so much harassment ... regarding our protests ... we have to be careful."
The Forbes 400
Forbes presents its annual list of the 400 richest people in America, observing that “It has been a terrible year for many, but the good times keep on rolling for the nation’s richest.” The 400 individuals on this “Definitive Ranking of The Wealthiest Americans In 2021” saw their collective fortune increase 40% over the last year, to $4.5 trillion, according to Forbes’ methodology. There are 44 new names on the Forbes 400 list, which now requires a minimum net worth of $2.9bn, up $800m from a year ago. It’s noted that the number of Forbes 400 members who gave away more than 20% of their net worth since last year’s list dropped from ten to eight, while those who gave away less than 1% of their wealth rose from 127 to 156.

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