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THE AUDIO CHALLENGE

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By Deborah Blaxell, Legal Consultant and Martin Bonney, Director, International Consulting Services, Epiq Systems

The amount of regulation governing companies in the finance sector continues to increase. Simultaneously, the data that these businesses produce is growing: every year, a typical Fortune 500 company can produce several petabytes of electronic information. Each employee is likely to send and receive around 100 e-mails per day,[i] and each piece of data is likely to cross the desktops of dozens if not hundreds of individuals. Whether stored on hard drives, databases, removable media like USB keys and CDs, or on backup tapes, that data is archived and replicated, and grows exponentially. According to a 2012 survey,[ii]  2.8 zettabytes of information were created in 2012. This is projected to grow to 40 zettabytes in 2020, representing 50-fold growth from the beginning of 2010.

Deborah Blaxell

Deborah Blaxell

This evidence comes in several forms and it presents a huge challenge for businesses when it comes to searching and reviewing data during the course of an investigation. Audio evidence, in particular, can be pivotal to a legal case and a failure to deal with this evidence effectively and efficiently can leave businesses open to judicial criticism, damaging publicity and searing fines from regulators.

JP Morgan, for example, was investigated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) last year following rumours the bank was sitting on large losses. Investigators uncovered internal documents and calls which showed that the Chief Investment Office (CIO) was “in crisis mode” as managers realised that multi-billion dollar hedges meant to protect the bank had lost almost all their worth.[iii] The ‘London Whale’ loss resulted in fines of $920 billion, the second-largest fine ever imposed by the City regulator.[iv]

Many regulatory authorities recognise the compelling nature of audio recordings. In the U.K., the Financial Services Authority (FSA) introduced rules in 2008 requiring that all firms regulated by the FSA record all telephone conversations and electronic communications relating to client orders and the conclusion of transactions in the equity, bond, and derivatives markets. In November 2011 this requirement was extended to cover the recording of mobile phone conversations that relate to client orders and transactions by regulated firms. Similar rules have either been introduced or are under consideration by regulators across the globe. Whilst IT departments of regulated businesses have taken technical steps to comply with these obligations, their review systems have been designed around the need to provide a small-scale sampling of a particular individual’s calls over a short period of time, rather than a comprehensive and defensible collection over an extended period, as typically required for litigation or a major regulatory investigation.

Epiq Systems commissioned research* of senior-level decision-makers within leading blue-chip businesses across four European territories – the U.K., Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands – to identify broad eDisclosure and document review trends within the corporate sector. The survey results show that the relatively new challenges presented by audio admissibility are yet to be comprehensively addressed by the majority of leading corporates, including those in the finance sector.

The findings indicate that managing audio data is a ‘key challenge’ for more than a third (38 per cent) of major corporations across Europe. More than two-thirds (69 per cent) of the survey respondents also recognise the need to improve processes to deal with audio admissibility.

The variety of devices on which conversations can be recorded makes the retrieval of audio evidence increasingly complex. The traditional method of review – where a person listens to many hours of conversation – isn’t scalable. Companies in the financial sector need to ensure that they are aware of newer technologies and techniques which are available to deal with audio evidence. Dealing with audio evidence efficiently, such that the cost remains proportionate to the overall cost of the legal exercise, is a challenge. However, it will be increasingly difficult for businesses to complain that audio evidence is too complex to deal with. As ever, while the technologies are crucial to providing a solution, a well thought through plan and consideration of the available options will stand those who are required to search, review and disclose audio evidence in good stead.

*Survey conducted by telephone in November 2013, targeting 100 respondents from large blue-chip companies (defined as having more than $500M annual revenues) in the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Large European organisations in manufacturing and construction; retail; financial services; utilities; pharmaceuticals; professional services and IT/telecoms took part. Respondents included the CFO/Finance Director, Head of Compliance/Compliance Director or the Head of Legal/Legal Director/Head of Counsel.

[i] Email Statistics Report, 2013-2017. The Radicati Group, Inc

[ii] Gantz, John and David Reinsel “The Digital Universe in 2020: Big Data, Bigger Digital Shadows, and Biggest Growth in the Far East” IDC iView. December 2012

[iii] ‘JP Morgan ‘misled’ information from regulators’ Daily Telegraph, 19 September 2013

[iv] ‘JPMorgan rocked by second-biggest fine ever imposed by City regulator – £572million’ London Evening Standard, 19 September 2013

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Foxconn chairman says expects “limited impact” from chip shortage on clients

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Foxconn chairman says expects "limited impact" from chip shortage on clients 1

TAIPEI (Reuters) – The chairman of Apple Inc supplier Foxconn said on Saturday he expects his company and its clients will face only “limited impact” from a chip shortage that has rattled the global automotive and semiconductor industries.

“Since most of the customers we serve are large customers, they all have proper precautionary planning,” said Liu Young-way, chairman of the manufacturing conglomerate formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd

“Therefore, the impact on these large customers is there, but limited,” he told reporters.

Liu said he expected the company to do well in the first half of 2021, “especially as the pandemic is easing and demand is still being sustained.”

The global spread of COVID-19 has increased demand for laptops, gaming consoles, and other electronics. This caused chip manufacturers to reallocate capacity away from the automotive sector, which was expecting a steep downturn.

Now, car manufacturers such as Volkswagen AG, General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co have cut output as chip capacity has shrunk.

Counterpoint Research says the shortage has extended to the smartphone sector, with application processors, display driver chips, and power management chips all facing a crunch.

However, the research firm predicts Apple will face a minimal impact, due to its large size and its suppliers’ tendency to prioritise it. Apple is Foxconn’s largest customer.

Foxconn is looking at other areas for growth, including in electric vehicles (EVs), and Liu said their EV development platform MIH now had 736 partner companies participating.

He expected it would have two or three models to show by the fourth quarter, though did not expect EVs to make an obvious contribution to company earnings until 2023.

Liu also said the company was still looking for semiconductor fab purchase opportunities in Southeast Asia after not winning a bid to take over a stake in Malaysia-based 8-inch foundry house Silterra.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Jeanny Kao; Writing by Josh Horwitz; Editing by William Mallard and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

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EU seeks alliance with U.S. on climate change, tech rules

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EU seeks alliance with U.S. on climate change, tech rules 2

By Sabine Siebold and Kate Abnett

BERLIN (Reuters) – Europe and the United States should join forces in the fight against climate change and agree on a new framework for the digital market, limiting the power of big tech companies, European Union chief executive Ursula von der Leyen said.

“I am sure: A shared transatlantic commitment to a net-zero emissions pathway by 2050 would make climate neutrality a new global benchmark,” the president of the European Commission said in a speech at the virtual Munich Security Conference on Friday.

“Together, we could create a digital economy rulebook that is valid worldwide: a set of rules based on our values, human rights and pluralism, inclusion and the protection of privacy.”

The EU has pledged to cut its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, while President Joe Biden has committed the United States to become a “net zero economy” by 2050.

Scientists say the world must reach net zero emissions by 2050 to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial times and avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

The hope is that a transatlantic alliance could help persuade large emitters who have yet to commit to this timeline – including China, which is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2060, and India.

“The United States is our natural partner for global leadership on climate change,” von der Leyen said.

She called the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol a turning point for the discussion on the impact social media has on democracies.

“Of course, imposing democratic limits on the uncontrolled power of big tech companies alone will not stop political violence,” von der Leyen said. “But it is an important step.”

She was referring to a draft set of rules unveiled in December which aims to rein in tech companies that control troves of data and online platforms relied on by thousands of companies and millions of Europeans for work and social interactions.

They show the European Commission’s frustration with its antitrust cases against the tech giants, notably Alphabet Inc’s Google, which critics say have not addressed the problem.

But they also risk inflaming tensions with Washington, already irked by Brussels’ attempts to tax U.S. tech firms more.

Von der Leyen said Facebook’s decision on a news blackout on Thursday in response to a forthcoming Australian law requiring it and Google to share revenue from news underscored the importance of a global approach to dealing with tech giants.

(Additional reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Robin Emmott and Nick Macfie; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Packaged food giants push direct online sales to gauge consumer tastes

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Packaged food giants push direct online sales to gauge consumer tastes 3

By Siddharth Cavale and Nivedita Balu

(Reuters) – Packaged food giants including Kraft Heinz, General Mills and Kellogg are pushing sales of their products to consumers directly via their own online channels, in a quest to gather more data about shoppers’ purchasing habits.

Velveeta-cheese maker Kraft Heinz saw its e-commerce sales double in 2020, now representing more than 5% of its global sales, Chief Executive Miguel Patricio said at the virtual Consumer Analyst Group of New York (CAGNY) conference this week.

The company sells Heinz baked beans and tomato soup by subscription or in bundles directly to consumers on a “Heinz To Home” website in the United Kingdom, Australia and Europe.

Sales on the site are “giving us valuable insights into consumer behavior, enabling us to quickly test and learn from innovations,” Kraft’s head of international business, Rafael de Oliveira, said at the conference.

Kraft would continue to use the site as a channel to generate strong sales in developed markets, he said.

The company also counts sales of its products through marketplaces such as on Amazon.com and Walmart.com as part of its e-commerce sales.

U.S. shoppers spent on average $1,271 buying groceries online last year, 45% more than they did in 2019 as the pandemic spurred shopping online, according to market research firm Earnest Research. In contrast, the average dollars spent in stores rose only about 7% to $3,849.

PepsiCo sells products including Doritos, Quaker oats and Gatorade directly to consumers through two websites, pantryshop.com and snacks.com, both launched in 2020.

Chief Financial Officer Hugh Johnston said that more than 45% of the company’s capital investments over the next few years would be dedicated toward manufacturing capacity, automation, and a “ramping up of investments in our e-commerce channel.”

As major online retailers including Amazon.com and Walmart.com continue to gather valuable data on shoppers, many packaged food manufacturers are keen to gather their own data on shoppers, too.

“COVID (has) simply accelerated our digital growth and has provided us with yet another source of data and insight,” Monica McGurk, chief growth officer at breakfast cereal maker Kellogg Co., told the conference.

Kellogg, producer of Corn Flakes as well as Pringles chips, said on Wednesday it had launched a direct-to-consumer website focused on digestive wellness. The group plans to sell its new Mwell Microbiome Powder for gut health via the site to gather data on customer interest before it launches the product more widely.

E-commerce sales have doubled in the past year and now represent about 8.5% of the group’s $13.77 billion in annual sales, Kellogg said.

Pillsbury dough-maker General Mills also sees the benefits of tracking consumer habits more closely.

“We’re aggressively investing in data and analytics. We are gathering unparalleled insights from the first-party data we collect through our brand websites,” General Mills’ Chief Executive Jeffrey Harmening said at the conference.

On its Bettycrocker.com website, General Mills provides hundreds of recipes using Betty Crocker cake mixes and frosting. The site leads people to the closest store or an online retailer where they can purchase the products, thereby generating data for General Mills on what a particular customer from a certain zip code is buying. The company does not sell the food products directly on its website.

Consumers, however, may have to shell out more if they shop directly from brand websites.

Prices on the two PepsiCo sites, for example, were generally higher than those on Walmart.com or Amazon.com, Reuters checks show. On Walmart.com, for example, a 10 oz pack of Doritos Nacho Cheese was on sale for $2.50 compared to $4.29 on Pepsico’s website.

Kraft Heinz offers tins of soup, beans, pasta and baby food bundled into packs ranging from six to 25 items and costing between 10 and 20 pounds ($14.01-$28.03) on its UK website. It told Reuters the relatively higher prices of items and bundling of packs than on some other online marketplaces was to be able to eke out a margin after including delivery costs.

“Longer term, we see real value in this channel to be an insight and data channel for us,” Jean-Philippe Nier, head of e-commerce for Kraft Heinz’s business in the UK and Ireland, told Reuters. People are more prepared to order directly from manufacturers than they were before. The time is now.”

Graphic: Direct online sales to cross $20 billion in 2021 – https://graphics.reuters.com/PACKAGEDFOODS-ECOMMERCE/rlgpdexngvo/chart.png

($1 = 0.7137 pounds)

(Reporting by Siddharth Cavale and Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Vanessa O’Connell and Susan Fenton)

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