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Maintaining credit health during this pandemic is key

When borrowers honor their obligations, there’s no reason to see credit in a bad light, especially as it helps the economy grow faster this way. But how do you manage credit in the middle of a pandemic?

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Keeping your physical and mental health in check during the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial, but global information and insights provider TransUnion emphasizes that financial health must not be set aside. For most people, this generally entails having a steady flow of income, looking after any savings, and maintaining bill payments and other financial commitments.

But with the severe economic impact of COVID-19 globally, this isn’t always possible and it is vital that consumers truly understand how certain aspects of finance work to find or even create opportunities amid these difficult times.

There is no standard measure of financial health as each person’s circumstances are unique, but there is one aspect to finance that is often misunderstood, and that is credit. Credit is an important part of the economy because it allows entities and consumers to engage in transactions now that may not be possible if they only rely on their current capacity.

Anyone who has a credit card, loan, bank overdraft, or other similar credit agreements has a credit report – a record of how they manage their credit obligations, collected and aggregated by credit agencies like TransUnion. When borrowers honor their obligations, there’s no reason to see credit in a bad light, especially as it helps the economy grow faster this way. But how do you manage credit in the middle of a pandemic?

“A healthy credit history can help determine a consumer’s ability to access financial products and their ability to get competitive deals. At TransUnion, we are working with financial institutions to help them better understand consumers so they can continue to provide them with the financial services they need. TransUnion’s data quality assurance team stringently reviews credit data contributions and ensures that consumers are being accurately represented so their access to financial services remain unhampered during the challenges presented by COVID-19,” said Pia Arellano, TransUnion Philippines president and CEO.

Regulatory and institutional safeguards notwithstanding, there are a number of habits that consumers can practice to maintain good credit health even amid a pandemic.

1. Pay bills on time

Make it a point to not miss any payment deadlines, even if you can only pay the minimum amount. Automate it if possible or set alarms if you must. The purpose of a credit report is to help lenders see whether or not you miss payments and predict a behavior pattern for the future.

There are grace periods accorded to consumers during the pandemic, so it’s best to be aware of the policies implemented by your bank or financial institution for your convenience. Depending on your case, you may need to contact them directly to arrive at a repayment plan that suits your needs at present. However, if you can pay as soon as the bills come in, do so and you’ll have less to worry about.

2.  Set a budget and stick to it

The economic impact of COVID-19 is likely to extend over many years and having the discipline to stick to a budget and not over spend now will benefit you in the long run. In addition, do not apply for several new accounts at a time. Having a lot of simultaneous inquiries on your credit report worries lenders as it is a sign that you might be using credit and loans to supplement your income because you are spending beyond what you can actually afford.

3. Maintain low balances

Credit cards are considered “maxed-out” when you have spent 90% or more of the credit limit. When you maintain lower balances, lenders view you as someone who uses their credit responsibly. To achieve this, you should be able to pay your bills in full, on time, every time.

4. Build a strong relationship with lenders by being a responsible borrower

Lenders recognize that with higher credit limits comes increased responsibility. Credit limits tend to be reflective of both your wider financial standing as well as historic account conduct. A high credit limit reflected in your credit report can signal to lenders that you are a trustworthy candidate for new lines of credit. Should an unprecedented event such as this pandemic arise, you know that you’re in a position to access financial products at competitive interest rates if you need to.

5.  Beware of phishing and other scams that proliferate even during crises

A recent TransUnion report found that fraudsters are decreasing their schemes against businesses but increasing COVID-19 focused scams against consumers online. With the rise in digital transactions in banking, make sure you do not fall victim to fraud activities like account takeover or unauthorized account opening schemes that can taint your credit report. As a general rule, steer clear of offers that sound too good to be true. Legitimate financial institutions can never provide miraculous results in the short-term.

Other precautions include doing a regular review of your bank accounts for any suspicious activity, never providing sensitive information such as PINs and One-Time Passwords, and keeping your information secure against phishing attacks. It’s worth looking into password managers and updating your passwords on your bank accounts every so often. If you need to communicate with your bank, stick to its official channels.

6. Contribute to a savings fund

Building an emergency fund is generally considered good practice in your overall budgeting and serves to keep your credit health in check as well. Having enough funds on hand will help cover credit obligations, keeping you in good credit standing until you recover and things stabilize again.

Navigating the road to economic recovery

Build and keep the above-mentioned habits and you’ll maintain a good credit standing and overall financial health. Now, what should you do if you still cannot pay your bills at this time due to sudden loss of income or other extreme circumstances?

Consumers should coordinate with their bank or financial institution to explain their situation. Generally, consumers can request a payment holiday, lowering of monthly payments until they have fully recovered, or restructuring of a loan or credit facility for a smaller payment amount and longer tenure. Needless to say, it helps if you are in good credit standing to begin with.

As a seasoned and trusted global data steward, TransUnion recognizes its unique position to help consumers as they pursue economic recovery by helping financial institutions address current uncertainties using the power of information. Building on its database of 25 million account points that features a more holistic and insightful view into consumer behavior, TransUnion has started harnessing trended data that looks at richer information from a longer period of time (24 months payment history) to determine a consumer’s current and likely future financial situation. This, in turn, gives businesses quality information to continue supporting customers even in uncertain times such as the pandemic. When done right, everyone contributes to helping the economy bounce back stronger.

“We’ve been called to do bayanihan to recover as one, which essentially recognizes the need for us to work together to fully address current financial challenges. Our mission at TransUnion is to use the data that we have to help businesses and consumers make smarter finance decisions, especially during difficult times like this pandemic. We hope to continue creating a virtuous cycle of empowered businesses that empower consumers to gain access to financial services which can uplift their lives and financial health, as we believe this contributes a great deal to their physical and mental well-being too,” said Arellano.

Strategies

People willing to pay more for coffee that’s ethical and eco-friendly, meta-analysis finds

Overall, ecolabelling worked as intended: people were willing to pay for socially responsible coffee.

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Photo by Nathan Dumlao from Unsplash.com

Lesson for coffee biz…

Beyond how much cream and sugar to add to their morning brew, coffee lovers also face more serious decisions: one of those is whether or not to buy ecolabelled coffee, which advertises itself as more ethical and environmentally friendly. But whether customers are willing to pay the extra price for these perks remains an unanswered question.

In a study publishes in the journal Heliyon, researchers combined data from 22 studies to conclude that in general, people are willing to pay $1.36 more for a pound of coffee that’s produced in an eco-friendly way and are especially partial to coffee that’s labelled “Organic.”

“We hear in the media or sometimes read in the newspaper that there is an increasing number of ecolabelling logos in the market, and that these logos are sometimes related or even look alike. This may reduce consumers’ trust and willingness to pay over time,” says first author Nizam Abdu, a Ph.D. candidate and research assistant at the University of Tasmania in Australia. “However, our results show that coffee consumers in some selected countries are still willing to pay a positive and significant premium for ecolabelling.”

As many people’s go-to beverage, coffee’s enormous social, cultural, and economic influence makes it an ideal candidate for ecolabelling, a system that identifies and certifies certain products with ethical and environmental benefits. Common coffee ecolabels include Organic, Country of Origin Labelling (COOL), and Fairtrade (a certification that workers are given fair wages and safe working conditions) and aim to help consumers make informed choices on food safety, health, and environmental impact. However, it’s possible that having too many ecolabel options will instead confuse buyers, causing them to avoid buying ecolabelled coffee.

Many previous studies have tried to quantify the public’s opinion on different types of coffee ecolabelling. But the studies have varied dramatically in their estimates of how much consumers are willing to pay: some found that people are willing to pay more, while others suggest that people actually are less willing to pay for ecolabelling. As a result, it’s been challenging to present a standardized conclusion on the overall effectiveness of ecolabels.

Abdu and his co-author set out to address this gap. They combined data from 22 studies over the past fifteen years, forming an overall dataset of 97 observations across Europe, North America, Africa, and Asia. With their meta-analysis, they wanted to understand what factors give rise to the large range of price estimates and determine once and for all whether consumers are willing to pay more for coffee ecolabelling.

The researchers found that the variation in previous studies came down to a few factors: the region or country under study, surveying methods, types of ecolabels, and publication bias, the tendency for only studies with the desired outcome to be published. For example, there was a noticeable effect on the studies’ results when survey participants made yes/no choices about which coffee they’d buy versus when they were given trade-offs and budget constraints.

After taking these things into account, however, they found that overall, ecolabelling worked as intended: people were willing to pay for socially responsible coffee.

“In general, consumers are happy to pay a premium price of $1.36 for a pound of ecolabelled coffee. In particular, we clearly see that Organic is the most crucial coffee attribute,” says Abdu. The specific ecolabels of Fairtrade, COOL, and Organic all had values significantly larger than zero, but Organic ecolabelling had the highest value of the three – people were willing to pay an additional $1.14 per pound of coffee for just the Organic ecolabel.

That said, consumer attitudes still varied depending on factors like location. For instance, compared to other regions, people were less willing to pay more for ecolabelled coffee in North America, which may suggest that preference for such a labelling system varies across the regions. The researchers were also surprised to find that while people did care where their coffee came from, they didn’t necessarily prefer coffee that was produced near them. “I was expecting consumers would prefer locally produced coffee,” he says.

The authors say, however, that their finding still suggests a clear preference among consumers for certain types of ecolabelling. Abdu says, “Our findings are a good indicator that the policy of coffee ecolabelling is working in the global coffee market.”

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Strategies

10 Security misperceptions that need to be addressed immediately

The list is based on the experience of Sophos Rapid Response, a team of expert incident responders who deliver fast assistance in identifying and neutralizing active threats such as malware infections, compromised data, or unauthorized access, among others.

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Photo by Mimi Thian from Unsplash.com

With June marking National ICT Month in the Philippines and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) adopting the CHIP (Connect, Harness, Innovate, and Protect) framework for digital transformation and underscoring the value of protection,  Sophos compiled   a guide for Filipino businesses so they can avoid  today’s most commonly held security misperceptions.

The list is based on the experience of Sophos Rapid Response, a team of expert incident responders who deliver fast assistance in identifying and neutralizing active threats such as malware infections, compromised data, or unauthorized access, among others.

Misperception 1: We are not a target. We are too small or have no assets of value to an adversary 

Sophos Advice: Many cyberattack victims assume they are too small, in a sector of no interest, or lacking the kind of lucrative assets that would attract an adversary. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. If you have the processing power and a digital presence, you are a target. Despite the media headlines, most attacks are not perpetrated by advanced nation-state attackers. They are launched by opportunists looking for easy prey and low-hanging fruit, such as organizations with security gaps, errors, or misconfigurations that cybercriminals can easily exploit. 

Misperception 2: We don’t need advanced security technologies installed everywhere 

Sophos Advice: Some IT teams still believe that endpoint security software is enough to stop all threats or don’t need security for their servers. Attackers take full advantage of such assumptions. Any mistakes in configuration, patching, or protection make servers a primary target, not a secondary one, as might have been the case in the past.

Based on the incidents that Sophos Rapid Response has investigated, servers are now the number one target for attacks. Attackers can easily find a direct route using stolen access credentials.  Suppose your organization relies only on basic security without more advanced and integrated tools such as behavioral and AI-based detection and a 24/7 human-led security operations center. In that case, intruders will likely find their way past your defenses.

Misperception 3: We have robust security policies in place 

Sophos Advice:  Having security policies for applications and users is critical. However, they need  to be checked and updated constantly as new features and functionality are added to devices connected to the network. Verify and test policies using techniques such as penetration testing, tabletop exercises, and trial runs of disaster recovery plans. 

Misperception 4: Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) servers can be protected from attackers by changing the ports they are on and introducing multi-factor authentication (MFA) 

Sophos Advice: The standard port used for RDP services is 3389, so most attackers will scan this port to find open remote access servers. However, the scanning will identify any available services, so changing ports offers little or no protection on its own. 

Further, while introducing multi-factor authentication is essential, it won’t enhance security unless all employees and devices enforce it. RDP activity should occur within the protective boundary of a virtual private network (VPN). Still, even that cannot fully protect an organization if the attackers already have a foothold in a network. Ideally, unless its use is essential, IT security should limit or disable RDP internally and externally.

Misperception 5: Blocking IP addresses from high-risk regions such as Russia, China, and North Korea protects us against attacks from those geographies 

Sophos Advice:  Blocking IPs from specific regions is unlikely to do any harm, but it could give a false sense of security if it’s the sole means of protection. Adversaries host their malicious infrastructure in many countries, with hotspots in the US, the Netherlands, and the rest of Europe. 

Misperception 6: Our backups provide immunity from the impact of ransomware 

Sophos Advice: Keeping up-to-date backups of documents is business-critical. However, if your backups are connected to the network, then they are within reach of attackers and vulnerable to being encrypted, deleted, or disabled in a ransomware attack. 

Storing backups in the cloud also needs to be done with care. The standard formula for secure backups to restore data and systems after a ransomware attack is 3:2:1. Three copies of everything, using two different systems, one of which is offline. 

Having offline backups in place won’t protect your information from extortion-based ransomware attacks, where the criminals steal and threaten to publish your data instead of or as well as encrypting it. 

Misperception 7: Our employees understand security 

Sophos Advice: According to the State of Ransomware 2021, 22% of organizations believe they’ll be hit by ransomware in the next 12 months because it’s hard to stop end users from compromising security. 

Social engineering tactics like phishing emails are becoming harder to spot. Messages are often hand-crafted, accurately written, persuasive, and carefully targeted. Your employees need to know how to spot suspicious messages and what to do when they receive one. Who do they notify so that other employees can be alerted? 

Misperception 8: Incident response teams can recover my data after a ransomware attack

Sophos Advice: This is very unlikely. Attackers today make far fewer mistakes, and the encryption process has improved, so relying on responders to find a loophole that can undo the damage is extremely rare. Automatic backups like Windows Volume Shadow Copies are also deleted by most modern ransomware and overwriting the original data stored on disk, making recovery impossible other than paying the ransom. 

Misperception 9: Paying the ransom will get our data back after a ransomware attack 

Sophos Advice: According to the State of Ransomware survey 2021, an organization that pays the ransom recovers on average around two-thirds (65%) of its data.  A mere 8% got back all of their data, and 29% recovered less than half. Paying the ransom even when it seems easier and covered by your cyber-insurance policy is therefore not a straightforward solution to getting your data back. 

Misperception 10: The release of ransomware is the whole attack – if we survive that we’re OK 

Sophos Advice: Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Ransomware is just the point where the attackers want you to realize they are there and what they have done. 

The adversaries are likely to have been in your network for days if not weeks before releasing the ransomware, exploring, disabling, or deleting backups, finding the machines with high-value information or applications to target for encryption, removing information, and installing additional payloads such as backdoors. Maintaining a presence in the victim’s networks allows attackers to launch a second attack if they want to. 

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Strategies

Use rewards effectively to boost employee creativity

The choice of rewards fostered creativity by raising the employees’ belief in their ability to be creative. Alternative rewards also had a powerful impact on boosting the creativity of employees who earlier had scored high on an assessment of creative personality characteristics.

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Photo by Roberto Nickson from Pexels.com

To boost employees’ creativity, managers should consider offering a set of rewards for them to choose from, according to a new study by management experts at Rice University, Tulane University, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and National Taiwan Normal University.

The study, co-authored by Jing Zhou, the Mary Gibbs Jones Professor of Management and Psychology at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business, is the first to systematically examine the effects of reward choice in a field experiment, which was conducted in the context of an organizationwide suggestion program. An advance copy of the paper is published online in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

“Organizations spend a lot of resources and exert a great deal of effort in designing incentive schemes that reward the employees who exhibit creativity at work,” Zhou said. “Our results showed that the effort may be a bit misplaced. Instead of discovering one reward type that is particularly effective at promoting creativity, what is more effective is to provide the employees with the opportunity to choose from several reward types, if they submit one or more ideas that are among the top 20% most creative ones.”

Workers in the study were given a range of options: a financial reward for the individual employee or their team, a self-discretionary reward such as getting priority to select days off, or a donation the company made to a charity selected by the employee. Those choices had positive, significant effects on the number of creative ideas employees generated and the creativity level of those ideas, Zhou and her co-authors found.

The researchers arrived at their findings by conducting a quasi-experiment at a company in Taiwan over the course of several months. Then they conducted a second experimental study that included employees from 12 organizations in Taiwan to replicate the first study’s results and compared the results with a control group.

The studies also found that rewards aimed at helping others, such as making a donation to a charity, might be especially powerful. But for less-creative employees, alternative rewards that benefit those in need might actually lower creativity and should be avoided, the authors said.

The researchers also found that the choice of rewards fostered creativity by raising the employees’ belief in their ability to be creative. Alternative rewards also had a powerful impact on boosting the creativity of employees who earlier had scored high on an assessment of creative personality characteristics.

Zhou co-authored the paper with Greg Oldham of Tulane, Aichia Chuang of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Ryan Shuwei Hsu of National Taiwan Normal University.

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