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Weekend reads: NCSU's cancer cluster, campaign finance issues, and a $804K charter school error | NC Newsline

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Weekend reads: NCSU's cancer cluster, campaign finance issues, and a $804K charter school error | NC Newsline

Breast cancer cluster suspected at NC State’s Poe Hall, contaminated with PCBs; separate study shows those chemicals linked to that cancer

Testing showed five rooms in Poe Hall at NC State University contained materials with high levels of PCBs, a likely carcinogen. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

By Lisa Sorg

A 2020 study of nearly 800 North Carolina women found that PCBs might increase the risk death from breast cancer, raising questions about a suspected cluster at N.C. State’s Poe Hall, which is contaminated with high levels of the toxic chemical. In addition, among women who already have breast cancer, the study found PCBs could contribute to deaths from all causes. PCBs are known to accumulate in breast tissue.

Sampling results from Poe Hall in November showed extremely high levels of PCBs in multiple rooms and in air handling systems, Newsline reported. [Read more…]

Expanded Medicaid managed care for people with mental illness or disabilities to begin July 1

Map of NC LME/MCOs
Map: NC Department of Health and Human Services

By Lynn Bonner

New managed care plans for North Carolinians whose mental health treatment or disability care is coordinated and paid through regional mental health offices will launch on July 1.

Under these “tailored plans,” regional mental health offices called “Local Management Entities/Managed Care Organizations” will pay for health care for people with mental illnesses, developmental disabilities, substance use disorder, or traumatic brain injury. [Read more...]

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US Army to begin excavating up to 300 tons of contaminated soil at former missile plant in Burlington

By Lisa Sorg

The U.S. Army Environmental Command this month is scheduled to begin excavating as much as 300 tons of contaminated soil at the Tarheel Army Missile Plant in Burlington, city officials announced this week. This is the first step in a renewed effort to cleanup extensive contamination at the abandoned 22-acre site at 204 N. Graham-Hopedale Road. The site is known locally as the Western Electric plant because it had a military contract to build Nike missile guidance systems there during the Cold War. [Read more...]

Rocky Mount charter school leader says ‘coding error’ caused unexplained expenses

entrance to Rocky Mount Preparatory Academy
Photo: https://www.rmprep.org/

By Greg Childress

The leader of Rocky Mount Preparatory Academy told the Charter School Review Board on Monday that the more than $804,000 in unexplained expenses that threatened to close the school last year was mostly a coding error.

Last August, the former Charter School Advisory Board warned school leaders that it could be forced to close due to its poor academic performance and unexplained expenses. [Read more…]

Bonus read: Charter renewals spark debate among review board members

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DOJ lawyer tells Appeals Court imprisoned man can serve the same sentence twice

three Court of Appeals judges listen to arguments
A North Carolina Court of Appeals panel hears arguments in a case in which a trial court seemed to ignore a Supreme Court directive in resentencing a defendant. (Photo: Court of Appeals video stream)

By Kelan Lyons 

A lawyer for the North Carolina Department of Justice argued in court Wednesday that a man should be allowed to serve the same prison sentence twice, even though he had already done his time for that crime.

“This is a question of what authority does North Carolina’s statutory law give a trial judge at re-sentencing,” said Heidi M. Williams, special deputy attorney general. “If the language of that statute confers that authority on the sentencing judge to exercise in his or her discretion, this court should not limit that authority that has been given to the sentencing court by the General Assembly.” [Read more…]

North Carolina AG’s office pushes for delay in key Racial Justice Act hearing

Johnston County courthouse
The North Carolina attorney general’s office has petitioned the state Supreme Court to overrule a Johnston County’s Superior Court’s plans to commence a review on Feb. 26 of evidence of racism in jury selection in North Carolina capital cases. (Photo: NCCourts.gov)

By Kelan Lyons 

Johnston County prosecutor once compared Black defendants to wild dogs and hyenas, hunting their victims “like the predators of the African plain”

A hearing scheduled for later this month could clear a path for the 136 people on North Carolina’s death row to one day get resentenced to life without the possibility of parole — or bring them one step closer to the execution chamber.

Beginning Feb. 26, attorneys are scheduled to present evidence to a Johnston County Superior Court judge arguing that race significantly affected prosecutors’ actions during jury selection, not just in the underlying case of Hasson Bacote, but in capital cases throughout North Carolina.[Read more…]

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Latest NC campaign finance reports raise important questions, concerns

Board of Elections (Photo: Clayton Henkel)

By Bob Hall

North Carolina candidates and political committees recently filed their final campaign finance reports for 2023, disclosing who gave them money and how they spent it. A slew of news articles tell you who’s ahead in the fundraising horse race, but there’s so much more to explore in these reports. They offer a unique window into our state’s political culture. Here are eight examples, aided by a review of earlier reports and a little research. Look for more examples soon. [Read more.…]

Monday numbers: a closer look at school technology and learning loss recovery

two students looks at laptops while sitting on the steps in their school
As North Carolina students show signs of academic recovery, many school districts do not have a plan to update technology provided during the pandemic. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

By Clayton Henkel

Hard to believe it, but this March will mark four years since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. As students and teachers switched to remote learning, federal pandemic relief dollars helped school districts purchase laptops, tablets, software, and other technology to minimize learning loss and allow students to study from home.

But now, in 2024, those cutting-edge tools from 2020 are beginning to show their age.

The chief information officer for the NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) shared the status of the school technology with the House Select Committee on Education Reform last week. [Read more…]

Big data companies: Extracting millions from NC residents…with state government’s help (commentary)

Ads leading up to the Super Bowl stress the ease of placing a bet from your phone. (Photo: Screen grab)

By Rob Schofield

North Carolina will soon have legal sports gambling. The state Lottery Commission voted last month to allow bookmakers to start taking bets – both on the ground and online – starting March 11. It won’t be in time for this week’s Super Bowl, but it will be easy to lose big bucks on the ACC men’s basketball tournament that commences March 12.

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And while many have greeted this development as ho-hum news in a society in which gambling has become ubiquitous in recent years – for instance, the lottery is already plugging something called “digital instants” and as most sports fans are aware, even ESPN now has an entire website and significant programming devoted to gambling — it’s actually an important and deeply worrisome development.[Read more…]

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Finance

AI Will Transform Finance, But Not With Personalised Card Offers

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AI Will Transform Finance, But Not With Personalised Card Offers

If you read any business or finance news, you would have found it impossible not to notice that there was another Davos last month. I rather agree with Andrew Curry, who says that the worst thing about the event is the temptation to take it seriously, but business leaders do turn up there to make speeches and it can be useful to listen to them to spot key themes. This year, as would expect, artificial intelligence (AI) was centre stage.

AI Is The Future of Fintech

Bryan Zhang (the executive director and co-founder of the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance at The University of Cambridge Judge Business School) presented the results of their research on the future of global fintech. The study gathered data from 227 fintechs across five verticals (digital lending, digital capital raising, digital payments, digital banking & savings and insurtech) across the Asia-Pacific, European, Latin America and Caribbean, Middle East & North African, North American and Sub-Saharan African regions. Almost three-quarters of those surveyed identified AI as the most important factor in the development of fintech in the next five years (and almost half of them pointed to embedded finance, open banking and the digital economy as the second most important factors).

I think these findings are uncontroversial. We can all agree that the fintech sector is poised to be significantly transformed by advances in artificial intelligence (AI) across a number of areas. But how, exactly? And where will the biggest impact be? Scanning through various reports, news feeds and post I can see a number of key business functions that will be affected. Here are a few of them:

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Personalised Banking and Services: One of first and most obvious uses of AI, building on the masses of historical data available to banks, will be to push much more personalised products and services to customers. AI can help banks and their fintech competitors to create tailored offerings for each individual, ranging from from customised credit cards to unique savings plans;

Regulatory Compliance (RegTech): AI will help in the development of systems that can automatically adapt to new regulations and ensure compliance more efficiently. In my view, the next really big fintech businesses will actually be regtech businesses and AI is certain to power them;

Enhancing Robotic Process Automation (RPA): In their book “The Future of Finance”, Henri Arslanian and Fabrice Fisher pointed out that while automation can be enabled with relatively unsophisticated RPA technology, for more complex processes with more varied inputs, more sophisticated techniques are needed. Thus AI, combined with RPA, will result in cost savings and increased efficiency for financial institutions;

Credit Decisions and Risk Management: AI systems will help financial institutions make better lending decisions and manage risk more effectively. As a result, the market is moving towards insights-driven lending rather than expert judgement, which helps maximise rejection of high-risks customers and minimise rejection of creditworthy customers;

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Investment and Trading: Mihir Desai, a Professor of Finance at Harvard Business School, points at two significant disruptions: the rise of passive fund managers and the growing dominance of quantitative investing because of the ability to analyze large amounts of data quickly. He thinks that these trends in finance suggests that an AI-dominated future can create “outsized” winners and losers pretty quickly;

Customer Support and Chatbots: AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants will become more nuanced and capable of handling complex customer service inquiries, providing instant support and freeing up human resources for more strategic tasks. Personally, I am interacting with a bank chatbot, I don’t really care whether it is a person or not provided it does what I want; and

Fraud Detection and Security: I think this area is particularly concerning, because of the tidal wave of fraud that AI will unleash and the corresponding fintech opportunities to harness AI to get us to higher ground, as discussed in the recent U.S. Financial Services Committee hearing about the opportunities and risks associated with AI.

All of these uses of AI are, frankly, pretty unremarkable. But I think what a lot of this kind of analysis lacks is a recognition of the fact that it is the customers’ use of AI that will take the sector in some unexpected directions, not the banks’ use of AI. As I have written here before, financial services organisations need to pay strategic attention to the impending switch from human to machine customers.

Persuade My Bot!

The brilliant Cathy Hackl wrote about this a few years ago, noting that traditional marketing is all about the consumer, so marketers spend their effort of creating compelling narratives to connect with those consumers. Their goal is just to create demand for a product to but to build brand and relationships. That’s great for B2C and B2B2C, but what happens when we find ourselves in the world of Business-to-Robot-to-Consumer (B2R2C) commerce?

What happens to the accumulated knowledge and experience of the marketing department in a retail bank when banks will have to convince robots – rather than humans – that their deal is the best in the market? The robots won’t care about the Superbowl commerical. The robots won’t care about the race team sponsorship. The robots will be supremely indifferent to the brand colour and logo.

But what will they care about?

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What is money dysmorphia? How this financial feeling hurts your wallet

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What is money dysmorphia? How this financial feeling hurts your wallet

Whether it’s the bachelorette trips that have become dream vacations, the cross-country flights that end in front-row seats for Taylor Swift or just the social media users who keep up with every weekly fashion trend (looking at you, “mob-wife” aesthetic), it can seem like everyone online these days has loads of expendable money to spend on whatever they please … but do they?

Enter “money dysmorphia”: a phenomenon that occurs when someone has a distorted or insecure view of their financial standing no matter what it truly is, leading them to make poor monetary decisions.

A recent study from Qualtrics and Intuit Credit Karma found 29% of Americans experience money dysmorphia, and although a form of it has been around since the Great Depression, the current era is hitting some people particularly hard.

So what do we do about it? Here’s what we know. 

Who’s most affected by money dysmorphia?

To put it plainly, per Credit Karma: “Gen Z and millennials are obsessed with the idea of being rich,” and that obsession is precisely what can lead a younger person to make worse financial decisions — a symptom of money dysmorphia.

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The Qualtrics study found 43% of Gen Z and 41% of millennials said they experience money dysmorphia, compared to 25% of Gen X and just 14% aged 59 or above.

It’s no surprise these younger age groups are most affected by it, as the trend really started to emerge with social media use. 

But Ted Jenkins, the owner and CEO of oXYGen Financial, told Scripps News what you’re viewing is likely not a full, honest picture of someone’s finances, but it’s still pushing some to change their habits and ideals to match what they see.

“What they see in front of them, it feels like everybody is leading the life of Riley — going on vacations to Italy, sitting front row for a Taylor Swift concert, having a brand new Rolex watch — and this is just not reality,” Jenkins said. “It’s just not reality, but people think it is, and this causes this money dysmorphia.”

And the money dysmorphia runs deep, becoming further distorted by the study’s other responses.

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For example, of the people who said they did experience money dysmorphia, 82% said they felt behind on their finances, but just 29% said they don’t struggle with financial insecurity. Going further, 48% of Gen Z and 59% of millennial participants said they felt behind money-wise, but 59% also reported feeling financially stable. 

The uneven perception versus reality is also more prominent for those who might not understand how much the average person has in savings.

Of those who reported experiencing money dysmorphia, 37% said they had more than $10,000 in savings and 23% of those had more than $30,000. Compared to the median savings balance for Americans, which is around $5,300, that seems like a pretty good number!

Those who didn’t report experiencing money dysmorphia did average more in savings though, with 52% having more than $10,000 and 32% of those having more than $50,000 saved.

But still, it’s likely the money dysphorics aren’t comparing themselves to the average; instead, they compare themselves to those who aren’t anywhere close — or, at least, to those online who pretend they’re not.

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“No matter what [a person with money dysphoria’s] money situation is, they feel like they don’t have enough,” Jenkins said. “It’s like somebody with body dysmorphia looking in the mirror and saying, ‘I should be thinner,’ even though they may be thin already … What it makes them do is have behaviors like spending money that they don’t have, creating more credit card debt, not saving enough really, so to speak, to try to keep up with the Joneses in today’s world.”

How can you avoid money dysmorphia?

The bottom line to avoiding this phenomenon is to be realistic and to stop comparing.

The study pointed out that although nearly half of Gen Z and millennial respondents are obsessed with the idea of being rich, most don’t think they ever will be. 

While it’s important to have financial goals, it’s also important to have a plan to get there; anyone can want to be rich, but it would take some big steps to truly build that wealth. One of those steps is overcoming money dysmorphia.

The study found that 95% of Americans with money dysmorphia say it negatively impacts their finances, either by holding them back from building savings or leading them to overspend and increase their debt. 

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Getting past that feeling can’t work without taking an honest look at your finances. Courtney Alev, a consumer financial advocate at Credit Karma, recommends setting clear goals and making a plan after taking that look.

“If your goal is to build up your savings, start by doing an audit of your finances to see where in your budget you can make room for savings,” Alev said. “From there, you can schedule automatic payments from each paycheck to help hold you accountable and incrementally increase your savings.”

Jenkins, who has more than 22 years of experience as a financial adviser, echoes that sentiment, saying the top three things a person can do to avoid or get over money dysmorphia are to have your own personal finance plan, never get into credit card debt and — most importantly — “don’t believe all the hype” you compare yourself to on social media.

“Not everybody that’s doing all this fun stuff is worth millions of dollars. In fact, in many cases, they are underwater in debt,” he told Scripps News.

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Cloud-Powered Solutions Improve Productivity for Finance Firms

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Cloud-Powered Solutions Improve Productivity for Finance Firms

A Unified Workflow Within the Cloud

The convenience of the cloud can translate directly into productivity gains. Every time financial workers log on to an application or server, they must go through basic security. Those 60-second increments add up — but working within a centralized ecosystem offers greater ease and efficiency. Even in a multicloud environment, users still have a unified experience for task completion and workflow.

This level of convenience pays off. In a recent keynote on digital transformation, VMware CEO Raghu Raghuram said, “You must deliver a frictionless experience to your employees, so that they can go about achieving the next great leap in productivity.”

For workers in compliance departments, in-cloud regulatory reporting tools can reduce the burden of daily tasks. Workers in disaster recovery can reap similar benefits from the cloud. Employees across teams can also optimize cloud platforms to run faster during high-traffic times of the day or week. Cloud tools can even detect the stability of an internet connection, which helps users avoid unexpected downtime and delays.

RELATED: Businesses are thriving with the right mix of productivity tech.

Improved Insights with the Cloud’s Data Analytics

Data analytics in the cloud is another way that financial services companies can be more strategic in their digital transformation efforts and gain more insights into their business revenue.

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For example, collaboration analytics, including Microsoft’s Viva Insights (part of its Microsoft 365 platform), Google Work Insights and Cisco Webex, can provide data on the cost-benefit ratio of daily work. Combine this with a cloud management tool such as CDW Inscape, and IT leaders can also improve security, enhance visibility and reduce costs.

LEARN MORE: Training your team can improve productivity in your organization.

Quickly Access Information and Collaborate Across Teams

Financial organizations can also take advantage of cloud-based productivity suites such as Microsoft 365 E3 and E5, which enable teams to call, chat or videoconference from any device in one click. This is particularly helpful for teams working in hybrid or remote setups, easily facilitating more regular communication and collaboration. These quick connects can also eliminate meetings, which 71 percent of senior managers say are inefficient and unproductive, according to Harvard Business Review.

Any one of these tactics improves productivity, but it’s clear that a cloud-based approach will help financial firms stay competitive in uncertain times.

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