Categories
Economy

Banking apps: what do they offer – and how is your cash protected?

When the Financial Conduct Authority ordered the UK arm of payments firm Wirecard to freeze customer funds, hundreds of thousands of people who had probably never even heard of the company suddenly found they could not access their cash.

Customers of several UK banking and payment services, including FairFX, Pockit, U Account and Anna Money, were told that their money was caught up in the regulator’s action against the firm, leaving some unable to buy food or pay bills.

Normal service was resumed on Tuesday but the events of last weekend have thrown a spotlight on the financial technology sector, which includes a number of major players offering bank-style products such as Revolut, Curve and gohenry.

Many of these usually smartphone-based services are aimed at the millions of people who the traditional banks either do not want or struggle to cater for, such as those with a poor credit history or who have just arrived in the UK.

Most of the players offering such bank-style accounts are not actually banks – typically they are e-money institutions, which are not covered by the UK Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS). This puts them into a different category to companies such as Monzo, Starling, Tandem and Atom, which are all fully-fledged banks offering FSCS protection up to £85,000.

There are lots of UK firms in this market that do not use Wirecard and were therefore unaffected. However, some of them piggyback on other third-party companies, which often provide their accounts or payment cards for them.

Revolut

What is it? Launched in 2015, it claims to have 3 million UK customers, and more than 12 million globally. It offers a bank-style account with a debit card, plus various other services, and is popular with people who frequently spend and send money abroad.

It says the majority of its customers are serviced via Revolut Ltd, an authorised e-money institution based in London.

What does it offer? There are three plans available. The standard option has no monthly subscription and lets you withdraw up to £200 a month from ATMs before fees are applied. You can also spend abroad in more than 150 currencies at the interbank exchange rate. Then there are the Premium and Metal plans at £6.99 and £12.99 a month respectively. These offer higher limits on withdrawals and other services including some travel cover and accounts for kids.

How is people’s money protected? In terms of the UK, it says customer funds are securely held in ringfenced accounts with “a tier one UK bank”. Revolut said in December that it intended to acquire a UK banking licence in the future. If and when that does happen, it would be covered by the FSCS.

Curve

What is it? A service allowing people to spend from any of their accounts using only one card. You add your eligible Mastercard or Visa debit and credit cards to the Curve app and then spend using your Curve card.

Launched in 2015, Curve says it has 1.3 million customers across Europe. It was one of the companies caught up in the Wirecard incident. Curve’s cards were suspended for two or three days because it relied on Wirecard for its financial transactions – but it was already well on the way to migrating to its own systems and this process was completed a few days ago. Curve cards and e-money are now issued by Curve OS, an authorised e-money institution based in London.

What does it offer? There are three plans available. Curve Blue has no monthly subscription and comes with some perks, including an introductory cashback offer and some fee-free foreign ATM withdrawals, and there are also £9.99 a month and £14.99 a month options with extra benefits, including travel insurance.

There is no money stored in your Curve account, so it is not a pre-paid card. You select the account you would like to pay with by tapping the related payment card in the app.

How is people’s money protected? Curve says: “We have a safeguarding account that means there is a pot of money separate from the company’s money, should anything happen to us as a business.”

Monese

What is it? Launched in 2015 and initially targeting “unbanked, expat and immigrant consumers”, it claims to have more than 2.5 million people signed up in the UK and across Europe. It offers a bank-style account that comes with a debit card.

Monese says it is a registered agent of PrePay Technologies, a London-based authorised e-money institution. (For EU customers, it is a different e-money institution: a Belgian company called PPS EU SA, authorised by the National Bank of Belgium.)

What does it offer? There are three plans available. Simple has no monthly subscription (you pay £4.95 for your card to be delivered) and lets you withdraw up to £200 a month from ATMs before fees are applied. Plus, there is £2,000 a month of “free” foreign currency card spending. There is also a Classic option for £5.95 a month and a Premium one for £14.95 a month.

How is people’s money protected? Monese told us it has to keep all customer money separate to its own company finances. “This guarantees that even in the unlikely event that Monese is no longer in business, all of our customers would receive 100% of their balance back.”

gohenry

What is it? A prepaid card and app with parental controls for young people aged six to 18. It counts as an e-money product. Founded by a group of parents in 2012, gohenry boasts more than 900,000 customers in the UK (it also operates in the US).

It works with two companies that help provide its services. Its cards are issued by IDT Financial Services, a Gibraltar-based bank regulated in the territory. It also works with Adyen, a Dutch-based payments firm that obtained a European banking licence in 2017 and whose customers include Facebook and Uber.

What does it offer? It is a pre-paid card that lets children spend money with retailers where they cannot pay cash. Parents can top up their child’s card and set spending rules, so they stay in control. They can decide where the card can be used – in shops, online or at cash machines – and are notified when and where their child is spending. It costs £2.99 a child each month, although you can join free for one month.

How is people’s money protected? It says customers’ money is ringfenced and held in a secure NatWest account. It told us: “Should IDT Financial Services go out of business, both Visa and the regulator [in Gibraltar] would step in to protect customer funds and ensure they are returned to customers.”

Cashplus

What is it? Set up in 2005, it offers personal and business current accounts, and says that since launch it has had more than 1.6 million customers. Its personal account offers a debit card.

What does it offer? It claims to be “like a bank account, just better” and offers things such as payment alerts, where you are notified if a direct debit is due and you do not have enough cash ready to pay it, and a Creditbuilder plan that helps you build up your credit score when you pay the monthly fee. You can pay cash in at any post office. There are three pricing plans where the monthly fee varies from zero to £9.95. Everyone pays a £5.95 card issue fee. The option with no monthly fee, Flexiplus, has charges for various things, such as 99p for each UK purchase and direct debit, and £2 for UK ATM withdrawals.

How is people’s money protected? It is an authorised e-money institution with an e-money licence, although it says it is in the final stages of applying to become a bank, at which point it would be covered by the FSCS. It says customers’ money is held in a safeguarded bank account held by a major UK bank.

Thinkmoney

What is it? A digital banking service that went live in 2001 and offers a current account with a debit card, plus loan options. It says it has “helped thousands of people pay their bills on time, avoid late payment charges and improve their credit score”. It is an authorised e-money institution.

What does it offer? With this account, money for regular payments is held separately so they are paid on time and any cash not needed for bills is then available to spend. It promises no fees if it refuses a payment because of a lack of funds – for example, if a direct debit bounces. However, its standard monthly fee is £10.

How is people’s money protected? It says customers’ cash is held in a separate safeguarded Royal Bank of Scotland account. It adds that its cards are directly issued by Think Money Ltd, so it is not reliant on another company.

Are you covered by a compensation scheme?

The Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) protects your money up to £85,000 for all banks, building societies and credit unions that are authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

Some firms may be authorised and appear on the FCA’s financial services register but if they are not a bank, building society or credit union, they are not covered by the compensation scheme.

For example, the FSCS does not protect people if they have money in an electronic money – or e-money – firm or payment services company and it goes bust. Electronic money (including prepaid cards) is considered a method of payment, not a deposit held by a bank or building society, so it is not covered by the FSCS.

The FCA says e-money institutions have to safeguard customers’ money – this means they must either keep it separate from their own cash, ie in a separate bank account, or protect it with an insurance policy or comparable guarantee. “This should mean that if that company becomes insolvent, you get most of your money back,” it says.

However, the FCA warns that it could take longer to be refunded than if your money was in a bank and some costs are likely to be deducted by the administrator or liquidator of the insolvent company.

You can check if a firm is an e-money firm or payment services business by searching the financial services register.

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Economy

England eases lockdown: how pubs, hairdressers and restaurants will work

Saturday marks the biggest easing of lockdown rules in England since the government announced businesses could start reopening.

The social distancing guidance has been cut to 1-metre-plus, and people can stay away from home overnight. Pubs, restaurants, cinemas and tourist attractions can throw open their doors, hairdressers and barbers can power up the clippers, and hotels, B&Bs and campsites can welcome holidaymakers.

All businesses are promising more cleaning and an abundance of hand sanitiser, and will have to take other measures to keep staff and customers safe. Things will look very different from when we went into lockdown in March. So what can you expect if you venture out?

Hairdressers and barbers

Take a good book if you’re off to get your lockdown locks shorn – there won’t be any magazines to flick through while you are there. Refreshments are off the menu at many salons, although some will still have a limited range. Music will be turned down or turned off, so you won’t have to raise your voice when making small talk.

Hairdressers and barbers will all be wearing see-through visors, and many will provide you with a face mask. At Supercuts, you’ll get a disposable gown, too – the chain is charging customers a £3.60 fee to cover the extra measures it has had to put in place. At Toni & Guy, disposable towels, made of biodegradable viscose fibres, will be used. Salons using reusable towels and gowns will have to wash them after each customer. Payment will be contactless – either via a terminal, or some businesses will be settling bills through their websites and apps.

Your trip won’t be the laid-back pampering experience it was before: salons have been advised to get you out of the door as quickly as possible. You can still get a colour, but if you’re a man looking for a shave, you’re out of luck – barbers can only do haircuts initially.

Pubs

Don’t assume that your local is open – some owners have decided to delay their emergence from lockdown until a quieter day of the week. Revolution Bars, for example, will only open from Monday. Those that are open may insist that you book in advance, and you may have a limited time at a table.

Even if you do just turn up, you could be asked to provide your contact details. Wetherspoons, for example, will be collecting names and phone numbers on forms which say when you arrived and left – this is for the NHS test and trace programme.

Once there, you may be asked to sanitise your hands before being led to a table by a staff member. There will be no standing at the bar. Pubs will have table service, either sending staff to take customers’ orders or using an app to allow people to buy a round. Most will not offer their usual range of food, and instead of your burger coming with a bottle of ketchup that is moved between tables, you may get a selection of sachets.

There won’t be live music, but there may be football to watch and you can play pool, as long as taking a shot doesn’t mean breaking distancing rules.

You can meet up to five people from different households if you sit outside, so expect groups of friends to have booked up the beer gardens. Inside, members of two households can meet, but many pubs will not let you move chairs between tables. Some pubs are taking over pavements or car parks to provide enough outdoor seating.

Face masks

Wearing face masks is only mandatory on public transport in England, but other traders may ask you to wear one.

In some hairdressers, for instance, you will be given a mask. You are not legally obliged to wear one, but if you refuse to, you may not get served – different companies are taking different stances.

As a customer, you may be concerned about other people who aren’t wearing them. You could ask to be seated as far away from them as possible, but with space at a premium this may not be possible. Your only option could be to leave if you don’t feel safe.

Hotels

You will spot the difference as soon as you enter reception, with many hotels installing screens to protect staff as they greet visitors. Your keycard may have a faint tang of bleach, as it will have been sterilised after its last use, and you may need to lug your cases up the stairs as lift use will be restricted.

When you get to your room, you can still expect tea and coffee making facilities and toiletries, but hotels are paring back everything else. Malmaison is replacing magazines and newspapers with digital versions for guests instead. The notebooks and pencils are also out, replaced with complimentary sanitiser wipes. The minibar will be empty, but you can order drinks and snacks for it when you check in. IHG, which runs hotels including Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, has removed some furnishings from its rooms.

For many, the biggest disappointment will be the loss of the breakfast buffet. Instead of being able to help yourself to an assortment of pastries, cereals and cooked food, you may be offered a pre-prepared box of goodies, or order cafe-style at the posher hotels.

While you stay, Travelodge says, staff won’t enter your room. IHG says you will be able to see when areas were last cleaned.

Parks

Parks could end up being the overspill areas for pubs, which are now allowed to sell drinks for consumption off their premises. Councils are urging people to behave responsibility and take their litter home.

The government has said playgrounds can reopen, but some councils have decided it isn’t yet safe to allow children back on the climbing frames. If you are planning to take to the swings, remember they won’t be cleaned down between use, so pack some sanitiser and gloves.

Toilets

Councils have been reopening public toilets, but not all will be available again, so don’t count on being able to go to the loo when you’re out. Now pubs are open, things should be better than when they were just offering off-sales. The same is true of restaurants, which will be opening toilets to those who are eating in. Some pubs are introducing a traffic light system for the toilets – Greene King pubs will ask customers to flip an indicator when they enter and exit. Wetherspoons is asking people to keep left as they approach and enter its loos.

Tips

Your gratitude at not having to wash up after dinner, combined with the knowledge that the hospitality sector has had a bad time, may well inspire a generous tip. Most retailers are going cashless, or at least doing everything they can to encourage people to use cards. And the same will generally apply to tips – where you may have previously left cash on the table, you will be asked to tip when paying electronically. The Mexican food chain Wahaca says tips will need to be made by card, and that is pretty standard across the sector. At Supercuts, if you want to tip your hairdresser in cash you will need to put it in an envelope with the stylist’s name on, and it will be quarantined for 72 hours.

Eating out

Paper menus which are thrown away after every visit, or digital versions available on your phone, have replaced the reusable versions used by most restaurants and cafes pre-pandemic. What’s on the menu may have changed since your last visit, too – Pizza Express, which will open 44 of its branches from 9 July, has reduced its offering, and many others have done the same to make social distancing easier for kitchen staff.

Most restaurants will have fewer tables and chairs to allow more room around customers. At the noodle chain Wagamama the shared tables and benches remain, but there are moveable screens which will be put between groups and cleaned between visits. The company, which will open its Royal Festival Hall branch on Saturday and others later in the month, will also sanitise sauce bottles after every group has left. At Wahaca there will be no sauce bottles on tables. But you can still sip your Corona, and other beers, out of the bottle if you want to.

Cinemas

Lights, camera, anti-viral cleanser … while several of the big chains such as Vue, Cineworld and Picturehouse have said they will not start to open their doors until 31 July, the Odeon chain is due to open 10 locations on Saturday. Showcase is opening nine venues and Everyman, six.

There will be no more tall people sitting in front of you or children kicking the back of your seat, because cinemas are limiting the number of seats available for each film and guaranteeing unoccupied seats between parties.

Staff are likely to be wearing masks, and many chains are encouraging filmgoers to do the same. People are being urged to book in advance online, and the Odeon is among those that will not be accepting cash.

Pick ’n’ mix stands have been banished, but there will be food and drink: the Odeon will be selling prepackaged items, while Everyman will bring your orders to your seat to avoid queuing.

A video on the Showcase site makes clear that there will be a great deal of cleaning going on – it features a man in a hi-vis tabard, gloves and mask liberally spraying anti-viral cleanser all over the seats. You may want to check for damp patches before you sit down.

Theme parks

If strapping yourself into a rollercoaster and being hurled around at 80mph is what’s needed to cure your lockdown blues then, good news: theme parks due to reopen on Saturday include Thorpe Park in Surrey; Alton Towers in Staffordshire; Legoland Windsor in Berkshire; Chessington World of Adventures in Surrey; Blackpool Pleasure Beach; and Paultons Park in Hampshire.

In many cases visitors must book online in advance to guarantee entry, as the parks are restricting the numbers who can visit. And some rides may be closed – for example, Legoland said Lego City Deep Sea Adventure and Haunted House Monster Party would be shut for the time being. The same applies to the dodgems at some locations, including Blackpool.

On arrival, visitors to many theme parks will have their temperature checked. If you don’t agree to this or you are found to have a high temperature, you won’t be going in.

When it comes to face masks, the rules vary. At Thorpe Park, you will need to bring one, and everyone over the age of six must wear one on certain rides. For water rides it recommends you remove them “in case they get wet”. Paultons Park says visitors will not be required to wear a face covering. Chessington says a securely fitted mask will be mandatory on certain rides, and that if you forget to bring yours, you can pick them up there … for £6 each.

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Weather

Rain and drizzle is forecast for the north, lasting well into the afternoon. In other parts of the country there will be grey skies and strong winds – putting a damper on outdoor pub lunches, making socially distanced queuing less attractive and ensuring more people stay at home than could have been expected.

Roads

Some motoring groups are predicting the easing of lockdown could mean the busiest day of the year so far. RAC Breakdown’s prediction that 10.5 million drivers could take to the road may be a worst-case scenario, but areas around tourist hotspots and visitor attractions are likely to be busy. By contrast, the AA says it “does not expect mass congestion across the road network”, adding: “Many will choose to stay home or close to home.” Trains are up and running, but you must remember a face mask.

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World News

Hong Kong officials 'very disappointed' at Canada's move to suspend extradition pact

  • Beijing imposed a new national security law this week on the former British colony, despite protests from Hong Kong residents and Western nations, setting China's freest city and a major financial hub on a more authoritarian track.
  • "The Canadian government needs to explain to the rule of law, and explain to the world, why it allows fugitives not to bear their legal responsibilities," Hong Kong's security chief, John Lee, told a radio program on Saturday.
  • On Saturday's program, Hong Kong Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng said she was disappointed and expressed extreme regret over Canada's move, adding that she thought it could probably violate international law.

Senior officials in Hong Kong said on Saturday they were "very disappointed" at Canada's decision to suspend its extradition treaty with the Chinese-ruled city and again slammed Washington for "interfering" in its affairs.

Beijing imposed a new national security law this week on the former British colony, despite protests from Hong Kong residents and Western nations, setting China's freest city and a major financial hub on a more authoritarian track.

"The Canadian government needs to explain to the rule of law, and explain to the world, why it allows fugitives not to bear their legal responsibilities," Hong Kong's security chief, John Lee, told a radio program on Saturday.

Lee was very disappointed and strongly opposed Canada's move, he added, as it let politics override the rule of law.

The comments followed Canada's statement on Friday that it was suspending the treaty with Hong Kong in the wake of the new law and could boost immigration from the city.

Canada would also bar the export of sensitive military items to Hong Kong, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters.

On Saturday's program, Hong Kong Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng said she was disappointed and expressed extreme regret over Canada's move, adding that she thought it could probably violate international law.

On Friday, a Hong Kong government spokesman described as "totally unacceptable" a bill passed by the U.S. Senate to penalize banks doing business with Chinese officials who implement the new law. 

"We reiterate that any 'sanctions' imposed under the act will not create an obligation for financial institutions under Hong Kong law," the spokesman said in a statement.

He urged the United States to immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong's internal matters, adding that Beijing, as well as the city's government, could take counter-measures when needed.

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World News

Leaders Across The U.S. Urge Mask-Wearing Ahead Of July 4th Holiday

Leaders throughout the United States are urging Americans to don face masks as the July 4th holiday weekend approaches amid a surge in coronavirus cases across much of the country. 

“The virus does not take a holiday,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said in a statement this week. “The bottom line is be vigilant and stay safe while enjoying some time outside.”

Guidance from state and local leaders is largely the same: The coronavirus crisis is far from over. An even higher spike in cases is at stake if people flock to beaches, pools and July 4th parties without taking precautions, like wearing masks, practice social distancing, keeping gatherings small and holding them outdoors, where the virus is transmitted less easily.

Some are also calling facial coverings “patriotic” ― a response to a minority group of critics who say masks impede their American freedoms.

“As we talk about Fourth of July and independence, it’s important to understand that if we all wear these, we will actually have more independence and more freedom because more places will be able to stay open. We’ll have less spread of the disease,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Friday.  

“The patriotic thing for us to do is to take care of our fellow Americans,” Washington state Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib said on Twitter. 

“Lets help our neighbors and families and remain patriotic by wearing a mask for ourselves and others around us,” Florida Rep. Donna Shalala (D) wrote in a tweet.

In California, which has rolled back reopenings for bars and restaurants, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) launched a large, multilingual public awareness campaign around masks. “People can die. People like your mom,” says one video, showing a person struggling to breathe on a ventilator.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, issued an order shortly before the holiday instructing everyone in the state to wear a face covering, which came as a sharp reversal of his previous stance and one that indicates how bad the crisis has become there. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) warned July 1 that his state had already lost the ground it gained in the second half of June and risked even more COVID-19 cases if people do not wear masks. He even told Louisianans not to visit reopened businesses if they aren’t taking the appropriate precautions. 

“I’m urging the general public: Don’t patronize businesses that are not conducting themselves in a safe manner,” Edwards said. 

President Donald Trump ― who typically eschews face coverings even though officials say his wearing one could send a strong message to his supporters ― changed his tune on masks in the days before July 4th. 

“I’m all for masks,” Trump said on Fox Business this week before going on to falsely predict the disease will just “disappear.” 

The president is still averse to mask mandates ― worrying Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser due to the huge fireworks display he planned for the holiday weekend. Bowser, who lacks the authority to tell people what to do on federal land, where the display is taking place, urged people to practice social distancing and wear masks nonetheless.

While the efforts to contain the virus have been largely successful in areas that were hit hardest in the beginning of the crisis, other states that initially had few COVID-19 patients are seeing rapid increases in reported cases and hospitalizations as businesses have been allowed to reopen. Many Republican states have also shown reluctance to cross Trump, who has generally worked to downplay the threat of the virus.

Although messaging around mask use has varied around the country since the coronavirus crisis began, public health experts overwhelmingly agree that they are key to curbing the spread of COVID-19. When worn properly, masks intercept any tiny droplets ― which could contain the coronavirus ― that human beings expel from their mouths and noses when coughing or just simply talking. The droplets are now thought to be the primary way that the virus spreads.

People can start spreading virulent droplets in the days before they show symptoms, and many never experience symptoms at all, so the masks and distancing are important even if you feel fine.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control expanded the list of symptoms to look out for to include nausea, diarrhea and congestion or runny nose.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards as a Republican. He is a Democrat.

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Business

Kimberly Guilfoyle, Trump campaign official and girlfriend of president's son, tests positive for coronavirus

  • Trump Jr., the eldest son of President Donald Trump, tested negative, according to a person familiar with the situation.
  • Neither Trump Jr. nor Guilfoyle traveled with the president on Air Force One as the president went to Mount Rushmore for a July 4th weekend celebration, the person said.
  • Guilfoyle is expected to drive back to the East Coast to avoid interactions with other people, two people familiar with the matter said.

Kimberly Guilfoyle, a senior Trump campaign official and Donald Trump Jr.'s girlfriend, tested positive for coronavirus while in South Dakota on Friday, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Trump Jr., the eldest son of President Donald Trump, tested negative, the person said.

Neither Trump Jr. nor Guilfoyle traveled with the president on Air Force One as the president went to Mount Rushmore for a July 4th weekend celebration, the person said.

They both planned to attend but never made it to the site. Requests for comment from Guilfoyle and Trump Jr. were not immediately returned Friday night.

Guilfoyle is expected to drive back to the East Coast to avoid interactions with other people, two people familiar with the matter said.

The White House says Trump is tested for the coronavirus daily.

The New York Times first reported that Guilfoyle tested positive.

The development occurred on a day in which there were more than 53,000 new cases of COVID-19 reported across the United States, according to NBC News counts.

Guilfoyle, who is Trump Victory Finance Committee chair, spoke at Trump's June 20 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and in the introductory program ahead of Trump's remarks in Phoenix, Arizona, on June 23.

But it is unknown when or where she was exposed to the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19.

While the site of exposure is not known, since the Tulsa rally multiple people who attended have tested positive for the virus, including a journalist and at least two members of the campaign's advance team.

In addition, six campaign staffers tested positive hours before the rally but were not present at the event.

On Thursday it was announced that former presidential candidate Herman Cain, who attended the Tulsa rally, tested positive for COVID-19.

He received the positive result on Monday, and on Wednesday he developed symptoms serious enough that he required hospitalization, a  posted to his Twitter account said.

Cain, 74, did not need a respirator and was awake and alert at an Atlanta area hospital, the statement said.

It is not known when Cain was exposed to or contracted the illness.

Trump's campaign said in a statement Thursday that Trump did not meet with Cain at the Tulsa rally.

There have been more than 2.7 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States, with more than 130,000 deaths linked to the disease, according to NBC News' count.

Cases have been rising in a number of states, and 19 states have either rolled back or paused reopening plans due to the illness.

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Business

See what London's major sites look like under lockdown

London has seen more than its share of crises. The 2000-year old metropolis has endured an influenza pandemic, the Blitz and several financial meltdowns over just the past century.

Time and again, London has come roaring back, relying on a spirit of resilience and reinvention that is being summoned once more as the British capital seeks to recover from what may be this century’s greatest upheaval: the coronavirus pandemic.
The spread of the virus and efforts to contain it turned one of the world’s liveliest urban meccas into a virtual ghost town, driving millions of people out of the city’s center and its financial district, and bringing commerce to a sudden halt.

Spectators at the New Year's Day Parade. Over 10,000 performers paraded from Piccadilly Circus to Parliament Square.
The scale of the shutdown would have been unimaginable just six months ago, when around 500,000 people poured into the area around Piccadilly Circus for the annual New Years’ Day Parade and it was common to wait 90 minutes for a table at the busiest restaurants.
Then the pandemic hit. Virtually overnight, shops closed, tourists fled, offices and streets emptied out and the city’s 9 million residents holed up at home. Nowhere was the standstill captured more acutely than in the mainstay of London city life: the Tube.

Underground journeys for the month of March tumbled 43% from the 106 million recorded in February, and plunged even further in April, during the height of lockdown, to just 5.7 million. Social distancing rules mean the Tube can only handle up to 15% of its normal traffic, according to London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan.
The fallout from lockdown has been severe. London’s economy is expected to contract nearly 17% this year, according to figures from the city government, a sharper drop than the 14% decline the Bank of England expects for the United Kingdom as a whole.

    Companies in London are expected to shed some 460,000 jobs, or about 7% of the workforce, with manufacturing, construction, retail, and accommodation and food services the hardest hit. Employment is not expected to fully recover until 2022.
    With transportation severely constrained, and a potential coronavirus vaccine still many months away, the people and companies that have made London into a hub for real estate, finance, the arts, hospitality and technology are desperately trying to reinvent themselves in hopes of surviving the pandemic.
    One sign of progress: pubs, restaurants and hair salons can reopen on Saturday, provided they follow social distancing guidelines.

    The physical city

    What the pandemic means for London’s sprawling collection of corporate headquarters is still unclear. Paul Cheshire, professor of economic geography at the London School of Economics, is quick to dismiss the suggestion that the office is dead as “nonsense,” arguing that what happens in the long term will be less dramatic.
    More people will spend more time working from home, or in decentralized office spaces, but this won’t abolish companies’ demand for locations in the city center, which have been shown to increase productivity and facilitate idea sharing, he said.

    Commuters walk across London Bridge on February 3, 2020. The city went into lockdown on March 24.
    What happens to real estate, which accounts for 15% of London’s economy, matters a great deal to the city.
    The government has protected commercial tenants from eviction through August, but those measures will at some point expire. According to property management platform, Re-Leased, just 45% of commercial rents for the third quarter had been paid by early July. But that was an improvement on the previous three months and “a sign of the capital’s resilience,” said Re-Leased CEO, Tom Wallace.
    The pandemic has accelerated existing trends around agile working and the desire for more flexible office space, where several different companies share meeting and social areas, as well as facilities such as showers, bike racks and kitchens.

      Companies “want their offices to count,” said Darren Richards, head of real estate at British Land, a leading UK property company. He predicts that greater numbers of older offices in need of refurbishment will likely be released onto the market in the future, as companies prioritize higher quality spaces.
      British Land, which owns 7.1 million square feet of commercial real estate in areas like Broadgate, Paddington, Mayfair and Regent’s Place, said that currently its tenants are not seeking to get rid of office space. Businesses still “want space fundamentally,” though they are contemplating how much and for what purpose, Richards said.
      Still, the penetration of online shopping during the coronavirus will mean a reduction in brick-and-mortar outlets, which could radically alter the landscape of London’s vast retail space and create yet more uncertainty for the city’s real estate market. “What would have happened over five years is happening over months,” said Richards.

      The City, reinvented

      London’s financial heart, referred to as the City of London, has a proven track record of reinvention.
      Storied institutions like Lloyd’s of London, the Bank of England and the London Stock Exchange have been around for centuries, withstanding radical social, political and economic turmoil.
      Today, the City is home to well over 250 international banks and handles 43% of global foreign exchange trading, according to the Bank for International Settlements. Financial services contributed £65 billion ($81 billion) to the London economy in 2018, or about 15%, figures from City Hall show.
      And despite four years of uncertainty over Brexit, the United Kingdom has been Europe’s top location for international financial services investment over the past two decades, with London claiming the bulk of those flows.

      People observe social distancing as they look out at the skyline of London's financial district on June 9.
      “London’s dominance as the preeminent European financial center remains unrivaled,” said Omar Ali, EY’s UK financial services managing partner.

        UK financial services will continue to be a leading recipient of overseas investment even after the pandemic, according to an EY survey conducted in April.
        Investors ranked the availability of capital as the most important consideration influencing their future location choices, followed by safety and security measures introduced to prevent a future major crisis, whether that relates to health, the environment or cyber security.

        London's dominance as the preeminent European financial center remains unrivaled."

        Omar Ali, EY

        There are factors working against the City, however. The UK government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis has been widely criticized, and business and consumer confidence remains depressed.
        “We failed to take advantage of the fact that we’re an island and didn’t move fast enough. There was a lot of complacency and hubris,” said Richard Burge, the CEO of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
        The government’s approach to negotiating its post-Brexit trading relationship with the European Union has also drawn reproach. A group of business leaders warned this week that Britain’s decision not to extend the current transition period beyond the end of the year is a “huge gamble.”
        The City of London may yet be tested. Crucially, there is currently no guarantee that UK financial firms will retain access to the European Union after this year — an export market worth £26 billion ($32.4 billion) in 2018, according to the Office for National Statistics, or 40% of the sector’s total value.

        Still good for startups

        As London seeks to retain its status as a leading global business center, the city’s technology sector, which boomed following the global financial crisis, could help.
        Google, (GOOGL) Facebook (FB) and Amazon (AMZN) have big offices in London, and startup investment has continued during the pandemic, suggesting that losses in real estate and financial services could be made up in the tech sector. Startups based in London have raised $4 billion in venture capital since the start of the year, more than Paris, Stockholm, Berlin and Tel Aviv combined, according to figures compiled in June by Tech Nation and Dealroom.

          “It’s a global arms race but London is still ahead,” said Brent Hoberman, the co-founder of Founders Factory, an accelerator. “I think London absolutely remains as the global magnet for tech talent,” he added, attributing its attractiveness to world class educational institutions, diverse culture and early entrepreneur success stories.
          Lockdowns have only accelerated the adoption of digital technologies in everyday life, and boosted information and health technology companies, playing to London’s strengths, said Suranga Chandratillake, a partner at Balderton Capital, one of Europe’s leading early stage venture capital investors with stakes in companies such as Citymapper, Vivino, Lyst and Revolut.

          London absolutely remains the global magnet for tech talent."

          Brent Hoberman, Founders Factory

          The city is home to a large share of digital consumer businesses, Chandratillake said, including online grocer Ocado, digital banks such as Revolut and Monzo, and food delivery companies such as Deliveroo and Gousto.
          London also boasts an outsized share of technology companies in areas such as cyber security and workforce management, now servicing armies of home workers. And the coronavirus has boosted investment into health technology, benefiting London and the United Kingdom more broadly.
          “The city is the most genetically diverse in the world, almost all citizens use the same health system and there are a variety of tech projects, both government-funded within the NHS [National Health Service] and privately-funded startups, that have grown rapidly against this backdrop and stand in a very strong position,” Chandratillake told CNN Business.
          The pandemic could even help to catalyze new ways of doing business. London & Partners, the trade and investment body for London, said it recently organized a trade mission via Zoom (ZM), where a group of human resources tech entrepreneurs pitched their businesses to potential investors and customers in New York.
          “If we assume a reduction in travel, it points towards naturally digital sectors in which London has existing strengths,” said managing director of strategy and corporate affairs, Allen Simpson.

          Saving London’s culture

          While London’s tech and finance sectors look set to weather the current crisis, social distancing and a reduction in travel spells disaster for its once booming arts and culture scene, which helps attract tourists, ambitious young professionals and investment. For theaters, museums, restaurants and bars, it’s an existential threat.
          Leisure and hospitality “really strategically matter,” said Simpson. “People come from all over the world partly because London is a cool place to live.”
          Nearly 40% of Londoners are born outside the United Kingdom, making London one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. It is home to 1 million EU nationals and was the world’s third most visited city in 2018, narrowly behind Paris and Bangkok, according to Mastercard.
          Last year, London boasted 21.7 million overseas visitors who spent £15.7 billion ($19.6 billion) on the local economy and supported 250,000 jobs, according to the Office for National Statistics.
          “That revenue keeps certain things alive in London,” said UK Tourism Alliance director Kurt Janson. “The West End theaters couldn’t survive if not for overseas visitors.”

          London's West End theater district on a Saturday evening in April.
          In an open letter to the government signed by UK Theatre and nearly 100 actors, writers and directors, the Society of London Theatre worried that “British theatre is on the brink of ruin.”
          “Theatres do not have the money to operate viably with physical distancing,” they said. The industry has called for an emergency relief fund, ongoing wage support and more help for freelancers and self-employed artists.
          Museums, galleries and London’s iconic tourist attractions are also at risk. Several have not yet announced plans to reopen, despite being allowed to do so on Saturday. In a joint statement issued late last month, directors of museums such as the Tate, British Museum and National Gallery said it was a question of “how and when we can open our doors again in a financially sustainable manner, for the long term.”
          The National Gallery has said it will reopen on July 8, while the Tate Britain and Tate Modern will reopen on July 27 and the Tower of London on July 10.
          London’s pubs and restaurants face an even greater threat from social distancing.
          Already, Michelin-starred Texture and the upmarket Indian Accent, a Mayfair outpost of the Delhi original, have permanently closed. They are unlikely to be the only casualties.
          Murat Kilic, the owner of Amber, in the hip East Aldgate neighborhood, told CNN Business that he is not confident about reopening. Amber is opening its doors on Saturday for the first time in nearly four months, but at less than half its previous capacity.
          Kilic worries that when government support is wound down in October, he could risk eviction unless his landlord agrees to temporarily reduce monthly rent payments.
          For Joseph Ryan, business looks set to boom over the July 4 weekend at his two pubs in London. Howl at the Moon and The White Hart have far more bookings than usual, Ryan said, but he is less optimistic about the longer term outlook.
          Indoor capacity has been cut in half, seating is now mandatory, wooden panels have been erected between tables, and staff will be wearing masks and gloves.
          “We’re confident about this weekend, but thereafter we’re not so sure,” said Ryan. “The novelty might wear off.”

          The shopping and entertainment hub, Covent Garden, on July 1, 2020.
          Whether Londoners are quick to return to bars and eateries remains to be seen. Worryingly, household income and expenditure are set to tumble by 5.5% and 12% respectively this year, and are not expected to reach 2019 levels before at least 2023, according to City Hall.
          How quickly a new London emerges depends on the coronavirus: if cases continue to fall and social distancing is eased further, the economic outlook will brighten. A second wave could prompt further lockdowns and all the economic pain that brings.
          London will find “workarounds” to the immediate challenges posed by the virus, said Burge of the London Chamber, from becoming a city of cyclists and walkers to standing outside bars in the drizzle. “That’s what we do,” he said. “London will come through.”
          — Eoin McSweeney contributed reporting.
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          World News

          Donald Trump Jr.'s Girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle Tests Positive for Coronavirus


          Kimberly Guilfoyle, an adviser to to President Donald Trump's re-election campaign and the girlfriend of his son Donald Trump Jr., has contracted the novel coronavirus, PEOPLE confirms.

          Citing a source, The New York Times reported that Guilfoyle, 51, tested positive on Friday ahead the president's planned speech at Mount Rushmore for a Fourth of July celebration.

          Though the former Fox News host flew with Don Jr., 42, according to the Times, they were not aboard Air Force One with the president. They are expected to drive back home.

          In a statement, campaign aide Sergio Gor said: "After testing positive, Kimberly was immediately isolated to limit any exposure. She’s doing well, and will be retested to ensure the diagnosis is correct since she’s asymptomatic but as a precaution will cancel all upcoming events."

          Don Jr. tested negative, said Gor, chief of staff to the campaign's finance committee.

          Still, Don Jr. was self isolating as a precautionary measure "and is canceling all public events," Gor said.

          (The Trump campaign did not provide further comment.)

          The president's Mount Rushmore appearance was his first significant public event since a re-election rally on June 20 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where multiple campaign staffers and Secret Service agents contracted the coronavirus.

          Source: Read Full Article

          Categories
          World News

          Pension tax relief may be on the agenda ahead of autumn budget – will Rishi Sunak act?

          Pension contributions can eventually receive tax relief from the government, which is provided to encourage long term planning. Under current rules, a person can get tax relief on up to 100 percent of their annual earnings.

          READ MORE

          • Pension contributions: Warning as some may never afford retirement

          However in practice, the relief offered can be impacted by things such as earnings, age and gender according to the Pensions Policy Institute.

          In a recent report, the institute found that despite the fact that those earning less than £30,000 a year make 63 percent of all pension contributions, they are only receiving 24 percent of total tax relief.

          On top of this, it was found that men are receiving a disproportionate amount of total tax relief available and those who are older or earning more get more beneficial tax relief results.

          The report was wide ranging but to rectify some of the issues found, PPI detailed that a flat rate of tax relief could equalise the playing field somewhat.

          The report caught the eye of experts within the field and Penny Cogher, a Pensions Partner at Irwin Mitchell, detailed that the timing could be fortuitous given coming commitments: “The PPI’s Briefing Note 122 on tax relief on defined pension contributions has been issued in good time for the Chancellor to mull over before his main autumn budget.

          “We already know that this Chancellor has an imaginative approach and this is exactly what is needed to push forward the reform of pension tax.

          “The PPI seem to conclude that the current system is not good for purpose in many areas. Men in employment disproportionately benefit from the current pension tax relief system compared to women – they get 71 percent of the value of this tax relief and account for 69 percent of the contributions.

          “This reflects current society- there are more men in employment at higher income levels whereas women take more time away from work for family reasons and overall earn less.

          “There is also age difference in who receives the most benefit from our current tax relief system which again leads to questions of its cross generational fairness.

          “Around two thirds (67 percent) of the value of tax relief on DC pension contributions goes to individuals aged in their 40s and 50s, two and a half times as much as the amount obtained by those in their 20s and 30s.”

          Penny went on to examine the complicated nature of changing pension rules to create a more even landscape: “Interestingly our current system is so complex that the PPI conclude there is a very large gap between the actual cost of pension tax relief and the amount that could be claimed. This gap has been estimated at more than £750million.

          “This covers both the higher and additional rate taxpayers who need to make claims through self-assessment tax returns and also the poorest i.e. the non-tax payers who have relief at source. Simplifying the system would help to ensure that more people do not miss out in this way.

          “However there is still the need for some fundamental change to make the system fairer for all. Even with automatic enrolment, the proportion of pension tax relief going to those earning less than £30,000 has only increased from 23 percent to 24 percent despite the proportion of claimants increasing from 52 percent to 63 percent but the overall cost of this tax relief has more than doubled in the last 20 years.”

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          Neil Hugh, the Head of Proposition at Phoenix Group, also commented on this, noting that if changes are to be made, all the relevant players will need to be consulted: “Changes made to the pension tax relief system over the years have made it very complex for savers.

          “It is clear that reform is needed, but this must be done in full consultation with our industry and across both the defined benefit and defined contribution pension system arrangements in order to make things simpler for savers.

          “The PPI’s report highlights that a flat rate of relief may help to simplify the system, which in turn could lead to greater engagement with pension saving.

          “However, while the aim of reform should be to simplify, implementing any change is itself likely to be complex and needs to be properly considered and consulted upon.

          READ MORE

          • Workers see their health deteriorating as pension age rises

          “At a time when millions more people are successfully saving through automatic enrolment, it’s crucial that the pensions taxation system continues to reward savers for doing the right thing and putting money aside for their futures, which is even more important given today’s challenging economic environment.”

          The difficulties in taking action in this area was also addressed by Steve Butler, the Author of “The Midlife Review: A Guide to Work, Wealth and Wellbeing”.

          He agreed that there is a clear case for introducing a flat rate: “Although there is a strong case for the implementation of a flat rate of pensions tax relief, to remove some of the inequalities in the current system such is the pension gender gap, it is not without its challenges.”

          He found that the challenges can mainly be found in three distinct areas:

          The difference for employees and employers

          As he explained: “Firstly, taxation of pension contributions is treated very differently for employers and employees, so any change to employee taxation needs to consider changes to the taxation for employers to avoid any unintended consequences.”

          A flat rate introduction could also interfere with another pension arrangement, which would need to be addressed:

          Salary sacrifice

          “Secondly, many employers offer salary sacrifice arrangements under which employees ask their employer to pay contributions on their behalf, in return for a cut in salary.

          “If a flat rate scheme was introduced this arrangement would need to end, otherwise those using salary sacrifice would, essentially, still benefit from full tax relief.”

          Steve concluded by identifying holders of (already struggling) defined benefit schemes would also need to be taken care of:

          Defined benefit pension schemes

          “Finally, and most significantly, is how a flat rate of tax relief would be applied to defined benefit pension schemes.

          “If overall tax relief on employee contributions fell, employer contributions would probably have to increase to enable the same benefit to be paid out.

          “This would be on pension’s scheme that many employers are already struggling to support.

          “These challenges should not stop the debate around the introduction of a flat rate of pension tax relief but, they certainly need to be considered before any progress can be made about changes to pension taxation if it is to achieve what it set out to do.”

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          Business

          THE GLOBAL NEOBANKS REPORT: How 26 upstarts are winning customers and pivoting from hyper-growth to profitability in a $27 billion market

          • This is a preview of the Business Insider Intelligence Global Neobanks premium research report. Purchase this report here.
          • Business Insider Intelligence offers even more banking coverage with our Banking Briefing. Subscribe today to receive industry-changing financial news and analysis to your inbox.

          Neobanks — digital-only banks with industry-leading capabilities that don't operate physical branches or rely on legacy back-ends — have exploded onto the global scene in recent years.

          Increased consumer interest in neobanks is stimulating competition globally, creating an increasingly competitive landscape which has driven neobanks to roll out extravagant features, like overdraft protection and sign-up incentives. 

          Beyond scaling rapidly by user count, neobanks are navigating the best route to profitability. Today, the average neobank loses $11 per user, per Accenture, and though neobanks' expenses are partially offset by not operating costly branch networks, they still need to find sustainable business models.

          Some major strategies are beginning to coalesce: Most neobanks operate under a "freemium" model, in which they offer their product for free, but charge for additional features, while others offer multitier subscriptions with varying levels of premium accounts. Additionally, other players are targeting niche segments, like small businesses or gig economy workers, in their pursuit of profitability.

          In The Global Neobanks report, Business Insider Intelligence explores how the neobank market has grown rapidly, and what's in store as the industry pivots from hyper-growth to sustainability. We discuss how 26 neobanks in key global markets are prioritizing scale versus profitability, identifying best practices to emulate and pitfalls to avoid.

          The companies mentioned in the report include: ABN Amro, Adyen, Ant financial, ANZ, Aspiration, Banco Inter, Bank Leumi, Banco Sabadell, Banco Votorantim, Bnext, bunq, Chime, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Dave, Finleap, ING, Judo, Klar, Kuda, Mastercard, Monzo, Moven, MYbank, National Australia Bank, Neon, Nubank, N26, OakNorth, Open, Pepper, Penta, Revolut, Raising, Rabobank, Santander, Starling, Standard Chartered, Tandem, TD Bank, TransferWise, Tencent, Uala, Uber, Volt, Varo, WeBank, Westpac, Xinja, 86 400.

          Here are some key takeaways from the report:

          • With an estimated 39 million users globally, neobanks' valuations have skyrocketed thanks to their attractive value propositions which include personal finance management features, low rates, and superior user experiences.
          • But the same features that have helped neobanks catch on have pushed profitability further out of reach. Neobanks have been forced to roll out flashy features to stand out to users, and marketing these features has driven up expenses. 
          • There's no universal path to profitability for neobanks — but a few major categories are emerging. Freemium pricing strategies, multitiered subscriptions, and targeting niche demographics are three strategies neobanks are employing in pursuit of profit.  
          • Individual neobank landscapes vary by market, but their inherent advantages are allowing neobanks to emerge in markets globally. Regional factors have made certain markets particularly ripe, such as fintech-friendly regulations, negative consumer perceptions of incumbents, and gaps in banking services for underbanked populations. 

          In full, the report:

          • Sizes the neobank market by value, number of users, and number of accounts to 2024.
          • Explores the factors that will propel the neobank market to new heights over the next five years, and the challenge of reaching profitability underpinning this growth.
          • Highlights key players in various global markets — including Europe, North America, Latin America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East and Africa — that are representative of the general neobank landscape and that have excelled in global footprint, features, users, or total funding raised. 
          • Spotlights some of the smaller players that represent the emerging opportunity in a given market.
          • Discusses how different neobanks in key global markets are prioritizing scale versus profitability, identifying best practices to emulate and pitfalls to avoid. 

          Interested in getting the full report? Here's how to get access:

          1. Business Insider Intelligence analyzes the banking industry and provides in-depth analyst reports, proprietary forecasts, customizable charts, and more. >> Check if your company has BII Enterprise membership access to the full report
          2. Sign up for the Banking Briefing, Business Insider Intelligence's expert email newsletter tailored for today's (and tomorrow's) decision-makers in the financial services industry, delivered to your inbox 6x a week. >> Get Started
          3. Purchase & download the full report from our research store. >> Purchase & Download Now

          Exclusive FREE Slide Deck: 10 Up and Coming Fintechs by Insider Intelligence

          Source: Read Full Article

          Categories
          Business

          America\u2019s 40 Most Delicious Beers

          When it comes to beer, there’s nothing wrong with everyday thirst-quenching lager, readily available, easy to quaff, and usually inexpensive.

          Lovers of craft beer, though, look for something more than just a cooling tipple, choosing from an ever-growing wealth of artisanal brews offering complexity and unique combinations of flavors and aromas — beers to anticipate, seek out, savor, and remember. These tend to be unique examples of the brewmaster’s art — specialties that aren’t likely to be among the biggest beer brands in America.

          The choices seem almost limitless. As of last summer, according to the Brewers Association, there were 7,480 active craft breweries around America — 1,016 more than in 2018. Craft brewers love to experiment, so new beers are constantly pouring onto the market, and it’s not uncommon for a single producer to have a dozen or more beers on the market at any given time. Keeping up with the craft beer scene can be a full-time job. These are the 35 most popular craft beers in America.  

          To make the job at least a little easier, 24/7 Tempo has assembled a list of what might fairly be called the 40 most delicious craft beers made in America. The ranking is based on scores and reviews from a variety of sources, with particular attention paid to BeerAdvocate’s annual rating of what it considers to be the world’s top 250 beers

          Click here for America’s 40 most delicious beers.

          They come from 14 different states, some of which are clearly champions of the craft beer game. Nine of the 40, for instance, are from California. Six are from Michigan, and four each hail from Iowa and Vermont. 

          Many are IPAs — India Pale Ales, made with a pronounced hop flavor. Many more are stouts, which are dark beers made with roasted malt or barley, often barrel-aged like wine and sometimes with additional flavors added — coffee, chocolate, vanilla, fresh fruit, even chiles.

          Fair warning: Craft beers can be hard to find, and some of them are extremely rare (the Dark Lord range made by Indiana’s 3 Floyds Brewing, for instance, is available only at the brewery on one day a year). They can also be seriously expensive, in some instances $50 or $100 a bottle or more. And every beer here won’t be to everyone’s taste — but taken as a whole, they represent the best of American craft brewing today.

          A number of specialist publications and organizations rate craft beers regularly, among them the American Homebrewers Association, Rate Beer, BeerAdvocate, and 52 Brews. The list that follows is based on their most recent ratings, as well as other lists of what are widely considered the best-tasting beers American breweries have to offer from sites including Ranker, Vinepair, and Paste. While numerical scores were considered, equal weight was given to the comments of reviewers in describing the aromas and flavors — the deliciousness — of their favorite beers. BeerAdvocate scores are given as a point of reference, but because these rankings are drawn from numerous sources, the scores don’t necessarily correspond to each beer’s position on the list.

          Source: Read Full Article