How tech companies are disrupting everything from brain surgery to emergency training to bank payments

December 3, 2021, 12:52 PM UTC

Good morning.

This is Katherine, filling in for Alan today from London.

Fortune‘s Brainstorm Tech conference in Half Moon Bay, Calif. has wrapped up. The takeaways span the world of finance, VR and health. Here are a few highlights.

Peggy Johnson, CEO of Magic Leap shared a fascinating story about a practical use for augmented reality, or AR. A surgical team at the University of California, Davis was preparing to separate twins conjoined at the brain, a difficult and risky process. Magic Leap paired up with Brain Lab to build a 3D image of the babies’ brains.

“They trained the entire team, about a 30-person operating team, on that brain,” Johnson said. “They spun the brain around, and everybody could see it from different angles. Everybody knew the choreography in the operating room. That whole experience, and the training and education of that team, was made so much better because the brain itself appeared physically in front of them.”

Meanwhile, Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University, spoke about how VR—or virtual reality—is being used to train employees for busy holiday shopping seasons, and even to pack a FedEx truck. But it’s also being used for another, grim, purpose: preparing for emergencies.

“One of the worst VR demos I’ve ever had to do, but it was the most amazing one I’ve seen, is an active shooter training we built for Walmart,” Bailenson said. He then recalled the 2019 mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, which left 23 people dead and another 23 seriously injured. “The people on the floor had done this active shooter training. [Walmart CEO] Doug McMillon said that lives were saved because people made quicker decisions and knew the right way to act.” 

VR and AR have the potential to disrupt everyday life and work—but tech is also redrawing the world of finance. Eric Dunn, CEO of personal financial management software provider Quicken, described card- and payment-processing fees as a “skunk in the room” primed for disruption.

Banking fees, in particular, are likely to disappear over the next half decade, said Immad Akhund, founder and CEO of SMB-focused banking fintech Mercury. And he predicted that could hit major banks’ market caps, arguing that over that same period, fintech competition will mean the four largest banks in the country will “all be worth less than $100 billion.”

You can see all of the Brainstorm Tech coverage here. More news below.

Katherine Dunn


Omicron spread

The variant is continuing to spread, as the U.S. heightens restrictions for those arriving in the country. Around the world, South Africa is experiencing its "fourth wave" of the virus while Germany is introducing new rules for people who aren't vaccinated. Lastly, Belgium is considering closing schools. But while scientists are concerned about the variant's mutations, it's still not clear if omicron is any more dangerous than other variants—and there are encouraging signs that boosters and treatments will be effective. BBC

Didi withdraws

Didi Global, under pressure from Chinese regulators, said it would withdraw from the New York Stock Exchange and re-list in Hong Kong—just five months after its $4.4 billion U.S. listing. The company was under pressure not to list in New York before the IPO, and shortly after the listing, the company's apps were removed from app stores. The company did not explicitly state why it was delisting on Thursday. Fortune

OPEC boost

OPEC decided it would stick with the plan to modestly increase oil output, even as the spread of the omicron variant raises questions about whether the pandemic could hit the global economy once again. But that pledge was a victory for the White House—U.S. President Biden has spent months publicly pressuring Saudi Arabia and other opec OPEC+ heavyweights to increase production in order to ease domestic energy prices. Reuters

Ukraine tension 

Tension is rising over the potential for a Russian invasion of Ukraine, including warnings from Russian officials yesterday ahead of talks with the U.S. secretary of state in Stockholm. Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said NATO expansion in eastern Europe risked a "nightmare" of military clashes. Ukraine officials are worried about an invasion within a month, while Russia has denied they are preparing for an incursion. The Times


Citigroup goes to China 

Citigroup is set to follow other banking giants into China, after applying for a securities license. The Wall Street Journal reported that the bank also plans to apply for a futures license, and expand its hiring on the mainland. U.S. banks taking full control of their operations in China is a trend—JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley have all moved to take full or majority control of their local operations. WSJ

Ursula Burns is done 

Fortune's Ellen McGirt has a moving, illuminating profile out this morning on Ursula Burns, the former CEO of Xerox, which zeroes in on the story of her rise to the top of corporate America. And it includes some thrilling examples of Burns doing one of the things she's best known for: saying the thing. That includes her exasperation that white leaders keep calling her looking for advice on where to find Black leaders—and demanding they be former or sitting former CEOs, even though many white board members have no CEO experience. "You’ve eliminated all but five Black people in the whole United States," she said. Fortune

Fancy Bear 

A young cybersecurity executive, who first started his Russian firm as a college student, is now in prison—and facing 20 years in a labor camp—after he was accused of treason by the Russian government. This Bloomberg investigation tracks the rise and fall of Ilya Sachkov, who is alleged to have helped the U.S. investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, including the existence of the elite GRU hacking unit known as "Fancy Bear." Bloomberg Businessweek

Parent burn out 

Here's a staggering, if totally believable, statistic: about a quarter of working parents in the U.S. are suffering from signs of serious burnout, according to a report from Great Place to Work. The rate of burnout was far higher among mothers, particularly women of color, and hourly workers, and is a large factor in the waves of resignations and labor shortages gripping the country. But that level of burnout was preventable, the report found—when companies took offering parental support seriously. Fortune 

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Katherine Dunn.

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