Company Quick10K Filing
Rise Education Cayman
20-F 2020-12-31 Filed 2021-04-19
20-F 2019-12-31 Filed 2020-04-17
20-F 2018-12-31 Filed 2019-04-19
20-F 2017-12-31 Filed 2018-04-19

REDU 20F Annual Report

Part I
Item 1. Identity of Directors, Senior Management and Advisers
Item 2. Offer Statistics and Expected Timetable
Item 3. Key Information
Item 4. Information of The Company
Item 4A. Unresolved Staff Comments
Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects
Item 6. Directors, Senior Management and Employees
Item 7. Major Shareholders and Related Party Transactions
Item 8. Financial Information
Item 9. The Offer and Listing
Item 10. Additional Information
Item 11. Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk
Item 12. Description of Securities Other Than Equity Securities
Part II
Item 13. Defaults, Dividend Arrearages and Delinquencies
Item 14. Material Modifications To The Rights of Security Holders and Use of Proceeds
Item 15. Controls and Procedures
Item 16A. Audit Committee Financial Expert
Item 16B. Code of Ethics
Item 16C. Principal Accountant Fees and Services
Item 16D. Exemptions From The Listing Standards for Audit Committees
Item 16E. Purchases of Equity Securities By The Issuer and Affiliated Purchasers
Item 16F. Change in Registrant's Certifying Accountant
Item 16G. Corporate Governance
Item 16H. Mine Safety Disclosure
Part III
Item 17. Financial Statements
Item 18. Financial Statements
Item 19. Exhibits
EX-8.1 d55845dex81.htm
EX-12.1 d55845dex121.htm
EX-12.2 d55845dex122.htm
EX-13.1 d55845dex131.htm
EX-13.2 d55845dex132.htm
EX-15.1 d55845dex151.htm
EX-15.2 d55845dex152.htm
EX-15.3 d55845dex153.htm

Rise Education Cayman Earnings 2020-12-31

Balance SheetIncome StatementCash Flow

Form 20-F
P1Y2021-12-312025-12-31falseFY0001712178The shorter of contractual terms or estimated useful lives of the assetsP5YfalsetrueOn November 1, 2017, the Group acquired 100% equity interest of Edge Franchising, a leading Hong Kong-based admissions consulting company specializing in overseas boarding school and college placement, and certain fixed assets, intellectual properties, material contracts and key employees of the educational consulting business (“Edge Business”) from a seller in which a managing director of Bain Capital Education IV Cayman Limited (“Bain Capital Education IV”) is a director and minority shareholder (Note 13). In accordance with the sale and purchase agreement, the Company shall issue to the selling shareholder 216,021 ordinary shares, which was issued on January 2, 2018.In November 2018, the Board of Directors approved share repurchase program to purchase up to US$30,000 of the Company’s ordinary shares. As of December 31, 2019, pursuant to the share repurchase program, the Company repurchased 1,158,741 outstanding ADS representing 2,317,482 outstanding ordinary shares for an aggregated purchase price of RMB69,413. All shares repurchased were retired as of December 31, 2019 (Note 2).To be consistent with our management reporting framework, revenues from educational programs include revenues generated by The Edge starting from the first quarter of 2019 and revenues generated from Can-Talk starting from the first quarter of 2020. Revenues from educational programs in previous years have been adjusted to take this into account.Initial franchise fees amounted to RMB19,904, RMB20,569 and RMB25,333 (US$3,883), and recurring franchise fees amounted to RMB105,310, RMB135,940 and RMB56,751 (US$8,697) for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively.The Group entered into certain entrustment loan agreements with Lionbridge, pursuant to which the Group granted total loans of RMB150,000, RMB100,000 and RMB nil to Lionbridge during the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively, with details set forth below:In November 2018, the Board of Directors approved share repurchase program to purchase up to US$30,000 of the Company’s ordinary shares. As of December 31, 2018, pursuant to the share repurchase program, the Company repurchased 412,587 outstanding ADS representing 825,174 outstanding ordinary shares for an aggregated purchase price of RMB23,460, of which RMB2,093 was not settled. (Note 2)In 2020, the Group entered into a business cooperation agreement with NYC, an early learning service provider, pursuant to which the unconsumed tuition fee of NYC’s students at NYC would be transferred to the Group if NYC students decide to switch to the Group’s educational courses. 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Table of Contents
 
 
UNITED STATES
SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20549
 
 
FORM
20-F
 
 
(Mark One)
REGISTRATION STATEMENT PURSUANT TO SECTION 12(b) OR 12(g) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
OR
 
ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the fiscal year ended
December 31
,
2020
.
OR
 
TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the transition period from
                    
to
                    
OR
 
SHELL COMPANY REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
Date of event requiring this shell company report
                    
Commission file number:
001-38235
 
 
RISE Education Cayman Ltd
(Exact name of Registrant as specified in its charter)
 
 
N/A
(Translation of Registrant’s name into English)
Cayman Islands
(Jurisdiction of incorporation or organization)
Room 101, Jia He Guo Xin Mansion
No.15 Baiqiao Street, Guangqumennei, Dongcheng District
Beijing 100062
People’s Republic of China
(Address of principal executive offices)
Ms. Lihong Wang, Chief Executive Officer
Room 101, Jia He Guo Xin Mansion
No.15 Baiqiao Street, Guangqumennei, Dongcheng District
Beijing 100062
People’s Republic of China
Tel: +86
10-8559-9000
E-mail:
lwang@rdchina.net
(Name, Telephone,
E-mail
and/or Facsimile number and Address of Company Contact Person)
 
 
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
 
Title of each class
 
Trading
Symbol(s)
 
Name of each exchange
on which registered
American Depositary Shares, each representing two ordinary shares, par value US$0.01 per share
 
REDU
 
The Nasdaq Stock Market LLC
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act:
None
(Title of Class)
Securities for which there is a reporting obligation pursuant to Section 15(d) of the Act:
None
(Title of Class)
 
 
Indicate the number of outstanding shares of each of the Issuer’s classes of capital or common stock as of the close of the period covered by the annual report.
112,951,232 ordinary shares, par value US$0.01 per share, as of
December 31, 2020
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.    Yes  ☐    No  ☒
If this report is an annual or transition report, indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.    Yes  ☐    
No
  ☒
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant: (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.    Yes  ☒    No  ☐
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation
S-T
(§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).    Yes  ☒    No  ☐
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a
non-accelerated
filer, or an emerging growth company. See definition of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule
12b-2
of the Exchange Act. (Check one):
 
Large accelerated filer     
Accelerated filer
   
Non-accelerated filer
 
         Emerging growth company  
If an emerging growth company that prepares its financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards † provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act.  
Indicate by check mark which basis of accounting the registrant has used to prepare the financial statements included in this filing:
 
U.S. GAAP  ☒           International Financial Reporting Standards as issued         Other  ☐
          by the International Accounting Standards Board        
If “Other” has been checked in response to the previous question, indicate by check mark which financial statement item the registrant has elected to follow.    Item 17  ☐    Item 18  ☐
If this is an annual report, indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule
12b-2
of the Exchange Act).    Yes  ☐    
No
  ☒
(APPLICABLE ONLY TO ISSUERS INVOLVED IN BANKRUPTCY PROCEEDINGS DURING THE PAST FIVE YEARS)
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed all documents and reports required to be filed by Sections 12, 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 subsequent to the distribution of securities under a plan confirmed by a court.    Yes  ☐    No  ☐
 
The term “new or revised financial accounting standard” refers to any update issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board to its Accounting Standards Codification after April 5, 2012.
 
 
 

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TABLE OF CONTENTS
 
    
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INTRODUCTION
  
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Table of Contents
CONVENTIONS THAT APPLY TO THIS ANNUAL REPORT ON FORM
20-F
Unless otherwise indicated and except where the context otherwise requires:
 
 
“ADSs” refers to our American depositary shares, each of which represents two ordinary shares;
 
 
“ADRs” refers to the American depositary receipts, which, if issued, evidence our ADSs;
 
 
“China” or “PRC” refers to the People’s Republic of China, excluding, for the purpose of this annual report only, Taiwan, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Macau Special Administrative Region;
 
 
“courses” refer to our flagship courses (i.e., Rise Start, Rise On and Rise up), online courses, such as
Can-Talk,
and other major courses or services that we may have. As of the date of this annual report, our other major courses include courses and services for academic tutoring, test preparation and admissions consulting;
 
 
“greater China” refers to, for the purpose of this annual report only, the People’s Republic of China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region;
 
 
“new students enrolled” refers to the newly acquired students who enrolled in our courses during a given period of time;
 
 
“RMB” or “Renminbi” refers to the legal currency of China;
 
 
“regular courses” refers to our Rise Start and Rise On programs;
 
 
“shares” or “ordinary shares” refers to our ordinary shares, par value US$0.01 per share;
 
 
“students in class” refers to the students who were taking our courses as of a given date;
 
 
“students” or “teachers” refers to students or teachers, respectively, at self-owned learning centers unless otherwise specified;
 
 
“student retention rate” refers to the percentage of the number of students who continue to study at our self-owned learning centers after completing courses in a particular period to the total number of students who complete courses during the same period;
 
 
“tier-one
cities” refers to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen;
 
 
“US$,” “U.S. Dollars,” “$” and “dollars” refer to the legal currency of the United States; and
 
 
“we,” “us,” “our company,” “our,” the “Company” or “RISE Education” refers to RISE Education Cayman Ltd, a Cayman Islands company, and, where appropriate in the context, its subsidiaries and its consolidated affiliates, including our viable interest entity, or VIE, and its subsidiaries and schools.
Names of certain companies provided in this annual report are translated or transliterated from their original Chinese legal names.
All discrepancies in any table between the amounts identified as total amounts and the sum of the amounts listed therein are due to rounding.
This annual report on Form
20-F
includes our audited consolidated balance sheets as of December 31, 2019 and 2020 and our audited consolidated statements of income/(loss), statements of comprehensive income/(loss), statements of changes in shareholders’ equity and statements of cash flows for each of the three years ended December 31, 2020.
 
1

Table of Contents
Our reporting currency is the Renminbi. The functional currency of the Company, its Cayman subsidiaries and Rise HK are the US$, and the functional currency of Edge Franchising Co. Limited and Edge Online Co., Ltd are the Hong Kong Dollars (“HK$”). The Company’s PRC subsidiary, VIE and its subsidiaries and schools determined their functional currency to be Renminbi. This annual report contains translations of certain Renminbi amounts into U.S. Dollars for the convenience of the reader. Unless otherwise stated, all translations of Renminbi into U.S. Dollars have been made at the rate of RMB6.5250 to US$1.00, being the noon buying rate in The City of New York for cable transfers in Renminbi as certified for customs purposes by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in effect as of December 31, 2020 set forth in the H.10 statistical release of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board for translation into U.S. Dollars. We make no representation that the Renminbi or U.S. Dollar amounts referred to in this annual report could have been, or could be, converted into U.S. Dollars or Renminbi, as the case may be, at any particular rate or at all.
We listed our ADSs on the NASDAQ Global Market under the symbol “REDU” on October 20, 2017. On October 24, 2017, we completed the initial public offering of 11,000,000 ADSs and the underwriters exercised their over-allotment option on the same date for the purchase of an additional 1,650,000 ADSs. On June 11, 2018, we completed the
follow-on
public offering of 7,000,000 ADSs by the selling shareholders of our company. On July 11, 2018, the sole underwriter exercised its over-allotment option to purchase an additional 585,000 ADSs from the selling shareholders. In 2019, we completed a share repurchase program and repurchased a total of 1,158,741 ADSs on the open market, representing 2,317,482 ordinary shares, at an average price of US$8.66 per ADS and for an aggregate consideration of US$10.0 million.
 
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FORWARD LOOKING STATEMENTS
This annual report contains forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties. All statements other than statements of current or historical facts are forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements are made under the “safe harbor” provision under Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, or the Exchange Act, and as defined in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors, including those listed under “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors,” that may cause our actual results, performance or achievements to be materially different from those expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements.
In some cases, you can identify these forward-looking statements by words or phrases such as “may,” “will,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “aim,” “estimate,” “intend,” “plan,” “believe,” “likely to” or other similar expressions. We have based these forward-looking statements largely on our current expectations and projections about future events and financial trends that we believe may affect our financial condition, results of operations, business strategy and financial needs. These forward-looking statements include statements about:
 
 
our goals and strategies;
 
 
our ability to retain our students in class and increase the number of our new students enrolled;
 
 
our ability to offer new courses and develop supplementary course materials;
 
 
our ability to engage, train and retain new teachers;
 
 
our future business development, financial condition and results of operations;
 
 
the expected growth in, market size of and trends in the markets for our course offerings in China;
 
 
expected changes in our revenues, costs or expenditures;
 
 
our expectations for demand for and market acceptance of our brand;
 
 
growth of and trends of competition in the junior English language teaching, or ELT, market in China;
 
 
regulatory developments in the ELT and private education industries in China;
 
 
government policies and regulations relating to our corporate structure; and
 
 
general economic and business conditions in China.
You should read this annual report and the documents that we refer to in this annual report with the understanding that our actual future results may be materially different from and worse than what we expect. Other sections of this annual report include additional factors which could adversely impact our business and financial performance. Moreover, we operate in an evolving environment. New risk factors and uncertainties emerge from time to time and it is not possible for our management to predict all risk factors and uncertainties, nor can we assess the impact of all factors on our business or the extent to which any factor, or combination of factors, may cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in any forward-looking statements. We qualify all of our forward-looking statements by these cautionary statements.
You should not rely upon forward-looking statements as predictions of future events. The forward-looking statements made in this annual report relate only to events or information as of the date on which the statements are made in this annual report. Except as required by law, we undertake no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.
This annual report also contains statistical data and estimates that we obtained from industry publications and reports generated by government or third-party providers of market intelligence. Although we have not independently verified the data, we believe that the publications and reports are reliable.
 
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Table of Contents
PART I
 
ITEM 1.
IDENTITY OF DIRECTORS, SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND ADVISERS
Not applicable.
 
ITEM 2.
OFFER STATISTICS AND EXPECTED TIMETABLE
Not applicable.
 
ITEM 3.
KEY INFORMATION
 
A.
Selected Financial Data
The following selected consolidated statements of operations data for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2020 and selected consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2019 and 2020 have been derived from our audited consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this annual report. The selected data from the consolidated income statements for the years ended December 31, 2016, 2017 and 2018 and the consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2016, 2017 and 2018 are derived from our consolidated financial statements, which are not included in this annual report. Our consolidated financial statements are prepared and presented in accordance with U.S. GAAP. The selected consolidated financial data should be read in conjunction with, and are qualified in their entirety by reference to, our audited consolidated financial statements and the related notes and “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects” included elsewhere in this annual report. Our historical results are not necessarily indicative of results expected for future periods.
 
    
For the Year Ended December 31,
 
    
2016
   
2017
   
2018
   
2019
   
2020
 
    
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
US$
 
    
(thousands, except for EBITDA margin)
 
Selected Consolidated Statements of Operations Data:
            
Revenues:
            
Educational programs
(1)
     618,326       835,298       1,102,254       1,332,372       872,877       133,774  
Franchise revenues
(1)
     63,532       100,013       125,341       156,509       82,084       12,580  
Other revenues
(1)
     29,135       33,964       44,293       40,566       3,506       537  
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Total
     710,993       969,275       1,271,888       1,529,447       958,467       146,891  
Cost of revenues
     (363,579     (452,220     (576,530     (694,693     (602,934     (92,403
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Gross profit
     347,414       517,055       695,358       834,754       355,533       54,488  
Operating expenses:
            
Selling and marketing
     (128,475     (177,993     (245,662     (307,339     (233,687     (35,814
General and administrative
     (148,093     (339,690     (242,084     (304,626     (260,239     (39,884
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Total operating expenses
     (276,568     (517,683     (487,746     (611,965     (493,926     (75,698
Operating income/(loss)
     70,846       (628     207,612       222,789       (138,393     (21,210
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Interest income
     16,622       19,559       26,376       17,952       15,091       2,313  
Interest expense
     (6,073     (26,589     (33,803     (34,093     (23,611     (3,619
Foreign currency exchange (loss)/gain
     (2,741     388       (1,383     (1,506     (187     (29
Other income, net
     4,391       6,594       15,397       10,115       26,961       4,132  
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Impairment loss on long-term investment
     —         —         —         —         (37,000     (5,670
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Income/(loss) before income tax expense
     83,045       (676     214,199       215,257       (157,139     (24,083
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Income tax (expense)/benefit
     (32,202     (52,924     (71,763     (70,697     15,695       2,406  
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Net income/(loss)
     50,843       (53,600     142,436       144,560       (141,444     (21,677
Net loss attributable to
non-controlling
interests
     3,080       5,626       522       3,540       9,011       1,381  
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Net income/(loss) attributable to RISE Education Cayman Ltd
     53,923       (47,974     142,958       148,100       (132,433     (20,296
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Non-GAAP
Financial Measures:
            
EBITDA
(2)
     142,318       56,064       279,852       301,419       (64,370     (9,865
EBITDA margin
(3)
     20.0     5.8     22.0     19.7     -6.7  
Adjusted EBITDA
(2)
     —         242,510       300,204       349,308       (9,371     (1,437
Adjusted EBITDA margin
(4)
     —         25.0     23.6     22.8     -1.0  
Non-GAAP
net income/(loss) attributable to RISE Education Cayman Ltd
(2)
     86,042       144,954       179,932       213,363       (60,070     (9,207
 
(1)
To be consistent with our management reporting framework, revenues from educational programs include revenues generated from
Can-Talk
starting from the first quarter of 2020. Revenues from educational programs in previous years have been adjusted to conform to the presentation in 2020.
 
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Table of Contents
(2)
To see how we define and calculate EBITDA, adjusted EBITDA,
Non-GAAP
net (loss)/income, a reconciliation between EBITDA and net (loss)/income and a discussion about the limitations of
non-GAAP
financial measures, see “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects—A. Operating
Results—Non-GAAP
Financial Measures.”
(3)
EBITDA margin is calculated by dividing EBITDA by revenues.
(4)
Adjusted EBITDA margin is calculated by dividing adjusted EBITDA by revenues.
 
    
As of December 31,
 
    
2016
   
2017
   
2018
   
2019
    
2020
 
    
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
    
RMB
    
US$
 
    
(thousands)
 
Selected Consolidated Balance Sheet Data:
              
Total current assets
     707,738       1,142,445       1,402,270       1,084,866        744,568        114,110  
Cash and cash equivalents
     639,999       1,055,982       1,288,080       999,012        554,620        84,999  
Prepayments and other current assets
     45,517       40,571       71,537       51,420        94,556        14,491  
Total
non-current
assets
     792,560       813,893       878,504       1,717,089        1,681,837        257,753  
Property and equipment, net
     75,673       100,177       128,412       137,340        107,537        16,481  
Intangible assets, net
     225,951       200,615       198,057       210,346        185,647        28,452  
Goodwill
     461,686       475,732       491,969       665,416        659,255        101,035  
Total assets
     1,500,298       1,956,338       2,280,774       2,801,955        2,426,405        371,863  
Total current liabilities
     763,366       1,030,700       1,278,872       1,233,518        1,168,355        179,058  
Current portion of long-term loan
     38,186       —         82,506       134,015        226,744        34,750  
Accrued expenses and other current liabilities
     96,158       171,099       159,882       202,808        164,193        25,164  
Deferred revenue and customer advances
     601,324       812,821       1,002,796       716,637        563,736        86,396  
Total
non-current
liabilities
     338,505       629,906       561,068       944,136        756,544        115,946  
Long-term loan
     333,102       623,439       502,356       370,163        191,397        29,333  
Total liabilities
     1,101,871       1,660,606       1,839,940       2,177,654        1,924,899        295,004  
Total RISE Education Cayman Ltd shareholders’ equity
     407,200       310,131       455,755       608,896        495,112        75,879  
Non-controlling
interests
     (8,773     (14,399     (14,921     15,405        6,394        980  
Total equity
     398,427       295,732       440,834       624,301        501,506        76,859  
Total liabilities,
non-controlling
interests and shareholders’ equity
     1,500,298       1,956,338       2,280,774       2,801,955        2,426,405        371,863  
 
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B.
Capitalization and Indebtedness
Not applicable.
 
C.
Reasons for the Offer and Use of Proceeds
Not applicable.
 
D.
Risk Factors
Risks Related to Our Business and Industry
We may not be able to attract new students or retain our existing students.
The success of our business depends largely on the number of students. Therefore, our ability to continue to attract new students and retain existing students is critical to our continued success and growth. Being able to do so is dependent on a variety of factors, including our ability to maintain and enhance product and service quality, refine our teaching methodologies and innovate and develop new products to respond to our customers’ demands and changing market trends and regulatory requirements and our ability to connect with existing and potentially new students through various marketing channels. If we are unable to continue to attract new students or retain existing students, our revenues may decline, or we may record losses, either of which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We may not be able to maintain or enhance our brand.
We believe that our “RISE” brand has contributed significantly to the success of our business and thus it is one of our key competitive advantages. We undertake a number of initiatives and invest significant capital and other resources to promote our brand. However, our branding efforts may not be successful or may even inadvertently damage our brand. Moreover, our brand may be materially and adversely affected if our franchise partners fail to properly maintain the operations of their franchised learning centers. Furthermore, any negative publicity relating to our company, products, teachers, employees and students, self-owned learning centers, franchise partners, franchised learning centers or their teachers, employees and students, regardless of its veracity, could harm our brand image and reputation and even expose us to adverse legal and regulatory consequences. If we are unable to maintain or enhance our brand, eliminate incidents of negative publicity, or manage our marketing and branding spend, our business and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
We face intense competition in our industry, and we may fail to maintain or gain market share.
The junior ELT market in China is rapidly evolving, highly fragmented and intensely competitive. Competition in this industry may persist and even intensify. We compete with other junior ELT service providers in a number of areas, such as brand image, course content and structure and service quality. Some of these competitors may have greater financial or other resources than we do. We cannot assure you that we will be able to compete successfully against existing or potential competitors, and if we fail to gain or maintain, or if we lose market share, our business, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
We may not be able to grow or grow as rapidly as we did in the past, or effectively execute our growth strategies.
We aim to continue to open new self-owned learning centers, and cooperate with franchise partners to open new franchised learning centers. We also aim to continue enrolling new students, recruiting new teachers, increasing the operating efficiency of our existing and new learning centers and investing in complementary products. In addition, in 2020, we started to offer online courses in response to the closure of offline learning centers during the
COVID-19
pandemic and transformed into an online-merge-offline, or OMO, business model. We expect to continue leveraging our OMO business model in the future and develop into a multiple-disciplinary capability-based educational platform. We started to offer STEAM courses in 2020 through our learning centers, and plan to continue promoting such courses as an important component of our product portfolio. However, we may not be able to effectively execute all of these business initiatives due to expected or unexpected developments in the regulatory regime or the education industry in China or any other factors beyond our control. We may not be able to continue to grow or grow as rapidly as we did in the past.
 
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Furthermore, if we fail to execute our growth strategies effectively, our business, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Our profitability may decline due to various factors.
We may face challenges in maintaining our profitability due to a rise in either or both of our fixed and variable costs as a percentage of our overall revenues. Our fixed costs largely comprise rental and personnel costs while variable costs primarily include teacher and sales and marketing costs. The rise in fixed or variable costs may be due to increasing competition, a result of operational decisions or unexpected. Any of these factors may negatively affect our profitability and have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
We may not be successful in introducing new products or enhancing our existing products.
We currently offer three flagship courses, Rise Start, Rise On and Rise Up, as well as a series of complementary products, primarily through the courses provided at our self-owned and franchised learning centers. We intend to continue developing new products, further enhancing our existing products, as well as further develop our online courses and products. This process is subject to risks and uncertainties, such as unexpected technical, operational, logistical or other problems that could delay the process temporarily or permanently. Moreover, our experience in operating and managing online operations may be relatively limited compared to our offline operations. Therefore, we cannot assure you that any of these new products, enhancement of existing products or development of online courses and products will fulfill customer needs, match the quality or popularity of those developed by our competitors, achieve widespread market acceptance or generate incremental revenues.
In addition, introducing new products, enhancing existing products and expanding online courses and products require us to make various investments in curriculum and courseware development and management, incur personnel expenses and potentially reallocate other resources. If we are unable to develop new products or cannot do so in a cost-effective manner, or are otherwise unable to manage effectively the operations of those products, our financial condition and results of operations could be adversely affected.
A number of learning centers operate without the required licenses, permits, filings or registrations.
In order to operate our business, we must receive a number of licenses, permits, and approvals, make filings or complete registrations. These include receiving private school operating permits and private
non-enterprise
entity certificates, receiving approvals from or making filings to local education bureaus, and passing fire control assessments. Given the significant amount of discretion held by local PRC authorities in interpreting, implementing and enforcing relevant rules and regulations, as well as other factors beyond our control, we cannot guarantee you that we will be able to obtain and maintain all requisite licenses, permits, approvals, filings, or pass all requisite assessments. While we are in the process of bringing our operations into compliance, among all our self-owned learning centers, those that as of the date of this annual report do not possess the required private school operating permit or private
non-enterprise
entity certificates, have not obtained approvals from or made filings to local education bureaus, or have not passed the required fire control assessments, as a whole, were responsible for 10% of our total revenues in 2020.
Moreover, new learning centers that we open may have similar compliance issues for a period of time after their opening. Though as of the date of this annual report no penalty has been imposed against us or any of our learning centers, if any of our current or future learning centers fail to receive the requisite licenses, permits and approvals, make the necessary filings, or complete all requisite registrations, that learning center may be subject to penalties. These may include fines, orders to promptly rectify the
non-compliance,
or if the
non-compliance
is deemed by the regulators to be serious, the school may be ordered to return tuition and fees collected and pay a multiple of the amount of returned tuition and fees to regulators as a penalty or may even be ordered to cease operations.
In addition, under PRC laws and regulations, we may be required to obtain an ICP license, an audio or video program transmission license and an online publishing services permit for the operation of our online educational products, such as Rise Up and
Can-Talk.
See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulations—Regulations Related to Online Business.”
 
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Developments in the regulatory regime in the private education industry in China may affect our business and financial performance.
The private education industry, including the English language teaching industry, is a regulated industry in China. We are required to obtain a number of licenses, permits and approvals, make filings or complete certain registration to conduct our business, and are subject to continuous supervision and oversight by the local education bureaus. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulations—Regulations Related to Private Education in the PRC.”
The regulatory regime in the private education industry and the English language teaching industry has seen significant developments in recent years. On July 12, 2019, the PRC Ministry of Education, or MOE, together with five other authorities, issued the Implementation Opinion on Regulating After-school Online Tutoring, requiring online after-school tutoring institutions to make certain filings and conduct examination and inspections on the contents of their platforms, the qualifications of their teachers, information security and the length of time period of their courses. This regulation also regulates fee standards and refund policies of online after-school tutoring institutions. Furthermore, on August 10, 2019, MOE and seven other authorities issued the Opinion on Guiding and Regulating the Healthy Development of Online Mobile Education Applications, which imposes further requirements on filing as well as on examination and inspections. In addition, in order to respond to increasing concerns over the inability of certain private education institutions to pay refunds, starting in 2020, certain local education bureaus have required private education institutions to deposit prepaid tuitions in custody accounts, and imposed various restrictions on private education institutions’ access to such prepaid tuitions. On March 30, 2021, MOE published the Guidance Opinion on Promoting the Scientific Transition from Kindergartens to Elementary Schools, which, among others, prohibits the provision of tutoring to
pre-school
children in violation of applicable requirements, and requires that elementary schools to start from a “zero knowledge” base for first grade students. As this MOE announcement is silent on the specific requirements to be complied with to provide after-school tutoring to
pre-school
children, and MOE and local education bureaus are expected to promulgate detailed implementation rules with respect to such requirements, the impact of such MOE announcement on our business and prospects remains uncertain. If any future regulations or any interpretations of the MOE announcement or future regulations prohibit the provision of tutoring to
pre-school
children, our business, prospects, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
To comply with the tightening requirements applicable to our business and operations, we need to make necessary adjustments to our business and operations, which could be costly and time-consuming. We cannot assure you that we will be in full compliance with such requirements in time or at all. If we are not able to comply with all applicable legal requirements, we may be subject to fines, confiscation of the gains derived from our
non-compliant
operations, suspension of our
non-compliant
operations or revocation of the operating permits of, or closure of, the
non-compliant
learning centers, any of which may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. For example, most of our self-owned learning centers in Beijing are unable to resume their offline operations after the resurgence of
COVID-19
in January 2021, despite the pandemic situation in Beijing having been substantially contained since February 2021. This is partly due to the ongoing discussions between us and the relevant local education bureaus on the manner in which the prepaid tuitions must be deposited and may be accessed. As of the date of this annual report, these learning centers may only offer online courses through our online platforms. See “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects—D. Trend Information.” This has had, and may continue to have, an adverse impact on our business operations and financial condition. There is no assurance that we will be able to reach consensus with the local education bureaus in Beijing and obtain the necessary approval to
re-open
our learning centers in a timely manner, or at all. If we are unable to
re-open
our learning centers, our business, prospects, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
New and more restrictive regulations may be introduced to the private education or English language teaching industry in the future, which may result in adverse changes in our business. For example, it is reported that the regulatory authorities are contemplating to introduce additional restrictions on English language teaching services, especially on those offered to younger children. If such restrictions are introduced, our business, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
 
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We may fail to successfully grow or operate our franchise business as our franchise partners may fail to operate the franchised learning centers effectively or we may be unable to maintain our relationships with our franchise partners.
We derive revenues from our franchise business through initial or renewal franchise fees, recurring franchise fees based on an agreed percentage of each franchised learning center’s collected tuition fees, and the sale of individual course materials. We expect our franchise revenues to increase as we grow. We rely on our franchise partners to open and operate new learning centers and our results of operations depend on our ability to attract as well as retain franchise partners. Our franchise partners are independent operators and are responsible for the profitability and financial viability of their learning centers. If our franchise partners fail to operate their learning centers effectively or grow their operations, then our financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected. In addition, we may need to provide financial support to our franchise partners when they encounter financial or operational difficulties, which may have an adverse impact on our own liquidity and financial condition.
We typically sign a five-year franchise agreement with our franchise partners. Upon expiration of the franchise agreement, we may not be able to renew because it is subject to mutual agreement by both parties. If we fail to renew the franchise agreement, it may also adversely impact our financial condition and results of operations.
We may not effectively monitor or manage the operations of franchised learning centers.
Our franchise partners are required to use our standardized curricula and teaching methodologies and to comply with other standardized operating procedures and requirements for the franchised learning centers. However, we may not be able to effectively monitor or control the operations of these learning centers as our franchise partners may deviate from our standards and requirements. Moreover, we do not control the actions of their employees, including their teachers. As a result, the quality of franchised learning center operations may be adversely affected by any number of factors beyond our control.
While we ultimately can take actions to terminate or choose not to renew existing franchise agreements with franchise partners who do not comply with the terms and conditions stipulated by our franchise agreements, including standardized operating procedures, we may not be immediately aware or able to identify problems or take actions quickly enough to resolve these problems. This may lead to potential legal and regulatory
non-compliance
incidents. For instance, lack of the requisite permits and licenses to operate the franchised learning centers or a failure in registration of franchise agreements with PRC authorities may subject our franchise partners to regulatory risks, which may significantly affect our brand, the results of operations of the franchised learning centers and in turn adversely and materially affect our financial condition.
Our success depends on the continuing efforts of our senior management team and other key personnel and our business may be harmed if we lose their services.
Our success depends in part on the continued application of services, efforts and motivation of our senior management team and key personnel. If one or more of our senior management members or key personnel are unable to continue in their present positions, we may not be able to find replacements successfully, and our business may be disrupted.
We will need to continue to hire additional personnel as our business grows. A shortage in the supply of personnel with requisite skills could negatively impact our ability to manage our existing products and services, launch new products and expand our operations. There is competition for experienced personnel in the private education industry and key personnel could leave us to join our competitors. Losing the services of our experienced personnel may be disruptive to and cause uncertainty for our business, which may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We may not be able to continue to recruit, train and retain a sufficient number of qualified teachers.
Teachers help us maintain the quality of our education and services, as well as our brand and reputation. Our ability to continue to attract teachers with the necessary experience and qualifications is a key factor in the success of our operations. We seek to hire qualified teachers who are dedicated to teaching and are able to follow our teaching procedures and deliver effective instruction. The market for teacher recruitment in China is competitive, and we must also provide continued training to ensure that teachers stay abreast of changes in student demands, our teaching methodologies and other key trends necessary. Further, the Measures of Punishment for Violation of Professional Ethics of Primary and Secondary School Teachers, promulgated by MOE on January 11, 2014 and further amended on October 8, 2018, prohibits teachers of primary and secondary schools from providing paid tutoring in schools or in
out-of-school
learning centers. Although we do not particularly target public school teachers in our teacher recruitment and we typically do not hire part-time teachers, in order to recruit qualified full-time teachers, including those with public school experience, we must provide candidates with competitive compensation packages and offer attractive career development opportunities. Although we have not experienced major difficulties in recruiting or training qualified teachers in the past, we cannot guarantee we will be able to continue to recruit, train and retain a sufficient number of qualified teachers in the future. Failure to recruit, train and retain a sufficient number of qualified teachers may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
 
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We may encounter disputes from time to time relating to the use of third party intellectual properties.
We cannot assure you that our products, courseware, course materials or any intellectual property developed or used by us do not or will not infringe the intellectual property rights held by third parties.
Under our intellectual property arrangements with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, or HMH, we have an exclusive, subject to certain
pre-existing
third party rights, and royalty-free license from HMH to use certain HMH courseware developed before October 2011 in China permanently for after-school tutoring services for the primary purpose of teaching the English language to
non-native
English speaking students. The curricula of Rise Start and Rise On uses HMH courseware along with other self-developed content. The arrangements with HMH also entitle us to develop derivative products based on this HMH courseware.
Furthermore, we are subject to certain sublicensing restrictions under our arrangements with HMH. For example, we cannot sublicense to any party that has been finally adjudicated as liable for willful copyright infringement in the last five years and we cannot guarantee that the sublicensing restrictions have been fully complied with when we sublicense our curricular to our franchise partners. As a result, we may be deemed liable for breaching our obligations under the license arrangements with HMH.
As of the date of this annual report, we are not aware of any material ongoing legal proceedings or disputes alleging our infringement of third-party intellectual properties. However, we may encounter disputes from time to time over rights and obligations concerning intellectual property, and we may not prevail in those disputes. Any such intellectual property infringement claim could result in costly litigation and divert our management attention and resources.
We may fail to adequately protect our intellectual property rights, and we may be exposed to intellectual property infringement claims by third parties.
Since our inception, our trademarks, copyrights, domain names, trade secrets and other intellectual property rights have distinguished us from our competitors and strengthened our competitive advantages.
Under our arrangements with HMH, we are entitled to develop and have developed derivative products based on licensed HMH courseware, and we own the intellectual property rights for all of these derivative products, including trademarks and copyrights, subject to HMH’s ownership of the intellectual property rights in its underlying courseware. We held a variety of intellectual property rights, including 36 registered domain names and 243 registered trademarks, 125 copyright registrations and one patent as of December 31, 2020. Unauthorized use of any of our intellectual property by third parties, including our franchise partners, may adversely affect our business and reputation. We rely on a combination of copyright, trademark and trade secrets laws, and confidentiality agreements with our employees and contractors, to protect our intellectual property rights. We also regularly monitor any infringement or misappropriation of our intellectual property rights. Nevertheless, third parties may obtain and use our intellectual property without due authorization. The practice of intellectual property rights enforcement by the PRC regulatory authorities is subject to significant uncertainty. We may also need to resort to litigation and other legal proceedings to enforce our intellectual property rights. Any such action, litigation or other legal proceedings could result in substantial costs and diversion of our management’s attention and resources and could disrupt our business. In addition, we cannot assure you that we will be able to enforce our intellectual property rights effectively or otherwise prevent others from the unauthorized use of our intellectual property. Failure to adequately protect our intellectual property could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
 
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Accidents, injuries, suspension of service or other harm may occur at our learning centers or the events we organize.
We could be held liable if any student, employee or other person is injured in any accident at any of our learning centers or the events we organize. Although we believe we take appropriate measures to prevent these risks, we may still be held liable if any such incident occurs. Parents may perceive our facilities or events to be unsafe, which may discourage them from sending their children to our learning centers or events. Although we maintain liability insurance, the insurance coverage may not be adequate to fully protect us from claims of all kinds and we cannot guarantee that we will be able to successfully claim under our existing liability insurance policies or obtain sufficient liability insurance in the future. We have historically encountered isolated student-related accidents on our learning center premises. Any criminal or liability claim against us or any of our employees could adversely affect our reputation and ability to attract and retain students. Any of these incidents may create unfavorable publicity, cause us to incur substantial expenses and divert the time and attention of our management.
We may not be able to integrate businesses that we may acquire in the future.
We may make acquisitions to facilitate our business growth, such as expanding into other geographic markets, serving different age groups of students and extending our product portfolio. We cannot assure you that we will be able to integrate the acquired businesses with our existing operations, and we may incur significant financial resources to streamline the operation of the acquired businesses under our internal control requirements and divert substantial management attention to the transition of the acquired businesses before achieving full integration. In addition, the businesses we acquire may be loss making or have existing liabilities or other risks that we may not be able to effectively manage or may not be aware of at the time we acquire them, which may impact our ability to realize the expected benefits from the acquisition or our financial performance. If we fail to integrate the acquired businesses in a timely manner or at all, we may not be able to achieve the anticipated benefits or synergies from the acquired businesses, which may adversely affect our business growth.
Our results of operations are subject to seasonal fluctuations.
Our industry generally experiences seasonality. Seasonal fluctuations have affected, and are likely to continue to affect, our business. Before 2020, we generated higher revenues in the third quarter as we generate revenues from summer overseas study tours during the summer holiday. We also generally generated lower revenues in the first quarter as we deliver fewer classes due to the Chinese New Year holiday. Overall, although the historical seasonality of our business has been relatively mild, we expect to continue to experience seasonal fluctuations in our results of operations. These fluctuations may result in volatility in and adversely affect the price of our ADSs.
We may not be able to conduct our selling and marketing activities effectively.
Our selling and marketing activities may not be well received by parents or students and may not result in the level of sales that we anticipate. In addition, we may not be able to retain or recruit experienced selling and marketing staff, or to efficiently train junior staff. Moreover, selling and marketing methods and tools in the junior ELT market in China continue to evolve. This may require us to experiment with new methods to keep pace with industry developments and student needs. Failure to refine our existing approaches or to implement new approaches in a cost-effective manner may reduce our market share, cause our revenues to decline and negatively impact our profitability.
We may have to relocate our learning centers.
As of December 31, 2020, we leased a total area of approximately 98,702 square meters for self-owned learning centers, and we may have to relocate for a number of reasons.
Our lease arrangements are typically for a term of at least five years, and are renewable upon mutual consent at the end of the period. We may not be able to successfully renew leases upon expiration of the current term, and may decide to move to more premium locations or have to relocate our operations for various other reasons, including increase of rentals and failure in passing the fire prevention assessment in certain locations. In those cases, we may not be able to locate desirable alternative sites for our learning centers or at a reasonable price.
 
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We have not been able to receive from our lessors of some of our leased properties copies of title certificates or proof of authorization to lease the properties to us. In addition, we have not registered most of our lease agreements with relevant government authorities as required by PRC law. As of the date of this annual report, we are not aware of any actions, claims or investigations threatened against us or our lessors with respect to the defects in our leasehold interests which, in the opinion of our management, is likely to have an adverse material effect on our business, financial condition or results of operations. However, if any of our leases is terminated as a result of challenges by third parties or governmental authorities for lack of title certificates or proof of authorization to lease, we do not expect to be subject to any fines or penalties but we may be forced to relocate the affected learning centers and incur additional expenses relating to such relocation. In addition, failure to complete the lease registration will not affect the legal effectiveness of the lease agreements according to PRC law, but the real estate administrative authorities may require the parties to the lease agreements to complete lease registration within a prescribed period of time and the failure to do so may subject the parties to fines from RMB1,000 to RMB10,000.
Our data management system may have weakness and personal data that we collect and retain may be publicly disclosed due to a system failure or otherwise.
We maintain personal data, such as academic records, address and family information of students, teachers and other employees. If the security measures we use to protect personal data are ineffective due to a system failure or other reasons, we could be liable for claims of invasion of privacy, impersonation, unauthorized purchases or other claims. In addition, we could be held liable for the misuse of personal data, fraudulent or otherwise, by students, teachers and other employees. We could incur significant expenses in connection with rectifying any security breaches, settling any resulting claims and providing additional protection to prevent additional breaches. In addition, any failure to protect personal information may adversely impact our ability to attract and retain students, harm our reputation and materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and prospects.
Our relationships with overseas education service providers may deteriorate.
We collaborate with various overseas schools and institutions to provide overseas study tours to students where we are the operator who set the price. Before 2020, we organized tours for students to attend classes abroad, in preschools, elementary schools and middle schools, primarily in the United States and Canada. These relationships helped us offer more diverse products, and charge a premium for the products we offer with other overseas education service providers. These relationships also helped us enhance our brand and reputation and provide exposure to international educational best practices and methods.
We did not provide overseas study tours in 2020 due to the travel restrictions imposed by the United States, Canada, China and other countries during the
COVID-19
pandemic. We plan to continue to offer overseas study tours when such travel restrictions are removed. If our relationships with any of these overseas education service providers deteriorate or are otherwise damaged or terminated, or if the benefits we derive from these relationships diminishes, whether as a result of our own actions or the actions of others, including our competitors, or of regulatory authorities or other entities beyond our control, our business, prospects, financial condition and results of operations could be adversely affected.
We have limited insurance coverage with respect to our business and operations.
We are exposed to various risks associated with our business and operations, and we have limited insurance coverage. See “Item 4. Information of the Company—B. Business Overview—Insurance” for more information. We are exposed to risks including, among other things, accidents or injuries in our learning centers, loss of key management and personnel, business interruption, natural disasters, terrorist attacks and social instability or any other events beyond our control. The insurance industry in China is still at an early stage of development, and as a result insurance companies in China offer limited business related insurance products. We do not have any business interruption insurance, product liability insurance or
key-man
life insurance. Any business disruption, legal proceeding or natural disaster or other events beyond our control could result in substantial costs and diversion of our resources, which may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our employees may engage in misconduct or other improper activities.
Like all companies, we face the risk of employee misconduct or other improper activities. Employee misconduct could include intentional failure to comply with laws and regulations, unauthorized activities, attempts to obtain reimbursement for improper expenses, or submission of falsified time records. Negative press reports regarding employee misconduct could harm our reputation, and if our reputation is negatively affected, our future revenues and growth prospects would be adversely affected. It is not always possible to deter employee misconduct, and the precautions we take to prevent and detect this activity may not be effective in controlling unknown or unmanaged risks or losses, which could harm our business, financial condition, results of operations and our ability to meet our financial obligations.
 
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We have granted options, and we may continue to grant options under our share incentive plans, which may result in increased share-based compensation expenses.
In 2016, we approved a share incentive plan, or the 2016 ESOP Plan, which permits the granting of options to purchase our ordinary shares. The maximum aggregate number of ordinary shares that may be issued pursuant to all awards under the 2016 ESOP Plan was 7,000,000. In 2017, we approved a new share incentive plan, or the 2017 ESOP Plan, which permits the granting of options, restricted shares, restricted share units, dividend equivalents, deferred shares, share payment and share appreciation rights. The maximum aggregate number of ordinary shares that may be issued pursuant to all awards under the 2017 ESOP Plan was 5,000,000. In 2020, we approved a share incentive plan, or the 2020 ESOP Plan, which permits the granting of options, restricted shares, restricted share units, dividend equivalents, deferred shares, share payment and share appreciation rights. The maximum aggregate number of ordinary shares that may be issued pursuant to all awards under the 2020 ESOP Plan was 4,147,494.
As of the date of this annual report, options to purchase 1,861,474 ordinary shares, 3,873,506 ordinary shares and 3,645,494 ordinary shares have been granted and outstanding under the 2016 ESOP Plan, the 2017 ESOP Plan and the 2020 ESOP Plan, respectively. We will incur future share-based compensation expenses upon the occurrence of the exercisability event, upon which the options will be accounted for as a cumulative compensation cost since the service inception date, with the remaining unrecognized compensation cost amortized over the remaining requisite service period.
As of December 31, 2020, the unrecognized compensation expenses related to the
non-vested
share options amounted to US$8.4 million, which will be recognized over the remaining requisite period when the exercisability event becomes probable. Expenses associated with share-based compensation awards granted under our share incentive plan may materially reduce our future net income. However, if we limit the size of grants under our share incentive plan to minimize share-based compensation expenses, we may not be able to attract or retain key personnel.
If we fail to implement and maintain an effective system of internal controls, we may be unable to accurately or timely report our results of operations or prevent fraud.
As a public company in the United States, we are subject to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 requires that we include a report from management on the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting in our annual report on Form
20-F.
Our management has concluded that our internal control over financial reporting was effective as of December 31, 2020. See “Item 15. Controls and Procedures—Management’s Annual Report on Internal Control over Financial Reporting.” However, if we fail to maintain effective internal control over financial reporting in the future, our management may not be able to conclude that we have effective internal control over financial reporting at a reasonable assurance level. Moreover, effective internal controls over financial reporting are necessary for us to produce reliable financial reports and are important to help prevent fraud. As a result, a failure to achieve and maintain effective internal controls over financial reporting could in turn result in the loss of investor confidence in the reliability of our financial statements and negatively impact the trading price of our ADSs. In addition, once we cease to be an “emerging growth company” as such term is defined in the JOBS Act, our independent registered public accounting firm must attest to and report on the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting. Our management may conclude that our internal control over financial reporting is not effective. Moreover, even if our management concludes that our internal control over financial reporting is effective, our independent registered public accounting firm, after conducting its own independent testing, may issue a report that is qualified if it is not satisfied with our internal controls or the level at which our controls are documented, designed, operated or reviewed, or if it interprets the relevant requirements differently from us.
 
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The audit report included in this annual report is prepared by auditors who are not fully inspected by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, and, as such, you are deprived of the benefits of such inspection.
Our independent registered public accounting firm issues the audit report included in this annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, or the SEC. As auditors of companies that are traded publicly in the United States and a firm registered with the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (United States), or PCAOB, our independent registered public accounting firm, is required by the laws of the United States to undergo regular inspections by PCAOB to assess its compliance with the laws of the United States and professional standards. However, according to Article 177 of the PRC Securities Law, which became effective in March 2020, documents and materials relating to securities activities may not, without the consent of the competent PRC securities regulators and relevant authorities, be provided to overseas persons, including the SEC, PCAOB, the U.S. Department of Justice or other U.S. authorities. Because our auditors are located in China, a jurisdiction where PCAOB is currently unable to conduct full inspections without the approval of the Chinese authorities, our auditors are not currently inspected by PCAOB.
Inspections of other firms that PCAOB has conducted outside China have identified deficiencies in those firms’ audit procedures and quality control procedures, which may be addressed as part of the inspection process to improve future audit quality. This lack of full PCAOB inspections in China prevents PCAOB from regularly evaluating our auditor’s audits and its quality control procedures. As a result, investors may be deprived of the benefits of PCAOB inspections.
On December 7, 2018, SEC and PCAOB issued a joint statement highlighting continued challenges faced by the U.S. regulators in their oversight of financial statement audits of U.S.-listed companies with significant operations in China. On April 21, 2020, SEC and PCAOB issued another joint statement reiterating the greater risk that disclosures will be insufficient in many emerging markets, including China, compared to those made by U.S. domestic companies. In discussing the specific issues related to the greater risk, the statement again highlights PCAOB’s inability to inspect audit work papers and practices of accounting firms in China with respect to their audit work of U.S. reporting companies. However, it remains unclear what further actions SEC and PCAOB will take to address the problem. On June 4, 2020, the U.S. President issued a memorandum ordering the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, or PWG, to submit a report to the President within 60 days of the memorandum that includes recommendations for actions that can be taken by the executive branch and by the SEC or PCAOB on Chinese companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges and their audit firms, in an effort to protect investors in the United States. On August 6, 2020, the PWG released a report recommending that the SEC take steps to implement the five recommendations outlined in the report. In particular, with respect to jurisdictions that do not provide the PCAOB with sufficient access to fulfill its statutory mandate, or
Non-Cooperating
Jurisdictions or NCJs, the PWG recommends that enhanced listing standards be applied to companies from NCJs for seeking initial listing and remaining listed on U.S. stock exchanges. Under the enhanced listing standards, if the PCAOB does not have access to work papers of the principal audit firm located in a NCJ for the audit of a U.S.-listed company as a result of governmental restrictions, the U.S.-listed company may satisfy this standard by providing a
co-audit
from an audit firm with comparable resources and experience where the PCAOB determines that it has sufficient access to the firm’s audit work papers and practices to inspect the
co-audit.
The report recommended a transition period until January 1, 2022 before the new listing standards apply to companies already listed on U.S. stock exchanges. Under the PWG recommendations, if we fail to meet the enhanced listing standards before January 1, 2022, we could face
de-listing
from the Nasdaq, deregistration from the SEC and/or other risks, which may materially and adversely affect, or effectively terminate, our ADS trading in the United States. There were recent media reports about the SEC’s proposed rulemaking in this regard. It is uncertain whether the PWG recommendations will be adopted, in whole or in part, and the impact of any new rule on us cannot be estimated at this time.
The inability of PCAOB to conduct full inspections of auditors in China makes it more difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of our auditor’s audit procedures or quality control procedures as compared to auditors outside of China that are subject to PCAOB inspections. Investors may lose confidence in our reported financial information and procedures and the quality of our financial statements.
As part of a continued regulatory focus in the United States on access to audit and other information currently protected by national laws, in particular that of China, the U.S. President signed S. 945, the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, or the HFCA Act, into law on December 18, 2020. On July 21, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives approved its version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, or the NDAA, which contains provisions comparable to the HFCA Act and was enacted into law on January 1, 2021. The HFCA Act and the NDAA amend the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 to direct the SEC to prohibit securities of any registrant from being listed on any of the U.S. securities exchanges or traded
“over-the-counter”
if the auditor of the registrant’s financial statements is not subject to PCAOB inspection for three consecutive years after the law becomes effective. Enactment of any of such legislations or other efforts to increase U.S. regulatory access to audit information could cause investor uncertainty for affected issuers, including us, the market price of our ADSs could be adversely affected, and we could be delisted if we are unable to cure the situation to meet the PCAOB inspection requirement in time.
 
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Nasdaq also released an FAQ (identification number 1696) on June 10, 2019, stating that Nasdaq may, relying on the discretion afforded under its current listing rules, deny initial or continued listing or apply additional and more stringent criteria if the auditor of a Nasdaq-listed company has not been subject to PCAOB inspection. On March 24, 2021, the SEC adopted interim final amendments, which will become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, to implement congressionally mandated submission and disclosure requirements of the HFCA Act. The interim final amendments will apply to registrants that the SEC identifies as having filed an annual report with an audit report issued by a registered public accounting firm that is located in a foreign jurisdiction and that the PCAOB has determined it is unable to inspect or investigate completely because of a position taken by an authority in that jurisdiction. Before any registrant will be required to comply with the interim final amendments, the SEC must implement a process for identifying such registrants. Consistent with the HFCA Act, the amendments will require any identified registrant to submit documentation to the SEC establishing that the registrant is not owned or controlled by a government entity in that jurisdiction, and will also require disclosure in a foreign issuer’s annual report regarding the audit arrangements of, and government influence on, such registrant. As of the date of this annual report, the SEC is seeking public comments on such registrant identification process and on these submission and disclosure requirements. Although it is currently unclear how and to what extent the remaining requirements of the HFCA Act and the NDAA will be enforced, the full enforcement of the HFCA Act and the NDAA may have a material and adverse impact on the performance of securities issued by China-based issuers listed in the U.S., including us.
If additional remedial measures are imposed on the “big four”
PRC-based
accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, in administrative proceedings brought by the SEC alleging the firms’ failure to meet specific criteria set by the SEC, we could be unable to timely file future financial statements in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act.
Beginning in 2011, the Chinese affiliates of the “big four” accounting firms (including our independent registered public accounting firm) were affected by a conflict between the U.S. and Chinese law. Specifically, for certain U.S.-listed companies operating and audited in China, the SEC and PCAOB sought to obtain access to the audit work papers and related documents of the Chinese affiliates of the “big four” accounting firms. The accounting firms were, however, advised and directed that, under Chinese law, they could not respond directly to the requests of the SEC and PCAOB and that such requests, and similar requests by foreign regulators for access to such papers in China, had to be channeled through the China Securities Regulatory Commission, or CSRC.
In late 2012, this impasse led the SEC to commence administrative proceedings under Rule 102(e) of its Rules of Practice and also under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 against the “big four” accounting firms (including our independent registered public accounting firm). A first instance trial of these proceedings in July 2013 in the SEC’s internal administrative court resulted in an adverse judgment against the firms. The administrative law judge proposed penalties on the firms, including a temporary suspension of their right to practice before the SEC. Implementation of the latter penalty was postponed pending review by the SEC Commissioners. On February 6, 2015, each of the four China-based accounting firms agreed to a censure and to pay a fine to the SEC to settle the dispute and avoid suspension of their ability to practice before the SEC. The firms’ ability to continue to serve all their respective clients is not affected by the settlement. The settlement requires the firms to follow detailed procedures to seek to provide the SEC with access to Chinese firms’ audit documents via CSRC. If the firms do not follow these procedures, the SEC could impose penalties such as suspensions, or it could restart the administrative proceedings. The settlement did not require the firms to admit to any violation of law and preserves the firms’ legal defenses in the event the administrative proceeding is restarted. The audit committee is aware of the policy restriction and regularly communicated with our independent auditor to ensure compliance.
In the event that the SEC restarts administrative proceedings, depending upon the final outcome, listed companies in the U.S. with major PRC operations may find it difficult or impossible to retain auditors in respect of their operations in China, which could result in their financial statements being determined to not be in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act, including possible delisting. Moreover, any negative news about any such future proceedings against the firms may cause investor uncertainty regarding China-based, U.S.-listed companies, including our company, and the market price of our ADSs may be adversely affected.
If our independent registered public accounting firm was denied, even temporarily, the ability to practice before the SEC and we were unable to timely find another registered public accounting firm to audit and issue an opinion on our financial statements, our financial statements could be determined not to be in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act. Such a determination could ultimately lead to the delisting of our ADSs from the Nasdaq or deregistration from the SEC, or both, which would substantially reduce or effectively terminate the trading of our ADSs in the United States.
 
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Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure
The PRC government may find that the contractual arrangements that establish our corporate structure for operating our business do not comply with applicable PRC laws and regulations.
PRC laws and regulations currently require any foreign entity that invests in the education business in China to be an educational institution with relevant experience in providing education services outside China. Our Cayman Islands holding company is not an educational institution and does not provide education services. To comply with PRC laws and regulations, we operate our business through our PRC consolidated affiliates, including Beijing Step Ahead Education Technology Development Co., Ltd., or Beijing Step Ahead or VIE, and its subsidiaries and schools that operate self-owned learning centers. Beijing Step Ahead is 80% owned by Mr. Peng Zhang and 20% owned by Mr. Yiding Sun. Both shareholders of Beijing Step Ahead are PRC citizens. We entered into a series of contractual arrangements with Beijing Step Ahead and its schools and shareholders, which enable us to:
 
   
exercise effective control over our consolidated affiliates;
 
   
receive substantially all of the economic benefits from our consolidated affiliates; and
 
   
have a call option to purchase all or part of the equity interests in Beijing Step Ahead when and to the extent permitted by the relevant laws.
Because of these contractual arrangements, we are the primary beneficiary of Beijing Step Ahead and its subsidiaries and schools and treat them as our PRC consolidated affiliates under U.S. GAAP. We consolidate the financial results of Beijing Step Ahead and its subsidiaries and schools in our consolidated financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP. For a detailed discussion of these contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. Information of the Company—C. Organizational Structure.”
There are, however, substantial uncertainties regarding the interpretation and application of current or future PRC laws and regulations concerning foreign investment in the PRC, and their application to and effect on the legality, binding effect and enforceability of the contractual arrangements. In particular, we cannot rule out the possibility that PRC regulatory authorities, courts or arbitral tribunals may in the future adopt a different or contrary interpretation or take a view that is inconsistent with the opinion of our PRC legal counsel. It is uncertain whether any new PRC laws, rules or regulations relating to variable interest entity structures will be adopted or, if adopted, what affect they may have on our corporate structure.
If, as a result of such contractual arrangement, we or Beijing Step Ahead and its subsidiaries and schools are found to be in violation of any existing or future PRC laws or regulations, or such contractual arrangement is determined as illegal and invalid by the PRC court, arbitral tribunal or regulatory authorities, or we fail to obtain, maintain or renew any of the required permits or approvals, the relevant PRC regulatory authorities would have broad discretion to take action in dealing with such violations or failures, including:
 
   
revoking the business licenses and/or operating licenses of Rise (Tianjin) Education Information Consulting Co., Ltd., or Rise Tianjin, and/or Beijing Step Ahead and its subsidiaries and schools;
 
   
discontinuing or restricting the conduct of any transactions between Rise Tianjin and Beijing Step Ahead and its subsidiaries and schools;
 
   
limiting our business expansion in China by way of entering into contractual arrangements;
 
   
imposing fines and penalties, confiscating the income from Beijing Step Ahead and its subsidiaries and schools, or imposing other requirements we or Beijing Step Ahead and its subsidiaries and schools may not be able to comply with;
 
   
shutting down our servers or blocking our websites;
 
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requiring us to restructure our ownership structure or operations, including terminating the contractual arrangements with Beijing Step Ahead and its subsidiaries and schools and deregistering the pledges on the equity of Beijing Step Ahead;
 
   
restricting or prohibiting our use of the proceeds of our future offering to finance our business and operations in China;
 
   
restricting the use of financing sources by us or our consolidated affiliates or otherwise restricting our or their ability to conduct business;
 
   
imposing additional conditions or requirements we may not be able to comply with; or
 
   
take other regulatory or enforcement actions against us that could be harmful to our business.
The imposition of any of these penalties could result in a material and adverse effect on our ability to conduct our business and on our results of operations. If any of these penalties results in our inability to direct the activities of our consolidated affiliates that most significantly impact their economic performance, and/or our failure to receive the economic benefits from our consolidated affiliates, we may not be able to consolidate them in our consolidated financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP.
Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the newly adopted PRC Foreign Investment Law and how it may impact the viability of our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations.
The VIE structure has been adopted by many
PRC-based
companies, including us, to obtain necessary licenses and permits in the industries that are currently subject to foreign investment restrictions in China. See “—Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure—The PRC government may find that the contractual arrangements that establish our corporate structure for operating our business do not comply with applicable PRC laws and regulations.” and “Item 4. Information of the Company—C. Organizational Structure.” The Ministry of Commerce, or MOFCOM, published a discussion draft of the proposed Foreign Investment Law in January 2015, or the 2015 Draft Foreign Investment Law, according to which, variable interest entities that are controlled via contractual arrangements would also be deemed as foreign-invested enterprises, or FIEs, if they are ultimately “controlled” by foreign investors. In March 2019, the PRC National People’s Congress promulgated the Foreign Investment Law, or the 2019 Foreign Investment Law, which became effective on January 1, 2020 and has replaced the major existing laws and regulations governing foreign investment in the PRC. On December 26, 2019, the State Council of the PRC promulgated the Regulation on the Implementation of the Foreign Investment Law, effective January 1, 2020, to provide further guidance on the implementation of the 2019 Foreign Investment Law. Pursuant to the 2019 Foreign Investment Law and its implementation rule, “foreign investments” refer to investment activities conducted by foreign investors directly or “indirectly” in the PRC, which include any of the following circumstances: (i) foreign investors setting up FIEs in the PRC solely or jointly with other investors, (ii) foreign investors obtaining shares, equity interests, property portions or other similar rights and interests in enterprises within the PRC, (iii) foreign investors investing in new projects in the PRC solely or jointly with other investors, and (iv) investment in other methods as specified in laws, administrative regulations, or as stipulated by the State Council. Although neither the 2019 Foreign Investment Law nor its implementation rule introduces the concept of “control” in determining whether a company should be considered as an FIE, nor does it provide the “variable interest entity” structure as a method of foreign investment, as the 2019 Foreign Investment Law is newly adopted and, in addition to its implementation rule, relevant government authorities may promulgate more laws, regulations or rules on the interpretation and implementation of the 2019 Foreign Investment Law, the possibility cannot be ruled out that the concept of “control” as stated in the 2015 Draft Foreign Investment Law may be embodied in, or the “variable interest entity” structure adopted by us may be deemed as a method of foreign investment by, any of such future laws, regulations and rules. If our consolidated affiliates were deemed as an FIE under any of such future laws, regulations and rules, and any of the businesses that we operate would be in any “negative list” for foreign investment and therefore be subject to any foreign investment restrictions or prohibitions, further actions required to be taken by us under such laws, regulations and rules may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
 
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We rely on contractual arrangements with our consolidated affiliates and the shareholders of Beijing Step Ahead for our operations in China, which may not be as effective in providing control as direct ownership.
We have relied and expect to continue to rely on the contractual arrangements with our consolidated affiliates and the shareholders of Beijing Step Ahead to operate our junior ELT business. For a description of these contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. Information of the Company—C. Organizational Structure.” In 2018, 2019 and 2020, the revenue contribution of our consolidated affiliates accounted for 92%, 94% and 96%, respectively, of our total revenues. However, these contractual arrangements may not be as effective as direct equity ownership in providing us with control over our consolidated affiliates. Any failure by our consolidated affiliates or the shareholders of Beijing Step Ahead to perform their obligations under the contractual arrangements would have a material adverse effect on the financial position and performance of our company. For example, the contractual arrangements are governed by PRC law and provide for the resolution of disputes through arbitration in China. Accordingly, these contracts would be interpreted in accordance with PRC law and any disputes would be resolved in accordance with arbitral procedures as contractually stipulated. The commercial arbitration system in China is not as developed as some other jurisdictions, such as the United States.
As a result, uncertainties in the commercial arbitration system or legal system in China could limit our ability to enforce these contractual arrangements. In addition, if the legal structure and the contractual arrangements were found to violate any existing or future PRC laws and regulations, we may be subject to fines or other legal or administrative sanctions.
If the imposition of government actions causes us to lose our right to direct the activities of our consolidated affiliates or our right to receive substantially all the economic benefits from our consolidated affiliates and we are not able to restructure our ownership structure and operations in a satisfactory manner, we would no longer be able to consolidate the financial results of our consolidated affiliates.
Our consolidated affiliates and their shareholders may fail to perform their obligations under the contractual arrangements.
Our consolidated affiliates and their shareholders may fail to take certain actions required for our business or to follow our instructions despite their contractual obligations to do so. If they fail to perform their obligations under their respective agreements with us, we may have to rely on legal remedies under PRC law, including seeking specific performance or injunctive relief, which may not be effective.
The shareholders of Beijing Step Ahead may have actual or potential conflict of interest with us and not act in the best interests of our company.
The shareholders of Beijing Step Ahead, namely, Mr. Peng Zhang and Mr. Yiding Sun, may have actual or potential conflicts of interest with us. These shareholders may refuse to sign or breach, or cause our consolidated affiliates to breach, or refuse to renew, the existing contractual arrangements we have with them and our consolidated affiliates, which would have a material and adverse effect on our ability to effectively control our consolidated affiliates and receive economic benefits from it. For example, the shareholders may be able to cause our agreements with our consolidated affiliates to be performed in a manner adverse to us by, among other things, failing to remit payments due under the contractual arrangements to us on a timely basis. We cannot assure you that when conflicts of interest arise, any or all of these shareholders will act in the best interests of our company or such conflicts will be resolved in our favor. Currently, we do not have any arrangements to address potential conflicts of interest between these shareholders and our company. If we cannot resolve any conflict of interest or dispute between us and these shareholders, we would have to rely on legal proceedings, which could result in disruption of our business and subject us to substantial uncertainty as to the outcome of any such legal proceedings.
 
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We rely on dividends, fees and other distributions paid by our PRC subsidiary and affiliates to fund any cash and financing requirements we may have, and any limitation on the ability of our PRC subsidiary and affiliates to make payments to us could hinder our ability to conduct our business.
We are a holding company and rely principally on dividends and fees paid by our subsidiary and affiliates in China for our cash needs, including paying dividends and other cash distributions to our shareholders to the extent we choose to do so, servicing any debt we may incur and paying our operating expenses. The income for our offshore and PRC subsidiaries, especially Rise Education International Limited (previously known as Bain Capital Rise Education (HK) Limited), or Rise HK, Rise IP (Cayman) Limited, or Rise IP, and Rise Tianjin, in turn depends on the service fees and IP royalty fees paid by our consolidated affiliates. Current PRC regulations permit our subsidiary in China to pay dividends to us only out of their accumulated profits, if any, determined in accordance with Chinese accounting standards and regulations. Under the applicable requirements of PRC law, our PRC subsidiary may only distribute dividends after it has made allowances to fund certain statutory reserves. These reserves are not distributable as cash dividends. In addition, at the end of each fiscal year, each of our schools is required to allocate a certain amount to its development fund for the construction or maintenance of the school properties or purchase or upgrade of school facilities. In particular, our schools that require reasonable returns must allocate no less than 25.0% of their annual net income, and our schools that do not require reasonable returns must allocate no less than 25.0% of their annual increase in the net assets of the school as determined in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles in the PRC. Furthermore, if our subsidiary or our consolidated affiliates in China incur debt on their own behalf in the future, the instruments governing the debt may restrict their ability to pay dividends or make other payments to us. Any such restrictions may materially affect such entities’ ability to make dividends or make payments, in IP royalty, service fees or otherwise, to us, which may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Contractual arrangements between our consolidated affiliates and us may be subject to scrutiny by the PRC tax authorities who may find that we or our consolidated affiliates owe additional taxes.
Under PRC laws and regulations, transactions between related parties should be conducted on an
arm’s-length
basis and may be subject to audit or challenge by the PRC tax authorities. We could face material adverse tax consequences if the PRC tax authorities determine that the contractual arrangements among our subsidiary in China, our consolidated affiliates and the shareholders of Beijing Step Ahead are not conducted on an
arm’s-length
basis and adjust the income of our consolidated affiliates through the transfer pricing adjustment. A transfer pricing adjustment could, among other things, result in, for PRC tax purposes, increased tax liabilities of our subsidiary in China and consolidated affiliates. In addition, the PRC tax authorities may require us to disgorge our prior tax benefits, and require us to pay additional taxes for prior tax years and impose late payment fees and other penalties on our subsidiary in China and consolidated affiliates for underpayment of prior taxes. To date, similar contractual arrangements have been used by many public companies, including companies listed in the United States, and, to our knowledge, the PRC tax authorities have not imposed any material penalties on those companies. However, we cannot assure you that such penalties will not be imposed on any other companies or us in the future. Our net income may be reduced if the tax liabilities of our consolidated affiliates materially increase or if they are found to be subject to additional tax obligations, late payment fees or other penalties.
Our consolidated affiliates may become the subject of a bankruptcy or liquidation proceeding.
We currently conduct our primary operations in China through contractual arrangements with our consolidated affiliates and the shareholders of Beijing Step Ahead. As part of these arrangements, the majority of our education-related assets that are critical to the operation of our business are held by our consolidated affiliates. If any of these entities goes bankrupt and all or part of their assets become subject to liens or rights of third-party creditors, we may be unable to continue some or all of our business activities, which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. If any of our consolidated affiliates undergoes a voluntary or involuntary liquidation proceeding, its equity owner or unrelated third-party creditors may claim rights relating to some or all of these assets, which would hinder our ability to operate our business and could materially and adversely affect our business, our ability to generate revenue and the market price of our ADSs.
The custodians or authorized users of our controlling
non-tangible
assets, including chops and seals, may fail to fulfill their responsibilities, or misappropriate or misuse these assets.
Under PRC law, legal documents for corporate transactions, including agreements and contracts that our business relies on, are executed using the chop or seal of the signing entity or with the signature of a legal representative whose designation is registered and filed with the relevant PRC industry and commerce authorities.
In order to maintain the physical security of our chops, we generally have them stored in secured locations accessible only to authorized employees. Although we monitor such authorized employees, the procedures may not be sufficient to prevent all instances of abuse or negligence. There is a risk that our employees could abuse their authority, for example, by entering into a contract not approved by us or seeking to gain control of one of our subsidiaries or consolidated affiliates. If any employee obtains, misuses or misappropriates our chops and seals or other controlling intangible assets for whatever reason, we could experience disruption to our normal business operations. We may have to take corporate or legal action, which could involve significant time and resources to resolve and divert management from our operations.
 
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PRC regulation of loans to and direct investment in PRC entities by offshore holding companies and governmental control of currency conversion may delay or prevent us from using the proceeds of our initial public offering or other funding to make loans or additional capital contributions to our PRC subsidiary and consolidated affiliates, which could materially and adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business.
Any funds we transfer to our PRC subsidiary and consolidated affiliates, either as a shareholder loan or as an increase in registered capital, are subject to registration or filing with relevant governmental authorities in China.
Currently, there is no statutory limit to the amount of funding that we can provide to our PRC subsidiaries through capital contributions. However, the maximum amount we can loan to our PRC subsidiary and consolidated affiliates is limited. According to current PRC laws and regulations, we can provide funding to our PRC subsidiary through loans of up to either (i) the amount of the difference between the respective registered total investment amount and registered capital of our PRC subsidiary, or the Total Investment and Registered Capital Balance, or (ii) two times, or the then applicable statutory multiple, the amount of their respective net assets, calculated in accordance with PRC GAAP, or the Net Assets Limit, at our election. We may also fund our PRC consolidated affiliates through cross-border loans and the maximum amount would be their respective Net Assets Limit. Increasing the Total Investment and Registered Capital Balance of our PRC subsidiary is subject to governmental procedures and may require the PRC subsidiary to increase its registered capital at the same time. If we choose to make a loan to a PRC entity based on its Net Assets Limit, the maximum amount we would be able to loan to the relevant PRC entity would depend on the relevant entity’s net assets and the applicable statutory multiple at the time of calculation. PRC laws and regulations may also impose more stringent limitations to cross-border loans, which will also have negative impact on our ability to fund our PRC entities.
Although we have not utilized the proceeds from our initial public offering to make capital contribution into Rise Tianjin or provide any loan to Rise Tianjin or to our VIE, its subsidiaries or schools, if we seek to do so in the future, we may not be able to complete the required registrations or filings on a timely basis, if at all. If we fail to complete such registrations or filings, our ability to use the proceeds of our initial public offering or other funding and to capitalize our PRC operations may be negatively affected, which could adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business.
On March 30, 2015, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, or SAFE, promulgated the Circular on Reforming the Management Approach Regarding the Foreign Exchange Capital Settlement of Foreign-Invested Enterprises, or SAFE Circular 19. SAFE Circular 19 launched a nationwide reform of the administration of the settlement of the foreign exchange capitals of FIEs and allows FIEs to settle their foreign exchange capital at their discretion, but continues to prohibit FIEs from using the Renminbi fund converted from their foreign exchange capitals for expenditure beyond their business scopes, providing entrusted loans or repaying loans between
non-financial
enterprises. On June 9, 2016, SAFE issued the Notice of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Reforming and Regulating the Foreign Exchange Settlement Management Policy for Capital Accounts, or SAFE Circular 16. While SAFE Circular 16 reiterates some of the rules set forth in SAFE Circular 19, it allowed FIEs to use the Renminbi fund converted from their foreign exchange capitals to extend loans to their related parties. On October 23, 2019, SAFE issued the Notice on Further Facilitating Cross-border Trade and Investment, which, among other things, expanded the use of foreign currency capital in the domestic equity investment area. FIEs that are not investment companies are allowed to make domestic equity investments by using their
paid-in
capital, provided that it is a bona fide investment in compliance with laws and regulations and not in violation of the Special Administrative Measures (Negative List) for Foreign Investment Access. However, in practice, FIEs may still encounter difficulties with local SAFE when making such investments with their capital.
If our VIE requires financial support from us or our wholly owned subsidiary in the future and we find it necessary to use foreign currency funds to provide such financial support, our ability to fund our variable interest entity’s operations will be subject to statutory limits and restrictions, including those described above. Violations of these regulations could result in severe monetary or other penalties. SAFE Circular 19, SAFE Circular 16 and relevant foreign exchange regulatory rules may significantly limit our ability to use Renminbi converted from the net proceeds of our initial public offering or other source of funding to fund the establishment of new entities in China by our consolidated affiliates, to invest in or acquire any other PRC companies through our PRC subsidiary or consolidated affiliates or to establish new consolidated affiliates in the PRC, which may adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
 
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Risks Related to Doing Business in China
PRC economic, political and social conditions, as well as changes in any government policies, laws and regulations, could adversely affect the overall economy in China or the education services market.
Substantially all of our operations are conducted in China, and substantially all of our revenues are derived from China. Accordingly, our business, prospects, financial condition and results of operations are subject, to a significant extent, to economic, political and legal developments in China.
The PRC economy differs from the economies of most developed countries in many respects. Although the PRC economy has been transitioning from a planned economy to a more market-oriented economy since the late 1970s, the PRC government continues to play a significant role in regulating the industry. The PRC government continues to exercise significant control over China’s economic growth through allocating resources, controlling the incurrence and payment of foreign currency-denominated obligations, setting monetary policy and providing preferential treatment to particular industries or companies. Uncertainties or changes in any of these policies, laws and regulations, especially those affecting the private education industry in China, could adversely affect the economy in China or the market for education services, which could harm our business. For example, under the Law on the Promotion of Private Education promulgated on December 28, 2002, its 2013 amendment and its implementing rules, a private school should elect to be either a school that does not require “reasonable returns” or a school that requires “reasonable returns.” A private school must consider factors such as the school’s tuition, ratio of the funds used for education-related activities to the course fees collected, admission standards and educational quality when determining the percentage of the school’s net income that would be distributed to the investors as reasonable returns. However, the PRC laws and regulations provide no clear guideline for determining “reasonable returns.” In addition, the PRC laws and regulations do not set forth any different requirements for the management and operations of private schools that elect to require reasonable returns as compared to those that do not. The Law on the Promotion of Private Education was subsequently amended in 2016 and 2018, which amendment came into effect on September 2, 2017 and December 29, 2018, respectively. Under the amended Law on the Promotion of Private Education, the concept “reasonable returns” is no longer applicable and a private school should elect to be either a
for-profit
school or a
non-profit
school. A
for-profit
school will be registered as a corporation and can distribute its profits to its sponsors pursuant to relevant corporate laws, while a
non-profit
school can only use its profits for the operation of schools. As of the date of this annual report, most provincial governments in China have promulgated local regulations relating to legal person registration and administration for private schools. In particular, certain local governments, such as the Beijing, Shanghai and Hebei governments, require existing private schools to make the decision for their choice in registering as
for-profit
or
non-for-profit
schools within a specific time period. However, detailed rules at the national level have not been promulgated with respect to the registration of private schools.
While the PRC economy has experienced significant growth in the past two to three decades, growth has been uneven, both geographically and among various sectors of the economy. Demand for our education services depends, in large part, on economic conditions in China and especially the regions where we operate, including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Any significant slowdown in China’s economic growth may adversely affect the disposable income of the families of prospective students and cause prospective students to delay or cancel their plans to enroll in our learning centers, which in turn could reduce our revenues. In addition, any sudden changes to China’s political system or the occurrence of social unrest could also have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects. Furthermore, the impact of
COVID-19
on China’s economy in 2020 also negatively affected the demand for our services, and materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
 
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We may be subject to significant limitations on our ability to operate learning centers, or otherwise be materially and adversely affected by changes in PRC laws and regulations governing private education providers. PRC rules and regulations issued by government authorities may restrict after-school tutoring services; and similar or more stringent rules or regulations that limit our ability to offer our services may be introduced in the future.
Our junior ELT business is subject to certain regulations in China. The PRC government regulates various aspects of our business and operations, such as curriculum content, education materials, tuition and other fees. The laws and regulations applicable to the private education sector are subject to frequent change, and new laws and regulations may be adopted, some of which may have a negative effect on our business, either retroactively or prospectively. For example, on August 22, 2018, the General Office of the State Council issued the Opinions on Regulating Development of After-school Education Institutions, or the State Council Opinions 80, which provide various stringent guidance on regulating after-school training market for primary and secondary school students, including, among others, the operation standards that after-school education institutions should follow, the requirements and approvals necessary for opening new after-school education institutions, the guidance for daily operation of after-school education institutions, and the regulatory supervision regime for after-school education institutions. See “Item 4. Information of the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Recent Regulations on After-school Education Institutions” for a summary of the State Council Opinions 80. We may be unable to meet such requirements in a prompt manner or incur additional costs in complying with such requirements, which may adversely affect our business, financial conditions and results of operations.
Foreign ownership in education services is subject to significant regulations in China. The PRC government regulates the provision of education services through strict licensing requirements. We are a company incorporated in the Cayman Islands. Our PRC subsidiary, Rise Tianjin, is a foreign-owned enterprise and is currently ineligible to apply for and hold licenses and permits to operate, or otherwise own sponsorship interests in, our schools. Due to these restrictions, we conduct our junior ELT business in China primarily through contractual arrangements among (1) Rise HK, (2) Rise Tianjin, (3) our consolidated affiliates, including Beijing Step Ahead, its subsidiaries and schools operating self-owned learning centers, and (4) the shareholders of Beijing Step Ahead, namely, Mr. Peng Zhang and Mr. Yiding Sun. We hold the required licenses and permits necessary to conduct our junior ELT business in China through the schools controlled by Beijing Step Ahead. We have been, and expect to continue to be, dependent on our consolidated affiliates to operate our junior ELT business. See “Item 4. Information of the Company—C. Organizational Structure” for more information.
As of the date of this annual report, similar ownership structure and contractual arrangements have been used by many China-based companies listed overseas, including a number of education companies listed in the United States. To our knowledge, none of these public companies, including companies in the education industry, have been imposed fines or punishments. However, we cannot assure you that fines or punishments will not be imposed on us or any other companies in the future. If any fines or punishments are imposed on us, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected. If any of these penalties results in our inability to direct the activities of Beijing Step Ahead and its subsidiaries and schools that most significantly impact their economic performance, and/or our failure to receive the economic benefits from Beijing Step Ahead and its subsidiaries and schools, we may not be able to consolidate Beijing Step Ahead and its subsidiaries and schools in our financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP. However, we do not believe that such actions would result in the liquidation or dissolution of our company, our wholly-owned subsidiaries in China or Beijing Step Ahead or its subsidiaries or schools.
We face uncertainties with respect to the PRC legal system.
The PRC legal system is a civil law system based on written statutes. Unlike the common law system, prior court decisions in a civil law system may be cited as reference but have limited precedential value. Since 1979, newly introduced PRC laws and regulations have significantly enhanced the protections of interest relating to foreign investments in China. However, since these laws and regulations are relatively new and the PRC legal system continues to evolve rapidly, the interpretations of such laws and regulations may not always be consistent, and enforcement of these laws and regulations involves significant uncertainties, any of which could limit the available legal protections.
In addition, the PRC administrative and judicial authorities have significant discretion in interpreting, implementing or enforcing statutory rules and contractual terms, and it may be more difficult to predict the outcome of administrative and judicial proceedings and the level of legal protection we may enjoy in the PRC than under some more developed legal systems. These uncertainties may affect our decisions on the policies and actions to be taken to comply with PRC laws and regulations, and may affect our ability to enforce our contractual or tort rights. In addition, the regulatory uncertainties may be exploited through unmerited legal actions or threats in an attempt to extract payments or benefits from us. Such uncertainties may therefore increase our operating expenses and costs, and materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.
 
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Under the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law, or the EIT Law, we may be classified as a PRC “resident enterprise”, which could result in unfavorable tax consequences to us and our
non-PRC
shareholders.
The EIT Law and its implementing rules provide that enterprises established outside of China whose “
de facto
management bodies” are located in China are considered “resident enterprises” under PRC tax laws. The implementing rules define the term “
de facto
management bodies” as a management body which substantially manages, or has control over the business, personnel, finance and assets of an enterprise. On April 22, 2009, the State Administration of Taxation issued Circular 82, which was amended on December 29, 2017, providing that a foreign enterprise controlled by a PRC company or a group of PRC companies will be classified as a “resident enterprise” with its “
de facto
management body” located within China if all of the following requirements are satisfied: (1) the senior management and core management departments in charge of its daily operations function are mainly in China; (2) its financial and human resources decisions are subject to determination or approval by persons or bodies in China; (3) its major assets, accounting books, company seals, and minutes and files of its board and shareholders’ meetings are located or kept in China; and (4) at least half of the enterprise’s directors with voting right or senior management reside in China. The State Administration of Taxation issued a bulletin on July 27, 2011, which was subsequently amended on June 1, 2015 and June 15, 2018, to provide more guidance on the implementation of Circular 82. The bulletin clarifies certain matters relating to resident status determination, post-determination administration and competent tax authorities.
In addition, the State Administration of Taxation issued a bulletin on January 29, 2014 to provide more guidance on the implementation of Circular 82. This bulletin further provides that, among other things, an entity that is classified as a “resident enterprise” in accordance with the circular shall file the application for classifying its status of residential enterprise with the local tax authorities where its main domestic investors are registered. From the year in which the entity is determined to be a “resident enterprise,” any dividend, profit and other equity investment gain shall be taxed in accordance with the EIT Law and its implementing rules.
As the tax resident status of an enterprise is subject to the determination by the PRC tax authorities, if we are deemed a PRC “resident enterprise,” we will be subject to PRC enterprise income tax on our worldwide income at a uniform tax rate of 25.0%, although dividends distributed to us from our existing PRC subsidiary and any other PRC subsidiaries which we may establish from time to time could be exempt from the PRC dividend withholding tax due to our PRC “resident recipient” status. This could have a material adverse effect on our overall effective tax rate, our income tax expenses and our net income. Furthermore, dividends, if any, paid to our shareholders and ADS holders may be decreased as a result of the decrease in distributable profits. In addition, if we were to be considered a PRC “resident enterprise”, dividends we pay with respect to our ADSs or ordinary shares and the gains realized from the transfer of our ADSs or ordinary shares may be considered income derived from sources within China and be subject to PRC withholding tax, at a rate of 10.0% in the case of
non-PRC
enterprises or 20.0% in the case of
non-PRC
individuals, which could have a material adverse effect on the value of your investment in us and the price of our ADSs.
There are significant uncertainties under the EIT Law relating to the withholding tax liabilities of our PRC subsidiary, and dividends payable by our PRC subsidiary to our offshore subsidiaries may not qualify to enjoy certain treaty benefits.
Under the EIT Law and its implementation rules, the profits of a foreign-invested enterprise generated through operations, which are distributed to its immediate holding company outside China, will be subject to a withholding tax rate of 10.0%. Pursuant to a special arrangement between Hong Kong and China, such rate may be reduced to 5.0% if a Hong Kong resident enterprise owns more than 25.0% of the equity interest in the PRC company. Our current PRC subsidiary is wholly owned by our Hong Kong subsidiary, Rise HK. Accordingly, Rise HK may qualify for a 5.0% tax rate in respect of distributions from its PRC subsidiary. Under the Notice of the State Administration of Taxation on the Issues concerning the Application of the Dividend Clauses of Tax Agreements promulgated on February 20, 2009, the taxpayer needs to satisfy certain conditions to enjoy the benefits under a tax treaty. These conditions include: (1) the taxpayer must be the beneficial owner of the relevant dividends, and (2) the corporate shareholder to receive dividends from the PRC subsidiary must have continuously met the direct ownership thresholds during the 12 consecutive months preceding the receipt of the dividends. Further, the State Administration of Taxation promulgated the Bulletin on Relevant Issues about the “Beneficial Owner” in Tax Treaties on February 3, 2018, which sets forth certain detailed factors in determining the “beneficial owner” status.
 
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Entitlement to a lower tax rate on dividends according to tax treaties or arrangements between the PRC central government and governments of other countries or regions is subject to the Administrative Measures for
Non-Resident
Taxpayers to Enjoy Treatment under Tax Treaties, promulgated by the State Administration of Taxation in August 2015 and amended in October 2019, or the SAT Circular 60, which provides that
non-resident
enterprises are not required to obtain
pre-approval
from the relevant tax authority in order to enjoy the reduced withholding tax. Instead,
non-resident
enterprises and their withholding agents may, by self-assessment and on confirmation that the prescribed criteria to enjoy the tax treaty benefits are met, directly apply the reduced withholding tax rate, and file necessary forms when performing tax filings and collecting relevant supporting documents, which will be subject to
post-tax
filing examinations by the relevant tax authorities. As a result, we cannot assure you that we will be entitled to any preferential withholding tax rate under tax treaties for dividends received from our PRC subsidiary.
We may be subject to discontinuation or revocation of any of the preferential tax treatments and government subsidies or imposition of any additional taxes and surcharges.
Pursuant to the EIT Law, as further clarified by subsequent tax regulations implementing the EIT Law, foreign-invested enterprises and domestic enterprises are subject to EIT at a uniform rate of 25%. Certain enterprises may benefit from a preferential tax rate of 15% under the EIT Law if they qualify as “High and New Technology Enterprise” requiring special support by the state, which qualification shall be
re-assessed
by the relevant authorities every three years.
Rise Tianjin was recognized as a “High and New Technology Enterprise” in December 2019 and is entitled to enjoy a preferential tax rate of 15%. If Rise Tianjin fails to maintain the “High and New Technology Enterprise” qualification, the applicable EIT rate will increase to 25%.
Rise Tianjin, or the WFOE, became entitled in 2016 to certain governmental subsidies based on the value-added tax, business tax and enterprise income tax until 2020. We cannot assure you of the continued availability of the government incentives and subsidies currently enjoyed by the WFOE. The discontinuation of these governmental incentives and subsidies could adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
We face uncertainties with respect to indirect transfers of the equity interests in PRC resident enterprises by their
non-PRC
holding companies.
The State Administration of Taxation issued Bulletin on Several Issues concerning the Enterprise Income Tax on the Indirect Transfers of Properties by
Non-Resident
Enterprises, or Bulletin 7, on February 3, 2015, which was amended on December 29, 2017. Under Bulletin 7, an “indirect transfer” of assets, including equity interests in a PRC resident enterprise, by
non-PRC
resident enterprises may be
re-characterized
and treated as a direct transfer of PRC taxable assets, if such arrangement does not have a reasonable commercial purpose and was established for the purpose of avoiding payment of PRC enterprise income tax. As a result, gains derived from such indirect transfer may be subject to PRC enterprise income tax. According to Bulletin 7, “PRC taxable assets” include assets attributed to an establishment in China, real properties in China, and equity investments in PRC resident enterprises. In respect of an indirect offshore transfer of assets of a PRC establishment, the relevant gain is to be regarded as effectively connected with the PRC establishment and therefore included in its enterprise income tax filing, and would consequently be subject to PRC enterprise income tax at a rate of 25.0%. Where the underlying transfer relates to the real properties in China or to equity investments in a PRC resident enterprise, which is not effectively connected to a PRC establishment of a
non-resident
enterprise, a PRC enterprise income tax at 10.0% would apply, subject to available preferential tax treatment under applicable tax treaties or similar arrangements, and the party who is obligated to pay the transfer price shall be responsible for the withholding and payment of such tax. There is uncertainty as to the implementation details of Bulletin 7. If Bulletin 7 was determined by the tax authorities to be applicable to some of our transactions involving PRC taxable assets, our offshore subsidiaries conducting the relevant transactions might be required to spend valuable resources to comply with Bulletin 7 or to establish that the relevant transactions should not be taxed under Bulletin 7.
On October 17, 2017, the SAT issued the Bulletin on Issues Relating to Withholding at Source of Income Tax of
Non-resident
Enterprises, or Bulletin 37, which was amended on June 15, 2018. Bulletin 37, which became effective on December 1, 2017 and partially amended some provisions in Bulletin 7. Bulletin 37 purports to clarify certain issues in the implementation of the above regime, by providing, among others, the definition of equity transfer income and tax basis, the party which has the withholding obligation, the competent tax authority, the foreign exchange rate to be used in the calculation of withholding amount, and the date of occurrence of the withholding obligation.
 
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As a result, we and our
non-PRC
shareholders may have the risk of being taxed for the disposition of our ordinary shares or ADSs and may be required to spend valuable resources to comply with Bulletin 7 and Bulletin 37 or to establish that we or our
non-PRC
shareholders should not be taxed as an indirect transfer, which may have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations or the investment by
non-PRC
investors in us.
Restrictions on currency exchange may limit our ability to receive and use our revenues effectively.
Substantially all of our revenue is denominated in Renminbi. As a result, restrictions on currency exchange may limit our ability to use revenue generated in Renminbi to fund business activities we may have outside China in the future or to make dividend payments to our shareholders and ADS holders in U.S. Dollars. Under current PRC laws and regulations, Renminbi is freely convertible for current account items, such as trade- and service-related foreign exchange transactions and dividend distributions. However, Renminbi is not freely convertible for direct investment or loans or investments in securities outside China, unless such use is approved by or registered with SAFE. For example, foreign exchange transactions under our subsidiary’s capital account remain subject to significant foreign exchange controls and the registration requirement of SAFE. These limitations could affect our ability to obtain foreign exchange for capital expenditures.
Our PRC subsidiary is permitted to declare dividends to our offshore subsidiary holding their equity interest, convert the dividends into a foreign currency and remit to its shareholder outside China. In addition, in the event that our PRC subsidiary liquidates, proceeds from the liquidation may be converted into foreign currency and distributed outside China to our overseas subsidiary holding its equity interest. Furthermore, in the event that Beijing Step Ahead or any of its subsidiaries liquidates, our PRC subsidiary, Rise Tianjin, may, pursuant to the Proxy Agreement executed by Mr. Peng Zhang and Mr. Yiding Sun, require Beijing Step Ahead or any of its subsidiaries to pay and remit the proceeds from such liquidation to Rise Tianjin. Rise Tianjin then may distribute such proceeds to us after converting them into foreign currency and remit them outside China in the form of dividends or other distributions. Once remitted outside China, dividends, distributions or other proceeds from liquidation paid to us will not be subject to restrictions under PRC regulations on its further transfer or use.
Other than the above distributions by and through our PRC subsidiary which are permitted to be made without the necessity to obtain further approvals, any conversion of the Renminbi-denominated revenue generated by our consolidated affiliates for direct investment, loan or investment in securities outside China will be subject to the limitations discussed above. To the extent we need to convert and use any Renminbi-denominated revenue generated by our consolidated affiliates not paid to our PRC subsidiary and revenues generated by our PRC subsidiary not declared and paid as dividends, the limitations discussed above will restrict the convertibility of, and our ability to directly receive and use such revenue. As a result, our business and financial condition may be adversely affected. In addition, we cannot assure you that the PRC regulatory authorities will not impose more stringent restrictions on the convertibility of Renminbi in the future, especially with respect to foreign exchange transactions.
We face fluctuations in the value of the Renminbi.
The change in value of the Renminbi against the U.S. Dollar and other currencies is affected by various factors, such as changes in China’s political and economic conditions. On July 21, 2005, the PRC government changed its
decade-old
policy of pegging the value of the Renminbi to the U.S. Dollar. Under such policy, the Renminbi was permitted to fluctuate within a narrow and managed band against a basket of certain foreign currencies. Later on, the People’s Bank of China has decided to further implement the reform of the Renminbi exchange regime and to enhance the flexibility of Renminbi exchange rates. Such changes in policy have resulted in a significant appreciation of the Renminbi against the U.S. Dollar since 2005. Since June 2010, the Renminbi has fluctuated against the U.S. dollar, at times significantly and unpredictably. In the fourth quarter of 2016, the Renminbi has depreciated significantly in the backdrop of a surging U.S. dollar and persistent capital outflows of China. This depreciation halted in 2017, and the Renminbi appreciated by approximately 7% against the U.S. dollar during this
one-year
period. After that, Renminbi fluctuated against the U.S. dollar and experienced a significant appreciation against U.S. dollar in 2020. There remains significant international pressure on the PRC government to adopt a more flexible currency policy, which could result in a further and more significant adjustment of the Renminbi against the U.S. Dollar. Any significant appreciation or revaluation of the Renminbi may have a material adverse effect on the value of, and any dividends payable on, our ADSs in foreign currency terms. More specifically, if we decide to convert our Renminbi into U.S. Dollars, appreciation of the U.S. Dollar against the Renminbi would have a negative effect on the U.S. Dollar amount available to us. To the extent that we need to convert U.S. Dollars we received from our initial public offering or other source of funding into Renminbi for our operations, appreciation of the Renminbi against the U.S. Dollar would have an adverse effect on the Renminbi amount we would receive from the conversion. In addition, appreciation or depreciation in the exchange rate of the Renminbi to the U.S. Dollar could materially and adversely affect the price of our ADSs in U.S. Dollars without giving effect to any underlying change in our business or results of operations.
 
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Certain PRC regulations, including the M&A Rules and national security regulations, may require a complicated review and approval process which could make it difficult for us to pursue growth through acquisitions in China.
The Regulations on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Companies by Foreign Investors, or the M&A Rules, established additional procedures and requirements that could make merger and acquisition activities in China by foreign investors more time-consuming and complex. Although the amendment to the M&A Rules in 2016 generally eased the restrictions imposed on merger and acquisition activities, certain acquisitions of domestic companies by offshore companies that are related to or affiliated with the same entities or individuals of the domestic companies, may remain subject to approval by MOFCOM. Certain merger and acquisition transactions to be subject to national security review.
The Anti-Monopoly Law promulgated by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, or NPC, on August 30, 2007 (effective August 1, 2008) requires certain concentrated transactions or transactions involving parties above specified turnover thresholds to be reported to State Administration of Market Regulation.
Furthermore, on December 19, 2020, the NDRC and MOFCOM published the Foreign Investment Security Review Measures, which became effective on January 18, 2021. Under the Foreign Investment Security Review Measures, investments in military, national defense-related areas or in locations in proximity to military facilities and investments that would result in acquiring control of assets in certain key sectors affecting national security are subject to a national security review process and are required to obtain the approval from the designated governmental authorities in advance. Such key sectors include, among others, cultural products and services. The term “control” is broadly defined to include control through share ownership, material influence over the shareholders’ meeting or board, and other material influence over the management and operations of an enterprise. It is possible that control through contractual arrangement may be regarded as a form of control and therefore requires approval from the competent governmental authority. As the Foreign Investment Security Review Measures were recently promulgated, there are great uncertainties with respect to its interpretation and implementation.
There is significant uncertainty regarding the interpretation and implementation of these regulations relating to merger and acquisition activities in China. In addition, complying with these requirements could be time-consuming, and the required notification, review or approval process may materially delay or affect our ability to complete merger and acquisition transactions in China. As a result, our ability to seek growth through acquisitions may be materially and adversely affected.
PRC regulations relating to foreign exchange registration of overseas investment by PRC residents may subject our PRC resident beneficial owners or our PRC subsidiary to liability or penalties, limit our ability to inject capital into our PRC subsidiary, limit our PRC subsidiary’s ability to increase its registered capital or distribute profits to us, or may otherwise adversely affect us.
SAFE has promulgated regulations, including the Notice on Relevant Issues Relating to Foreign Exchange Control on Domestic Residents’ Investment and Financing and Round-Trip Investment through Special Purpose Vehicles, or Circular 37, which became effective on July 4, 2014, and its appendices, that require PRC residents, including PRC institutions and individuals, to register with local branches of SAFE in connection with their direct establishment or indirect control of an offshore entity, for the purpose of overseas investment and financing, with such PRC residents’ legally owned assets or equity interests in domestic enterprises or offshore assets or interests, referred to in Circular 37 as a “special purpose vehicle.” The term “control” under Circular 37 is broadly defined as the operation rights, beneficiary rights or decision-making rights acquired by PRC residents in offshore special purpose vehicles by such means as acquisition, trust, proxy, voting rights, repurchase, convertible bonds or other arrangements. Circular 37 further requires amendment to the registration in the event of any significant changes with respect to the special purpose vehicle, such as an increase or decrease of capital contributed by PRC individuals, share transfer or exchange, merger, division or other material event. In the event that a PRC shareholder holding interests in a special purpose vehicle fails to fulfill the required SAFE registration, the PRC subsidiaries of that special purpose vehicle may be prohibited from making profit distributions to the offshore parent and from carrying out subsequent cross-border foreign exchange activities, and the special purpose vehicle may be restricted in its ability to contribute additional capital into its PRC subsidiaries. Further, failure to comply with the various SAFE registration requirements described above could result in liability under PRC law for foreign exchange evasion.
 
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These regulations apply to our direct and indirect shareholders who are PRC residents and may apply to any offshore acquisitions or share transfers that we make in the future if our shares are issued to PRC residents. However, in practice, different local SAFE branches may have different views and procedures on the application and implementation of SAFE regulations, there remains uncertainty with respect to its implementation. We cannot assure you that any shareholders or beneficial owners of our company who are PRC residents will be able to successfully complete the registration or update the registration of their direct and indirect equity interest as required in the future. If any of them fail to make or update the registration, our PRC subsidiary could be subject to fines and legal penalties, and SAFE could restrict our cross-border investment activities and our foreign exchange activities, including restricting our PRC subsidiary’s ability to distribute dividends to, or obtain loans denominated in foreign currencies from, our company, or prevent us from contributing additional capital into our PRC subsidiary. As a result, our business operations and our ability to make distributions to you could be materially and adversely affected.
We face regulatory uncertainties in China that could restrict our ability to grant share incentive awards to our employees or consultants who are PRC citizens.
Pursuant to the Notices on Issues concerning the Foreign Exchange Administration for Domestic Individuals Participating in a Stock Incentive Plan of an Overseas Publicly-Listed Company issued by SAFE on February 15, 2012, or Circular 7, a qualified PRC agent (which could be the PRC subsidiary of the overseas-listed company) is required to file, on behalf of “domestic individuals” (both PRC residents and
non-PRC
residents who reside in China for a continuous period of not less than one year, excluding the foreign diplomatic personnel and representatives of international organizations) who are granted shares or share options by the overseas-listed company according to its share incentive plan, an application with SAFE to conduct SAFE registration with respect to such share incentive plan, and obtain approval for an annual allowance with respect to the purchase of foreign exchange in connection with the share purchase or share option exercise. Such PRC individuals’ foreign exchange income received from the sale of shares and dividends distributed by the overseas listed company and any other income shall be fully remitted into a collective foreign currency account in China, which is opened and managed by the PRC domestic agent before distribution to such individuals. In addition, such domestic individuals must also retain an overseas entrusted institution to handle matters in connection with their exercise of share options and their purchase and sale of shares. The PRC domestic agent also needs to update registration with SAFE within three months after the overseas-listed company materially changes its share incentive plan or make any new share incentive plans.
When we grant share options to our employees under our 2016 ESOP Plan, 2017 ESOP Plan or 2020 ESOP Plan from time to time, we need to apply for or update our registration with SAFE or its local branches on behalf of our employees or consultants who receive options or other equity-based incentive grants under our share incentive plan or material changes in our share incentive plan. However, we may not always be able to make applications or update our registration on behalf of our employees or consultants who hold any type of share incentive awards in compliance with Circular 7, nor can we ensure you that such applications or update of registration will be successful. If we or the participants of our share incentive plan who are PRC citizens fail to comply with Circular 7, we and/or such participants of our share incentive plan may be subject to fines and legal sanctions, there may be additional restrictions on the ability of such participants to exercise their share options or remit proceeds gained from sale of their shares into China, and we may be prevented from further granting share incentive awards under our share incentive plan to our employees or consultants who are PRC citizens.
Labor contract laws and Social Insurance Law in China may adversely affect our results of operations.
The current PRC labor contract law imposes greater liabilities on employers and significantly affects the cost of an employer’s decision to reduce its workforce. Further, it requires certain terminations be based on the mandatory retirement age. In the event we decide to significantly change or decrease our workforce, the Labor Contract Law could adversely affect our ability to enact such changes in a manner that is most advantageous to our business or in a timely and cost-effective manner, thus materially and adversely affecting our financial condition and results of operations.
 
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Failure to make adequate contributions to various employee benefit plans as required by PRC regulations may subject us to penalties.
The PRC economy has been experiencing significant growth, leading to inflation and increased labor costs. China’s overall economy and the average wage in China are expected to continue to grow. In addition, we are required by PRC laws and regulations to pay various statutory employee benefits, including pensions, housing fund, medical insurance, work-related injury insurance, unemployment insurance and maternity insurance to designated government agencies for the benefit of our employees. It is subject to the determination of the relevant government agencies whether an employer has made adequate payments of the requisite statutory employee benefits, and employers that fail to make adequate payments may be subject to late payment fees, fines and/or other penalties. Future increases in China’s inflation and material increases in labor costs and employee benefits may materially and adversely affect our profitability and results of operations unless we are able to pass on these costs to students by increasing tuition.
We face risks related to natural disasters, health epidemics or terrorist attacks in China.
Our business could be materially and adversely affected by natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, landslides, tornados and tsunamis, outbreaks of health epidemics such as
COVID-19,
avian influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and Influenza A virus, such as H5N1 subtype and H5N2 subtype flu viruses, as well as terrorist attacks, other acts of violence or war or social instability in the regions in which we operate or those generally affecting China. If any of these occur, our learning centers and facilities may be required to temporarily or permanently close and our business operations may be suspended or terminated. Students, teachers and staff may also be negatively affected by such event. In addition, any of these could adversely affect the PRC economy and demographics of the affected region, which could cause significant declines in the number of students in that region and could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our business, financial performance and liquidity position have been, and may continue to be in the future, adversely affected by the
COVID-19
pandemic, and our financial performance in 2020 may not be indicative of our operating results or financial condition in the future.
Since its outbreak in December 2019,
COVID-19
has spread all over the world and was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. The pandemic has resulted in a number of countries declaring a state of emergency and a number of countries, including the PRC, Japan, the United States, member of the European Union and the United Kingdom, imposing extensive business and travel restrictions with a view to containing the pandemic. The
COVID-19
pandemic and preventative or protective actions taken by the PRC government in respect of this pandemic had caused business disruption, including the temporary closure of our learning centers for a majority of the time during the period starting January 19, 2020 until September 2020. The closure of our learning centers in turn resulted in decreases in our new students enrollment and student retention rate, brought challenges to our traditional
face-to-face
teaching model, and created significant difficulties for tuition collection. As a result, our business and financial performance was negatively affected by the outbreak of
COVID-19.
In the meantime, certain portion of our operating costs are fixed and remained relatively stable during the pandemic. See “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects—A. Operating Results—Impact of
COVID-19.”
In addition, we have incurred, and expect to continue to incur, expenses related to
COVID-19
after our offline operations are resumed, as we are required to regularly sanitize our learning centers and offices and implement additional hygiene-related protocols. The English tutoring industry may also become subject to enhanced health and hygiene requirements to deter any future epidemic outbreaks, which may require us to spend a significant amount of money and efforts operating our nationwide learning centers. Additionally, although
COVID-19
has been largely contained in most cities in China, the development of the
COVID-19
pandemic remains uncertain. If an outbreak occurs in any region where we operate, our business operation in the region may become subject to further negative impact such as business suspension or limitation on the number of students we can serve at a same time Therefore, our results of operations and liquidity position have been, and may continue to be, materially and adversely affected by the
COVID-19
pandemic.
 
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Our franchisees have similarly experienced business disruptions during the
COVID-19
pandemic and their financial performance and liquidity position have also been materially and adversely affected. As a result, our franchise revenues decreased, and certain franchisees sought liquidity support from us. The continued impact of
COVID-19
on our franchisees led to the overall slowdown of their growth and caused financial stress to certain franchisees. Such adverse impact on our franchisees’ business will in turn adversely affect our performance and profitability.
Although China has temporarily controlled the outbreak, we currently are unable to predict the duration and severity of the
COVID-19
pandemic, the responses thereto, and their impact on our business and operations, our results of operations, financial condition and liquidity, as it may be highly uncertain and dependent on a number of factors beyond our control. Such factors include, among others, the continued spread or recurrence of infections, the implementation of effective preventative and containment measures, the development of effective medical and vaccine solutions, and the extent of governmental restrictions on travel, public gatherings, mobility and other activities. As a result, our business, financial performance and prospects have been and may continue to be adversely affected by the
COVID-19
pandemic, and our financial performance in 2020 may not be indicative of our operating results or financial condition in the future.
We may be unable to service or refinance our debt, or to comply with the financial and other covenants contained in our loan facility. Failure to comply with such covenants could have an adverse effect on us.
We have utilized external debt financing during our history of operations. Our existing loan facility contains certain covenants that require us, among others, to maintain certain financial ratios as long as the loans under such facility remain outstanding. Our ability to service our debt and to comply with such financial and other covenants depends on a variety of factors, including, in particular, the results of our operations and our liquidity position. The adverse impact of the
COVID-19
pandemic may also result in our failure to comply with such covenants and may affect our ability to service our debt.
If we breach any of these covenants or debt servicing obligations and fail to obtain the lenders’ waiver of such breach, we may be required to repay our outstanding loans prior to their scheduled maturity, and we may in turn be required to seek new sources of financing to repay such loans and to satisfy our operational liquidity needs. Our access to funding and the cost of funding will depend on, among other things, global and PRC economic conditions, conditions in the global and Asian financing markets, the availability of financing and our prospects. Future debt financing may include more restrictive covenants, which may further restrict our business operations and financing activities. There is no guarantee that financings will be available in the future to fund our obligations and operations, or that they will be available on terms consistent with our expectations. Additionally, the impact of
COVID-19
on the financial markets is expected to adversely affect our ability to raise funds through equity financing. Any failure to comply with the financial and other covenants contained in our existing loan facility, to service our debt, or to obtain new financing at acceptable terms could materially and adversely affect our business, operations, financial conditions and liquidity.
Risks Related to Our ADSs
The trading price of our ADSs is likely to be volatile, which could result in substantial losses to investors.
The trading price of our ADSs is likely to be volatile and could fluctuate widely due to factors beyond our control. This may happen because of broad market and industry factors, akin to the performance and fluctuation of the market prices of other companies with business operations located mainly in China that have listed their securities in the United States. A number of Chinese companies have listed or are in the process of listing their securities on U.S. stock markets. The securities of some of these companies have experienced significant volatility, including price declines in connection with their initial public offerings. The trading performances of these Chinese companies’ securities after their offerings may affect the perception and attitudes of investors toward Chinese companies listed in the United States in general and consequently may impact the trading performance of our ADSs, regardless of our actual operating performance.
In addition to market and industry factors, the price and trading volume for our ADSs may be highly volatile due to a number of factors, including the following:
 
   
regulatory developments affecting us or our industry, and customers of our education services;
 
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actual or anticipated fluctuations in our quarterly results of operations and changes or revisions of our expected results;
 
   
changes in the market condition, market potential and competition in education services;
 
   
announcements by us or our competitors of new education services, expansions, investments, acquisitions, strategic partnerships or joint ventures;
 
   
fluctuations in global and Chinese economies;
 
   
changes in financial estimates by securities analysts;
 
   
adverse publicity about us;
 
   
additions or departures of our key personnel and senior management;
 
   
release of
lock-up
or other transfer restrictions on our outstanding equity securities or sales of additional equity securities; and
 
   
potential litigation or regulatory investigations.
Any of these factors may result in large and sudden changes in the volume and price at which our ADSs will trade.
In the past, shareholders of public companies have often brought securities class action suits against those companies following periods of instability in the market price of their securities. If we were involved in a class action suit, it could divert a significant amount of our management’s attention and other resources from our business and operations and require us to incur significant expenses to defend the suit, which could harm our results of operations. Any such class action suit, whether or not successful, could harm our reputation and restrict our ability to raise capital in the future. In addition, if a claim is successfully made against us, we may be required to pay significant damages, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
Substantial future sales or perceived potential sales of our ADSs in the public market could cause the price of our ADSs to decline.
Sales of substantial amounts of our ADSs in the public market, or the perception that these sales could occur, could adversely affect the market price of our ADSs and could materially impair our ability to raise capital through equity offerings in the future. The ADSs sold in our initial public offering are freely tradable without restriction or further registration under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, or the Securities Act. The remaining ordinary shares outstanding are available for sale, subject to volume and other restrictions as applicable under Rules 144 and 701 under the Securities Act. We cannot predict what effect, if any, market sales of securities held by our shareholders or the availability of these securities for future sale will have on the market price of our ADSs.
If securities or industry analysts do not publish research or publish inaccurate or unfavorable research about our business, the market price for our ADSs and trading volume could decline.
The trading market for our ADSs will depend in part on the research and reports that securities or industry analysts publish about us or our business. If research analysts do not establish and maintain adequate research coverage or if one or more of the analysts who covers us downgrades our ADSs or publishes inaccurate or unfavorable research about our business, the market price for our ADSs would likely decline. If one or more of these analysts cease coverage of our company or fail to publish reports on us regularly, we could lose visibility in the financial markets, which, in turn, could cause the market price or trading volume for our ADSs to decline.
 
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Because we do not expect to pay dividends in the foreseeable future, you must rely on price appreciation of our ADSs for return on your investment.
We currently plan to retain most of our available funds and any future earnings after our initial public offering to fund the development and growth of our business. As a result, we do not expect to pay any cash dividends in the foreseeable future. Therefore, you should not rely on an investment in our ADSs as a source for any future dividend income.
Our board of directors has complete discretion as to whether to distribute dividends, subject to applicable laws. Even if our board of directors decides to declare and pay dividends, the timing, amount and form of future dividends, if any, will depend on, among other things, our future results of operations and cash flow, our capital requirements and surplus, the amount of distributions, if any, received by us from our subsidiaries, our financial condition, contractual restrictions and other factors deemed relevant by our board of directors. Accordingly, the return on your investment in our ADSs will likely depend entirely upon any future price appreciation of our ADSs. We cannot guarantee that our ADSs will appreciate in value or even maintain the price at which you purchased the ADSs. You may not realize a return on your investment in our ADSs and you may even lose your entire investment in our ADSs.
We may be a passive foreign investment company for United States federal income tax purposes, which could result in adverse United States federal income tax consequences to United States investors in the ADSs or ordinary shares.
We will be a “passive foreign investment company,” or PFIC, if, in the case of any particular taxable year, either (1) 75.0% or more of our gross income for such year consists of certain types of passive income, or (2) 50.0% or more of the average quarterly value of our assets during such year produce or are held for the production of passive income. Although the law in this regard is unclear, we treat our consolidated affiliates as being owned by us for United States federal income tax purposes because we exercise effective control over the operation of such entities and we are entitled to substantially all of their economic benefits. Assuming that we are the owner of our consolidated affiliates for United States federal income tax purposes, and based upon our income and assets and the market value of our ADSs we do not believe we were a PFIC for our taxable year ending December 31, 2020. If it were determined, however, that we are not the owner of any of our consolidated affiliated entities for United States federal income tax purposes, the composition of our income and assets would change and we may be a PFIC for the any prior taxable year, the current taxable year, or any subsequent taxable year.
While we do not believe we were a PFIC for the taxable year ending December 31, 2020, whether we are a PFIC must be determined on an annual basis. Accordingly, there can be no assurance that we will not be a PFIC for any future taxable years. The determination of whether we are or will become a PFIC will depend upon the composition of our income (which may differ from our historical results and current projections) and assets and the value of our assets from time to time, including, in particular, the value of our goodwill and other unbooked intangibles (which may depend upon the market value of our ADSs from
time-to-time
and may be volatile). Among other matters, if our market capitalization declines, we may be a PFIC for the current or future taxable years. It is also possible that the Internal Revenue Service may challenge our classification or valuation of our goodwill and other unbooked intangibles, which may result in our company being, or becoming, a PFIC for the current taxable year or future taxable years.
The determination of whether we will be or become a PFIC may also depend, in part, on how, and how quickly, we use our liquid assets and cash. Under circumstances where we retain significant amounts liquid assets, including cash, or if our consolidated affiliates were not treated as owned by us for United States federal income tax purposes, our risk of being a PFIC may substantially increase. Because there are uncertainties in the application of the relevant rules and PFIC status is a factual determination made annually after the close of each taxable year, we cannot assure you that we will not be a PFIC for the current taxable year or any future taxable year. If we are a PFIC in any taxable year, a United States Holder (as defined in “Item 10. Additional Information—E. Taxation—United States Federal Income Tax Considerations”) may incur significantly increased United States federal income tax on gain recognized on the sale or other disposition of the ADSs or ordinary shares and on the receipt of distributions on the ADSs or ordinary shares to the extent such gain or distribution is treated as an ‘‘excess distribution’’ under the United States federal income tax rules, and such holders may be subject to burdensome reporting requirements. Further, if we are a PFIC for any year during which a United States Holder holds our ADSs or ordinary shares, we generally will continue to be treated as a PFIC for all succeeding years during which such U.S. Holder holds our ADSs or ordinary shares. For more information, see “Item 10. Additional Information—E. Taxation—United States Federal Income Tax Considerations—Passive Foreign Investment Company Rules.”
 
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Our memorandum and articles of association contain anti-takeover provisions that could have a material adverse effect on the rights of holders of our ordinary shares and ADSs.
Our memorandum and articles of association contain certain provisions that could limit the ability of others to acquire control of our company, including a provision that grants authority to our board of directors to establish and issue from time to time one or more series of preferred shares without action by our shareholders and to determine, with respect to any series of preferred shares, the terms and rights of that series, any or all of which may be greater than the rights associated with our ordinary shares. These provisions could have the effect of depriving our shareholders of an opportunity to sell their shares at a premium over prevailing market prices by discouraging third parties from seeking to obtain control of our company in a tender offer or similar transaction. Preferred shares could be issued quickly with terms calculated to delay or prevent a change in control of our company or make removal of management more difficult. If our board of directors decides to issue preferred shares, the price of our ADSs may fall and the voting and other rights of the holders of our ordinary shares and ADSs may be materially and adversely affected.
You may face difficulties in protecting your interests, and your ability to protect your rights through U.S. courts may be limited, because we are incorporated under Cayman Islands law and most of our directors, executive officers and assets are residents of or located in China.
We are an exempted company incorporated under the laws of the Cayman Islands. Our corporate affairs are governed by our memorandum and articles of association, the Cayman Islands Company Act (As Revised) and the common law of the Cayman Islands. The rights of shareholders to take action against the directors, actions by minority shareholders and the fiduciary responsibilities of our directors to us under Cayman Islands law are to a large extent governed by the common law of the Cayman Islands. The common law of the Cayman Islands is derived in part from comparatively limited judicial precedent in the Cayman Islands as well as from the common law of England, the decisions of whose courts are of persuasive authority, but are not binding, on a court in the Cayman Islands. The rights of our shareholders and the fiduciary responsibilities of our directors under Cayman Islands law are not as clearly established as they would be under statutes or judicial precedent in some jurisdictions in the United States. In particular, the Cayman Islands has a less developed body of securities laws than the United States. Some U.S. states, such as Delaware, have more fully developed and judicially interpreted bodies of corporate law than the Cayman Islands. In addition, Cayman Islands companies may not have standing to initiate a shareholder derivative action in a federal court of the United States. The Cayman Islands courts are also unlikely (1) to recognize or enforce against us judgments of courts of the United States based on certain civil liability provisions of U.S. securities laws, or (2) to impose liabilities against us, in original actions brought in the Cayman Islands, based on certain civil liability provisions of U.S. securities laws that are penal in nature. There is no statutory recognition in the Cayman Islands of judgments obtained in the United States, although the courts of the Cayman Islands will in certain circumstances recognize and enforce a
non-penal
judgment of a foreign court of competent jurisdiction without retrial on the merits.
In addition, we conduct substantially all of our operations in China, and substantially all of our assets are located in China. Most of our directors and executive officers reside in China for a significant portion of the time and are PRC nationals. As a result, it may be difficult for our shareholders to effect service of process upon us and our directors and executive officers. In addition, China does not have treaties providing for the reciprocal recognition and enforcement of judgments of courts with the United States, the Cayman Islands and many other countries and regions. Therefore, recognition and enforcement in China of judgments of a court in these
non-PRC
jurisdictions in relation to any matter may be difficult or impossible.
As a result of all of the above, our public shareholders may have more difficulty in protecting their interests in the face of actions taken by management, members of the board of directors or large shareholders than they would as public shareholders of a company incorporated or operate in the United States.
Certain judgments obtained against us by our shareholders may not be enforceable.
We are a Cayman Islands company and all of our assets are located outside of the United States.
Substantially all of our current operations are conducted in China. In addition, a majority of our current directors and officers are nationals and residents of countries other than the United States. Substantially all of the assets of these persons are located outside the United States. As a result, it may be difficult or impossible for you to bring an action against us or against these individuals in the United States in the event that you believe that your rights have been infringed under the U.S. federal securities laws or otherwise. Even if you are successful in bringing an action of this kind, the laws of the Cayman Islands and of China may render you unable to enforce a judgment against our assets or the assets of our directors and officers.
 
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Bain Capital Rise Education IV Cayman Limited continues to have significant influence over us in the future, including control over decisions that require the approval of shareholders, which could limit shareholders’ ability to influence the outcome of matters submitted to shareholders for a vote.
We are currently controlled by Bain Capital Rise Education IV Cayman Limited, or Bain Capital. As of December 31, 2020, Bain Capital beneficially owns approximately 62.7% of the voting power of our outstanding shares. As long as Bain Capital owns or controls at least a majority of our outstanding voting power, it will have the ability to exercise substantial control over all corporate actions requiring shareholder approval, irrespective of how our other shareholders may vote, including the election and removal of directors and the size of our board of directors, any amendment of our memorandum and articles of association, or the approval of any merger or other significant corporate transaction, including a sale of substantially all of our assets. Even if its ownership falls below 50% of the voting power of our outstanding voting shares, Bain Capital will continue to be able to strongly influence or effectively control our decisions.
Additionally, Bain Capital’s interests may not align with the interests of our other shareholders. Bain Capital is in the business of making investments in companies and may acquire and hold interests in businesses that compete directly or indirectly with us. Bain Capital may also pursue acquisition opportunities that may be complementary to our business, and, as a result, those acquisition opportunities may not be available to us.
We are a controlled company within the meaning of the Nasdaq listing rules and, as a result, will qualify for, and intend to rely on, exemptions from certain corporate governance requirements. Our shareholders will not have the same protections afforded to shareholders of companies that are subject to such requirements.
We are a controlled company within the meaning of the corporate governance standards of the Nasdaq. Under these rules, a company of which more than 50% of the voting power for the election of directors is held by an individual, a group or another company is a controlled company and may elect not to comply with certain corporate governance requirements, including the requirements that, within one year of the date of the listing of ADSs:
 
   
we have a board of directors that is composed of a majority of independent directors, as defined under the NYSE listing rules;
 
   
we have a compensation committee that is composed entirely of independent directors; and
 
   
we have a nominating and governance committee that is composed entirely of independent directors.
We are a foreign private issuer within the meaning of the rules under the Exchange Act, and as such we are exempt from certain provisions applicable to United States domestic public companies.
Because we are a foreign private issuer under the Exchange Act, we are exempt from certain provisions of the securities rules and regulations in the United States that are applicable to U.S. domestic issuers, including:
 
 
the rules under the Exchange Act requiring the filing of quarterly reports on Form
10-Q
or current reports on Form
8-K
with the SEC;
 
 
the sections of the Exchange Act regulating the solicitation of proxies, consents, or authorizations in respect of a security registered under the Exchange Act;
 
 
the sections of the Exchange Act requiring insiders to file public reports of their stock ownership and trading activities and liability for insiders who profit from trades made in a short period of time; and
 
 
the selective disclosure rules by issuers of material nonpublic information under Regulation FD.
 
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We are required to file an annual report on Form
20-F
within four months of the end of each fiscal year. In addition, we intend to publish our results on a quarterly basis through press releases, distributed pursuant to the rules and regulations of the Nasdaq. Press releases relating to financial results and material events will also be furnished to the SEC on Form
6-K.
However, the information we are required to file with or furnish to the SEC will be less extensive and less timely compared to that required to be filed with the SEC by U.S. domestic issuers. As a result, you may not be afforded the same protections or information, which would be made available to you, were you investing in a U.S. domestic issuer.
As a company incorporated in the Cayman Islands, we are permitted to adopt certain home country practices in relation to corporate governance matters that differ significantly from Nasdaq corporate governance listing standards; these practices may afford less protection to shareholders than they would enjoy if we complied fully with Nasdaq corporate governance listing standards.
As a Cayman Islands company listed on the Nasdaq, we are subject to Nasdaq corporate governance listing standards. However, the Nasdaq rules permit a foreign private issuer like us to follow the corporate governance practices of its home country. Certain corporate governance practices in the Cayman Islands, which is our home country, may differ significantly from Nasdaq corporate governance listing standards. A Cayman Islands company is not required to have annual general meetings. Shareholders of Cayman Islands exempted companies like us have no general rights under Cayman Islands law to inspect corporate records (other than the memorandum and articles of association and any special resolutions passed by shareholders of such companies, and the registers of mortgages and charges of such companies) or to obtain copies of lists of shareholders of these companies. Our directors have discretion under our articles of association to determine whether or not, and under what conditions, our corporate records may be inspected by our shareholders, but are not obliged to make them available to our shareholders. This may make it more difficult for you to obtain the information needed to establish any facts necessary for a shareholder motion or to solicit proxies from other shareholders in connection with a proxy contest. Certain corporate governance practices in the Cayman Islands, which is our home country, differ significantly from requirements for companies incorporated in other jurisdictions such as the United States. To the extent we choose to follow home country practice with respect to corporate governance matters such as the exemption from holding an annual general meeting pursuant to Nasdaq Rule 5620(a), our shareholders may be afforded less protection than they otherwise would under rules and regulations applicable to U.S. domestic issuers.
The voting rights of holders of ADSs are limited by the terms of the deposit agreement, and you may not be able to exercise your right to direct how the ordinary shares represented by your ADSs are voted.
Our ADS holders do not have the same rights as our registered shareholders. As a holder of our ADSs, you will only be able to exercise the voting rights with respect to the underlying ordinary shares in accordance with the provisions of the deposit agreement. Under the deposit agreement, you must vote by giving voting instructions to the depositary. If we instruct the depositary to ask for your instructions, then upon receipt of your voting instructions, the depositary will try, as far as is practicable, to vote the underlying ordinary shares represented by your ADSs in accordance with your instructions. If we do not instruct the depositary to ask for your instructions, the depositary may still vote in accordance with instructions you give, but it is not required to do so. Upon receipt of your voting instructions, the depositary will vote the underlying ordinary shares in accordance with these instructions. You will not be able to directly exercise your right to vote with respect to the underlying shares unless you withdraw the shares and become the registered holder of such shares prior to the record date for the general meeting. Under our amended and restated memorandum and articles of association, the minimum notice period required for convening a general meeting is seven calendar days. When a general meeting is convened, you may not receive sufficient advance notice to withdraw the shares underlying your ADSs and become the registered holder of such shares to allow you to attend the general meeting and vote with respect to any specific matter or resolution to be considered and voted upon at the general meeting. In addition, under our amended and restated memorandum and articles of association, for the purposes of determining those shareholders who are entitled to attend and vote at any general meeting, our directors may close our register of members and/or fix in advance a record date for such meeting, and such closure of our register of members or the setting of such a record date may prevent you from withdrawing the ordinary shares underlying your ADSs and becoming the registered holder of such shares prior to the record date, so that you would not be able to attend the general meeting or to vote directly. If we ask for your instructions, the depositary will notify you of the upcoming vote and will arrange to deliver our voting materials to you. We cannot assure you that you will receive the voting materials in time to ensure that you can instruct the depositary to vote your shares. In addition, the depositary and its agents are not responsible for failing to carry out voting instructions or for their manner of carrying out your voting instructions. This means that you may not be able to exercise your right to vote and you may have no legal remedy if the shares underlying your ADSs are not voted as you requested.
 
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The depositary for our ADSs will give us a discretionary proxy to vote our ordinary shares underlying your ADSs if you do not vote at shareholders’ meetings, except in limited circumstances, which could adversely affect your interests and the ability of our shareholders as a group to influence the management of our company.
Under the deposit agreement for the ADSs, if you do not vote, the depositary will give us a discretionary proxy to vote our ordinary shares underlying your ADSs at shareholders’ meetings unless:
 
 
we have failed to timely provide the depositary with notice of meeting and related voting materials;
 
 
we have instructed the depositary that we do not wish a discretionary proxy to be given;
 
 
we have informed the depositary that there is substantial opposition as to a matter to be voted on at the meeting; or
 
 
a matter to be voted on at the meeting would have a material adverse impact on shareholders.
The effect of this discretionary proxy is that if you do not vote at shareholders’ meetings, you cannot prevent our ordinary shares underlying your ADSs from being voted, except under the circumstances described above. This may make it more difficult for shareholders to influence the management of our company. Holders of our ordinary shares are not subject to this discretionary proxy.
You may not receive dividends or other distributions on our ordinary shares and you may not receive any value for them, if it is illegal or impractical to make them available to you.
The depositary of our ADSs has agreed to pay to you the cash dividends or other distributions it or the custodian receives on ordinary shares or other deposited securities underlying our ADSs, after deducting its fees and expenses. You will receive these distributions in proportion to the number of ordinary shares your ADSs represent. However, the depositary is not responsible if it decides that it is unlawful or impractical to make a distribution available to any holders of ADSs. For example, it would be unlawful to make a distribution to a holder of ADSs if it consists of securities that require registration under the Securities Act but that are not properly registered or distributed under an applicable exemption from registration. The depositary may also determine that it is not feasible to distribute certain property through the mail. Additionally, the value of certain distributions may be less than the cost of mailing them. In these cases, the depositary may determine not to distribute such property. We have no obligation to register under U.S. securities laws any ADSs, ordinary shares, rights or other securities received through such distributions. We also have no obligation to take any other action to permit the distribution of ADSs, ordinary shares, rights or anything else to holders of ADSs. This means that you may not receive distributions we make on our ordinary shares or any value for them if it is illegal or impractical for us to make them available to you. These restrictions may cause a material decline in the value of our ADSs.
You may experience dilution of your holdings due to inability to participate in rights offerings.
We may, from time to time, distribute rights to our shareholders, including rights to acquire securities. Under the deposit agreement, the depositary will not distribute rights to holders of ADSs unless the distribution and sale of rights and the securities to which these rights relate are either exempt from registration under the Securities Act with respect to all holders of ADSs, or are registered under the provisions of the Securities Act. The depositary may, but is not required to, attempt to sell these undistributed rights to third parties, and may allow the rights to lapse. We may be unable to establish an exemption from registration under the Securities Act, and we are under no obligation to file a registration statement with respect to these rights or underlying securities or to endeavor to have a registration statement declared effective. Accordingly, holders of ADSs may be unable to participate in our rights offerings and may experience dilution of their holdings as a result.
 
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You may be subject to limitations on the transfer of your ADSs.
Your ADSs are transferable on the books of the depositary. However, the depositary may close its books at any time or from time to time when it deems expedient in connection with the performance of its duties. The depositary may close its books from time to time for a number of reasons, including in connection with corporate events such as a rights offering, during which time the depositary needs to maintain an exact number of ADS holders on its books for a specified period. The depositary may also close its books in emergencies, and on weekends and public holidays. The depositary may refuse to deliver, transfer or register transfers of our ADSs generally when our share register or the books of the depositary are closed, or at any time if we or the depositary thinks it is advisable to do so because of any requirement of law or of any government or governmental body, or under any provision of the deposit agreement, or for any other reason.
We will incur increased costs as a result of being a public company, particularly after we cease to qualify as an “emerging growth company.”
We are a public company and expect to incur significant accounting, legal and other expenses that we did not incur as a private company. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, as well as rules subsequently implemented by the SEC and the Nasdaq, have detailed requirements concerning corporate governance practices of public companies. Currently we are an “emerging growth company” pursuant to the JOBS Act. An emerging growth company may take advantage of specified reduced reporting and other requirements that are otherwise applicable generally to public companies. These provisions include exemption from the auditor attestation requirement under Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, in the assessment of the emerging growth company’s internal control over financial reporting. The JOBS Act also permits an emerging growth company to delay adopting new or revised accounting standards until such time as those standards apply to private companies. After we are no longer an “emerging growth company,” we expect to incur significant expenses and devote substantial management effort toward ensuring compliance with the requirements of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the other rules and regulations of the SEC.
 
ITEM 4.
INFORMATION OF THE COMPANY
 
A.
History and Development of the Company
RISE Education Cayman Ltd is a holding company without substantive operations and we conduct our operations primarily through PRC entities, including our variable interest entity, or VIE, and its subsidiaries and schools. Our first self-owned learning center was opened in Beijing in October 2007. Over the last 13 years, we have expanded our network of learning centers across China, including Shanghai in March 2010, Guangzhou in September 2012, Wuxi in June 2013, Shenzhen in May 2014, Foshan in December 2017 and Shijiazhuang in July 2019. We also expanded our business to Hong Kong and Singapore through acquiring 100% equity interest in Edge Franchising Co., Ltd, or the Edge, from Edge Learning Centers Limited during the fourth quarter of 2017 (the “Edge acquisition”). As of December 31, 2020, we had a total number of 512 learning centers, including 509 learning centers across 167 cities throughout China, two learning centers in Hong Kong and one learning center in Singapore, which consisted of 92 self-owned learning centers operated by us and 420 franchised learning centers operated by our franchise partners through franchise arrangements.
In July 2013, Bain Capital Rise Education II Cayman Limited, or RISE Education, our current holding company, was incorporated as an exempted company under the laws of the Cayman Islands, and it was renamed as RISE Education Cayman Ltd in June 2017.
In July 2013, Rise IP (Cayman) Limited, or Rise IP, was incorporated as an exempted company under the laws of the Cayman Islands. Subsequently, a number of our wholly owned subsidiaries were established to acquire Rise IP and certain operating assets and entered into a series of contractual arrangements with Beijing Step Ahead Education Technology Development Co., Ltd., or Beijing Step Ahead or our VIE, its schools and its shareholders. As a result, the VIE and its subsidiaries and schools have become our consolidated affiliates. See “—C. Organizational Structure—Contractual Arrangements among Our VIE, Its Schools, Its Shareholders and Us.”
Our principal executive offices are located at Room 101, Jia He Guo Xin Mansion, No.15 Baiqiao Street, Guangqumennei, Dongcheng District, Beijing 100062, People’s Republic of China. Our telephone number at this address is +86
10-8559
9000. Our registered office in the Cayman Islands is at the offices of Maples Corporate Services Limited at PO Box 309, Ugland House, Grand Cayman,
KY1-1104,
Cayman Islands. Our agent for service of process in the United States is Cogency Global Inc., located at 122 East 42nd Street, 18th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10168. Our website is
en.risecenter.com
.
 
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Initial Public Offering
We listed our ADSs on the NASDAQ Global Market under the symbol “REDU” on October 20, 2017. On October 24, 2017, we completed the initial public offering of 11,000,000 ADSs, and the underwriters exercised their over-allotment option on the same date for the purchase of an additional 1,650,000 ADSs.
Follow-on
Public Offering
On June 11, 2018, we completed a
follow-on
public offering of 7,000,000 ADSs by the selling shareholders of our company. On July 11, 2018, the sole underwriter exercised its over-allotment option to purchase an additional 585,000 ADSs from the selling shareholders.
 
B.
Business Overview
Overview
We are a leading service provider in China’s junior ELT market, which refers to after-school English teaching and tutoring services provided by training institutions to students aged three to 18. We pioneered the “subject-based learning” teaching philosophy in China, whereby various subject matters, such as language arts, math, natural science and social science are used to teach English. Our course offerings use interactive courseware to create an immersive English learning environment that helps students learn to speak and think like a native speaker. In addition, our curricula are designed to foster leadership and critical thinking skills in students while developing their self-confidence and sense of independence. This innovative and holistic approach to teaching English is increasingly attractive to Chinese parents who are looking for alternatives to traditional ELT programs in China, which are more test-oriented.
We had 29,049 and 21,607 new students enrolled in 2019 and 2020, respectively, and 54,383 and 47,724 students in class as of December 31, 2019 and 2020, respectively, for our regular courses at self-owned learning centers. We currently offer three flagship courses, namely Rise Start, Rise On and Rise Up, that are designed for students aged three to six, seven to 12 and 13 to 18, respectively. The curricula of Rise Start and Rise On use courseware that we have licensed from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, or HMH, a leading American educational publisher, along with other self-developed content, while the curriculum of Rise Up is primarily based on our self-developed content. We also offer a number of complementary products to further enhance our students’ learning experience, including
Can-Talk,
Rise Library Online, Rise Camp, Rise Workshop and Rise Overseas Study Tour. In addition, our courses and services have been extended to academic tutoring, test preparation and admissions consulting.
We devote significant resources to curriculum development to ensure that our course offerings are
up-to-date,
engaging and effective. We also focus on teacher training through a set of rigorous and systematic processes and programs so that teachers in both self-owned learning centers and franchised learning centers are able to deliver our curricula at a level consistent with our standards. As of December 31, 2020, we had 2,049 teachers in self-owned learning centers. The quality of our course offerings and our unique teaching philosophy has helped us develop a strong and powerful brand that is attractive to parents.
The Rise Model
Our teaching model is designed to promote the
all-around
growth of students. We believe every student is unique in their abilities, interests and personalities. We have developed a holistic approach to learning that promotes both the academic advancement and personal development of students in an immersive English-language environment. We offer subject-based courses in English that utilize various subject matters as the medium for English language instruction. Our courses are also designed to focus on skills such as public speaking, project management, and critical thinking and cultivate personal attributes such as leadership, teamwork, creativity and confidence. This unique model allows students to accumulate subject matter knowledge while also developing their language capabilities and strengthening important personal traits.
Our Teaching Philosophy
Our goals as educators are to further the academic progress and personal development of each student. We believe the aspects of our model listed below are critical to achieving these goals.
 
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Subject-based courses
We use a subject-based approach to teaching English by using various subject matters such as language arts, math, natural sciences and social sciences, as the medium through which students accumulate language skills. Rather than learning the language itself through vocabulary, grammar, and syntax, students learn to use the language as a means to understand a variety of subject matters. This allows students to learn English while acquiring a variety of additional academic knowledge to complement their formal schooling. Moreover, subject-based learning trains students to comprehend and use English in a more natural and contextualized manner while making the learning process more intuitive, interesting and enjoyable.
Immersive learning
We deliver our products entirely in English. This compels students to approach and use English as a medium for communicating thoughts and ideas, rather than as a separate subject. This type of immersive learning gives students the opportunity to develop a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the English language and helps students to not only achieve English language proficiency but also gain the ability to think and converse in English more naturally and in a manner similar to that of native speakers. Our parents are attracted to this novel approach to English instruction as they often learned English in a more rigid and traditional setting that did not provide them with the necessary context and understanding of the various nuances of the language.
Leadership training
Leadership and other soft skills are core focuses for us. Students are able to develop confidence, teamwork, collaboration, independent thinking, problem-solving, presentation and project management skills through both
in-class
and extra-curricular projects. Students are encouraged to speak in front of their peers in class as well as engage in a number of group projects to solve problems creatively. We believe these aspects of our products are particularly attractive to Chinese parents who increasingly believe these skills are an important contributor to the future success of their children.
Teaching Methodologies
We apply standardized course modules and teaching procedures in courses and across all self-owned and franchised learning centers, with teachers acting as facilitators throughout the process.
Technology-based teaching tools
We provide teachers in our learning centers and those in franchised learning centers with various technology-based teaching tools to allow them to more efficiently deliver our products to students. For instance, our multimedia and interactive lessons include content that is in standard American English pronunciation and intonation. We also use interactive white boards instead of textbooks to keep students engaged and to promote dynamic interaction in the classroom. We also have Rise
V-World,
a complementary study tool using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology, which combines more recreational with educational elements to reinforce concepts taught in our courses and encourage students to apply their new knowledge to real-world situations through a variety of fun and challenging scenarios. Making technology available to our teachers and in the classroom is a critical component in maintaining quality control over our network of learning centers and ensures that all students have a similar experience.
Interactive learning
We utilize multiple interactive teaching methodologies to facilitate the learning process. Our courseware, classroom scenarios, classroom displays, teaching tools and learning materials are designed to promote student interaction with each other and teachers. Students also participate in interactive
in-class
activities such as debates, crafts and role plays, which effectively enhance learning results. We believe that interactive learning is more enjoyable to students, is better able to maintain their attention throughout the class, and is more effective at conveying important or complicated ideas, especially in the study of a foreign language.
Cooperative learning
Teachers are important in implementing our standardized teaching tools and curricula. They organize and manage class activities based on the principles of teamwork and accountability. We believe this methodology of teaching is especially appealing to younger Chinese parents, the majority of whom have grown up without siblings and in a school system that traditionally emphasizes individual achievement and competition among students.
 
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Project-based learning
Our curricula require students to participate in a variety of projects where students are assigned different team roles and tasks based on their interests. Students use study tools that we have developed to complete various tasks, including conducting research projects, collecting data and making presentations. During the process, students learn how to set goals, manage projects and complete complicated tasks through collaboration. Project-based learning also encourages students to exercise creativity and to think outside the box, important skills that parents value, yet and are often under addressed by China’s traditional education system.
Independent thinking and problem solving
In order to cultivate the ability of students to think independently and develop problem solving abilities, we have implemented a series of distinctive teaching methodologies. For instance, our Thinking Graphic Organizer helps students develop and express their ideas through visual representations such as webbing, flow charts and mind maps. Four-Step Problem Solving is another teaching methodology we use to help students systematically understand and solve math problems, which includes understanding the problem, devising a plan, carrying out the plan, and verifying the results. These methods are useful in helping students develop the ability to understand and solve problems on their own, endowing them with important life skills that go far beyond rote memorization and testing skills.
Flagship Course Offerings
All our courses are developed based on our teaching philosophy and methodologies, and designed to improve each student’s independent learning, leadership and critical thinking skills. It also helps students with their reading, writing, science and cultural awareness, and helps them to become “global citizens.”
We offer incremental courses to students, starting each at an appropriate level and elevating them to more advanced courses. Currently our three flagship courses are Rise Start, Rise On and Rise Up targeting students in preschool, elementary school and middle school from the ages of three to six, seven to twelve, and thirteen to eighteen, respectively. Students in both self-owned learning centers and franchised learning centers are able to enroll in these courses.
We use standardized interactive curricula for our courses. The curriculum of Rise Start and Rise On uses HMH courseware along with other self-developed content, while Rise Up is primarily based on our self-developed curriculum. We have also developed more than 500 proprietary study tools for Chinese students, including scripted lesson plans for teachers, interactive courseware, practice or activity books for students and home application materials for families. By standardizing the curricula and related study tools used in each of our courses, we are able to ensure a consistent quality in each of our courses. This ability to control the quality of each class through standardized instruction is especially important as we expand our business to additional learning centers, especially franchised learning centers.
Rise Start
Rise Start is an offline course for preschool students ranging from the ages of three to six. Rise Start aims to help students develop good learning habits and learn through play, focusing on interaction, discovery and experience. In Rise Start, students are given
age-appropriate
lessons in English about subjects such as social studies, language arts, math and science. Rise Start consists of a total of approximately 190 course hours during an academic year, in which students come to learning centers once or twice each week, usually for up to two to four hours each time. Because students at this age have not yet begun their formal schooling, Rise Start students typically attend in the mornings and afternoons, utilizing our premises during the times in which the older students otherwise are not able to due to formal schooling.
Rise On
Rise On is an offline course for elementary school students from the ages of seven to twelve. Rise On strengthens student abilities across a variety of subject areas while emphasizing self-reliance and problem solving skills. Rise On students learn in English about subjects such as social studies, language arts, math and science. Rise On consists of a total of approximately 180 course hours, which students usually attend in afternoons and evenings, after they have completed their formal school day, or on the weekends.
 
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Rise Up
Rise Up is a course developed for secondary school students from the ages of thirteen to eighteen, which is conducted primarily online. In addition to core skills that all of our course offerings foster, it also helps our students with standardized middle and high school test preparation. Rise Up consists of a total of approximately 170 online course hours using self-guided modules, which provides great flexibility to fit in the schedule of students, as well as approximately 40 online tutorial sessions with native English-speaking teachers. Rise Up students are also required to attend an intensive
15-day
offline study camp comprising approximately 90 course hours every summer for additional training and to practice skills that cannot easily be done online. In the fourth quarter of 2017, American High School Program was added to our Rise Up curriculum. This program was jointly hosted by us and a public education school in the United States. American High School Program applies United States standardized learning materials, through which Chinese students learn American high school credited core courses taught by American high school teachers both online and offline. This program aims to facilitate our students in preparation for admission by top United States universities for their higher education.
In addition to our flagship courses, we also offer short-term programs to our existing students as complementary services to our flagship courses.
Our Complementary Products
We also offer a series of complementary products to students from both self-owned learning centers and franchised learning centers, including online products
Can-Talk
and Rise Library Online, and offline products Rise Camp, Rise Workshop and Rise Overseas Study Tour. After the Edge acquisition, we have also offered academic tutoring, test preparation and admissions consulting services.
Can-Talk
Can-Talk
is a systematical online product that we launched in May 2017. Through
Can-Talk,
students receive
one-on-one
lessons from native English speaking teachers, who are all certified by Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), Teaching English as Foreign Language (TEFL), or Teach English as a Second Language (TESL). As part of our efforts to develop and promote our OMO business model,
Can-Talk
is to be integrated into our comprehensive online product portfolio and cease to be a standalone product.
Rise Camp and Rise Workshop
We strive to cultivate students’ language skills through Rise camp and Rise Workshop by encouraging them to apply the English skills they develop during class into real-life situations. These programs take place in various domestic locations that provide an immersive learning environment for students aged four or above to practice with native English speaking teachers. Rise Camp is a theme-based camp typically hosted in summer or winter. For instance, in the spring of 2019, we hosted an artificial intelligence (AI) camp in Beijing where students learned about drone-related technology, artificial intelligence, coding and related science-based topics. Rise Workshop is typically organized during weekends or public holidays with a theme related to arts, social sciences and other topics that students are interested in, with a size of fifteen to twenty students per workshop. Rise Camp and Rise Workshop help students not only improve their English and extra-curricular knowledge, but also their cooperation and communication skills by working together with group members to accomplish goals and complete tasks. We initiated Rise Camp and Rise Workshop in 2016, and hosted a total number of 36 and 55 camps and workshops in 2019 and 2020, in which an aggregate of approximately 637 and 667 students participated.
 
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Rise Overseas Study Tour
For students age four or above who wish to experience overseas studying, we organize tours for them to attend classes in preschools, elementary schools and middle schools primarily in the United States and Canada. We act as the operator for this program through cooperation with third party travel agencies and set the price for the tours. Each tour typically lasts for two to three weeks and usually takes place during the summer or winter. Similar to Rise Camp and Rise Workshop, for students younger than seven, parental presence is required. We have organized tours in approximately 40 overseas schools to provide a wide range of options to students, who can attend various classes with native English speaking students under supervision of teachers in those schools. Moreover, students have the opportunity to mingle with local families after class and gain real-life language exposure and have a better understanding of cultures in English speaking countries. We began offering Rise Overseas Study Tours in 2012, and approximately 721 students participated in our tours in 2019. In 2020, due to the impact of
COVID-19,
our Rise Overseas Study Tour program was temporarily suspended.
Academic Tutoring, Test Preparation and Admission Consulting
Our academic tutoring courses help students on their academic subjects, and testing preparation courses help students in preparing tests such as SAT and ACT. We also provide consulting services to students in application for admission to overseas colleges.
STEAM Courses
Our STEAM courses are offline courses focusing on logical thinking, which we started to offer in 2020 as part of our complementary products. The STEAM courses integrate a wide array of subjects such as science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, and advocates the educational concept that success is derived from a combination of different abilities. This distinguishes our STEAM courses from the traditional single-subject education courses and the education model focusing on textbooks. In 2020, new students enrolled for our STEAM courses were 695, which we believe is a good start for the implementation of our multiple-disciplinary development strategy.
Research and Curriculum Development
We have devoted significant resources to research and curriculum development, which are reflected in the quality of our course materials and effectiveness of our teaching methodologies. We use courseware consisting of course models and content licensed from HMH as the base of our Rise Start and Rise On courses and have developed complementary products to meet the needs of our students and take advantage of technological advancements. We frequently revise and upgrade our complementary products and have recently added several short-term courses to optimize our curricula.
Course Materials Based on HMH Licensed Courseware
A portion of the courseware that we use in our Rise Start and Rise On courses is licensed from HMH. Pursuant to license arrangements with HMH, we have an exclusive, subject to certain
pre-existing
third party rights, and royalty-free right to use certain HMH courseware developed before October 2011 in China permanently for after-school tutoring services for the primary purpose of teaching the English language to
non-native
English speaking students. Courseware developed by HMH helps students learn important subjects using simple English words and phrases, while also allowing us to easily standardize our courses across all learning centers.
In accordance with our rights under our license arrangements with HMH, we have developed various derivative products based on this HMH courseware, including certain tailored lesson plans for teachers, practice and activity books for students and after-class materials for parents and students to enhance interaction and study at home.
In-house
Curriculum Development
We have a dedicated research and curriculum development team based in Beijing, with an average of over six years of relevant experience. Through workshops, training and international cooperation, our curriculum research and development team has successfully developed approximately 12,000 course hours and 500 course materials.
All of our supplementary curricula are developed
in-house.
It typically takes about three months to twelve months to develop a new curriculum.
 
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Our
in-house
curriculum development process includes three phases. During the first, or
pre-development
phase, we collect data and information on various potential products that we are considering and we seek feedback on those products from as many as 500 teachers, students and parents. We also conduct at least three rounds of professional consulting with academic experts and consultants on the proposed new course material. During the second, or development phase, our
in-house
professionals develop a new course proposal to be evaluated by our management and, based on their feedback, these professionals revise the proposal and
re-submit
for approval. After the initial development is complete, we discuss each version across our various departments, a process that involves between 50 and 100 employees, in order to provide feedback to the development team and begin focusing on a final version. We repeat the cross-department review process at least three times during the development phase. During the final, or post development stage, we collect feedback from between 1,000 to 3,000 individuals, including teachers, course consultants, professors, students and parents, before we finalize the new course material.
External Courseware Development
We have engaged a third-party vendor in Ireland with significant experience in developing educational products to assist in our curriculum development. We use this vendor to develop complete courses for us, such as Rise Up Levels 1 and 2, and the curriculum development process is interactive and follows our standards. As of December 31, 2020, this vendor had developed the course materials for 631 course hours and 701 videos for us. We own the intellectual property rights for all course materials this vendor develops for us, and we pay them service fees based on the number of hours of developed courses.
Advisory Board
We have established an advisory board consisting of several reputable experts, including scholars, professionals and government officers in China’s domestic and the international education industry. These experts have an average of twenty years’ experience in education, research or English language teaching, and regularly provide high-level advice on education-related matters. These experts offer valuable advice on curriculum development, teaching quality, and other matters that effectively enhance our teaching and operating standards.
Our Learning Center Network
We operate self-owned learning centers through our consolidated affiliates including schools and a
non-school
enterprise in China, and cooperate with our franchise partners to operate the franchised learning centers across China. We have also expanded our business to Hong Kong and Singapore through the Edge acquisition.
Our first learning center was opened in Beijing in October 2007. In the same year, we agreed with our first franchise partner to open the first franchised learning center in Chongqing. Since then we have expanded our learning center network of both self-owned and franchised learning centers rapidly, and have opened an average of 81 new learning centers per year during the past three years. As of December 31, 2020, we had a network of 509 learning centers across 167 cities throughout China, two learning centers in Hong Kong and one learning center in Singapore, of which 92 were self-owned and 420 were operated by our franchise partners. Among our 92 self-owned learning centers, 40 were located in Beijing, 19 in Shanghai, nine in Guangzhou, 11 in Shenzhen, two in Foshan, two in Wuxi, seven in Shijiazhuang and two in Hong Kong.
The table below illustrates the expansion of our learning center network by showing the number of learning centers as of the dates indicated.
 
    
As of December 31,
 
    
2018
    
2019
    
2020
 
Self-owned
     76        89        92  
Franchised
     304        383        420  
Total learning centers
     380        472        512  
 
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Self-owned Learning Centers
Our 90 self-owned learning centers are mostly located in China’s
tier-one
cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, as well as certain other selected cities, such as Wuxi and Foshan. We also operate two learning centers in Hong Kong.
Our self-owned learning centers range between approximately 500 and 2,000 square meters in size, and can typically accommodate up to approximately 1,000 students. Our largest learning center, located in Beijing, is able to accommodate approximately 2,000 students. We lease all of the premises that hold our learning centers and prefer to enter into lease agreements of at least five years where possible. Our learning centers are usually located in shopping malls or other commercial centers, as this helps to attract new potential students and is usually more convenient to our students and their parents.
We are responsible for all of the operations of our self-owned learning centers. We implement strict quality control measures to make sure each self-owned learning center is a safe, clean and friendly environment. We have established various processes to maintain high standards and quality within all of our self-owned learning centers. For instance, we have centralized the processes for teacher recruitment, teacher training, online marketing and branding, while adopting local quality control mechanisms in areas such as offline marketing. Each self-owned learning center has a principal who is experienced in education, adheres to our education philosophy, and implements our quality control system. We also have dedicated academic supervisors at each learning center who are responsible for teaching quality. Each school also always has at least one staff member that is trained in first aid to ensure the safety of our students.
It generally takes us about three months to establish a new self-owned learning center after we have confirmed lease arrangements for the site. We thoroughly evaluate a site for a new learning center and consider factors including customer traffic, local competition, household income, student recruitment projections, staffing requirements and cost estimates. We typically initiate regulatory approval procedures, including school license and registration with local educational authorities, immediately after the lease agreement is signed. We also conduct financial analysis to estimate return on investment, breakeven point and other key financial indicators before deciding to open any new learning center.
The table below sets forth the major steps involved in opening a new learning center.
 
6 months to 1 year prior to opening
 
•   Seek suitable site and negotiate leasing arrangements
3 months prior to opening
 
•   Sign leasing agreement
 
•   Initiate regulatory approval procedures
2 months prior to opening
 
•   Begin designing and remodeling center interior
 
•   Hire principal and other supervisors
 
•   Begin hiring teachers and other staff
 
•   Conduct market research to formulate marketing plan
1 month prior to opening
 
•   Begin team building process and teacher training
 
•   Advertising and promotion
 
•   Technology checks
Opening
 
•   Opening ceremony
 
•   Enroll students and begin classes
 
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We intend to expand the coverage of our self-owned learning centers though a combination of opening new ones in
tier-one
cities or close to
tier-one
cities with good economic market condition cross China and acquiring controlling interests in existing franchised learning centers in promising markets. On November 11, 2018, we entered into an agreement with one of our existing franchise partners in Shijiazhuang (the “Shijiazhuang Franchisee”), Hebei Province, PRC, pursuant to which we purchased, as of July 1, 2019, 51% of equity interests in the seven learning centers operated by the Shijiazhuang Franchisee in Shijiazhuang with a total of approximately 3,500 students (the “Shijiazhuang acquisition”). We have fully consolidated the business of these seven learning centers since the third quarter of 2019, and have been managing the seven learning centers in the same way as our other self-owned learning centers.
On November 1, 2019, we acquired the business and certain assets of a franchised learning center in Changping District, Beijing, with a total cash consideration of RMB12.7 million (US$1.8 million) (the “Changping acquisition”). We have fully consolidated the business of this learning center since the fourth quarter of 2019, and have been managing the learning center in the same way as our other self-owned learning centers.
On July 1, 2020, we acquired the business and certain assets of a franchised learning center in Huairou District, Beijing, with a total cash consideration of RMB8.1 million (US$1.2 million) (the “Huairou acquisition”). We have fully consolidated the business of this learning center since the third quarter of 2020, and have been managing the learning center in the same way as our other self-owned learning centers.
Franchised Learning Centers
We have strategically adopted the franchise model to quickly expand the network of learning centers to
non-tier-one
cities. We also have a franchised learning center in Singapore.
Our criteria in selecting franchise partners include their financial capacity, commitment to education and experience in running education centers. We typically enter into franchise agreements with an initial term of five years with franchise partners and if any franchise agreement needs to be renewed, it will typically be renewed for an additional five-year period. We charge each franchise partner recurring franchise fees based on an agreed percentage of each franchised learning center’s collected tuition fees and also related individual course materials fees.
Potential new franchise partners are required to submit proposals to us containing site selection, market research and plans, anticipated number of students and potential number of learning centers. We have complete discretion in determining whether to accept an applicant as our franchise partner and execute a franchise agreement with them. Our franchise partners are responsible for all of the preparations in opening a new school, including site selection and leasing, interior design based upon our standards, installing all necessary equipment, hiring teachers and staff and recruiting students. Under the franchise model, our franchise partners purchase course materials and textbooks from us, and follow our standardized management system for franchised learning centers in their classroom instructions, their pricing and subsequent price adjustment, typically reviewed on an annual basis, are subject to our approval and we provide centralized training to their teachers and management team. We typically do not participate in the
day-to-day
operations of franchised learning centers.
We monitor operating results of franchised learning centers. Our franchise partners are required to submit to us the statistics of student enrollments in each franchised learning center on a monthly basis. We have a franchise management department of around 30 employees who continually monitor operating condition of each franchised learning center. Should the operating or financial situation of any franchised learning center deteriorate, our franchise management department may suggest plans for improvement to the franchise partner, and we may decide not to renew the franchise agreement with that franchise partner upon expiration if the situation does not improve. In addition, if any franchise partner fails to find a location within two months after signing the franchise agreement, or fails to open a new learning center within four months after signing the franchise agreement, we are entitled to terminate the franchise agreement. As of December 31, 2020, over 44% of our existing franchise partners have operated their franchises for more than five years.
Moreover, we have introduced a centralized online tracking system which all of franchised learning centers are required to install and use. As of the date of this annual report, all of our franchised learning centers have been equipped with this system, which allows us to monitor the financial and operating results of the franchised learning centers in real time.
 
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Standardized Management
We have established a standardized management system and process through which we manage and oversee important aspects of our self-owned and franchised learning centers across our network, including learning center administration, supply procurement and the development and sharing of teaching resources. By doing so, we are able to support and facilitate the management of both self-owned and franchised learning centers in an efficient manner as well as ensure consistency in the quality of our education.
Sharing and development of standardized teaching resources
To increase the effectiveness and consistency of teaching quality across learning centers, we have unified our teaching goals, guidelines and materials and courseware at each stage of our courses offered in all self-owned and franchised learning centers. By following these unified guidelines, we make it easy for teachers to effectively teach students in a manner that adheres to our teaching philosophy. Our standardized teaching resources are attractive to parents as they provide them with certainty that their children will be participating in structured and effective lessons prepared by education experts regardless of the learning center or the class their children attend. By unifying our teaching materials, it also makes it easier for us to monitor learning results across all of our learning centers and make adjustments and improvements to our materials and resources as needed.
Centralized teacher training and academic assessment
We have standardized teacher training and academic assessment systems for all teachers employed at both self-owned and franchised learning centers.
All teachers are required to participate in mandatory and ongoing training at our headquarters, both at their respective learning centers and online. These training programs help all teachers deepen their understanding of our teaching philosophy, and enhance their skills in better utilizing our teaching resources and providing each student with a quality and effective learning experience.
We assess the academic performance of each teacher on a quarterly basis. Our teacher assessment standards include a number of factors, including teaching performance, written test results, English proficiency and communication skills.
Learning center operation
We have adopted a centralized online tracking system to monitor the daily operation of each self-owned learning center. This system tracks important aspects of each school’s operations, such as students in class and new students enrolled, renewals, teacher staffing and certain operating costs. We conduct periodic reporting meetings with the principal and academic supervisors of each learning center to review results and discuss how to enhance operational performance. We have also unified the design and decorations in all of self-owned learning centers, as well as the procurement procedures and standards for most aspects of the establishment and operation of our learning centers, including computers, desks and chairs, uniforms and other equipment.
Learning results assessment
We also have standardized procedures to monitor and track student’s learning results. Teachers are trained to record each student’s performance in class in a systemic method for further tracking and review. We have quarterly academic examinations and benchmark online tests to monitor each student’s learning progress.
Parent communications
We have standardized the procedures and contents of communication with the parents of students in all self-owned learning centers. We assign at least one teacher in each class to keep regular communications with the parents, including providing updates on their children’s progress, following up with after-class homework of the students, collecting feedbacks from parents and recommending new products to the parents.
Our
In-house
Technology Platform - Rise+
We developed and launched our online platform, Rise+ (formerly known as Rise Plus), in 2018. Rise+ was initially developed as a mobile application to offer after-class learning support to our students, to enrich our students’ after-class learning experiences, to facilitate parent supervision and to facilitate effective communications between our teachers and the parents and students. Leveraging on our growing technology capabilities, we have transformed Rise+ in early 2020 into an interactive open platform capable of offering:
 
   
live interactive courses, together with self-adaptive performance appraisal and tailored assistance;
 
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various types of learning resources, such as Rise Library Online, rTunes, Jelly phonics, Go for Grammar, Spelling Star, Rise+ Studio and Magic Grammar, through multi-functional capacities;
 
   
efficient communication channels, which enable parents to communicate with teachers and keep track of their children’s learning performance and study goals; and
 
   
simplified procedures for tuition payment and class enrollment through the mobile application.
In the first quarter of 2020, in response to the challenges brought by the
COVID-19
outbreak in China, we launched our online small group classes on our Rise+ platform. As of the date of this annual report, we have developed more than 420 online lessons, which were offered to all of our students in 154 cities across China. At peak times, our Rise+ platform supports over 7,200 students concurrently taking classes in 1,400 virtual class rooms while being in stable operation. We plan to continue to invest in our Rise+ platform to enrich the learning experience of our students and accelerate our transformation to a digitalized, cross-disciplinary OMO model.
As of December 31, 2020, Rise+ had a total of more than 218,526 registered users.
Students
We had 29,049 and 21,607 new students enrolled in 2019 and 2020, and 54,383 and 47,724 students in class as of December 31, 2019 and 2020, respectively, for our regular courses at self-owned learning centers.
We consider students’ English abilities and ages before placing students in appropriate courses and track their performance during our course offerings. We believe our courses are effective in enhancing the English language skills of students. For example, in a group of our Grade 6 students that took the TOEFL Junior Tests, 73.3% achieved a result that surpassed the median score for Grade 6 native English-speaking students in the United States that took the same exam.
Teachers
As of December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, we had a total of 1,911, 2,315 and 2,049 teachers, respectively, employed by self-owned learning centers. Most of our teachers are full-time employees.
Teachers are responsible for leading each class through the various materials and presentations, and engaging all students in each learning activity. Although we have standardized our teaching tools, teachers must be familiar with our teaching methodologies and the material for each lesson in order to deliver it effectively.
In addition to teaching our students, teachers also focus on serving the needs of the parents of students. Teachers establish multi-channel communications with the parents, including regular offline meetings with parents and weekly
follow-up
phone calls, as well as online communications and seminars, assisted by other staff with administrative work, follow up on after-class homework with the parents and students, and recommend various Rise products to the parents. Moreover, we have established our online platform, Rise+, where parents can consult with teachers with various questions instantly and check performance results of their children online.
Teacher training and evaluation
We offer centralized and continuous training to teachers, which consists of a minimum of seven incremental training steps. These training programs primarily focus on effectively delivering our highly standardized course modules. For instance, we provide two weeks of intense training to each teacher right after recruitment, and we continue to provide them with training at our learning centers throughout the duration of the time with us. After training, teachers are required to pass a variety of exams before teaching our classes. We also have an
in-house
nine-star rating system to track the performance of teachers, which accounts for important factors including teaching quality, student retention rate, satisfaction level of parents, performance review by principals and other factors such as safety and academic contribution. The salary of each teacher is linked to their individual performance, as measured by our rating system.
 
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We also cooperate with overseas educational institutes for teacher training and international accreditations, and many of teachers hold qualification certificates accredited by reputable overseas institutes.
Teacher recruitment
We hire teachers based on their education background, English proficiency level, personalities and passion for teaching. For students attending our more advanced courses such as Rise On, we primarily look for candidates with outstanding academic background and adequate teaching experience. For applicants to teach our younger students in Rise Start, we favor candidates who are caring and patient. Our major teaching recruitment channels include campus recruitment, public recruitment through agencies or headhunters and cooperative programs with normal universities.
Tuition and Fees
We offer our products at different prices in different cities, which we adjust on an annual basis based on a variety of factors, including local income standards and demand for our services. Our annual tuition and fees are generally higher than our competitors because we believe we offer premium products that parents are willing to invest in. Tuition and fees in franchised learning centers located in
non-tier-one
cities are generally lower than self-owned learning centers that are usually located in
tier-one
cities. We generally increase our standard tuition and fees on an annual basis. In 2019 and 2020, the average tuition fees for our courses ranged from approximately RMB16,000 to RMB31,000 per year.
Parents are required to prepay tuition and fees before students can begin classes. If a student withdraws during the year, we offer tutoring course fee refunds in accordance with local education bureau’s regulations. We also charge different prices for each of our complementary products, either by an annual subscription fee or by referring to the prevailing market rates.
Public Cooperation
Drafting and Reviewing National Standards
Our teaching approach and methodologies have been recognized by multiple national authorities and organizations in China, and we have been invited to participate in the drafting and reviewing certain national education standards. For instance, we assisted in drafting the basic requirements of language training services for children and early youth in October 2016, which was initiated by the Chinese National Institute of Standardization, a national authority responsible for establishing education standards, and the China Quality Certification Center.
National Subject Research
Since 2012, we have actively participated in China’s 12th five-year national subject research initiated by National Association of Foreign Language Education, the Chinese Society of Education. As a result, we compiled and published Rational and Classroom Implementations of Subject English Education as a textbook for the promotion of subject-based English in China.
Public School Faculty Training
We cooperate with universities and public schools in providing various trainings for English teachers. We have provided training to more than 300 public school teachers in Beijing and Ji’nan from 2015 to 2020.
Subject English Education Research Academy
In 2013, we initiated Subject English Education Research Academy under The Beijing Academic Society for Education, which established the Beijing Subject English Teacher Standards in 2013, and our management members play important roles in this academy, which functions as a self-governing organization in China’s regional education industry and sets up several industry standards. As of December 31, 2020, 13 public and private schools and other educational organizations had become members of this academy.
 
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Branding, Sales & Marketing
Branding
We position ourselves as the leader in the junior ELT market in China. Our brand is recognized by multiple educational authorities and organizations in China. For instance, we were accredited as the “Most Reputable Junior English Education Organization” by edu.qq.com in 2015, “Most Creative Brand of the Year” by Beijing News in 2016, one of the 13 “Reputable Education Organization” by Xinhua.com in 2016. In 2017, we received “Powerful Education Brand of the Year” by Tencent, “Powerful Foreign Language Education Brand of the Year” by Baidu Education, and “Powerful Brand for Foreign Language Training Institution of the Year” by China.org.cn. Moreover, we were awarded as “Influential Elite in Education of the Year” and “Powerful Education Brand of the Year” by Xinhua.com, “No Boundaries for Education” and “Leader of Education Sector” by NetEase, “Trust Brand of Training Institution” by Beijing Evening Post both in 2017 and 2018. In 2018, we received “The most influential educational institutions of the Year” by
I-EDU,
“Excellent quality education brand of the Year” by Juesheng.com and “The Chinese influential educational training brand of the Year” by Ifeng.com. In 2019, we were awarded “Influential Brand for Education Group of the Year” and “Five Star Gold Medal Education Institution of the Year” by Sina.com and “Top Ten Influential Education Brand of the Year” by Beijing Business Today. In 2020, we received the “Ram Charan Management Practice Award” and the “Dingge Award – Enterprise of the Year on the Chinese Digital Transformation Pioneer List” jointly by Harvard Business Review (China Edition), Tsinghua University Institute of Global Industry and SAP SE. Our chairwoman and chief executive officer, Ms. Lihong Wang, won the “Dingge Award – Enterprise Leader of the Year on the Chinese Digital Transformation Pioneer List” awarded by the same institutions in 2020.
We promote our brand through a series of marketing and public relationship activities, including traditional marketing means such as television ads, Internet ads, outdoor display ads, new media as well as large events such as Rise Cup and Rise Star.
Rise Cup
Rise Cup is an annual nationwide English language project competition we host for all of students, regardless of their location, English level, or age. Participants are encouraged to complete certain tasks through teamwork in a fun manner. The four rounds of Rise Cup challenge students to improve their skills in language, project management, leadership and cooperation. It aims to make students think creatively, critically and independently. Rise Cup provides a platform for students to express their ideas and to prove that they can overcome challenges. Rise Cup concludes with an onstage performance by students, in which they present their projects, using their fine-tuned English skills, in front of an audience of thousands of their fellow students, their parents and judges. Our Rise Cup program was temporarily suspended in 2020 due to the impact of
COVID-19
pandemic.
Rise Star
Rise Star is an annual online marketing campaign that we host to promote our brand. Rise Star is a competition for students mainly between the ages of three and eight. Based on a unique theme every year, students participate in the competition by making their own videos expressing their views. For instance, the theme of Rise Star in 2017 was “Wild Animal Rescue,” which gave students the opportunity to submit online presentations on the importance of protecting wild animals. It not only encourages students to pursue their interests after class, conduct research independently and present their ideas in a creative way, but also promotes our image by broadcasting the image and products of students in public. We post clips of Rise Star videos on social media and online websites with heavy traffic, which effectively attracts existing and potential customers as well as public interest. In 2020, a total of approximately 109,781 students participated in Rise Star which had attracted more than 127.9 million page views on our website.
Marketing
Our marketing approaches integrate our centralized marketing channels through headquarters with localized marketing efforts by each learning center. We conduct marketing activities through both online and offline channels.
 
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Online channel
We place online and mobile advertisements mainly on online social platforms and search engines, and conduct marketing on leading web portals and social media platforms in China. When selecting marketing agents, we concentrate on their demonstrative ability to generate traffic, and we have accumulated good credit with reputable social media platforms in China who help us to attract potential customers. Furthermore, we cooperate with innovative media platforms and place banner advertisements or advertorials on education-focused platforms and mobile news apps.
Offline channel
We place outdoor display advertisements in public transportation terminals and residential complexes in selected cities. For instance, we regularly set up booths in shopping malls or supermarkets near our learning centers to distribute leaflets and register new students. We sometimes offer demonstrations in the communities around those centers, or participate in large-scale exhibitions and mega events such as carnivals for children to promote our brand and attract potential customers. We also launch marketing campaigns with partners from vertical industries to achieve synergy from time to time. In addition to the centralized marketing team working at our headquarters, we also have a sales force in each of our learning centers.
By integrating these resources, we have established a stable marketing pool with a multifaceted approach. Moreover, our
word-of-mouth
referrals counted for over 30% in new students enrolled in 2019 and 2020.
Sales
We have a strong sales team consisting of approximately 666 sales personnel as of December 31, 2020. Our sales approaches are flexible and aim to effectively utilize our online and offline marketing strategies to attract new students. We provide extensive and periodical sales training to each of our sales personnel to enhance their sales skills and performance.
Competition
The junior ELT market in China is rapidly evolving, highly fragmented and competitive. We are currently a leader in China’s junior ELT market and, in our core market, our major competitors include EF Kids and Disney English.
We believe the principal competitive factors in our industry include the following:
 
 
brand recognition;
 
 
scope and quality of course offerings;
 
 
capability of product development and teacher training;
 
 
standardized management and scalable business model;
 
 
customer satisfaction; and
 
 
ability to effectively market course offerings to a broad base of prospective customers.
Given these factors, we believe we are in a favorable position as a provider of junior ELT in China.
Intellectual Property
Pursuant to license arrangements with HMH, we have been granted an exclusive, subject to certain
pre-existing
third party rights, and royalty-free right to use certain courseware developed by HMH before October 2011 in China permanently for after-school tutoring services for the primary purpose of teaching the English language to
non-native
English speaking students. The curricula of Rise Start and Rise On use this HMH courseware, along with other self-developed content. These arrangements also entitle us to develop derivative products based on this HMH courseware, including tailored lesson plans for teachers, practice and activity books for students and after-class materials for parents and students to enhance interaction and study at home. We own the intellectual property rights for all of these derivative products, subject to HMH’s ownership of the intellectual property rights in its underlying courseware. We have complied with the licensing arrangements with HMH during our operations.
 
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We also have self-developed courseware, course materials and complementary products. Moreover, the majority of trademarks that we have registered are related to our self-developed course materials or products.
Our trademarks, copyrights, domain names, trade secrets and other intellectual property rights distinguish our products from those of our competitors and contribute to our competitive advantage in our target markets. To protect our intellectual property, we rely on a combination of trademark, copyright and trade secret laws, and confidentiality agreements with our employees and contractors. We also regularly monitor any infringement or misappropriation of our intellectual property rights.
As of December 31, 2020, our intellectual property rights include the following:
 
 
registration of 36 domain names, including our
risecenter, rdchina, risechina, riseedu, risehongkong, seerabj, riselinkedu
and
e-learningkid
websites;
 
 
243 registered trademarks, including
Rise, Rise Immersion Subject English, Rismart,
Pre-Rise,
Mini Rise, Rise Pro, Rise Sat, Rise AP, Rise Act, Rise On, Rise Up, Rise Start
and
Rise Link
, each of which bolsters our strong brand recognition in China and Hong Kong;
 
 
125 copyright registration in China; and
 
 
one patent in China.
Insurance
We maintain various insurance policies to safeguard against risks and unexpected events. We maintain insurance to cover students and teachers’ actual expenses for injuries they might sustain at our learning centers. We also maintain insurance to cover our liability should any injuries occur at our learning centers. We do not maintain business interruption insurance, product liability insurance or
key-man
life insurance. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—We have limited insurance coverage with respect to our business and operations.” We consider our insurance coverage to be in line with that of other ELT education providers of a similar scale in China.
Regulation
We operate our business in China under a legal regime consisting of the National People’s Congress, or NPC, which is China’s highest legislative body, the State Council, which is the highest authority of the executive branch of the PRC central government, and several ministries and agencies under its authority, including the Ministry of Education, or MOE, the State Administration of Press and Publication, the State Administration of Radio and Television, or SART, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, or MIIT, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the State Administration for Market Regulation, or SAMR, and their respective local offices. This section summarizes the principal PRC regulations related to our business.
Regulations Related to Private Education in the PRC
Education Law of the PRC
On March 18, 1995, the NPC enacted the Education Law of the PRC, or Education Law, which was amended on August 27, 2009 and further amended on December 27, 2015. The Education Law sets forth provisions relating to the fundamental education systems of the PRC, including a school education system comprising preschool education, elementary and middle school education and higher education, a system of nine-year compulsory education, a national education examination system, and a system of education certificates. The Education Law stipulates that the government formulates plans for the development of education, establishes and operates schools and other education institution. Furthermore, it provides that, in principle, enterprises, social organizations and individuals are encouraged to establish and operate schools and other types of education institutions in accordance with PRC laws and regulations.
 
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The Law for Promoting Private Education and Its Implementation Rules
In 2002, the NPC Standing Committee promulgated the Law for Promoting Private Education of the PRC, which became effective on September 1, 2003. The Law for Promoting Private Education of the PRC was subsequently amended in 2013, 2016 and 2018, and the last amendment became effective on December 29, 2019. In accordance with the then-effective Law for Promoting Private Education, the State Council promulgated the Implementation Rules for the Law for Promoting Private Education, or the Private Education Rules, in 2004, which became effective on April 1, 2004.
Under the current Law for Promoting Private Education of the PRC and the Private Education Rules, “private schools” are defined as schools established by social organizations or individuals using
non-government
funds. Private schools that provide academic education, preschool education, education for self-study examination and other education are subject to approval by the education authorities at or above the county level, while private schools that engage in occupational qualification training and occupational skill training are subject to approvals from the authorities in charge of labor and social welfare at or above the county level. A duly approved private school will be granted a private school operating permit, and shall be registered with local authorities. The measures governing
for-profit
training institutions registered with the Industry and Commerce Department shall be separately formulated by the State Council. As of December 31, 2020, we have established 26 schools in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Shijiazhuang, which are required to obtain the private school operating permits and register with relevant local civil affairs authorities, and 13
non-school
enterprises in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Shijiazhuang and Wuxi registered with the local industry and commerce department, which operate the same business as our private schools do, and are required by the local education authority to obtain the private school operating permit according to the State Council Opinions 80 issued in August 2018. For a detailed description of the risks regarding the failure to obtain relevant permits, see “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—A number of learning centers operate without the required licenses, permits, filings or registrations.”
Under the above regulations, entities and individuals who establish private schools are commonly referred to as “sponsors” rather than “owners” or “shareholders.” The economic substance of “sponsorship” with respect to private schools is similar, in certain aspects, to that of shareholder’s ownership with respect to companies in terms of legal, regulatory and tax matters. For example, the name of the sponsor shall be entered into the private schools’ articles of association and private school operating permit, similar to that of shareholders where their names shall be entered into the company’s articles of associations and corporate records filed with the relevant authority. From the perspective of control, the sponsor of a private school also has the right to exercise ultimate control over the school by means such as adopting the private school’s constitutional documents, electing the school’s decision-making bodies, including the school’s board of directors and principals. The sponsor can elect whether the private schools are
for-profit
or
non-profit,
and can receive returns from
for-profit
private schools. The Sponsor may also dispose of its sponsorship interests in the schools for economic gains. However, the rights of sponsors
vis-à-vis
private schools also differ from the rights of shareholders
vis-à-vis
companies. For example, under PRC laws, a company’s ultimate decision-making body is its shareholders meeting, while for private schools, it is the board of directors, or board of members, the members of which, though, are substantially appointed by the sponsor. The sponsorship interest also differs from the ownership interests with regard to the right to the distribution of residual assets upon the liquidation of a private school. Upon the termination and liquidation of a private school, the sponsor of a
for-profit
private school may receive the residual assets of the private school in the same manner as the liquidation of a corporation, while the residual assets of a
non-profit
school shall be used for the development of other
non-profit
private schools and may not be distributed to the sponsors.
Under the 2013 Law for Promoting Private Education of the PRC, sponsors of private schools may choose to require “reasonable returns” from the annual net balance of the school after deduction of costs for school operations, donations received, government subsidies (if any), the reserved development fund and other expenses as required by the regulations. Private schools whose sponsor does not require reasonable returns shall be entitled to the same preferential tax treatment as public schools, while the preferential tax treatment policies applicable to private schools whose sponsor requires reasonable returns shall be formulated by the finance authority, taxation authority and other authorities under the State Council. As of December 31, 2020, among our 39 private schools, 38 were registered as schools requiring reasonable returns, and one were registered as schools not requiring reasonable returns.
 
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Under the current Law for Promoting Private Education of the PRC, the term “reasonable return” is no longer used and private schools are classified as either
“for-profit”
or
“non-profit.”
Nonetheless, school sponsors are not allowed to establish
for-profit
schools that are engaged in compulsory education. The key differences between
for-profit
and
non-profit
private schools include the following:
 
 
Profit distribution.
Sponsors of
for-profit
schools may adopt the form of a corporation under the PRC Company Law, which are entitled to retain the profits and proceeds from the schools and the operation surplus may be allocated to the sponsors, i.e. the shareholders, pursuant to the PRC Company Law and other relevant laws and regulations. Sponsors of
non-profit
schools are not entitled to the distribution of profits or proceed from the
non-profit
schools and all operation surplus of
non-profit
schools shall be used for the operation of the
non-profit
schools;
 
 
Tuition.
For-profit
private schools are entitled to set their own tuition and other miscellaneous fees without the need to seek prior approvals from the relevant government authorities. The collection of fees by
non-profit
schools, on the other hand, shall be regulated by the provincial, autonomous regional or municipal governments;
 
 
Government Support.
Taxation policies for
for-profit
private schools are still unclear as more specific provisions are yet to be introduced. On the other hand,
non-profit
schools enjoy more supportive measures than
for-profit
schools, such as government subsidies, fund awards and incentive donations. For example,
non-profit
schools will enjoy the same preferential tax treatments as public schools. Furthermore,
non-profit
schools enjoy the same treatment as public schools with respect to the supply of land, which will be supplied by the government through allocation or other means, while land will be supplied to
for-profit
schools in accordance with applicable laws; and
 
 
Liquidation.
The remaining assets of
for-profit
schools shall be distributed to the sponsors in accordance with the PRC Company Law, while the remaining assets of
non-profit
private schools after liquidation shall continue to be used for the operation of
non-profit
schools.
On December 29, 2016, the State Council issued the Several Rules of the State Council on Encouraging the Operation of Education by Social Forces and Promoting the Healthy Development of Private Education, or State Council Rules, which requests to ease the access to the operation of private schools and encourages social forces to enter the education industry. The State Council Rules also provides that each level of the people’s governments shall increase their support to private schools in terms of financial investment, financial support, autonomy policies, preferential tax treatments, land policies, fee policies and autonomy operation, and protect the rights of teachers and students etc.
On December 30, 2016, MOE, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the former State Administration for Industry & Commerce, or the SAIC, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, or MOHRSS, and the State Commission Office of Public Sectors Reform, or SCOPSR, jointly issued the Implementation Rules on the Classification Registration of Private Schools to reflect the new classification system for private schools as set out in the current Law for Promoting Private Education of the PRC. Generally, if a private school established before the promulgation of the 2016 amendment of the Law for Promoting Private Education of the PRC chooses to register as a
non-profit
school, it shall amend its articles of association, continue its operation and complete the new registration process. If such private school chooses to register as a
for-profit
school, it shall conduct financial liquidation process, have the property rights of its assets such as lands, school buildings and net balance being examined by relevant government authorities, pay up relevant taxes, apply for a new private school operating permit,
re-register
the
for-profit
school as a corporation and continue its operation. Specific provisions regarding the above registration are yet to be introduced by people’s governments at the provincial level. After specific rules to implement the Amended Law on the Promotion of Private Education are issued by provincial governments, we will be required to
re-register
our schools either as
non-profit
schools or
for-profit
schools according to PRC Company Law. In light of the practical time required to complete such process, we expect there might be a transition period for private schools to complete the required
re-registration
process. Nevertheless, we do not believe that such
re-registration
process would materially or adversely affect our business and results of operations.
On December 30, 2016, the MOE, SAIC and MOHRSS jointly issued the Implementation Rules on the Supervision and Administration of
For-profit
Private Schools, pursuant to which the establishment, division, merger and other material changes of a
for-profit
private school shall first be approved by the education authorities or the authorities in charge of labor and social welfare, as the case may be, and then be registered with the competent branch of SAIC.
 
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On September 1, 2017, SAIC and MOE jointly issued the Notice of Relevant Work on the Registration and Management of the Name of
For-Profit
Private Schools, which specifies the requirements on the names of
for-profit
private schools.
As of the date of this annual report, most provincial governments in China have promulgated their local regulations relating to legal person registration and administration for private schools. Some local governments, such as the Beijing, Shanghai and Hebei governments, require the existing private schools to make a decision for their choice in registering
as for-profit or non-for-profit schools
within a specific time period. However, detailed rules at the national level have not been promulgated with respect to the registration of private schools.
On April 20, 2018, MOE published a consultation draft of the Amendment to the Private Education Rules, soliciting public comments. On August 10, 2018, the Ministry of Justice of the PRC issued the revised draft of the Amendment to the Implementation Rules for the Law for Promoting Private Education of the PRC (for Review and Approval), or the MOJ Draft, and an explanatory note soliciting public comments on the MOJ Draft which are due on September 10, 2018. As of the date of this annual report, the MOJ Draft has not yet been promulgated into law and when the MOJ Draft can be finalized and approved remains uncertain. The main changes compared to the current Implementation Rules for the Law for Promoting Private Education of the PRC in effect are as follows:
 
 
Article 5 of the MOJ Draft provides that FIEs incorporated and social organizations established in the PRC whose ultimate controlling owners are foreign nationals shall not invest or participate in investing, or have ultimate and actual control over, any private school engaged in compulsory education;
 
 
Article 12 of the MOJ Draft provides that the social organization that manages private schools within a group is prohibited from controlling any
non-profit
private schools through mergers and acquisitions, or franchising or controlling contracts. Clause 1(6) of the explanatory note to the MOJ Draft clarifies that, in view of the fact that some private schools are concurrently sponsored by, or operated by, the same sponsor, Article 12 of the MOJ Draft recognizes such operations of the existing group schools;
 
 
Article 16 provides that any institution that uses Internet technology to engage in online education activities shall obtain the ICP license and make a filing with the education department of the relevant provincial government for records. Those institutions that provide academic education services through Internet technology would need to obtain the private school operating permits; and
 
 
Article 45 provides that related party transactions by private education institutions shall be transparent, just and fair, and shall not jeopardize the interests of the state, the private education institutions, and the teachers and students. The private education institutions shall establish information disclosure mechanism for such transactions. Article 45 further provides that for agreements between
non-profit
private education institutions and their related parties, which involve material interests or are long-term and recurring, the relevant government authorities shall review and audit such agreements regarding their necessity, legitimacy and compliance.
Recent Regulations on After-school Education Institutions
On August 22, 2018, the General Office of the State Council issued the State Council Opinions 80, which provided various guidance on regulating after-school training market for primary and secondary school students, including, among others, the operation standards that after-school education institutions should follow, the requirements and approvals necessary for opening new after-school education institutions, the guidance for daily operation of after-school education institutions, and the regulatory supervision scheme for after-school education institutions.
The operation standards set out in the State Council Opinions 80 include, among others: (1) the average area per student used within any specific training period shall be no less than three square meters; (2) after-school education institutions shall meet the fire safety, environmental protection, and health and food safety requirements; (3) personal safety insurance shall be purchased for students to mitigate risks; and (4) no primary or secondary school teachers shall be employed by after-school education institutions and all the teachers teaching courses in relation to primary and secondary school curriculum shall obtain relevant teaching qualifications. The State Council Opinions 80 requires that after-school education institutions obtain school operating permits. The State Council Opinions 80 further provides that after-school education institutions shall obtain approvals from local education administration authorities to open new branches or learning centers.
 
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Before the publication of the State Council Opinions 80, no nationwide regulation has been promulgated to regulate the establishment of additional learning centers outside the registered address of a school, and different provinces or cities have adopted different procedures. For example, in Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, an additional learning center shall be located in the same district where the private school is registered and the establishment of an additional learning center is subject to a prior approval or filing procedure with relevant education authority. In Shanghai, an additional learning center is allowed to be established across different district from where the school is registered, provided that it is approved by relevant education authority. According to the State Council Opinions 80, schools are allowed to establish additional learning centers both within the same district where the private school is registered and in different districts, subject to a prior approval from competent education authority where the learning center is locate