The enforcement of lockdown due to COVID-19 prevented most businesses from operating as usual from their work premises. The ‘explosion’ of remote working models therefore was not as a result of choice, but rather driven by regulation and necessity as the only means for businesses to continue and to survive financially. Our experience has shown that, for the most part, in the early stages, businesses struggled to work remotely. However, the longer they worked this way, the more they experienced benefits as well. As they adapted and embraced the change, the struggles became victories and has led to successes. Now, given the choice to work remotely businesses are not so quick or eager to get back to the conventional office. According to a study conducted by Buffer and AngelList 98% of ±3500 remote workers from around the world would like to work remotely, at least some of the time for the rest of their career.
While remote working has benefits, like spending less time on the road, research also shows that it does lead to an increase in productivity. However, it requires the necessary tools to communicate both internally and externally (e.g. MS Teams) and to operate more efficiently by means of financial planning software (e.g. Xplan). Or electronic tools which makes documents relating to business transactions easier to complete, (e.g. CutePDF) equipment (e.g. a laptop and internet with good connectivity and speed). Lastly, one needs communication strategies (e.g. regular team meetings), otherwise remote work may prove to be more challenging. Without being equipped to operate in a remote environment or having the right mindset, employees may struggle to perform their duties effectively which will have a direct impact on productivity, client retention and business profitability.
In this newsletter we look at exploring alternative ways to address two of the five main concerns experienced by Masthead members when transitioning to remote work. The other three concerns will be addressed in the series of newsletters to follow. Below, we provide practical suggestions and ideas, which are key factors to have in place when working remotely.
When you look back at your own transition from office to remote work was this successful? If not, why not? What were, and still are, the biggest concerns about working remotely? How did you overcome these and thrive?
According to feedback received from Masthead members during the period of March to May 2020, the following are the main concerns identified and are illustrated below.
1. Managing operational risks
Section 11 of the FAIS General Code of Conduct specifies certain control measures that have to be in place to eliminate as far as possible, financial risk that FSPs may suffer through theft, fraud, other dishonest acts, poor administration, negligence, professional misconduct or culpable omissions. Further to this, when processes/instructions are not followed, the business PI Cover may fail to pay out, which opens the business up to financial risk. Not to mention the impact of reputational damage such as loss of client trust because of an administrative error that has gone wrong.
Solution: Begin by identifying which processes/instructions are not being followed through, the risk and impact to the business. The employee feedback surveys provided in a previous newsletter, Leading in a Sea of Uncertainty, once adapted may be a useful tool to identify exactly the types of processes your employees are battling with or not adhering to. Based on articles written by PI Cover expert and Head of Broker Protect Len Faul, these can include failing to execute client instructions on time and correctly as per the instruction, failing to document client instructions and/or update client records in the client file or on the CRM system.
In a previous newsletter, we highlighted the increase in cybercrime, and the types of processes referred to here are typically those that expose the business to increased cybercrime risk. As a result, it makes sense to highlight those types of processes which, if not carried out, expose the business to additional risk and train employees on how to identify possible cyberattacks.
For those processes which have a high-risk factor e.g. changing bank details or highlighting target dates for carrying out investment instructions, include a requirement in the process that all employees must copy the Key Individual and Representative in on the email. Any gaps can then be discussed and monitored with adherence within a required time frame. Alternatively, you can monitor whether employees are achieving the necessary outcomes by employees completing a daily spreadsheet of activities or, if there is a functionality on the CRM system to document activities this could be done (e.g. workflow). Monday.com is another useful tool which can be used to monitor productivity as it allows one to create project plans, automate workflows and creates a platform for team collaboration. Please note Monday.com has a free trial period of 14 days, after which it becomes a charged for service.
We recommend check-ins at least twice a day and performing a weekly review in which employees walk you through specific processes with documented evidence of the desired outcomes. This check-in can also be an opportunity to find out how your employees are handling remote work, whether they may be facing distractions at home and it is an opportunity to see if they need any support in terms of mental wellbeing. Employees play a key role in the business and showing appreciation and care for their wellbeing contributes to improved motivation and ultimately, business profitability.
Further to this, you may think of revisiting the business Operations Manual to identify which processes have already been adapted especially during lockdown and which still need to be adapted to accommodate working from home. The updated policies and procedures should be added to the Operations Manual and communicated with all employees. Highlight the consequences when not adhering to policies and processes and the reason for having these in place to convey the importance of adhering to these.
2. Having communication ability while working remotely
2.1 Communication with employees and product providers
Communication is an integral part of an FSP. The increase in businesses working remotely has led to an increase in data traffic, with Vodafone reporting a 50% surge in mobile data traffic. This large volume of demand has caused some pressure on the infrastructures relating to internet connectivity which may prevent certain communications from reaching their recipients. Risks arising from working remotely include:
- Clients being unable to reach the business with urgent instructions.
- Instructions sent by the client which have not been received by the business.
- Service providers/insurers not receiving instructions sent by your business.
Solution: We recommend that you test your communication processes regularly, at least once a week. Ensure that all landlines are working and send out test emails confirming that the business is able to send and receive communications. In these instances it is important that you maintain regular contact with your clients, follow up with clients and providers to confirm that they received your communications, ensure all employees understand the impact of these risks on the business and why it is important to carry out all processes and instructions correctly.
2.2 Communication with older clients
Many FSPs have older clients, who in the past, were always seen face-to-face. Due to the infectious nature of the coronavirus, seeing clients face-to-face is not as easy or advisable as it was previously. Not all older clients may have email addresses or be tech-savvy, which makes communication with these clients more challenging.
Solution: Identify which elderly clients do not have an email address or those clients with whom you were unable to communicate with, by either extracting this from your CRM system, client lists or segmentation models if age was used as one of the criteria. Therefore, it is key that the relevant staff have access to the necessary client data when working remotely. Here are some methods currently used by FSPs:
- For those clients who are nearby and require unavoidable face-to-face meetings at their homes it is important to ensure protocols are in place regarding both the maintenance of client information confidentiality and adherence to the additional precautionary COVID-19 safety protocols, as set out Joint Communication 7 of 2020 by the Prudential Authority and Financial Sector Conduct Authority.
- Those clients who have children who live in either another city or country, may already be using Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, or other communication channels with which video calls can be made and which can be recorded. Involving children who have email facilities is also helpful.
- Should the client provide consent, it could be useful to involve their children when needing to email documentation to the client or communicate with them digitally. This applies whether the client lives with their children or not.
- Where no signature on documentation is required, another option is to communicate with the client by telephone and record the call.
It is important to remember that the communication method chosen should always be based on the client’s preference, accommodating them, and that all communication should be recorded as required in S3 of the FAIS General Code of Conduct.
This is merely a starting point. However, seeing that remote working may be here to stay we encourage you to challenge the paradigms of conventional working. Challenge old habits, look afresh at business data by conducting a data audit and determine both the communication preference of your existing client base or any other relevant information that will assist you and your employees to utilise the information effectively e.g. ensuring the information is still up to date.
Is there important data which your employees are unable to access remotely, and if so, what is the impact on your business? What growth and retention opportunities are missed? Going through this and similar processes may help your business identify where the gaps are and what you need to do to adjust it to a new way of doing business, one which we are still trying to figure out. Step outside the box, the familiar, try something new, brainstorm with your employees, a colleague, your Compliance Officer, or the Practice Management Consultant. Afterall, these are unprecedented times and therefore call for unusual, however, still ethical, and legal ways of doing business. We will discuss additional suggestions which address the remaining concerns in the newsletters to follow.
Buffer. (2020). The 2020 State of Remote Work. Retrieved from: https://lp.buffer.com/state-of-remote-work-2020
Gartner. (2020, April 02). 9 Tips for Managing Remote Employees. Retrieved from: https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/9-tips-for-managing-remote-employees/
Govender, V. (2020, May 05). No flattening of the fibre demand curve. Retrieved from: businesslive.co.za/bd/companies/telecoms-and-technology/2020-05-05-native-no-flattening-of-the-fibre-demand-curve/
Len Faul, Activity [LinkedIn page]. Retrieved from: https://www.linkedin.com/in/len-faul-380811121/