President Ramaphosa announced a 21-day lockdown on 23 March 2020, and the country had two and a half days to get itself organised. This brought home the reality of the seriousness of the COVID-19 threat, as well as a range of new challenges for FSPs.
FSPs have since shared their concerns and asked for guidance on practical issues regarding the long-term sustainability of their businesses. The types of concerns and business risks relate to the immediate situation and focus on working from home, leadership and client relationships.
Moving from the office to working from home was a concern. Not all administrative staff members have access to laptops to work from home, so desktop computers had to be moved to their homes. In addition, not all employees have home Wi-Fi. Where they do, it is not always as fast and stable as at the office. This affects speed, and work tasks may take much longer to complete. Also, some FSPs work with paper-based client files, so accessing information is difficult.
There were also concerns for staff wellness, especially for staff members living on their own or in difficult circumstances. FSPs wondered how staff would deal with the additional stress brought on by the COVID-19 threat.
Furthermore, where client information on CRM systems is not updated regularly, contact with clients would be problematic. There were also concerns about clients wanting to stop debit orders or lapse policies due to affordability reasons. In addition, clients who are fearful of the future want to cash in their investments.
Dealing with challenges
Challenges such as these, and others that businesses face, could have severe financial implications and directly impact your business strategies. To deal with these challenges, it is important to know you are not alone. Businesses all over the world are battling to come to grips with COVID-19 and its impact on them. An estimated 3.4 billion people around the globe are in some form of COVID-19 lockdown. Knowing others are experiencing similar difficulties does not make it easier, but creates a sense of community. This helps to lighten the load.
The most important matter is to focus on what you can control. List the challenges your business faces and rank them in the risk categories in your Risk Management Plan. You could also reassess your current Disaster Recovery Plan and determine what has worked, what is or was missing and what should be adapted or added. Consider forming strategies for working from home, leading employees and managing your relationships with clients through this time.
Working from home
Moving work from an office to a home environment is not always that easy to implement. However, most Masthead members have an infrastructure in place by now, and some specifics may just need fine-tuning.
Key success factors that ensure ongoing operational effectiveness and ‘business as usual’ are communication with each other and clearly defined work outputs. Ongoing conversation is critical and should remain a priority. Channels such as Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp and Microsoft Teams provide easy access to communication. Electronic face-to-face meetings support the office environment and connection with colleagues.
It is important to define work outputs, and check in with staff every morning, midday and before close of business on their progress. Keep meetings in place exactly as they were in the office and assess daily the effectiveness of working remotely. Communicate in areas where remote working is not effective and restructure as required.
Leading your employees
Just as important as setting up the workspace, is taking care of employees’ emotional well-being and encouraging self-care. Being open about the impact on individuals’ mental health in a time of crisis and extreme change encourages employees to talk about it or seek professional help.
Some practical self-care tips to share with staff are to take breaks to walk around the house or outside, get proper sleep and eat well. These activities help to build a healthy immune system, which contributes to employees’ health, ability to fight disease and work productivity.
By checking in with staff periodically, you can see how they are adjusting to this new way of life. You may not have all the answers but, as they say, ‘necessity is the mother of invention.’
Assisting clients through this time
Many FSPs are receiving calls from distressed clients who want to stop paying premiums, gain access to retirement capital or cash in their investments. In many cases clients are confused and may react spontaneously or knee-jerk to something they think is a crisis.
A good way to keep concerns at bay is to communicate effectively with clients. Stay close to them, reassure them and be the stabilising factor in relation to their insurance and investment portfolios. Open communication channels with clients is a key risk management and business planning strategy.
Also look for ways to assist clients. By engaging with product suppliers, for instance, you could explore the possibility of premium holidays and other concessionary facilities. You could also raise clients’ concerns with product suppliers, for example, is a signature really needed to withdraw cash from an investment?
Creating a communications strategy
Aim to create a communications plan for the next two months, and then for the next 12 months. For an effective communications strategy, you could identify the top 20% of clients from which your business receives 80% of its income. Then create personalised e-mail messages to send to the different stakeholders in your business, from either yourself or a key person in your business. As they are your main priority, you should first talk to the top 20% of your clients.
Distance is not a factor when meeting with clients. As with your employees working from home, allow for constant communication and feedback using communication tools such as Skype, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, Zoom and phone calls. By making ‘care calls’, you could check in more regularly with your key clients, such as every two weeks, to ensure stability. You could also reiterate that your delivery and support continues, even though it is ‘business unusual.’
Be sure to stay transparent and open with clients during this time. Aim to communicate any changes in your business operations or service level agreements, including possible health changes that might impact access to you or your employees. To treat customers fairly, you will need to include all your clients, as the business would have done before COVID-19.
Also consider how you formulate your communications. It is important to weave a sense of calm throughout your messaging.
Adapting to these unusual circumstances and continuing to meet the needs of clients and staff will help your business to get through these times. For assistance with understanding the Risk Management regulatory requirements and how to implement them, register for our Develop a Risk Management Plan to protect your business, employees and clients webinars or contact your nearest Masthead Regional Office or your Masthead Compliance Officer.
We would also like to keep track of what is happening in your world. Please feel free to share your positive stories, as well as your challenges, so we can explore ways to support you during the coming months. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org