COVID-19 Crisis: The Importance of Technology in the Finance Sector
The current COVID-19 crisis has created an unprecedented change in how we think about and approach work, leisure, and life in general. It’s reassuring to see that the large majority of companies in the UK have put the physical well-being of their people first and made the necessary moves to get them to stay home wherever possible. And despite the reduction in business travel and practical elimination of face-to-face meetings in financial services, and without any other option, business continues to get done.
This exceptional situation has exposed some interesting insights in terms of how technology can enable the way we work in our industry. However, it has also uncovered some critical gaps that many companies have to fill in their digital capabilities to truly enable their businesses to be adequately set up for the future.
In today’s world, our new ways of working fall into two ends of a spectrum:
- knowledge work that can be done remotely using technology
- collaborative “agile” work which is done using cross-functional teams (often co-located)
We are only now starting to make this distinction between these two ways of working outside of a traditional office environment, which for financial services, in particular, has long been the norm due to the heavy bands of regulation that envelope the industry and legacy cultures that sit within it.
Enabling daily work with technology
In these first few weeks of the crisis, many of us have rightly been focusing on the urgent business at hand – making sure our people are safe, activating our contingency plans (or putting them in place for some), figuring out how we are going to operate over the few next weeks, or even months given the uncertainty that surrounds this pandemic.
As we start to settle into this new normal, it is becoming increasingly clear that much of the ‘knowledge’ work doesn’t need to be done face-to-face. Technology like Zoom and Microsoft Teams enables many of us to do this work without travel, without offices – with just a phone, laptop, and a decent internet connection to hand.
But it requires us to adapt, to become more comfortable with the idea of being “remote” – where we can discuss and make decisions without physically being in the same room, or equally as important, accessing day-to-day social and support systems over technology; we’ve seen waves of people hosting virtual happy hours and team-building sessions to break up the working week. This change is happening in real-time and poses some very interesting questions over the future of office-based work.
It’s important to remember that a widespread shift to remote working also necessitates investment in technology infrastructure and bandwidth. We’ve all experienced first-hand how technology can get overwhelmed when overloaded. With more people logging on at the same time, pressures are put on infrastructure. We need to put the days of grainy video calls behind us and focus on ensuring our tools and bandwidth can enable this new way of working without unnecessary friction.
Impact of the Digital gap on employee safety, customer service, and cost
The Digital gap has become apparent in several scenarios. For example, we have seen customer service centres that are highly tech-savvy who are doing a phenomenal job of protecting their people while continuing to deliver great service, while others have limited ability to do so.
The tech-enabled companies have been able to have their employees start working from home practically (and literally) at the flip of a switch. Their telephone technology is cloud-based or cloud-ready, and they use automated workforce management systems that enable them to have the flexibility they need with staff in times of crisis.
Technology like Zoom and Microsoft Teams enables many of us to do this work without travel, without offices – with just a phone, laptop, and a decent internet connection to hand.
On the other hand, those with legacy technology have been slow to respond – they have had people still coming into the office in smaller shifts to answer the phones, lowering service levels for customers and creating potential health risks among employees. Furthermore, these older operating models are more expensive for organisations to operate – historically, there hasn’t been a real priority to replace them.
In this day and age, in our industry, companies must look to transition from these legacy technologies to more cloud-based digital capabilities that enable flexibility and drive tremendous efficiencies. Perhaps this crisis will provide the impetus for making these necessary investments.
What about collaboration in agile?
Over the past few years, companies in the financial services industry have started down the path of becoming highly collaborative and iterative across their businesses, enabling them to bring ideas and products to market in record time and with real relevance to their customers. The “agile” trend really started in the technology function but has now taken hold and is creating real value on the business side as well.
This collaborative, agile work is currently harder to reimagine with digital capabilities; many companies are experimenting with tools and methods that enable teams to work without being co-located. However, the teams that are in the same room, around the same whiteboard, and working together closely are usually more productive and typically drive better solutions than ones that are collaborating remotely. In the end, there will have to be a calculated tradeoff between in-person collaboration and technology-enabled remote working to drive real value.
There is a spectrum of how we do work – pure knowledge (highly tech-enabled) to pure collaborative (highly co-located) – this situation has shown us how we can push ourselves further down toward the collaborative side of the spectrum using technology…never fully replacing co-location, but understanding where it is critical to deliver results and where it is not. It has not only exposed opportunities to work in new and different ways in times of crises, but also in the times that follow.