Can the Financial Industry Adapt to Working from Home?

Going into work right now is quite depressing. The buzzing city is just a memory, in its place are almost empty streets and boarded up sandwich bars.

Most doubt it will ever return to being the place we knew. The genie is out the bottle: working from home does not lead to productivity reductions so most of the banks are now questioning the need for large expensive offices. The pandemic has brought with it a revolution in the way we work, and it looks like that is here to stay. How do we manage that in the financial industry?

Security

Too often people think of security only in terms of IT. However, a computer has never committed fraud or extorted money. The biggest security risk to any business is the people in it, either through malicious actions or lack of care. In most cases, it is the latter. When working from home, it is all too easy to get into bad habits. You need to keep the pressure on employees, so they don’t get complacent on security.

Regular reminders are essential, to ensure employees understand the risks and the basics of security. One of the most common security breaches is the home internet hub. Most people I talk to have not changed their hub password from the one supplied, but you have no control over who has that password. If you’re in a high-risk business, you’ll want to make sure those passwords are changed (or you’re extending your trust to every internet supplier).

You should also do everything you can to mandate basic security. This includes ensuring your system forces updates and password changes. That way you’re not only reliant on employees following the rules.

What other devices are your employees using? You should make it a rule that any device used to access company files or e-mails has the same minimum level of anti-virus protection.

Check where your employees are working and who they’re working alongside. For ‘generation rent’ this might mean a house share with people they barely know. Or it could mean a cafe, away from a secure Wi-Fi network. If you have sensitive customer data, consider putting rules in place to ensure that it is not accessible to others. You may want to ban working from public places.

People can become isolated when working from home. Even those who adapt to it well can miss the energy boost of seeing their colleagues.

Preventing Fraud

Fraud has leapt up since the pandemic. That’s because uncertainty and changes in lifestyle make it far easier for fraudsters to get away with it. Emerging fraud trends should be a topic at weekly ‘meetings’ (see below). Employees who have spotted a fraud should share it so that others are vigilant. Encourage people to use the phone to check up on anything that could be suspicious.

If you do allow working from public places remind your team not to use public Wi-Fi. It is alarmingly easy to set up a legitimate-looking network. If it’s essential, then make sure employees use the official Wi-Fi (the one printed on menus or boards). Too many people just find the one that ‘looks right’ or ask the helpful customer sitting next to them, who could well be the fraudster!

Management

Managing people remotely takes a new set of skills. I know that some are trying to keep the same controls in place by monitoring when their employees are ‘working’ and of course that is possible with the right technology. However, it’s also easy to abuse and people hate it. It is far better to accept that with remote working comes more autonomy over how and when the work is carried out. Instead, you need to ask: is the employee available when you need them? Are they a supportive team member? Does their work get done? If you can answer yes to all, then you have no reason to be concerned.

Make sure there is regular communication across the team while avoiding a repetition of the meeting culture that meant that some barely had any time to do their work! The trick is to look at the working week and put a structure around times when people can check in with each other.

At these regular meetings check progress across the team and make sure people have a chance to flag any concerns. Are there any barriers that need to be overcome?

People can become isolated when working from home. Even those who adapt to it well can miss the energy boost of seeing their colleagues. There is also less chance for informal learning from each other and the natural bonds that form between people can weaken. When it’s safe to do so, it is therefore well worth meeting in person as regularly as possible to foster a team spirit. Those meetings can be social and don’t need to be in an office.

Until we can meet in person, you will need to work hard on keeping those relationships going and to ensure that there is a chance for informal communication. Tools like Slack are great for that but do watch their security. Services like Zoom are not believed to be as secure as would be expected and needed in the finance industry.

Remote working has its benefits and drawbacks. Like anything new, it takes time for us to understand how to manage it to best effect.

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