Are banks prepared for employees to work off-site indefinitely?

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The onset of the coronavirus pandemic has forced banks to suddenly and unexpectedly adopt remote working as the new norm. This shift may have been chaotic for many banks, but it increasingly appears that remote work won’t be going away anytime soon.

Many banks are indicating that some of their workforces will continue to work remotely even after the pandemic recedes. For example, JPMorgan Chase and UBS Group AG said that a significant portion of their workforces could remain remote permanently or on a rotational basis. The CEO of Barclays has acknowledged that the bank may never again put thousands of employees together into office buildings.

This shift offers an opportunity for banks. With customers flocking to digital channels to conduct their financial lives, banks can realign their real estate portfolios with customer demand. Additionally, operating remotely allows banks to take advantage of more flexible working models to be more agile in meeting demand.

However, banks will need to prepare themselves. The initial dive into working remotely may have been hasty and haphazard for many financial institutions. A strategy that addresses the risks and challenges in remote work will improve employee and customer experiences, so financial institutions can take advantage of these benefits.

New cyber challenges

Remote work will mean that employees are no longer operating within physical and virtual spaces completely controlled by the bank. Remote employees should be using company-issued devices to implement proper controls and protections such as multifactor authentication. More distributed networks will need to be secured with a “zero-trust” approach in which all devices and traffic are “untrusted” and continuously authenticated and monitored.

Cyberattacks against financial institutions spiked in March as states went into lockdown. Bad actors recognized that remote work arrangements could make banks more vulnerable.

Employees often form the first line of cyberdefense. More than 90% of cyberattacks against financial institutions originate with phishing emails sent to employees. With remote access to potentially sensitive networks, applications and data, banks will need to raise awareness and reinforce good practices around protecting passwords. Banks should also keep device software up-to-date through employee training.

Automation with a human touch

Beyond rising threats, banks must handle that flood of customer transactions moving from physical to digital channels. Doing so will require increased automation to provide self-service opportunities, seamless experiences and faster issue resolutions.

Software vendors have quickly responded to recent surges in digital transactions, even during the deluge of Paycheck Protection Program loan applications. Automation software vendor Automation Anywhere for instance launched a suite of artificial intelligence-powered software bots to assist with data collection and validation processes for PPP loans. Banks should increasingly look to adopt such automation capabilities to smooth complex tasks like account openings, loan and mortgage applications and large corporate treasury transactions migrating to digital channels.

However, automation will not fully replace the need for virtual workers. Banks should zero in on automation capabilities that provide seamless hand-offs to human resources.

Such human-in-the-loop capabilities allow automation of mundane tasks while elevating potential issues or exceptions to knowledgeable staff. Again, banks will need to invest in training to familiarize employees with new automation systems and workflows, and empower them to handle more complex interactions virtually instead of in the branch.

Adapting talent management

Banks have traditionally favored more hierarchical organizational structures to foster compliance-oriented cultures. Shifting to remote work will necessitate flatter organizational structures where smaller groups and individual employees can make decisions more independently.

Managers can’t be on top of everything their staff is doing when separated by hundreds of miles. Leveraging smaller, more autonomous teams can bring significant benefits in cases like rapidly developing new products to meet sudden customer demand shifts, or quickly mapping and mitigating risks in newly established processes.

Compliance and performance management can’t fall by the wayside though. Leveraging software to continuously reinforce compliance checks can ensure that remote individuals are following appropriate guidance. For example, FIS released new remote workforce management software that includes monitoring employee activity for compliance.

Banks will also likely need to leverage more project-oriented performance management approaches. For instance, in the tech industry where remote work is more common, managing performance for teams in areas like product development is often largely based on meeting project deadlines and specifications. Such approaches can also give staff more flexibility in their work schedules as long as they accomplish their projects goals, potentially boosting employee satisfaction.

Talent is often an organization’s greatest asset, and establishing protocols to handle the above challenges could help banks better attract and retain talent in the future. A Glassdoor survey found that 67% of workers would support a mandate to work remote permanently after the coronavirus outbreak. Additionally, remote work could allow banks to tap talent pools in new geographies.

Banks should act swiftly to formulate strategies that optimize new work arrangements for rapidly changing customer demands and talent needs.

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Technology Employee productivity Employee relations Online banking Artificial intelligence Employee retention Vendor management Employee engagement Coronavirus