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Navigating Regulatory Waters: Friend or Food? How To Stay Ahead in Financial Services

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Agility is now firmly established as the norm for financial services CEOs and their teams now - communicating fast, being flexible and turning to technology to care for both staff and clients is now more important than polish and procedure.

1. Market Feedbacl

A. China’s return to normality ahead of other Asian countries 

Feedback from Chinese-domiciled clients and associates suggest a genuine but gradual recovery in Beijing and Shanghai is underway. Restaurants and shops are reopening, there’s been a recorded spike in luxury good spendingnoticeably increased foot-traffic in shopping centres and an almost joyous reaction at having a form of normal back. 

It’s a little different in Singapore and Hong Kong where the resumption of normal business and life has been affected by a spike in COVID-19 cases due to returning nationals. People have headed back to working from home (WFH) until cases drop, but expect they’ll be back in the office once that happens. 

B. Media, and what they want now 

Funds management: journalists are using an equal cross-section of from portfolio managers, CIOs and macroeconomists. Media are mainly interested in a local perspective, e.g. from a local CIO or economist, however, macro commentary is still welcome as it relates to COVID-19. 

There’s a shift here from features covering immediate reactions / daily market movements to how investors should and are recovering (looking at recovery investment strategies). Some managers are releasing both market commentary and inviting journalists to webinars around this topic.  

Other sectors: we are also seeing more interest in commentary from CEOs as it relates to the changing market landscape. In Australia, this is predominantly in the form of super fund CEO commentary.  

Video conferencing: the Australian media market is definitely embracing video interviews via  the videoconference platform Zoom. 

C. Employees as key stakeholders 

Firms have taken lessons from the GFC by doing their best to retain staff on reduced hours or salaries, rather than completely cutting staff altogether.  

From fund-managers to real-estate agencies, some businesses are implementing cost cutting exercises across the board by standing down staff, or making FTE reductions (e.g. 20% immediate reduction of one FTE to 0.8 rather than salary cuts in professional services with revenue pressureand some senior leadership taking steeper cuts.  
Anecdotally those who can are looking to save as many jobs as possible, and to keep employees engaged, helped by government funding. Business survey results show that staff are being viewed as the number one stakeholder. 

2. Management responses

Agility might be a buzzword, but it also a real feature of CEO’s and leadership teams' responses to both the economic and health crisis, and the resulting fragmented workforces.  

A. What ‘agile’ looks like  

Communication speed has dialled up as production values (in some cases) have dialled down. But it's not just about speed.

Help where it’s needed, not just where it has been: 

Service provision in some professional services firms is pivoting according to client need rather than agreed scope. Clients and other corporate affairs and marketing firms report that this flexibility in service is highly valuable right now.  

Talking to three other public relations firm leaders yesterday, they’ve stepped in to help clients in new ways which help address COVID19 related issues or direct impact. This can include management and internal communications advice on different ways of working and stepping up tempo. 

Clients vary in how busy they are and how much help is needed but most are reassessing what’s possible and negotiating very differently with counter parties where the ‘rules’ or current practices won’t work. One client with no previous government program is now asking that government to change an aspect of how they operate under these extreme circumstances.  

B. Not perfect: but good enough to go  

The use of online video is skyrocketing. CEOs need to talk to their customers, but they can’t all get on broadcast television news. Enter the CEO at home with his or her laptop, speaking directly to stakeholders.  

We see fast adoption more agile and digital comms like such “low fi’, fast turnaround video (rather than polished, highly produced video)and also social media updates with expedited approvals is key for getting the message out quickly. 

Such "low-fi" strategy also enables enable immediate, personal and engaging communication. We’ve seen one client whose senior leadership had written almost no articles before COVID-19 now shift to generating content daily, and using social media to distribute it. 

C. Collaborating with an eye to blind spots 

You are reporting (and we’re finding) it's harder for colleagues to bounce ideas off each other, given many teams are now operating at home. Regular (2-3 times per day) video meetings are being held throughout the day in order to seek peer feedback and to solve problems collaboratively, but organisations still miss the instant and easy nature of face-to-face contact, questions and discussions offered by a physical office.   

One possible solution is staff “hang outs”, where staff work live with their video cameras on, outside formal meeting times, for 2-3 times per week. 

3. CEO guidance regarding Coronavirus responses

1. Lean into “agile” and the opportunities that come with it 

Translate your more agile operating rhythm into more agile communication, if you haven’t already. Review your comms mix: think about getting messages to external and internal stakeholders quickly and easily using pre-recorded videos, live webinars and social media. Stakeholders both internal and external are rewarding these methods right now. 

2. Manage “in the moment” but keep an eye on the future

We previously gave guidance to split your teams into BAU and COVID-19 to help ensure focused and appropriate management of both.  Now you might want to consider, depending on the size of your business, allocating a person or team to post-COVID-19 opportunities. Our clients, firm and peers are finding opportunities, but it takes focus and dropping some of the previous thinking constrained by “what is” to move into “what if?”  

3. Listen 

We’ve seen some tone-deaf corporate communication. That’s easily avoided with social listening, watching any sources of stakeholder feedback or seeking external counsel. 

This is an excerpt from one of our client COVID-19 CEO response briefings. For more COVID-19 response resources and guidance, visit our COVID-19 Response page. 

If you’d like to discuss adjusting your communication strategy for the current times, please call us or fill out our contact form here.

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