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

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COVID-19 has shown you can't predict every crisis, but what insights could save your company's operations and reputation?

1. Market feedback

Intelligence about the impact of COVID-19 on specific financial services sectors, not published by media. 

A. Travel, and new normal BAU

Due diligence and RFP (request for proposal) processes across most areas in financial services are going ahead without face to face meetings.

Accordingly, fund managers and clients are rethinking global ‘visit schedules’ and reconsidering the need for one-on-ones vs all-in type of events. As one client said, revenue will be down so saving on travel costs is attractive right now.

So too is maintaining many advantages of working from home. Most businesses see a lot of positive in making permanent change, not just to reduce risk of more COVID-19 cases, but to improve flexibility for employees. In the words of one client, ‘you’ll just have to, because employees will expect it’.

Most of us have now overcome much of the time and efficiency drag because of the change of location and are finding that meetings are more productive, one on ones are more focused and many of the cultural issues are being managed reasonably well.

At the same time, there are some significant barriers to clients who had roll out plans that depended on others who faltered or paused their normal business activity. Anyone expecting licenses from APRA is disadvantaged by their decision to suspend all new licensing because of the challenge new entrants would face in the current COVID-19 environment, and other aspects of BAU won’t be the same for quite some time.

Some are expecting a rebound in activity as the lockdown starts to lift. And most are closely watching the gradual lift of social distancing restrictions across countries, regions and industry.

Clients who run large events are re-thinking how those are run. Many intend to run them on the same schedule, but as virtual events in a cut down format with lower prices if they’re paid products.

Media haven’t dropped their standards. We’re finding that just like pre COVID-19, if a spokesperson doesn’t deliver, then the journo won’t use their commentary.

With about a third of the BC team back in the city this week, it was clear we were in the minority. City streets and Martin Place were sparsely populated on what would’ve normally been a crowded lunch time. We’d estimate more than a 90% reduction in foot traffic, which may say a lot about of how few people are yet returning to CBDs.

B. Optimism but facing into reality

Now that the significant risk to lives in Australia appears to be far lower than feared, many leaders are seeing more opportunity than risk in a changed environment.

Even if revenue is significantly challenged, there’s an optimism and positivity around your response to the situation, including thought experiments about how your businesses, client relationships and mode of communication will change in the future. There’s great creativity in some of the conversations and it’s not necessarily handcuffed to the real prospect of constraints.

Anecdotally, our clients are welcoming the opportunity take a beat and gain outside perspective on the significant shifts their business might make.

However, at the same time, you’re increasingly voicing concern that some seek to change fundamental features of our landscape. E.g. mandatory superannuation, our relationship with China, the corporate tax rate. You don’t necessarily see such changes as good for your business or the nation.

Clients are reflecting and planning as the immediate crisis period is over, as this is a chance to look for a better way.

One contact has recommended that leaders move from replicating (do things how we usually do, but on different platforms) to reinventing (engaging and operating in different ways), and then once achieved, move to redesign (take the best of what we’ve learnt previously to redesign how we operate).

C. Staff management

Clients are also experiencing challenges in trying to shift the culture from ‘pre-internet’ to collaborative, interactive, open and flexible. One contact has said that we can’t be misled that full WFH would work long term, saying it is only working in the short term as each team member / those that work closely know each other personally. It would be harder over time when staff changes occur and grievances cannot be aired and resolved face to face.

This limitation has caused some paralysis in onboarding new staff, highlighting that how we manage people in a virtual environment will be much more important.

2. Management responses

This section outlines how CEOs and their leadership teams are responding.

As a firm, we’ve had a chance to slow down and think a bit more about the big shifts for our clients in future. Some of that has been quite strategic, but some probably on the run. Either way we’re all looking at a different future.

Existing goals: while the context will change, some of your existing goals won’t. You may have to rethink a lot of things, or to make up lost time. 

Luck vs planning based on opportunity: we think those who will handle the ‘management and emergence” or “dance” phase well discussed in this previously referenced article are planning now, or will do so pretty soon.

Longer term thinking, planning and decisions

You are now planning for “different” to be permanent, especially practical changes in the next 1-2 years.

People are now thinking international travel is out of the question to the end of this year and potentially the end of 2021. Travel budgets have gone to zero or near zero.

Leases are generally not yet front of mind but people are pondering a very different future where they need less floor space.

Some marketing budgets have been cut but others have been increased because clients are presented with rare opportunities. Others have used the forced slow down to bring back burner projects to the front burner, as they renovate services and products, create new ones and consider the future needs of their own clients.

Clients are finding ways to personalise communications (as mentioned last call).

Some clients are planning for the move back into the office, whilst others have already transitioned (where teams are smaller eg less than five members).

3. CEO guidance regarding coronavirus responses

This section provides our guidance on management and communication responses.

1. Physical and practical staff rewards matter

As one client reminded us, sending fruit boxes to staff members, remembering birthdays, and giving time off are all ways to thank our people and show we value them. Right now these actions probably mean more than a daily phone call or yet another WFH suggestion email. 

2. Scenario plan again, with a different lens: a) what is known and b) ‘black swan’

If you didn’t see COVID coming (most of us!), debrief and make sure the lessons are incorporated into your plans to return to work. This time, however, as one client suggested, ask “what will break us?” both in terms of operations and reputation.

There are some known sources of feedback you can actively seek stakeholder feedback or source. Online chat section of industry forums can be quite revealing about what your stakeholders are going through. Formal insights also have a place. So does aggregating common questions or complaint. Can these give insight that changes your communication or service proposition?

Perhaps invite your team to also think far more broadly: what might the next series of black swan events look like? Is there any particular event or series we’re vulnerable to? Hint: the answer is yes. The harder answer is “what are they?” and “how do we spot them from the distance?”. 

4. Appendix: How to help us help you

This briefing is collective intelligence gathered, anonymised and shared with you by my firm for the greater good. We’ve taken the view, based on client feedback, that the collective benefit to you all takes precedence over normal competitive pressures at a time like this.

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 formhere.

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