Money Matters

5 best practices for financial services firms responding to COVID-19

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As we navigate through uncharted territory with the COVID-19 virus impacting every aspect of our personal and professional lives, we find ourselves having to re-evaluate even our most routine tasks and activities in a new way.

Over the course of the last two weeks, I have connected with customers, business partners, industry experts and sales teammates. The underlying sentiment for all can be captured in the words of a CFO of a leading real estate lending firm:

“As you can imagine, we are dealing with a number of issues that require my undivided attention. We are operating remotely (except for a skeleton crew on site) and working with our customers and banks to ensure we can continue to operate as close to normal as possible.”

So, how do we move on from here? Here are a few lessons from successful finance leaders at financial services firms who, at one point or another, have experienced a major business setback – and the measures they took to move forward productively.

  1. Provide structure, direction, and support to your team

It’s not easy being a leader, especially during a crisis. Yet, finance leaders across the globe are being asked to manage remote teams — which may be a brand-new reality for you. You may be thinking:

  • How can I keep the team engaged and communication lines open when we are not meeting in-person?
  • How do I keep morale and productivity high?
  • How can I emotionally support my team and ease their fears during uncertain times?

First and foremost, be human. Recognize that you are dealing with people under a lot of personal and professional stress. It is critical to be authentic and empathetic with your team, as well as with customers and prospects. With an understanding mind-set, be sure to provide structure, direction, and support. It’s OK to over-communicate with your team – especially in the beginning — to level-set expectations (e.g., how the team will share information, manage projects and deadlines, make decisions) and have them express concerns.

Establish a daily check-in — a simple 15-20-minute meeting, the same time every day — where you and your teammates answer three questions: What did I accomplish yesterday? What will I do today? What obstacles, if any, are impeding my progress?

Use one-on-ones to touch base and ask questions like: What is working/not working? How can I support you? How can I help you be successful?

  1. Be productive from anywhere you need to be – 24/7

For employees mandated to work from home, help to ensure that they are equipped to be productive. Do they have portable laptops, a comfortable keyboard, a camera for video calling, and cybersecurity software to protect their (or the company’s) information? A good backup solution is key, too, in case of a power outage, virus, or hardware issue.

To keep the team engaged and collaboration levels high, have the team embrace the webcam. While conference calls are tough due to time delays, not knowing who’s talking because you can’t see the person, and people getting interrupted unintentionally, video calls allow participants to see who they are talking to – increasing overall focus and interaction.

To keep a pulse on your firm’s business, opt to leverage the cloud to get direct, 24/7 access to key documents and systems, including your financial management hub — via a single set of resources, application infrastructure, and database. Giving you the flexibility to deliver value, availability, security, and support to your customers when they need it most.

Not in the cloud? Be sure that your important documents are easily accessible to enable access for key stakeholders — wherever they are. Assign the appropriate access rights to help ensure valuable information doesn’t get lost or accidentally deleted.

Be sure to clarify roles and responsibilities in this new “normal.” Who needs to be involved in key decision-making? In what capacity? Who determines when an event necessitates moving from continuity plans to crisis? Ironing out the details beforehand, establishes clear accountability from the outset – enabling you and the team to move forward productively.

  1. Keep a pulse on your planning needs

With news changing on a daily (and even hourly basis) impacting revenue and profits, many firms will need to regularly re-plan for a variety of scenarios.  Where does it make sense to curtail or stop spending? Are there investments that should be made in the next few days, or weeks, to ensure that your business recovers faster when the COVID-19 crisis inevitably ends — which could be months from now? If you are working in spreadsheets, you’ll want to be careful about “final” versions and maintaining confidentiality. If you’re lucky enough to have a financial planning and analysis tool in place to help you react in real time, uncover trends and deliver insights quickly, then the process is likely to go smoother. Take back your most precious asset, time, to not only gain alignment, but also create transparency and accountability within your finance team and with other key stakeholders so important decisions can be made effectively.

  1. Ensure financial transparency & insight

The unprecedented scale and impact of this crisis likely means you need to adjust many of your financial reports and dashboards to get a complete picture and, ultimately, enable you to take action faster. Whether you are managing balance sheets and income statements, monitoring fund performance, keeping tabs on your assets under management, IRR, or cash-on-cash data, having financial transparency allows you to keep an eye on key trends that matter most to you. And, make big decisions based on data and not just your intuition.

  1. Take time for essential self-care

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the moment and stock up on more anxiety and stress, particularly after listening to the latest news updates. It’s important to take time for self-care –

the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, during periods of stress.”

Aside from practicing social distancing — a key weapon we have to fight the virus — here are a few things I am doing to help me move forward as a financial services director, colleague, parent, daughter, friend and fellow human. I hope that these will help you too as we move forward together in the weeks and months ahead.

  • Have a routine (do the best you can): Routine is important, for adults and for kids – especially now that schools are closed. Keep regular times for sleeping, eating, walking, and exercising to keep boredom and anxiety at bay and that can spiral into unhealthy patterns for coping.
  • Get closer to nature. Nature walks on your own or with your family. Live in the city? Take a stroll through nearby parks. Just be sure to keep a distance of six feet from other people. The exposure to sun, fresh air, and a light breeze offers a much-needed break from being sequestered in our homes.
  • Don’t forget to breathe. Since this all started, I decided to commit to a meditation practice. Ten to 20 minutes a day, every day for 90 days. Given the numerous studies, and testimonies, that highlight how effective meditation (or, just simply focusing on our breath) is to keep the mind calm, this is a no-brainer.
  • Schedule virtual “coffee” talks. Use video teleconferencing, face timing, or the telephone to keep in regular contact with family and friends. This way you can safely stay connected and supported with the people you care most about.
  • Help others. It feels so good to help others giving us a sense of purpose and perseverance through challenging times. No act of kindness is too small. For example, check-in via phone or email with your neighbors (especially elderly neighbors) to make sure they’re doing okay and that they have the essentials.

These are certainly challenging times for all of us. As governments attempt to defend against COVID-19, financial firms face significant operational challenges and major risks to their business performance and long-term endurance.

At Sage Intacct, we are here to support you during these unprecedented times. As we move forward collectively, let us know if there are other topics or issues that you are currently facing on which we might be able to help. In the meantime, here is more information as we adjust to a new way of working and living in the weeks ahead: