“Facing the pandemic, is not what happened matters, it is how we respond.”
― Napz Cherub Pellazo
Last week, I examined the need for a thorough update of Business Continuity Plans in banks to contain the COVID 19 pandemic. The scale of the pandemic is unprecedented and some of the effects on businesses has been devastating.
The Unprecedented Implications of a Pandemic
During pandemics, the scale of the effects on businesses can be unprecedented and devastating. These include:
- reduced staffing, both regular and temporary workers
- reduced business such as deposits, transactions, charges and fees.
- interruption in getting supplies or materials (especially if goods are imported by air or land)
- change in demands (for example: increased digital banking, less patronage of bank products).
- reductions or restrictions on public meetings or gatherings (including schools, sports, clubs, theatre, restaurants, religious gatherings, etc.) causing less cash inflows into customers’ accounts.
- restrictions on travel whether regional, national, or international.
The First Steps in BCP planning
During this stage of planning, it is important to identify which banking processes are critical and how they can affect the bank’s bottom line. The following three issues come to play in your recommendations to the Human Resource Department:
- Identify critical processes, operations, and functions.
- Identify key internal and external dependencies – those things, people, or other business you rely on.
- Identify what else can affect your business.
When planning for your priorities, examine:
- The adequacy of staff critical to each process – Identify and train back-ups for essential functions, including chain of command (management).
- Equipment – Make sure the available equipment meets the identified needs.
- Availability of assets – Make sure that facilities, utilities, computers, machinery, or tools also meet your needs (e.g., access to internal systems by staff working from home).
- The effectiveness of risk assessment processes in operations of both remote workers and workers still on location.
The following additional options should be examined during pandemics:
- Ensure understanding of the bank’s documented guidelines for business decisions and ensure your direct reports are in the know.
- Create a Task Force to ensure seamless execution of functions with the proper chain of authority, and coordination of activities.
- Ensure the designated Compliance and Risk functions are in place, since fraudsters take advantage of lapses that occur during management of pandemics.
- Assign a person or team, where appropriate, to help assess the health of workers (e.g., if the worker may be coming down with an illness).
- This is the time to ensure staff learn various functions to ensure continuation of all essential services to customers.
- Provide handwashing facilities and/or alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
- Have a period of time between shifts to clean surfaces such as tables, door knobs, hand rails, or shared telephones and keyboards.
- Have up-to-date sick leave policies. NOTE: Be aware that doctors may have limited availability to provide sick-leave documentation.
- Up to date record keeping – Maintain an up-to-date list of your staff and your clients (e.g., telephone trees, call-in numbers, hot lines for information, broadcast e-mails)
- Do not leave some staff out of communication. Develop communication methods to reach all staff, especially if staff are working remotely.
- Develop methods to conduct your business, including using the internet, cloud-based workspaces, phone, video conferencing, etc.
- Adherence to the social distancing increase the distance between people (e.g., install a protective barrier for those working with the public, increase the distance between workstations, use larger meeting rooms).
- Consider providing transportation for those staff that use public transportation.
- Postpone or cancel face-to-face meetings (including internally) as well as unnecessary travel.
- Create small working groups (e.g., a branch should have groups of working Teams on the same shifts).
Creating Your Own Business Vaccine at work
Pandemics open up a new world of threats to both people and businesses. Without a vaccine, the threat will continue for people, but you can create your own business business “vaccine” through careful planning, procedure evaluation, and security checkpoints. Building business resiliency against breaches and threats has a renewed urgency now more than ever, and by carefully scrutinizing your own and your vendors’ plans, every business can be more resilient to threats now and in the future.
Protect Employees and Customers
Educate and train employees in proper hand hygiene, cough etiquette, other virus prevention strategies, and social distancing techniques. Understand and develop work practice and engineering controls that could provide additional protection to your employees and customers, such as drive-through service windows, ventilation, and the proper selection, use and disposal of personal protective equipment.
Avoiding the Spread of Viruses in the Workplace: What the Experts say
According to the recommendations of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety CCCOHS), updated in 11th March, 2020, the best strategy to reduce the risk of becoming infected with a virus during a pandemic is to avoid crowded settings and other situations that increase the risk of exposure to someone who may be infected. If it is necessary to be in a crowded setting, the time spent in a crowd should be as short as possible. Some basic hygiene and social distancing precautions that can be implemented in every workplace include the following:
- Encourage sick employees to stay at home.
- Encourage your employees to wash their hands frequently with soap and water or with hand sanitizer if there is no soap or water available. Also, encourage your employees to avoid touching their noses, mouths, and eyes.
- Encourage your employees to cover their coughs and sneezes with a tissue, or to cough and sneeze into their upper sleeves if tissues are not available.
- Employees should avoid close contact with their coworkers and customers (maintain a separation of at least 6 feet). They should avoid shaking hands and always wash their hands after contact with others.
- Provide customers and the public with tissues and trash receptacles, and with a place to wash or disinfect their hands.
- Keep work surfaces, telephones, computer equipment, and other frequently touched surfaces and office equipment clean.
- Discourage your employees from using other employees’ phones, desks, offices or other work tools and equipment.
- Minimize situations where groups of people are crowded together, such as in a meeting. Use email, phones and text messages to communicate with each other. When meetings are necessary, avoid close contact by keeping a separation of at least 4 feet, where possible, and provide proper ventilation in the meeting room.
Relationship Banking should Never be Compromised
We are not in normal times, and for us in Ghana, this is a completely new BCP. There may be trial and errors to localize some plans to suit our environments. However top of the priority lists is to continue to engage customers virtually through various means of communication. This is the time that Relationship Officers should be regularly connecting with customers to assure them and directing them on the best means of payment systems, transactions and assisting with the digital banking concerns from non-tech-saavy customers. This is the time customers using analogue phones should be guided to move to smart phones to facilitate digital banking without fear or concerns of hacking. Some are slow learners and this is their time to learn. You never know. Many illiterates and senior citizens have huge investments elsewhere. These little things will eventually encourage them to divert some of their funds to your bank. Do not forget my usual quote that “Banking is a Feelings Business”.
Banks must continue to be proactive in measuring the effects of the pandemics, prevention of expanded contact, operational abilities, flexibility of the plan, and testing of the plan with continued updating. Effective management of the process will reduce the risk of any catastrophic failure. I hope we have all learnt lessons from this COVID 19 pandemic era and barring anymore disastrous events, bankers will remain on top of their businesses.
Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She is the Author of two books: “The 21st Century Bank Teller: A Strategic Partner” and “My Front Desk Experience: A Young Banker’s Story”. She uses her experience and practical case studies, training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations and fraud.