The global Corona Virus pandemic has been the ultimate measure of character and competency for leaders in all industries. More especially in the financial technology and banking industry, executives have had to take on enormous responsibilities to maintain financial stability and protect jobs in these uncertain times. The big question is, what should leaders be doing differently to cope better and possibly stay ahead of the chaos? The demand of an evolving working culture, technical know-how and overall discipline of leadership to manage the crisis is important and will heavily determine the strength and progress of many entities.
In Ghana, there has been an incredible display of social and financial support especially from medium-sized regional banks as well as the central bank to mitigate both the social and economic risks posed by the pandemic. Albeit a credible effort, there is still vast progress to be made to guarantee steadiness and resilience in the sector. Year in, year out, financial technology companies and banks take up challenging initiatives to make service delivery easier and customer experiences more satisfying. But the robustness of working infrastructure has been tested by COVID-19. “Many of organizations’ processes today are not sufficiently agile, with any optimization efforts performed in silos that may have only produced ‘surface level’ enhancements rather than ‘infrastructure level’ resiliency improvements. This lack of agility has meant that institutions have found it challenging to flex to the new requirements that have come with COVID-19, requiring many workflows across areas such as fraud management, investigations and regulatory reporting to be ‘broken’ just to continue delivering services. These broken processes and controls introduce not only significant amounts of manual intervention but in some cases remove steps entirely, substantially increasing business risks and potential associated losses.” (KPMG, 2020)
One other area of concern during this period has been the inefficiencies with employee management and customer support. In such taxing times, communication has to be swift, from top-level management to the entry-level employee. With several employees having to work from home, working processes have been lengthened rather than made more efficient due to the inadequacy and sometimes lack of up-to-date automated set-ups. Not only have these inadequacies cost the banking and financial technology sector, there have been negative ripple effects in other sectors due to time-wasting and financial crimes.
In some important ways, the COVID-19 crisis has revealed remarkable preparedness on the part of the banking industry. Some FinTech and banking bodies have had it much easier, having some level of modernized operations and digital systems. “To illustrate the butterfly effect of COVID-19, consider how behaviour-change plays out across a complex and interconnected financial landscape: restricted mobility and branch closures has made accessing banking services via digital channels the only option for most, while fear of contagion has driven the use of contactless payment.” (Peter Pawlick, 2020) Despite all the evidence of remarkable progress, it goes without saying that banks and FinTech institutions need to seriously consider more sustainable solutions, possibly more ambitious digital transformations.
It is required of many companies, in fact all businesses to always have a crisis plan in place. But as to what exactly the crisis plan should be focused on is lost on many businesses. COVID-19 is categorized as a novel pandemic, having such a massive unexpected impact. What then is leadership’s role in managing the unexpected? It is in such instances that the decision-making and strategic thinking abilities of leaders are most sought after. Are leaders in the Ghanaian banking and FinTech industry prepared to take up such huge responsibilities? A Deloitte online poll of more than 2,000 C-suite executives, managers, analysts and crisis professionals from U.S. and international companies found that a large percentage of respondents did not know what their biggest gap in crisis preparedness would be. Further, half of respondents were not sure whether the crisis response team had been tested. The situation here locally is not much different. “It’s the unseen or unanticipated crises that are potentially the most dangerous,” says Rhoda Woo, a Deloitte Advisory managing director and leader of the U.S. Crisis Management practice at Deloitte & Touche LLP. “An unanticipated crisis can easily overwhelm contingency mitigation techniques and risk management programs, such as business continuity, disaster recovery, health and safety plans or emergency response. Management can even exacerbate a crisis if bad news is marginalized or otherwise ignored until it’s too late,” Ms. Woo adds.
How can leaders be prepared and poised for digitization in response to COVID-19 and future pandemics? In uncertain times, you may not have certain answers. It is okay to admit as a leader that you do not know what to do and then quickly follow through with one or two steps that will instigate progress. It is possible to create your crisis plan along the way even though it is safer to have one already prepared. Even them, be ready to create a plan C, plan D and plan E because despite the expertise you may have as a leader, you will still grapple with several new questions and only by engaging the situation will you find answers.
The following keys can help leaders, managers and teams to navigate these uncertain times and rack up valuable experiences and lessons for the future:
1. Manage the present and prepare for the unexpected
One very important attribute to pick up as a leader is foresight. Even in crisis management and amidst the uncertainty, being able to anticipate what may happen next is a valuable trait to pick up. It is clear that banks that had in place futuristic working operations and customer support systems found it much easier to transition into a no contact mode of operating. Such innovations could only have been implemented through leaders that had foresight. For instance, some banks could still sign on new customers because they had digital account opening technology in place. The process although convenient still needs to be streamlined and designed to be much simpler and completed within a shorter period of time.
2. Factor in the human element in your solutions
It is easy to get lost in the routine of solving problems, so much so that you forget who you are actually solving them for. The human element is a strong one in any crisis. Every innovative solution out there was basically created because of humans. We have witnessed the outbursts and loss of confidence from the people because certain decisions were not made with their best interest at heart. Even as you try to create, design and build solutions to solve challenges, remember to make your ideas, products and services human-centric. Every person on your team has something to contribute and that includes your customer base as well. Create and listen for feedback to adapt changes that are progressive. In a crisis, many people although appreciative of the introduction of digitization dread the use of such systems for many reasons. Slow internet and unavailability of time are important factors to consider. So, process must be made as simple and as short as possible. The goal is to still provide as much convenience and security as possible in the midst of chaos. This way, you will be maximizing your resources.
3. Drive toward actionable intelligence
In the midst of a crisis, leadership must often navigate confusing data and intelligence. It is important, therefore, to cast a wide net, as crucial information can come from a range of sources, including customers and employees. But those sources must be qualified, as misinformation can be as prevalent as information. “It’s important to consider sources carefully,” notes Mr. Snyder, a Deloitte Advisory principal and leader of the Corporate Restructuring Group at Deloitte Transactions and Business Analytics LLP. He adds that multiple view points from the right sources can provide more objective and actionable information.
4. Foster Innovation as a practice:
In a crisis, human and financial capital may be the most strained resources. It is still pertinent to take initiatives to create solutions for survival. In a matter of weeks, a test-kit had been created for a disease that anyone rarely had knowledge of. But our survival was key, so some organizations worked quickly to design solutions. FinTech and banking in Ghana can access a plethora of digital resources presently available, while customizing these tools to suit their customer demographic. These online tools can be very useful by cutting out too many manual processes, giving room to customer-facing employees to listen to customers and provide relevant solutions to their needs. It is the time to find better ways of working together as a team both as an individual entity and as an industry. “An experimental mindset should not be the limited purview of a firm’s digital innovation lab or any single department. From human resource employees, to customer service representatives, to backend developers, everyone should be empowered and equipped to diagnose new issues that have emerged as a result of COVID-19 and to run their own experiments to find viable solutions, with the primary requirement being a definitive answer to the question, “If we run this experiment and it fails, will we be better off for having learned something?” (Fintech Magazine, 2020)
Given the unexpected occurrence of COVID-19, I believe the FinTech and banking industries have embraced the challenge by quickly adapting unique modes of operations. There is still a large gap to fill in terms of what can be done to build more formidable support systems for COVID-19 and beyond.