As Covid-19 lockdown restrictions ease, should FinTechs follow Deloitte’s remote working model?

As the Covid-19 vaccine is being rolled out across the globe, FinTech companies are torn between continuing the remote work strategy and switching back to the traditional form of working. But analysts opine the sector will evolve to a hybrid model.

Covid-19 has killed the traditional work culture forever. As the post-pandemic reopening unfolds, millions are reassessing their relationship to their jobs – more so their workplaces. While companies are still mulling over their next working strategy, some are seemingly leading the way by employing a model of indefinite remote work.

For instance, Deloitte gave its 20,000 UK staff the option of working from home forever. Deloitte UK senior partner Richard Houston said that the pandemic has shown that employees can be trusted to make the right choices of when, how and where they work, “in balance with their professional and personal responsibilities.”

Various financial services behemoths are now exploring a partially remote work strategy. NatWest, for example, will keep a third of its 59,300 staff working remotely, with 55% dividing their time between home and the office. Other banks such as Santander and HSBC announced the closure and consolidation of a number of regional offices in favour of home-working. Standard Chartered offered 90% of the workforce the opportunity to adopt a more hybrid approach on a permanent basis. Revolut plans to move to permanent flexible working in Dublin and other hubs and offer more flexibility to its 2000-strong global workforce. It is not just financial companies making the switch, with tech juggernaut Google will allow one-fifth of its staff to work from home and 20% may work from a different location altogether.

Tellingly, the pandemic caused an acceleration of digital transformation in the largest financial institutions with employees demanding the convenience of working from home. And it looks like these changes are here to stay. As Clear Review director of talent transformation Nick Gallimore said, “Amongst the many impacts Covid-19 has had, it’s proved that remote working is not only possible for many companies but that in the right circumstances it can be more productive than traditional working models.”

Is WFH the future of work?

While remote work is often talked about in terms of work-life balance and being more family-friendly for employees, there’s more to it than this. One of the key benefits of companies enabling remote working is that it widens the available talent pool. According to broadcaster and trends forecaster Shivvy Jervis, remote working makes the workplace more inclusive. She said, “Those who previously were excluded and unable to be contenders for a job because of time, access, suffer from a debilitating illness or neurological condition were forced to count themselves out of roles owing to rigorous daily commutes or the demands of performing in an office alongside large teams.” The ability to remotely work even part-time will enable FinTech’s to be more neuro-diverse.

The pandemic forced businesses to change their approaches on how they think about things like the geographies from which they recruit. Given how talent is hard to find – especially in the FinTech sector, companies mentioning this in job adverts can have a benefit over competitors as WFH jobs would save potential employees commuting and childcare costs. Considered Content founder Jason Ball said, “[Remote working] can demonstrate that you are keen to welcome back women who may have had career breaks to spend time with their children. Importantly, it can clearly differentiate you from your competitors who may be less flexible, giving you the edge in recruiting the best people, no matter who or where they are.”

In fact, 87% of UK employees prefer to work flexibly, however, less than 10% of job adverts mention flexible working, according to research by Timewise. This shows how a more flexible way of working can attract and retain talent. As Advanced Workplace Associates founder Andrew Mawson said, “It’s going to be hard to put the genie back in the bottle for staff in support functions, especially less regulated ones like technology. Firms that try will likely find themselves losing out in a war for talent, as employees will gravitate to the more flexible and attractive offerings of rival firms.”

To add on, a remote working infrastructure also helps in versatility. When the Covid-19 Pandemic hit, FinTech businesses with an existing remote working infrastructure were at a massive advantage over those who didn’t.

Challenges for FinTechs following Deloitte’s model

Despite FinTechs being open to a remote working model, many FinTechs and financial institutions remain resistant to the idea and in favour of a more staid, old-school culture. Titans like Blackstone, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs expect employees to be back on site this summer. JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon even said that remote work “doesn’t work for those who want to hustle. It doesn’t work in terms of spontaneous idea generation,” and “people don’t like commuting, but so what.” Dimon said he wants “nearly all” traders and bank branch employees back at physical locations, highlighting the shortcomings of remote work for maintaining a company’s culture.

Bank of America has urged its vaccinated employees to return to the office after Labor Day in September. Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman said it’s time for employees to return to work in person. “If you can go to a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office. And we want you in the office,” he said. Sharing Gorman’s sentiment, SteelEye CEO Matt Smith opined, ”We cannot ignore the benefits that working face-to-face has on collaboration and creativity, and how these factors provide the foundations of a strong, united team driven by shared purpose. This is incredibly difficult to mirror in a purely virtual setting…”

Clearly, a permanent transition to flexible working does not come without its own challenges, and industry leaders must understand that these are more to do with culture and communication, as opposed to technology. After almost a year of remote work, most financial businesses have overcome the digital barriers to keeping the workforce connected and operating efficiently. Instead, it’s how they keep teams aligned on both micro and macro objectives and replicate company culture that can be contentious.

Cardlay CEO Jørgen Christian Juul told FinTech Global, “I personally think it is important to have personal contact and interaction with your colleagues to bond and create great results. It is not necessarily the best for all FinTechs to follow Deloitte, it depends on each company.” Fittingly, a survey by WeWork revealed that employees value a sense of community which is only achievable in the traditional office setting. It said that people want to collaborate with others and be part of something greater than themselves – which is lacking in a remote work setting.

Explaining the reasons driving more efficiency when working in offices, Funding Options CEO Simon Cureton said, “Coming to an office can help people feel more anchored and gain a better understanding of company culture, as well as how their role fits in with the rest of the business.” He believes supplementing remote work with in-office work also allows new joiners to get to know the rest of the team quicker, and for existing members of staff to nurture their relationships. Working from home completely also makes it harder for co-workers to socialise at work, with 19% of remote workers reporting increased feelings of loneliness.

While working from home seems attractive to employees at first, another key challenge is being unable to unplug from work, eventually causing burnout. Jervis said, “Many companies are now bothering employees outside of working hours and introducing increasing productivity-focused surveillance which lowers morale and causes employees to burn out.” Research by Buffer suggests that 22% of employees are unable to switch off so that line between home and work is crossed too often. To counter this, FinTechs need to give more thought to measuring outcomes and counting work calories – especially when people are working at unusual hours in different environments, Cureton suggested.

Remote work opens floodgates to ransomware risks

One of the biggest caveats of home working is the risk of cyberattacks and phishing attempts. FinTechs have access to a plethora of sensitive information that has to be kept secure from a GDPR and data privacy perspective. In addition to regulatory risks, the financial and reputational damage caused by a cyberattack can be irreversible. For instance, last year, ransomware victims in the US had to shell out nearly $350m, according to the Institute for Security and Technology – up 311% from 2019.

It’s no secret that humans are the weakest link in any cybersecurity domain and most employees lack the infrastructure and training to ensure all personal devices are secure, their home Wi-Fi security is up to scratch and that their files are encrypted. According to SentryBay CEO Dave Waterson, “With some employees working remotely, some in the office, and some doing both, organisations need to develop their existing BYoD and BYoPC policies and take a zero-trust approach to all endpoint devices such as laptops, tablets, home PCs and smartphones.”

While anti-virus software, endpoint detection and response, virtual desktops, VPNs and two-factor authentication will be important in protection, companies must further beef up their security infrastructure. Waterson added, “Real-time endpoint protection is what [security teams] should be focusing on as an essential, complementary layer to any existing unified remote access cybersecurity stack.”

He continued, “The road forward could be bumpy for companies of all sizes as they try to devise security strategies that will serve an ever-evolving landscape.”

Furthermore, it’s important to note that financial services firms are 300 times as likely as other companies to be targeted by a cyberattack, according to a BCG Report. FinTechs, therefore, have many more concerns than other sectors, Jervis said, adding that only by upskilling and educating employees on security best practice, this can be mitigated.

Can hybrid working be the answer?

While a slew of financial companies are now demanding workers to get back to the office, the extent to which office workers are allowed to continue working from home will stand to affect everything from their satisfaction at work to their productivity. TLT partner Siobhan Fitzgerald said, “What is certainly clear is that attitudes are changing, and organisations would do well to see this as an opportunity to transform the way in which they deliver services and empower employees.”

As businesses start to think about what working in a post-pandemic world will look like, they have the opportunity to take the best aspects of remote working and combine them with the best elements of working in the office to create a new normal, with a new model when it comes to work-life balance. As IPC VP Joseph Pickel puts it, “This could mean distributed hub-and-spoke offices are developed for employers, in addition to implementing the necessary infrastructure that enables individuals to work from remote locations on a longer-term basis if they wish.”

Additionally, whether employees are expected to go back fully or work from home, FinTechs must up their game in communication tools. Going fully remote is an opportunity for companies to rethink the tools they use to better foster collaboration to work more asynchronously. Remagine CEO Julia Profeta said, “From water cooler to collaborations tools to communications channels and strategic planning, everything happens digitally, so it’s essential to have the right technologies in place to support operations.”

It is indeed vital that technology and infrastructure providers in the FinTech sector deliver a high-quality standard of service and are constantly updating and upgrading their technology so that it is capable of operating seamlessly and transparently for the benefit of their clientele. Jervis added that onboarding better remote working apps and software mean that remote working can remain an efficient and helpful way to work and that workers away from the office are not left out of the loop.

Clearly, it is far more likely that a best-of-both-worlds hybrid approach would work best. Staff directly involved in high-risk work could work on-site, with remote work being reserved for those with access to less volatile or valuable information. Zilch founder Philip Belamant believes that a one size fits all approach never works because everyone has different values and concerns – “it could be that some of your team feel that they work best at home, while others miss the office environment and culture.”

In conclusion, remote working may well be the biggest workplace reshuffle since World War II. FinTechs have come face-to-face with multiple challenges and forced to reimagine their corporate culture. However, the antidote seems to be in striking a balance. TransferGo CTO Edgardo Savoy said, “For many of us in the financial services industry, the hybrid working model has emerged as the holy grail for a more productive, happy working life. It provides the perfect blend between spending more time at home in a relaxed environment, with family and friends, and visiting the office for those critical team meetings, brainstorms and social events.”

Savoy concluded, “While there’s no blueprint for success, and every company is different, flexible working is dependent upon business leaders finding a way to keep employees energised and committed to objectives.”

Copyright © 2021 FinTech Global

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