Distance Working: The Opportunity to Rebuild
By CJ Emson
As the coronavirus pandemic swept across the globe, the collective workforce went home, forcing some industries to come to a standstill. Businesses crucial for enabling liquidity, however, continued largely uninterrupted. The finance industry quickly reoriented business practices and has embraced the opportunities to shape the future of our industry.
Expanding on the discussion from our lively June 2020 virtual event, we are further exploring the notions of a decentralized workforce, near-sourcing trends and how best to approach the challenges of remote work in a regulated environment.
Remote and Rearranged
Had the coronavirus pandemic occurred a decade earlier, it has been speculated, the repercussions would have been far different and likely greater than they are today. Groceries came from supermarkets, rather than delivery services. “Kbps” was still a relevant measurement of Internet bandwidth, and videoconferencing with colleagues or clients would have been seen as unprofessional. The financial sector was only coming around to the idea of automation, while talk of artificial intelligence, for the most part, was relegated to Sci-Fi films.
The world, and the finance industry, has come a long way since then. Just Eat, GrubHub and Amazon Prime bring food and other essentials to our doorsteps. Bandwidth measured in gigabits is not unheard of, and videoconferencing is now so prevalent that the word “Zoom” has a whole new meaning than it did 6 months ago. While the finance industry still experiences many of the same pressure points as it did a decade ago—driven by siloed, outdated tech and manually exported and re-keyed data—many firms have invested admirably in the newest tech and streamlined infrastructure.
The Times, They are A-Changin’
With pandemic lockdown measures lifting globally, business processes as they have existed before have come into question. Pre-COVID, many financial firms in the U.S. and EU relied on outsourced providers located in places like India and other Asian centers to complete certain crucial business functions. This included some processes integral for maintaining regulatory compliance.
Experiences varied as to the success of these models in the early days of the pandemic, where in some cases “outsourcing regions were unable to fulfill their obligations,” according to Dyson, due to overwhelmed healthcare and transport systems. “Regulators… have raised question marks about where problems were and where these criticalities were in the chain,” said Dyson, “and whether or not… some of those critical functions should be within jurisdiction [domestic].”
In recent years, some firms have already returned outsourced functions closer to home for the cost savings alone. Post-COVID, and prioritizing regulatory compliance, the reliability of domestic healthcare and transportation systems might have businesses reconsidering near-sourcing or even insourcing models.
Remote work, when well supported, can result in many benefits. Businesses working remotely thrive when the experience of personnel is well considered and the collective community cares about the work they do. Humanizing the remote experience is necessary for maintaining an accountable and inspired community.
At EquiLend, amongst staff there are few strangers. With video calls at every opportunity globally, casual Microsoft Teams IMs on the side, in addition to the standard formality of email, there is frequently someone “in the room” with you. From the time our business moved to BCP and thus fully remote in mid-March, we’ve enjoyed Zoom drinks and video quizzes, participated in photo challenges, collated and shared the experiences of dozens of colleagues in lockdown and we’ve hired new team members who have been welcomed into participating and contributing to all of the above.
Despite the different environment, our business has felt largely unchanged: our systems are running smoothly, projects approach deadlines as before and staff meetings continue. While “endless Zoom meetings can only do so much,” as Dyson puts it, people across the industry have been admirably adaptable to the new work environment. This, in turn, has driven corporate reassurance in remote work for however long it remains mandatory, and likely when, one day, it becomes optional too.
A Brave New (Working) World
The world that entered lockdown is forever a thing of the past, although regulations impacting the industry are the same. “Regulators have to change their thinking,” said Dyson. “A lot of policies were developed on the run, but now… we see a level of progressiveness that is… required to get markets where they need to be.”
The challenge now is to shape the next normal, be that location or regulation, rather than be at pains to adapt to it.
Securities Finance: The Future
Who We Are
EquiLend is a global financial technology firm offering trading, post-trade, market data, regulatory and clearing services for the securities finance, collateral and swaps industries. EquiLend has offices in New York, Boston, Toronto, London, Dublin, Hong Kong and Tokyo.