Staying Connected in a Remote Financial Services Workforce

Mary Ellen Biery
June 30, 2020
Read Time: min

New challenges to an already stressful remote banking job

The coronavirus and work-from-home mandates have brought new challenges to an already stressful job held by banking professionals – whether they are BSA/AML professionals, lenders handling Paycheck Protection Program loans, or asset/liability managers.

In response to the national emergency declared in mid-March and numerous states ordering residents to shelter at home, financial institutions along with other employers scrambled to shift many of their employees to remote workspaces. That required a range of adjustments to address safety and security risks. It has also required some operational changes that have been less than ideal.

Changes required by bankers working from home

For example, at financial institutions that continue to rely on paper-based BSA/AML systems, the need to send BSA staff home likely meant staffers had to drag files home with them, said Terri Luttrell, Compliance & Engagement Director at Abrigo. And since the shelter-at-home orders have lasted so long, financial institutions have perhaps had to rotate sending staff into the office to pull additional files, she added.

Even for BSA/AML staff at banks and credit unions using BSA or AML software, shifting work from the customary work environment has meant procedures and processes that have taken years, in some cases, to fine tune have had to be adjusted on the fly. For example, staff working on individual Suspicious Activity Reports will often gather periodically around the conference room table to collaborate – whether it’s once every few days or once a week.

“Without those in-person meetings, it makes the collaboration more difficult,” Luttrell says. “Sometimes you really need to talk it through.” Some staffs are prohibited from using web cameras on their laptops, so it can make face-to-face teamwork – even if it is virtual – impossible. That can contribute to making remote work lonely.

For PPP lenders, many workers might have continued coming into the bank or credit union branch or office, but they were unable to meet face-to-face with co-workers or customers/members due to restrictions on in-branch traffic. They’ve implemented new technologies to adapt, such as online loan applications for their PPP applicants, and video meetings with colleagues.

Other financial institutions that had already digitized lending and credit functions have been able to keep many workers at home. And while a recent survey by The Digital Banking Report of 300 financial service industry executives identified work-from-home challenges initially, they said many of the challenges diminished from April to May, and 81% of those surveyed believed there would be greater remote working opportunities in the future.

Nevertheless, many remote bank or credit union workers have had challenges adjusting to working outside the office. Working while children are in school and require attention, or working simply when other family members are in the house can be difficult, especially if there are numerous interruptions. Luttrell said that in talking with some BSA/AML professionals in recent weeks, some mentioned concerns that the transition to working from home has made it more difficult to meet various FinCEN filing and reporting deadlines. “That’s tough, because they do have hard deadlines,” she noted. “The agencies haven’t cut them any slack.”

While FinCEN’s May 18 notice said it “recognizes the current circumstances may create challenges with respect to certain BSA obligations, including the timing requirements for certain BSA report filings,” it did not relieve financial institutions of their obligations to ensure risk-based compliance with the BSA. Instead, it advised financial institutions to communicate COVID-19-related concerns, such as timely filing, to www.fincen.gov. Other financial institution roles have likely faced similar challenges meeting deadlines in their jobs.

Industry pros on your team without the big overhead.
learn more

Connection, collaboration remain key for WFH bankers

Given that some states are slowing reopening, employers may begin or may already be rethinking plans to start bringing staff back into the office. As a result, now is a good time to revisit work-from-home strategies – not only for regulatory and cybersecurity concerns, but also for staying connected and maintaining collaboration. Here are a few tips for communicating and staying in touch with co-workers, according to Luttrell and several other sources, including the Society for Human Resource Management, and HR Daily Advisor.

  • Follow up with your supervisor/team lead often to keep them informed, using email, text or telephone. Be sure to communicate any flexibility you may need (i.e., time to care for children or other family members). Over-communication is important to manage expectations, especially if you need additional assistance. It’s important to make sure not only that you are meeting expectations, but also that your needs are met so that you can continue to perform at a high level.
  • Develop or refresh new routines related to communication that replace the face-to-face interactions you previously had around the office. Start and maintain a running list of reasons you find yourself needing feedback or collaboration that previously were met by in-person interactions. Try to group these reasons into categories, such as supervisory feedback, peer review, social interaction, etc. As you develop options for meeting those needs, cross them off the list, and don’t forget to ask co-workers how they are solving the same issues. In fact, a weekly 15-minute phone call with co-workers to collaborate on how they are meeting their needs for feedback might help. One example of a new routine might be a standing time each morning for a 15-minute conference call with teammates to update each other on schedules for the day. This provides an opportunity for connection, as well as communication about team priorities and urgent needs for assistance later in the day or week for better planning.
  • Make use of shared documents to collaborate on feedback from a group when you cannot get together by phone or video conference. If there are routine updates required at periodic intervals, create templates that make it easier for everyone to provide them.
  • Discuss as a team which channels of communication should be used for critical or time-sensitive information, which are best for ongoing discussions, and which are preferred for file sharing. Some people don’t like to use instant messaging apps like Slack or Teams for anything other than simple communications on urgent matters; others rely on them for all messaging because they desire quick responses from everyone.
  • Don’t forget to look for ways to interact socially. Organize virtual contests among colleagues, even if prizes aren’t involved or a winner is picked randomly. These can be contests such as “most creative work-from-home space,” “share pictures of your work-from-home buddies,” “share your backyard oasis photos,” or step challenges over a week’s time.
  • It’s impossible to gather for lunches and after-work happy hours in person, but you can organize virtual coffee or lunch dates, or an end-of-week virtual happy hour or other team-building events. If your company doesn’t allow videoconferencing tools on your work device, use Zoom or another free app on your personal phone.
  • Before the coronavirus sent so many workers home, people got used to sending emails instead of picking up the phone. Now, however, it’s important to call occasionally to check in with the co-worker you used to see every day in the office – not only for improved business communication, but also for interpersonal relationships. If a colleague doesn’t answer the phone, send a follow-up email or text to let them know you’re thinking of them. Many people are feeling isolated, and a phone call can help both parties.
  • Finally, identify a period of a few hours during the day as “deep work time,” when employees are expected to refrain from communicating unless it is critical.

Financial institutions will undoubtedly ease back into re-opening branches and offices at some point. However, some employees may continue to work from home more frequently than they did before the pandemic. Implementing healthy habits for working remotely now will make collaboration and communication easier down the road – no matter what happens.

About the Author

Mary Ellen Biery

Mary Ellen Biery is a Senior Writer and Content Specialist at Abrigo.

Full Bio

About Abrigo

Abrigo is a leading technology provider of compliance, credit risk, and lending solutions that community financial institutions use to manage risk and drive growth. Our software automates key processes — from anti-money laundering to fraud detection to lending solutions — empowering our customers by addressing their Enterprise Risk Management needs.

Make Big Things Happen.

 

Looking for Banker’s Toolbox? You are in the Right Place!

Banker’s Toolbox is now Abrigo, giving you a single source for all your enterprise risk management needs. Use the login button here, or the link in the top navigation, to log in to Banker’s Toolbox Community Online.

Make yourself at home!