Financial Services: The Tipping Point of 2020 for Organisational Resilience

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Successful organisational resilience relies heavily on the four sights: insight, foresight, oversight and hindsight. Unfortunately, anticipating and preparing for sudden disruptions is not an exact science –despite our best efforts, we can’t always accurately predict everything that will happen or be needed in the future. Take the common trends forecasted by Deloitte for the financial services sector in the APAC region in 2020, for example: without the luxury of foresight’s frustratingly smug sibling, hindsight, they – and everyone else who tried – were unable to foresee a devastating event that was lurking around the corner.

  • Increased trade tensions between the US and China: This has the potential to fragment markets further, dampen growth and create a more severe business environment for financial services firms.
  • Chinese economic slowdown: A dip in Chinese domestic demand has undermined Asia Pacific economies such as Australia and New Zealand, which are closely intertwined with the world’s second-largest economy through their mining industries.
  • Technological change: The significant difference between the speed of technological innovation – such as robotics and AI – relative to the speed of legislative and regulatory change is a major concern.
  • Culture and conduct: High-profile market misconduct incidents, major regulatory activity to address structural governance issues, and low consumer trust have combined to ensure culture and conduct remains a top priority.
  • Governance: An increasingly interconnected set of stakeholders across the financial ecosystem has heightened the difficulty in building trust between parties – brining the need for robust governance frameworks that strengthen a firm’s social licence to operate to the fore.
  • Implementation of global standards: Regulators and firms must contend with regulatory fatigue, as an uncertain macroeconomic environment makes implementing global standards more challenging within the region.
  • Mitigating climate change: This emerging area of global regulatory interest is given extra significance by the region’s financial dependency on mining practices – particularly in countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

Yes, the potential impact of these trends warranted major consideration – and continue to do so – however, the four sights couldn’t prepare us for what happened next: fast-forward to March 2020, and concerns around issues such as climate change were put on the backburner after society was blindsided by the escalating COVID-19 pandemic. 

The COVID-19 conundrum

The announcement of nationwide lockdown restrictions across the globe reshaped the workplace landscape overnight: homeworking suddenly became a forced necessity for most businesses in the financial services sector, rather than a convenient and occasional alternative. If this sudden transition from bustling offices to makeshift workstations at kitchen tables wasn’t challenging enough for risk leaders, the economic impact of global lockdowns has been nothing short of catastrophic.

As countries imposed tight restrictions on movement to halt the spread of the virus, it wasn’t just people that were brought to a near-standstill; economic activity practically ground to a halt as well. The resulting damage has been so profound – even in the world’s strongest economies – that it represents the largest shock to the global economy in decades. Central banks around the world have been forced to proactively intervene to calm markets, implementing stimulus measures on an unprecedented scale – such as record interest rate cuts in Australia and New Zealand in March. This economic turmoil has amplified several trends that were already firmly on the sectors organisational resilience radar: increased trade tensions between the US and China, and the Chinese economic slowdown.

By May, Donald Trump was threatening to reignite the US-China trade war, as he took a swipe at Beijing’s handling of the pandemic – with rumours circulating that the White House is crafting renewed import tariffs that would be applied to Chinese imports in a major escalation of the trade standoff. Meanwhile, China’s economy – which has been touching the breaks for the best part of a decade – almost performed an emergency stop following a lockdown of much of the country’s economy, causing it to contract by 6.8 per cent between January and March – although reports suggest it’s revving its engine again and is on the road to recovery, driving up the price of metals on the back of the country’s renewed appetite for growth.

The current landscape

So, how has the global pandemic refocused organisational resilience planning in the financial services sector?  

  • Employees – businesses must be proactive in their support of new performance targets and working arrangements for employees – liaising with regulators to ensure that compliance expectations are adhered to.
  • Customers – reputation is vital, so where possible business must:
    • Provide liquidity and support to customers undergoing financial difficulties.
    • Provide regular reassurance on the continuity of service delivery.
    • Provide effective digital services.
    • Provide regular updates on how they’re dealing with related issues e.g. health and travel insurance.
  • Liquidity – unprecedented central bank measures have reduced the cost of borrowing, meaning businesses must understand their available capital and liquidity resources – and assess the resilience of these.
  • Third-party suppliers – assess which third-party suppliers are most likely to be impacted by the pandemic, which are critical to ongoing business operations, and where they need to mitigate risks posed by these relationships.
  • Communication and transparency – businesses must mitigate the impact of the pandemic by communicating effectively with multiple stakeholders: employees, customers, shareholders and regulators.
  • Scenario and contingency planning – businesses must attempt to understand the challenges to society and economies posed by the pandemic and how they will impact the interconnected financial system.

Australian regulators have installed crisis shock absorbers in the form of relief or waivers from certain regulatory requirements. In March, the Council of Financial Regulators – the coordinating body for Australia’s main financial regulatory agencies – announced they would examine how the timing of regulatory initiatives could be adjusted to give financial institutions some breathing space to concentrate on their businesses and assist customers. For example, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) has temporarily reduced its capital ratio requirements to ensure banks are able to continue to provide credit.

Similarly, in New Zealand regulators have announced that there will be delays in regulations – such as The Financial Services Legislation Amendment Act (FSLAA) – which are intended to help banks to better meet and demonstrate compliance requirements.

Remember the big picture

The COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly a historic event with wide-ranging repercussions for risk leaders to understand and learn from as quickly as possible. However, financial services firms must also strike a balance between prioritising these emerging risks and continuing to manage established risks. Take the long-term threat of cybercrime for example: the pandemic has left us so distracted and disoriented that our defences are down, even as we depend more than ever on all things digital. In August, Interpol reported an “alarming rate” of cyber-attacks, coupled with a shift in targets from individuals and small businesses to large organisations.

And what about prominent ESG factors, which include, but are not limited to combatting climate change? While this has been and remains an important boardroom discussion; it has undoubtedly taken a back seat since the escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Technology to the rescue

Business solutions are vital tools for managing emerging and established GRC risks, strategies, and projects. The challenge is integrating software that can drive meaningful decision-making from a risk perspective using data that’s aligned to business objectives and KPIs. Achieve this and you will go a long way to achieving the holy grail of aligning risk management and people management with the strategic objectives of the business. This will ensure you are well-placed to adapt and be resilient during normal business operations and through disruptive events.

With integrated solutions in risk, strategy, projects and people, our business software will help you make the right decisions, manage risks and align the talents of your organisation. We are excited to discuss how Camms solutions can assist with your risk management practices. Reach out to us to explore how Camms.Risk can help you focus on what matters.

Sources: The New York Times

Liam Scanlon

Key Accounts Manager

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