The risks and opportunities facing FinTechs forced to let staff work from home during the coronavirus crisis

From: FinTech Global

The COVID-19 outbreak has forced many FinTechs to have their staff work from home. However, what should these companies consider when encouraging remote working?

Remote working is nothing new. Employers have allowed their staff members to work from home for years. But as the coronavirus has continued to spread across the world, more businesses are being forced to have their employees swap their regular offices for workstations at home. That includes many FinTech and RegTech companies such as several European challenger banks such as Revolut, Monzo, Starling Bank and N26.

While measures like this are important to fight the spread of the pandemic, remote working comes with opportunities as well as plenty of risks.

One benefit is that it could give smaller and more nimble FinTech firms an advantage over their bigger peers. “While managing a large team remotely may be a challenge for bigger companies, small businesses and independent workers are actually well placed to work from home as they have tight-knit teams who can remain streamlined even while working from home,” Ed Molyneux, CEO and co-founder of FreeAgent, the cloud accounting software company for gig workers and freelancers, told FinTech Global.

“Startups and smaller technology companies in particular have been taking the lead on flexible working for a long time, to the point where it is now the new normality for many of them. People across all sorts of industries are constantly coming up with ways to work from home in an efficient and stress-free way and are continually identifying the best resources to help them get the job done.”

A similar notion was stated in a recent report from Rosenblatt Securities, the agency brokerage, which pointed out that smaller FinTechs might be able to more easily adapt to the rapidly changing market conditions.

Although, it also noted that these companies may find it particularly difficult to navigate the global crisis as this is the first huge financial downturn they have faced, meaning they may not be as well-equipped as their bigger rivals.

Yet, sending staff off to work remotely also comes with a lot of challenges. “It’s not all positive, of course,” warns Molyneux. Some employees may thrive in their new circumstances, but others may struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation. Those feelings may be amplified in nations such as the UK where people are forced by the government to self-quarantine. “[It will be up to managers to identify the best ways to minimise this and keep their teams engaged and productive,” Molyneux says.

For instance, companies could create virtual coffee breaks or happy hours and try to find ways to support employees in different ways. FlyWire, the payments company, has created support groups for parents, those looking after elderly parents and those living alone.

“We recognise that each employee’s situation is unique, as is each company dealing with this crisis,” Kelly Hartman, chief people officer at Flywire, tells FinTech Global. “We are prioritising supporting our colleagues during this crisis, as every company, FinTech or otherwise, should too. It about empathy, understanding and flexibility – finding a rhythm that works for the individual, team and business. Knowing that each day is going to come with different challenges and being agile in dealing with this”

One way to promote a more social environments despite self-quarantining staff is to swap regular conference calls and emails to video calls among team members. Similarly, video conferences could be a great substitute to face-to-face meeting with clients. However, when using these platforms it can be a good idea to use a solution that ensures compliance with video conferencing legislation.

Devind Redmond, CEO of Theta Lake, the RegTech company specialising in video conferencing compliance technology, recently said that the COVID-19 crisis will only amplify this need.

“There are a range of different tools and technologies that make this level of communication and support possible amid the change in working environment, which FinTechs must now embrace if they haven’t already, “ Jaime Scott, CEO and co-founder of EvaluAgent, the company behind a call-centre customer experience management solution. “While we’re not sure how long the current arrangements will last, all businesses should be taking advantage of free trials for customer service software and looking out for providers that offer rolling monthly contracts.”

Another way to boost team spirit is to provide regular updates about how the pandemic is affecting the business. “Communication needs to be a two-way process: it’s about providing business and policy updates to employees, but it’s also about listening,” says Barney Taylor, Europe managing director of Ensono, the IT company. “People need to have the freedom to ask questions and they need to be comfortable informing management if they are experiencing difficulties and if they are concerned.”

Working from home will also put more strain on the company’s IT infrastructure. “FinTech businesses must ensure that working from home processes reduce the pressures on IT infrastructure and networks as much as possible,” says Simon Ratcliffe, principal consultant at Ensono.

“This includes organising different teams to log on at different times, increasing a business’ available hours and reducing demand on broadband suppliers. Encouraging your HR department, for example, to work their day from early morning and the L&D team to work later into the evening would even out connectivity pressures whilst also allowing people more flexibility during this unprecedented time.”

A related hurdle to overcome is that of cybersecurity. Remote working provides cybercriminals with another point of access. This risk has been amplified through the coronavirus outbreak. Bad actors have increasingly tried to leverage the pandemic to get access to people’s private data through phishing campaigns or malware attacks.”

In the US, Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) has warned that companies and private citizens must remain vigilant during these times and scrutinise every email and digital prompt more to ensure they do not fall prey to criminals trying to leverage the pandemic.

“During this period of market volatility, we want to ensure the public has important information to help detect and stop fraud,” said Michael Short, chief communications officer and director of public affairs at the CFTC.

And that is on top of the regular cybersecurity concerns FinTech companies should keep in mind. The fact that the London-based FinTech company Finastra was forced to take down some of its services for a few days to stave off a suspected ransomware attack should serve as a stark reminder of this risk.

Another risk when employees work from home is that they may be likely to cut corners, which could lead to them not following the right cybersecurity protocols put in place to protect the business. “Accessing new services, onboarding new customers, and granting permissions to third parties digitally, and without the proper identity checks risks everything from GDPR breaches to full scale hacks,” John-Erik Setsaas, VP of Innovation and Identity at Signicat, the digital identity company.

“As the adage goes, ‘in a digital world, no one knows you’re not a dog’. Trust has to be established digitally through verifying the identity of both individuals and businesses alike or risk opening the doors to nefarious individuals.”

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