In these unprecedented times, it would be easy for the focus on client service to drift whilst managing other priorities within organisations. However, the firms that are best prepared and those that truly understand the needs of their clients have the opportunity now to show their real value, not only through the reassurance that they provide more generally but through their actions in finding bespoke solutions for individual clients.
I’m reminded of one of the famous sayings attributed to the iconic investor, Warren Buffet, who was reported to have said that ‘only when the tide goes out do you discover who is swimming naked’; one interpretation of the comment would be that firms will appear to be meeting the needs of clients effectively during the good times, but their weaknesses are revealed when events become more challenging.
I can think of no more challenging set of circumstances than we all face at present. But while our clients will have many anxieties, wherever they are based and whatever their age, financial firms have the opportunity to step up and show, not only that they have a broader societal role to play in these demanding circumstances but also – to continue the Buffet metaphor – that they can handle the conditions regardless of the state of the tide.
It is a given that the best prepared firms will be able to move to more remote working almost “at the flick of a switch” and without diminution of service levels. The firms that will best meet these fiercest of challenges, however, will first of all be those that devote care and time to their own people, ensuring their well-being and helping them to continue to deliver an entirely professional service whatever their location; sharing effective methods of working, adopting new skills and perhaps even adapting the shape and format of teams. Meanwhile, senior management have to ensure that they motivate their people in this new environment, while maintaining the focus on clients and their immediate needs.
Those professional service providers with the foresight to have invested in the latest technology will be able to effectively keep a step ahead. They will be able to deploy new communication channels both internally and externally with clients, intermediaries and other third parties. As a result, they will still be able to make quick, but considered decisions and recommendations for their clients, handle and move key documents without delay and collaborate effectively with partners. The best placed firms will adapt to the practicalities that arise from more remote working such as the use of electronic signatures where document signing cannot be delayed and face to face contact using one of the many video platforms available today.
In this regard, don’t underestimate the ability of smaller independent firms to nimbly adapt. They are used to delivering a highly personalised service and adapting to meet the needs of their clients. They also have a deep understanding of their clients and their particular sensitivities at this time of uncertainty, which positions them well to respond with bespoke solutions in a timely manner.
Furthermore, even during this dramatic period of upheaval to our commercial life, firms should also be giving serious thought to future strategies once we emerge from these emergency measures as it is likely that the way that a business interacts with its clients, intermediaries and employees will be forever altered.
New ways of working in the weeks ahead will change client expectations and perhaps aspects of our business models for good. So now is the time to be considering from a range of perspectives the business environment we will operate in when the current crisis is over. Not least, how we manage our people, the value of remote technology and robust IT security to support our everyday communication needs and decision-making. This will invariably also include re-examining the necessity for business travel and face–to–face meetings abroad; balancing risk with factors such as a resurgence of Covid-19, carbon footprint and cost. And that environmental shift was coming anyway.
In challenging times, the strongest providers with the necessary investment in infrastructure and service delivery, with professional teams tuned in to the evolving demands of their clients and with leaders who have turned some of their energies to planning for when we emerge from this dark and stormy period, will outshine their, often larger, less agile competitors.