What Banks Have Learned From Two Years of Remote Working

What Banks Have Learned From Two Years of Remote Working

by September 27, 2021

In the past two years, the world has undergone a radical experiment like nothing we’ve witnessed before. We’ve moved from a largely office-based work environment to a near-complete remote work environment almost overnight.

This is no small feat for most industries, and even more challenging for banks who still rely heavily on manual processes and is often encumbered by numerous compliance challenges in making this shift.

Necessity is indeed the mother of all inventions, with movement restrictions kicking in 2020, the banking industry’s business continuity plans were immediately put to the test. Having entered the second year of the pandemic, it’s worth examining how banks have adapted to the “new normal” and how they have positioned themselves in the post-pandemic world.

How banks adjusted to remote working and what they learned

According to a KPMG report, banks, in general, were highly effective in handling the transition to remote working. Some bank employees continued to man the branches and small teams maintained a presence in offices for crucial functions.

In March 2020, Bank Negara Malaysia issued a statement asking banks to encourage employees to work from home (WFH), keeping on-site employee numbers to a minimum. Within one week, most Malaysian bank employees have started WFH arrangement.

Maybank, one of Malaysia’s largest banks, had 75% of its employees working remotely while 25% remained on-site, The Edge reported. Maybank’s remote working employee strength was eventually increased to 82%.

The shift to WFH has also required banks to train and upskill employees for digital tools. A report by Mckinsey noted that consumer banks had to increase employee cross-training in specific services to tackle the surging demand for mortgage-refinance applications.

Banks also had to train employees to be empathetic in dealing with distressed customers while helping them to use digital tools as well as new products and services.

Maybank, for instance, used a budget of RM 95 million to upskill and train its employees in 2020. The bank has a weekly learning programme that helps employees stay focused on productivity as well as sustain their upskilling and reskilling endeavours.

Maybank has also upskilled over 360 of its non-clerical employees in Malaysia to become ‘workplace enablers’. The training programme provides non-clerical workers with new skills that help them speed up career progression and take on more responsibilities.

But alongside challenges, the remote working model has provided distinct benefits in the banking sector. For instance, the productivity of workers, a major concern, was found to have risen in many countries with remote working, the KPMG report noted.

However, the report cautioned that this could be a temporary uptick and productivity could eventually stagnate as the pressure to balance work and life continues.

A report by EY noted that remote working has helped banks reduce their carbon footprint. This has given rise to questions about whether big office spaces are still required in the long term. Banks stand to gain significant cost savings from transitioning to smaller spaces, the report noted.

The future of remote working in the banking sector

According to the KPMG report, banks are expected to adopt a hybrid model going forward. More employees will continue to work remotely than pre-COVID levels.

This will be driven by the added advantages of remote working as it benefits both employers and employees, and a significant interest among bank employees to continue working remotely. A survey of bank employees in the US found that 57% of them prefer to continue working mostly from home.

Malaysia’s banks such as Maybank has already taken significant steps towards adopting a hybrid model of work. Recently, it introduced the “Mobile Work Arrangement,” to complement its Flexible Working Arrangement policy, repositioning over 2,000 employees as part of the mobile workforce across all levels and functions.

According to a Maybank report, the bank’s WFH level in Malaysia continued to be above 50% even well after the easing of movement restrictions.

This will help banks minimise office spaces, although the EY report noted that this may not be possible in the short term because of the space required to maintain social distancing.

Maybank, for example, intends to use some of its headquarters floors as co-working sites that involve hot-desking and meeting rooms, suitable for collaboration and team discussion.

According to KPMG estimates, reducing office spaces can help banks potentially save up to $10,000 per employee per year.

The hybrid model in the banking sector also requires banks to evaluate its feasibility. There are potential technical challenges such as extending cyber-perimeters and controls to employees’ homes.

But most importantly, banks need to ensure employee wellbeing in a hybrid model. Banks need to establish a dynamic corporate culture that fosters employee engagement and avoids employee relationships and performances from depreciating over time.

It is not yet clear whether instant messaging services, emails and video conferencing tools can fully replace the traditional office experience.

TM ONE closes the gap between conventional and digital way of working

As banks evolve, so too must their technology partners. TM ONE, the business arm of Telekom Malaysia Berhad (TM) is positioning itself to address the unique needs brought on by the need for a more secured remote working.

TM ONE said that it aims to enable banks and other organisations alike in their digital transformation to empower employees to securely maintain the same level of productivity while working from home.

As more banking operations are moving to the cloud, cybersecurity plays an important first line of protection when it comes to remote working among employees.

Managed cybersecurity, cloud, and digital document management are among the digital solutions required in the 9-to-5 affair that are vital in ensuring remote working comply with the organisation’s and national policy.

Muhammad Ghadaffi Tairobi, TM ONE’s Vertical Director for Banking, Financial Services and Insurance (BFSI) observed that the shift from working in the office to remote work matches the shift of banking customers towards digital channels.

Muhammad Ghadaffi Tairobi

Muhammad Ghadaffi Tairobi

“In the wake of the pandemic back in 2020, TM through TM ONE has committed to provide digital solutions for businesses and public sectors.

We have seen the impact of robust connectivity and digital solutions to Malaysians during the Movement Control Order (MCO). This is where we realise the key to a seamless WFH experience is to ensure robust connectivity of all levels of employment.

From the Board of Directors (BOD) to the employees, companies are in dire need of a secure and robust network environment while working from home. Having a digital concierge is also one of the many ways remote working can be done in banks and financial institutions. Addressing their needs with an array of our services from connectivity to cybersecurity and smart services is given, but the thought of peace of mind, seamless experience, and convenience are the most valuable aspects money can’t buy,”

said Muhammad Ghadaffi.

In recent months, TM has announced that it has reached the 2 million mark of its unifi customers driven largely by its customer’s need to work from home.

While this constitutes a demand-driven push in banking, the pandemic and the resulting rise of remote working has necessitated the digitalisation of back-office functions as well.

In other words, banks and financial institutions as a whole, have no other option but to look into digitalising their entire operations from end-to-end.

“Although a percentage of the workforce are coming back to the office, we are still looking forward to enhancing our WFH and contactless-based offerings beyond connectivity. More financial institutions will be able to have a seamless digital experience with cloud, cybersecurity, and smart services among others. This is the time for us to take our transformation forward,”

he added.


Featured image credit: Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash