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Opinions of Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Columnist: Sheikh Jobe

In a post-pandemic world, people and technology are the winners

The clear winners in a post-pandemic world are the businesses that will invest relentlessly in technology and people. Period.

Take a quick look around you and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic becomes more palpable than earlier anticipated. The entire health and economic future of the world has come under threat since the onset of the pandemic earlier this year. In Ghana, businesses, particularly Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs), are facing a hostile environment due to the double effect of a decline in economic growth and the strain in accessing funds. Ghana’s Central Bank has predicted a V-shaped economic recovery; a fancy term that simply means the situation will get worse before it gets better.

Working for a multinational bank with a presence in 59 markets, I have seen a transformation most unique in all my years in corporate life. We now work from home; using remote working tools and video conferencing resources for our day-to-day activities. No more coffee breaks and quick tittle-tattles in the office out-flow area. We now exist in a new normal, largely interacting through our laptop screens and mobile devices. This norm will become mainstay years after the scourge of the pandemic has dissipated. With this in mind, changes have to be made now with a reach to the future. Businesses must, in the medium to long term, quickly start applying plans and strategies to construct sustainable models that are able to meet the needs of customers, satisfy the demands required by regulators, shareholders, staff and other stakeholders.

Two focus areas will be crucial if we are to survive in the corporate workplace in the coming future – People and Technology.

Technology:

The digital future is here. Accelerated, in part, by the pandemic. The drastic change in the global workplace and humankind’s response means that companies that strive to invest in Technology will survive in a post-pandemic world.

Technology adoption in the workplace should be the mindset. At Standard Chartered, digitisation remains a core pillar of our strategy and we have been very active in this space even before the pandemic.

The investments we made in digital platforms - Straight2Bank for our corporates; SCMobile for our retail customers, Digital workflows, Conferencing tools and our Business Continuity planning practices, set a very strong foundation that led to how we seamlessly transited into the new norm of work and client service delivery at the onset of the pandemic.

Our award-winning and transformative SC Mobile banking application with its panoply of up to 70 online services including - funds transfers, mobile money, bill payments and P2P - represents a great game-changer in a world where convenience and speed dictate the pace.

Our Straight2Bank corporate banking transactions platform led the way in how we have continuously supported trade and connected our clients from across the world even in these times.

Our comprehensive investment in eOps digital workflows facilitated easy access to key platforms in a remote working environment for our staff. As far back as January 2020, we were in touch with colleagues across Asia, where the pandemic first hit, to pick up valuable lessons on how they got ahead of the curve.

We even went further, and this might sound strange, to simulate a “working-from-home” experience for all our staff in Ghana way ahead of the imposition of the lockdown. This paved the way for us to fix all outstanding gaps that were required in readiness for any potential setbacks. We were equally mindful of cybersecurity fortification and we made this an area of focus to ensure good cyber-hygiene for our Bank. Our next action was to scale up and increase the capacity to handle the demand.

We continue to be encouraged by customers’ adoption of digital transactions as evidenced by the increasing numbers of transactions and feedback.

As businesses rethink digital adoption and investments in technology, they should elevate this to the boardroom. Client insights should remain at the centre of the decision-making process, and in terms of understanding behaviour and solving problems. What is evident today is the need to collaborate more in delivering real-time transactions, processing services and significantly reducing paper-heavy processes including trade, cheques and cash in some of our markets.

People:
Employees are and will remain the greatest asset of any company. This has become even more evident in the midst of the pandemic. There was no doubt that the physical safety and psychological wellbeing of the employees are and continue to be paramount. In Standard Chartered, this was a very important area of focus. We activated a very strong internal communications mechanism to ensure employees were kept informed and their opinions sought as we navigated the ongoing predicament. We invested in additional laptops, VPN and softphones in order for our employees to stay in touch with what was happening while working on the go.

Next, we knew we had to remain closer to our clients with enhanced engagement; and this we did. Through emails, SMS, voice and video calls, we elevated our commitment to them despite the setbacks caused by the pandemic. Our branches were retrofitted; we employed unique safety protocol equipment to help them stay safe while performing basic banking transactions. We encouraged team leads to hold daily check-in meetings with their staff and pick out glaring issues that needed immediate attention.

Virtual team-bonding sessions became rapid across the organisation, including music jam sessions utilising the innovative in-house DOHA FM through video-conferencing application - BlueJeans. We took advantage of the lockdown to accelerate the future skills training and empowerment that started before the pandemic.

We are promoting lifelong learning among employees and creating open-source talent pools within the organisation. This includes providing employees with skills to embrace and embed the culture of improvement.

These are all crucial investments in people to create an agile business that is resilient and can stand the test of time. We are even employing strategies, as we look forward, to keep our employees highly engaged and connected whiles working virtually.

It is a brave new world. We are moving people into new roles to meet new needs; ensuring that our people have confidence and optimism in the uncertain world enabled by technology while embracing flexibility, resilience and sustainability.

Suffice it to say that the pandemic has indeed transformed the mindset of companies like ours. There is a collective willingness to be flexible in how we view productivity without compromising efficiency or diluting policy controls.


Conclusion:

The future workplace belongs to companies that dare to explore and push further to embrace endless digital possibilities. Increased focus on data analytics, understanding customer behaviour and positioning one’s products and services strategically will yield immeasurable results. An agile digital bank such as ours has a lot to do in the way we respond to the myriad of opportunities available to us.

We are always open to partnerships and collaborations with industry players in delivering value to our clients and stakeholders. Of a truth, the majority of businesses that bore the brunt of the crisis failed to invest in the crucial assets of their respective companies.

However, it is not too late. I believe businesses have been given the rarest of opportunities in these times, to draw from the lessons of the pandemic, in order to stay afloat and efficient in the future – by cutting back on excessive operational costs such as travel, floor space etc. Above all, the deck will be stacked in favour of investment in people and technology.

By Sheikh Jobe
Chief Operating Officer,
Standard Chartered Ghana & West Africa.

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