Week…who knows…of lockdown and the industry is adapting, sort of

As most of the industry adapts to working from home, some are being forced into the office to deal with the manual, paper-based processes that have plagued the industry for years, writes post-trade and FinTech expert, Virginie O'Shea.

I’ve spent the last couple of months or so talking to operations people at banks, asset managers and market infrastructures across the globe and every conversation starts the same. “What day is it?”

Across the globe, we’re all sharing in the bizarre collective experience of isolation in our own homes. Days of the week and even hours of the day are hard to keep track of. Weekdays are only differentiated from weekends by the lack of logging onto a computer to work – we’re still logging on though, as Zoom calls and other similar apps are being used for socialising as well as team meetings. Sometimes with a beer in hand, sometimes without.

Operations teams continue to work long hours, spending precious time logging into and out of various systems to grab data, heavily reliant on spreadsheets to collate that data and provide all-important audit trails. The pressure is constant as every individual fears the impact of the crisis on their organisations and the threat of redundancy looms large. Ops teams faced the fallout from the 2008 crisis and most individuals are no strangers to the fact they are viewed purely as a cost centre by the C-suite.

Some creative technology workarounds have been put in place and communications solution vendors have certainly seen an uptick in investment and interest, but the remote environment has also changed the nature of colleague interactions. The isolation means that time must be spent on navigating team calendars to sit on Zoom calls and discuss things that could easily be resolved by a quick chat in an office. Video calls are surprisingly tiring – they have to be organised, someone has to lead them, they can go off track quite easily as people are distracted by things going on in the background – and many people I have chatted to tell me they are on back-to-back meetings with different teams or sometimes the same team day in, day out. Things that seem easy when everyone is in the same place, are much more challenging and time consuming when done remotely.

Not all members of the team are home, however, as some people have to man the faxes. The ever-present inefficiency of the securities markets means that a select few must work from otherwise empty offices to send and receive messages the same way they have been sent and received for several decades. As these team members sit in small huddles within the eerie tundra of an empty open office, they are forced to complete endlessly mindless and repetitive tasks on technology that should have been eliminated years ago.

Thankfully, the regulators seem to have woken up a little to the amount of paper flying around the industry and guidance has been forthcoming from some about e-signatures and digitising onboarding, just to name a couple of areas of focus. Given no one firm will want to spend on automating and eliminating decades old technology – well they haven’t done thus far, so chances are they won’t – hopefully the regulators will begin to compel modernisation in the non-revenue generating functions.

This crisis has proved painful for many – I worry when I hear that people are working late into the night with no respite and being forced to commute into offices when transport options aren’t always safe. But it has proved to be a collective experience – we’re all struggling with similar things and teams are learning a lot more about each other, especially given Zoom calls and the cameos made by various family members and household pets. I just hope as an industry that we learn and can focus on the areas most in need of modernisation as a result of this. Please, just get rid of the damn faxes!