As we entered 2020, the financial services industry was in a different place: the global economy was more stable, markets were solid, and banks and other institutions were performing well, largely due to good regulation and testing that had been put in place. While these organizations were doing well overall, return on equity had been struggling for a few years. Profits were taking a hit, primarily due to shifts in customer behavior and the fact that banks owned their HQ and branch real estate, further squeezing margins. This high degree of dynamism made it tough, and banks were constantly looking for innovative avenues to increase returns and grow.

Fast-forward six months and organizations have been forced to transform. Almost overnight, we went from our normal rhythm of commuting, taking kids to school, visiting doctors’ offices, and eating out to the new normal of #remotelearning and #remoteteaching at schools and universities, #remotework, #telemedicine to enable remote patient care, and even contact centre agents becoming #remoteagents. Factors such as corporate real estate sitting empty have further impacted the industry, meaning organizations must now re-evaluate their work models from the ground up.

Governments and central banks across the world have put up huge sums of money to help their communities weather this storm. Although responses have been varied, some common themes are clearly visible, such as supporting small and medium-sized businesses and providing necessary consumer and business relief. Banks are playing a leading role in ensuring support is disbursed appropriately throughout communities.

Banks have faced many challenges

Throughout the current crisis, banks have had to overcome many challenges in providing services and managing customers’ expectations. Here are some of them:

  • Ensuring continued access and basic services—while branch traffic dropped to virtually zero, the demand for chatbots and video banking went through the roof.
  • Managing customers’ needs—call centre were jammed, as this was the only way customers could contact someone within the institution.
  • Generating revenue while ensuring business visibility—banks needed to find ways to continue acquiring more customers, through digital Know Your Customer and onboarding services, while preventing fraud via risk-based authentication. As a result, the need for customer profiling increased. Such initiatives could give more customized credit limits to people who spend and invest with a bank, to keep building brand loyalty.

The common factor needed to help overcome these challenges were banks’ employees. Lockdown or not, ensuring employees’ safety while maintaining productivity has become key — not just to enable day-to-day operations, but also to continue elevating the customer experience and grow the business. A resilient enterprise must be able to provide great customer experience and ensure employees’ productivity from a distance.

So, how should we be supporting employees to ensure they are safe,  can manage the volume of work, and are able work remotely?  It is up to us in IT to provide the right platform to overcome the challenges of secure remote work and increase productivity via the automation of business applications.

On the cusp of a new wave in IT work culture

There is always going to be some apprehension around the productivity of working remotely, but I urge you to look back to the turn of the century. At that time, outsourcing was just taking off, be it to a local company in the same city or to one in another country. This brought many challenges, but with the right mindset, tools, and technologies, outsourcing has been a big enabler for organizations since then.

There are clear benefits for both employers and employees in working from home.

  • Higher productivity and efficiency—workers save 30 days each year in time spent commuting.
  • Lower overhead costs—employers save $11K each year per employee.
  • Lower employee costs—workers save $4K each year on commuting costs, parking, and food.
  • Maintaining business continuity—workers maintain productivity, saving employers dollars each day.

But with these benefits come new challenges for businesses of all sizes.

  • Can we verify user identities when our teams are working remotely, and how do we enable secure access to company apps?
  • How do we keep our teams feeling connected?
  • Can we defend against potential threats and get best-in-class security without blowing out costs?

It is a time to reimagine and rebound stronger, as in crises come opportunities. It would be a mistake to think everything will go back to the way it was before this new world. Work is no longer a place to go but a set of tasks we chose to do from anywhere, securely.

Workforce transformation: Respond - Reflect - Re-imagine and Rebound

One thing the crisis has shown us is that working from home, works! Organizations responded rapidly at the start of the crisis and now, as the infographic below shows, it is time to reflect on the relevance of their business models and reimagine work practices to ensure they rebound in the best way possible.

A cultural revolution and secure technology platform adoption is necessary to enable secure remote work

In order to fit in with this evolving reality, there are three key areas that must be addressed collectively: people, processes, and tools. We must ask ourselves:

  • How do we ensure our people are safe physically (for example, by maintaining social distancing in a branch or meeting room) and digitally, when accessing our systems remotely?
  • How do we enable our workforce to continue working effectively by collaborating effortlessly, protecting their data, and seamlessly improving their productivity irrespective of their physical workspace?

All this can only be done with the right set of secure tools and a safe environment for infrastructure that IT Ops must deliver rapidly while taking a mid- to long-term holistic and secure platform view. There are human factors around change management—and their dependencies—that we must be aware of.

However, making this happen requires a cultural transformation plus the right technology platform, all encapsulated with enterprise-grade security that will protect our customers, their data, and us.

It depends on the right combination of workforce experience tools (Collaboration and Teams) and network infrastructure (Software-Defined Network), all encapsulated in an end-to-end secure overlay.

Where is the money?

At a time when chief financial officers are cutting expenses by optimizing real estate costs, investing part of the savings into building a secure collaborative enterprise strategy for the future will only reap larger benefits as it is rolled out. The front runners who were well on their way to adopting this culture before the crisis has leapfrogged their peers on this journey towards continuous secure collaboration.

Freeform Dynamics recently surveyed senior business and IT professionals and found that safe and effective remote work practices caused the following improvements in their organizations. According to recent studies, 56 percent of all IT employees have a job where at least some of what they do can be done remotely. As we slowly come out of lockdowns, only 35 percent of the IT workforce of tomorrow will work in an office, while 65 percent will work from home, and the remaining 5 percent will work on the go.

From "Safe and effective remote working" research by Freedom Dynamics Ltd. 2020


Offices are also going to be more distributed as against big setups. It is up to us in IT to bridge the digital divide and arm our organizations with the skills and tools needed to reimagine the future.

Performance IT is helping to realize this vision and provide the business case for change

Cisco has been at the forefront of enabling businesses to collaborate and work securely from anywhere. It has led by example, encouraging its workforce to work remotely most of the time. Cisco’s Performance IT program takes a consultative approach to assessing how a safe and secure remote working platform can be best applied within an organization. Keeping business outcomes in mind, Performance IT takes a 360˚ view of architectural transition, operational efficiency, and financial oversight in one go. It provides organizations with an architectural blueprint and a target operating model to demonstrate how this architecture can be run effectively. The cherry on this cake is the financial benefit in making this possible and setting up your workforce to work productively and securely from anywhere.