Dealing with Pandemic Disruption – and What Happens Next

By:  Bill Elliott, CRCM, Senior Consultant and Director of Compliance Education, and William J. Showalter, CRCM, CRP, Senior Consultant

For years banks have had pandemic policies, and have done some level of testing, but never really thought the day would come when it would represent more than another examiner-required policy. Then came COVID-19, and in a matter of days, the world changed.

Managing Bank Policies and Procedures

When we teach in live seminars, we always ask, “How many of you believe that your policies are up to date?” That always gets some hands, but not 100 percent of attendees. Then we ask, “How many of you believe that your procedures are up to date?” Seldom does anyone raise their hand. These two situations are revealing.

Keeping policies current is the easier of the two. But many banks rubber stamp policies that could be much more effective. If it is a Regulation B policy, it usually follows the regulation and indicates that the bank intends to comply. That is fine for that type of policy. But other policies, notably operations and loan policies, need to do more than restate a regulation – they need to be a document that can be read and used. And, a pandemic policy needs to cover a wide range of subjects and issues.

It might be time to review these types of policies and add significant language as to how you will address situations such as we have experienced – lobbies closed or restricted, limited staff, staff working from home, and the same job to be completed. At a minimum, these policies should address:

How jobs are done in an off-site world

How electronic solutions are to be used

Safeguards that must be used to protect customer data

What types of paper documents can be used “at home” by staff working off site

Proper disposal and the safekeeping of any documents that are off site

Other protections, such as how the computers being used at home are protected from intrusion

With a little brainstorming, we are sure that you can add to this list.

Procedures are more difficult to maintain. A consultant from our company was recently in a bank and was examining procedures. Most of the procedures could be summed up as “Bill takes care of that.” As long as Bill is there, things probably work well. But if Bill is out sick, is working from home, on vacation, or no longer there, how does someone accomplish the task?

Procedures are always changing. It is far too easy to tell the three people that need to know about the change and then make a mental note to “update the procedures someday.” That elusive “someday” often never materializes. We believe that each bank should have a formal procedures review at least annually, and for some areas, maybe more often. For many banks, the inadequate procedure manuals that they have will not offer sufficient information for anyone to complete a task correctly. And with the staff more scattered, this can really complicate the situation.

The Future

Many banks have switched to imaging all files and documents. The banks that have made that decision generally are in a little better shape for off-site work, as it is easier to send employees home and still get the work done in a timely manner. If your bank has not made the transition to electronic files, this may be your cue to consider the advantages of this technology. We have talked to numerous banks recently that in the past have said “NEVER” to imaging only to discover that “never” may not have been the right answer.

As the world becomes more electronic, and the cost of maintaining offices and buildings continues to increase, this may also be a time to reconsider the locations from which employees work. This may be especially critical if your brick and mortar buildings are getting close to capacity. Many tasks, with the right policies, procedures, equipment, and software, can easily be done from home, saving wear and tear on your building, perhaps reducing occupancy costs, and maybe, as a side benefit, resulting in happier and more productive employees.

Of course, everyone working from home is not going to be effective for banks. But it can be a great tool. For instance, you have a long-term excellent employee who does a job that could be done from home. While they are currently working in the office, their spouse gets transferred 300 miles away. In the past, that probably meant a resignation. But, properly managed, there may be no reason why you could not retain that employee by just letting them work from home – even if that home is not local.

The authors of this article are most aware of compliance officers. Over the last several years, we have seen more and more situations where compliance officers work from home, with some compliance officers going south for the winter and continue to work remotely, etc. In our company, none of our compliance consultants work in our office, even in “normal” times.

Conclusion

So we encourage you to reimagine the bank – to the extent possible. Face-to-face customer contact employees need to be local, but much or the rest of the staff may not really need to be “in the building,” at least not every day. We encourage you to use this mind set for the future – and let it help your bank thrive.

For more information, contact Bill Elliott, Director of Compliance Education, at bille@younginc.com or 330.422.3450, or William Showalter at wshowalter@younginc.com or 330.422.3473.