With a third of the world’s population experiencing some form of lockdown, working from home has suddenly become commonplace. In some companies, the transition from working in the office to working remotely has been seamless. Indeed, many companies offered remote working models to their employees pre-COVID-19, making it easier to adapt to the current situation. For others, however, the challenges involved mean that it isn’t a feasible long-term option.
Eric Sim, Founder of the Institute of Life, believes that with some adjustment and the right knowledge, corporate employees can easily work from home – and that this will become the norm for at least one day per week for most companies.
But for Ramana Konda, Director, Treasury Asia, Middle East and Africa at Mondelez International, remote working is more nuanced, especially for treasurers. Konda explains that for the data management side of a treasurer’s role, remote working is easy, owing to the limited requirement for interaction with others in the business. But he also asks, to what extent is treasury only about data? Treasury is playing an increasingly strategic role within businesses and Konda feels that they need a physical presence in the office to do so effectively.
Happy employees = happy company
There are, of course, many benefits to working remotely. For Helen Hanby, Director, International Treasury at Biogen Idec, a big benefit of working from home is the ability to save two hours per day by not commuting. People may choose to put this time to good use: Sim, for example, spends the time he has gained on learning, and is currently educating himself on positive psychology and video editing.
Home workers generally report better productivity and a higher quality of work than when they are in a traditional office, and the flexibility that home working offers can also help companies retain employees that might otherwise leave. For parents, working from home isn’t a substitute for childcare, but it can enable a better work-life balance by removing commuting time and allowing them to be more present at home, whilst also keeping them in the professional loop.
Likewise, disabled employees who struggle to commute may be able to handle a regular workload from the comfort of their house. Sim also points out that when employees are feeling slightly under the weather, they may be able to work from home instead of using up sick days that might be needed for serious illnesses.
Employees whose families may be relocating, perhaps because a partner has secured a new job elsewhere, may be able to use home working to continue in their employment. And of course, in times of crisis or other disruption – such as severe weather conditions – having the infrastructure already in place means that the switch can be as seamless as possible.
Cybercrime is on the rise
Security is one major consideration when weighing up the pros and cons of home working – particularly given the current focus on this topic. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused such an increase in cybercrime that the World Health Organisation had to post an advisory on its website as fraudsters are impersonating it in phishing emails.
The increase in cybercrime comes as fraudsters and hackers try to take advantage of the upheaval that many companies are experiencing in going remote. Treasurers, as always, are primary targets for these attempts, and so need to be vigilant about any suspicious activity. In particular, emails that ask for files or links to be opened, bank details to be changed or payments to be made should be inspected thoroughly and secondary authorisation should be sought if necessary.
Is remote working cyber-secure?
However, Anish Kapoor, CEO of AccessPay believes that if approached in the correct way, remote working can actually be more secure than working in an office. “A prime example of what we see is when treasurers have a SWIFT workstation, that’s just sat on a desk in the office,” he explains. “With access to that SWIFT workstation, an individual can pretty much do whatever they want. But when you move to having a different technology stack that lets you work from anywhere and you’re not linked to that one workstation anymore, you can normally build a lot more control, having maybe biometric authentication, or two-factor authentication.” Alongside that, there are also multiple layers of access control, and the potential to have other layers of approvals processes.
From a cyber-security standpoint, there are also other things individuals can do to ensure they are staying safe when working remotely – many of which should be company policy. Cyber-security and anti-virus provider Kaspersky recommends making sure that a home WiFi router is encrypted, meaning it requires a password to connect. If using a public WiFi, and indeed sometimes using a personal one, it is also recommended to use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt all data from any potential prying eyes.
Additionally, using a company’s regular corporate services to transfer files and data between colleagues can help security. These services are regulated by a company’s IT department, whereas file-sharing services such as Google Drive can become public very easily if someone has the correct keywords.
Can remote working replace face to face?
Remote working may be more convenient for some employees, but Konda feels that the importance of face-to-face interaction and a physical presence in the office cannot be ignored.
He cites the example of carrying out an FX hedge. “Even today in most markets across the globe, the application for FX involves a manual vetting process,” he explains. In Asia this is especially true, with the array of regulations across countries meaning that many of the processes associated with FX hedging must be done on paper, and often in person. “FX transactions are one of the activities that the company conducts in ‘live mode’, where the coordination of the paper signature is crucial to reach the central bank, or a specific market, and is just one example of why it’s important to stay close to the transaction,” says Konda.
Indeed, aside from the business benefits of having a physical presence in the office, it has also been suggested that physical interaction serves communication better than virtual meetings. Use of video conferencing tools like Microsoft Teams, Skype and Zoom have skyrocketed since the beginning of the year, and their usefulness cannot be ignored. Being able to connect with people across any distance, the only requirement being an internet connection, is revolutionary for businesses.
Hanby, who is based in the UK whilst working for an American company, explains that she is currently working from her home, with three members of her team working from their respective homes in the US, and her treasury analyst working from home in Poland. “We are regularly checking in with each other and the company has been hugely supportive, offering many wellness and mental health support initiatives and opportunities, including virtual training and community groups,” she says.
Konda is in a similar position, as his role sees treasury managers reporting to him from 18 countries. As such, the ability to communicate effectively is important. “Some of my team members are data-driven, and some are also sitting in their respective leadership teams and managing a sub-cluster of the region,” he says. “For the people dealing with the day-to-day operations of letters of credit which are not immediately payable now – particularly treasury transactions like card repatriation payments or interest on loans – those can definitely be managed remotely.” He continues: “I think for my team specifically, 50% are happy working remotely – and so am I, as long as they’re getting the job done.”
Options for treasurers
As the world moves to more digital solutions, so too does treasury – or rather, it should. Many companies are trying to move away from a reliance on spreadsheets by implementing treasury management systems (TMS) and ERPs. When it comes to working from home, these sophisticated systems become more important, as they keep information centralised and easier to access.
For Biogen’s Hanby, having the right equipment and software is an important first step. “The company has been very supportive, providing essential IT equipment, and we use online systems which are all still accessible remotely,” she explains.
Kapoor notes that in 2018, AccessPay conducted a Finance & Treasury Automation Adoption Survey, which found that spreadsheets were still the predominant tool used by most treasurers. When it comes to working remotely, Kapoor explains that this approach “would involve emailing around lots and lots of spreadsheets – which isn’t great from a technology and data protection perspective.”
If cloud-based systems aren’t feasible for a company at the moment – for example, implementing a TMS can prove very costly – then there are other options available. These might include the use of a reliable remote desktop – using a secure VPN, of course.
Virtual project management tools such as Basecamp, Microsoft Teams or Trello are also a necessity, particularly if a treasury team has more than two or three members. But, Konda reminds, technology is an enabler and not an alternative to the core conduct of business in treasury. He notes that new projects that arise, especially automations such as implementation of automatic debit or an ACH, require partners to be connected to the physical office rather than remotely.
Similarly, there are some aspects of treasury that move so fast – the enormous and rapid fluctuations in the markets are evidence of that – that Konda feels a physical presence in the office is a necessity, if only for the strategic ease of being able to contact someone and take action immediately, rather than have to wait for a reply to an email.