Forward-thinking risk planning strategies ensure the Group is fully operational and entirely functional
Leading wealth and financial advisory firm, GTC’s forward-thinking, risk-planning strategies have helped to ensure that the organisation is entirely capable to service existing clients, provide advisory consulting services and continue to find new business during these difficult days caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Gary Mockler, CEO of the GTC Group says: “While some businesses in this sector were not ready when lockdown came into effect in South Africa at the end of March 2020, GTC’s strategic planning committee, technology staff and client-facing consultants implemented our business continuity plan two weeks ahead of the official South African lockdown thereby enabling total remote office functionality spanning some 120 ‘sites’. The adjustments that were necessary pre-lockdown included logistical matters such as VPN licensing and bandwidth upgrades. The transitioning – with three days’ notice to our staff – was as smooth as we could have hoped for.”
The organisation has been planning for fully functional, remote working conditions for more than a decade and GTC’s Group Chief Operating Officer, Farhadh Dildar attests that regular risk management framework preparation, process analytics and Disaster Recovery Planning, was key to the overall readiness of the business.
Client-facing consultants working together with IT to create a viable solution
To make a robust solution which was user friendly for its clients, GTC’s client-facing staff provided ongoing insights and helped to workshop with GTC’s IT teams about the types of systems that would be needed.
Integrating the client experience, platform and process
GTC has adopted an iterative approach to digital platform enablement and has – over the last decade – ensured that service providers and service provider due diligence processes incorporated GTC’s digitisation strategies.
The decision to select service providers, line-of-business systems, total process ownership and having a mature client experience delivery framework has allowed for a component-based development approach. Costs aside, GTC’s strategy of digital transformation followed a partner-collaboration approach together with an incremental implementation. “The ‘rip and replace’ was not considered and off-the-shelf solutions were not regarded as viable,” says Mockler. “An excellent example of the tangible outcomes of the digitisation strategy is the ability for exiting employees from retirement funds to elect a default in-fund preservation option on a straight-through processing basis that is completed utilising our robo-counselling tool.”
Owning your processes
“GTC ported to a centralised work and process management software solution about 15 years ago,” says GTC’s Farhadh Dildar. “It is a web-based portal and is managed within the integrated risk management framework.”
“The ability for any organisation to manage client experience, service delivery, resource management and compliance centrally is – in my view – mission-critical and this, is the new normal.”
Dildar affirms that, allied to this strategy, is the understanding of your business’s own data in your specific line of business systems, integrated process management and single view of client.
“The data analytics and data intelligence can then be can used to drive strategy, internal investment and ultimately business growth,” he continues.
Furthermore, Dildar cautions that cost-compression and the resultant lower price points in the financial services sector will continue to create commercial pressure points and organisations will need to have a clinical view of their delivery strategies. Organisational transformation strategies will be a priority agenda item for boards of management and will certainly be a metric of success or not for the foreseeable future.
De- centralised working
“In most cases the software and protocols required for collaboration of our staff have been in place for a long time. That being said, we decided to implement home office working nationwide for our business, earlier than the South African lockdown requirement, so that we could perform feasibility tests and make sure that we were able to manage things like bandwidth and remote connectivity,”
Naturally, the remote solution was not without its challenges. Dildar admits that there was a period at the beginning of the lockdown where there were major network issues because the remote working was overlapping with Eskom’s load shedding programme.
“One of the solutions we implemented to relieve this concern was to incorporate ‘softphone’ options, so that our employees could answer their landline office telephone extensions on their laptops,” says Dildar. “We proudly got this solution implemented in record time and clients can now experience a seamless call with our client service teams without even realising they’re engaging with us in our own homes.”
The concern of data security
The security of GTC’s remote working solution has been carefully considered.
“We have focused on the internal (people) risk – which is often underestimated in relation to cyber threats – together with the best practice guidelines on network and data security protocols. Independent intrusion testing is a standard operating procedure,” says Dildar. “We’ve considered a myriad of security solutions on multiple levels, including user protocols and permissions on direct business system lines, password-level authentication on a user level, and encryption of data.”
Dildar admits that there is always a risk of end-user breach but this is greatly mitigated with the company’s multi-level approach. He affirms that GTC has implemented considerable protection layers to limit this threat.
Collaboration between staff when working remotely
GTC operates in a sector which requires many layers of legal authorisations to comply with client confidentiality and various financial advisory authorities. Dildar says that making these approvals function remotely was a key priority.
“Through our process engineering we have ensured that we do not have a dependency on people or line of sight of people to manage our controls. We have removed the control and process rules from physical individuals, and it all runs effectively through the process management system,” says Dildar.
GTC’s authorisations and controls are routed and managed centrally and the entire process is paperless, including the transactional procedures, money movement, banking, investments or pricing. Dildar confirms that even SARS banking and asset management interchanges take place seamlessly without the need to include paper-based approvals of any kind.
“The requirement to approve anything on a written basis is no longer needed. We’ve been operating on this basis for at least five years,” confirms Dildar.
Continued risk management and remote office functionality
Now that remote office working is a ‘new normal’ for GTC, its vital for the organisation to maintain operational risk management oversight and monitoring across the business.
“A mission critical business requirement for effective decentralised working, is the need to ensure you have centralised risk management,” says Dildar. “We are fortunate to be able to use our analytics and dashboard capabilities – which we built up over the past decade – to manage risks centrally, even though we are decentralised in terms of our physical working conditions.”
Dildar says that at both a client level and risk level the team can monitor all business activity centrally, even though the work is being processed on a decentralised basis.
“The centralised view of what is required in terms of client service delivery and individual SLA’s is extremely important so that we can ensure business continuity while simultaneously managing customer expectations and meeting their requirements throughout this process,” he adds.
Results and feedback
Group CEO of GTC, Gary Mockler says: “I’ve been overwhelmed by positive responses from our clients. Also, we’ve noticed an improvement in our workflow processes and SLA adherence.”
He adds that with financial loss and economic strain now affecting everyone as a result of the lockdown, GTC’s various teams are analysing and working on quick solutions to assist their clients in dealing with loss of income, market crashes, investment updates, new member, withdrawal and retirement advice.
Keeping employee health, wellness, and mental health top of mind
The wellbeing of all employees is GTC’s most vital priority. The company utilises the services of ICAS, a well-known employee wellbeing provider, to further support all staff working remotely during the lock down. On behalf of GTC, ICAS has intensified its employee wellbeing programme with additional support structures such as providing tips on how to optimise working from home, and by offering counselling and guidance through the ICAS Online Therapy programme, to those who may need to reach out.
“I make mention of ICAS frequently during our weekly virtual staff meeting calls and remind everyone about the support and counselling services available to them and their immediate families,” says Mockler. “I’m humbled to have received personal emails from my staff, thanking me for the continued attention to their mental and emotional needs.”
Mocker says this lockdown has made GTC so much more resilient and brought additional lateral thinking into everyday business practices.
“GTC has truly shown its clients, companies, individuals and employees that business can carry on uninterrupted, especially if you’ve taken risk planning within your organisation seriously,” he concludes.