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An Operational Path Forward for Asset Managers

Hold on to the lessons of the pandemic as the industry tries to go back to "normal."

As the industry looks forward to returning to the office after a great feat of collective courage, we find ourselves embarking on a new and complex operational transition driven by changing work environments.

In March 2020, business as we once knew it changed forever. The long-running bull market came to a screeching halt. Personal safety became a top priority as the entire world abandoned office spaces for the safety of home. Face-to-face meetings and business travel were suspended indefinitely, and many were launched into a new era of remote work.

For the first time in history, the industry was forced to work entirely remotely during a time of rising client demands as financial markets faced great uncertainty. These changes shined a light on operational procedures that heretofore had not, perhaps, received the attention they deserve.

Today, conversations are beginning to shift toward how workers can return to the office safely. While returning to the office and resuming some light business travel may bring back a semblance of normalcy, it also presents an opportunity to reassess and improve operations along the way.

We are at an operational crossroads. Gone are the days of disaster recovery plans relying on pre-existing alternative office space, replaced instead with plans that rely on technology to connect workers who “remain in place.” While many have so far navigated these new requirements with poise, the journey has uncovered some operational challenges that require close consideration and attention:

  • Keep what’s working – Having quickly adjusted to productively working remotely, the industry has begun to look at how to transition back to once again “working-from-work.” The industry should expect a “new normal” to be an extended transition period with phased reopenings, while adhering to new physical safety protocols. To ease the transition, don’t cut the cord on what's working now. Always-open virtual staff rooms, high-frequency electronic communication, and increased collaboration among a broader audience should remain. As some of work-from-work while others work-from-home, a level playing field for all will help ease the transition as everyone navigates the new landscape.
  • Reassess daily tasks  As the pandemic unfolded and many migrated to home offices, to-do lists were pared down to accommodate volume while focusing attention on critical-path items. As the industry returns to normal, old processes and to-do lists reemerge. Now is a good time to scrutinize these tasks. What processes can be automated, and which should be abandoned? Are daily reports being run out of habit rather than for specific purpose? If reports are run simply to be filed for the record, then automate a run/file process. Relentlessly reassess the entire list, with every item in play.  
  • Reevaluate success metrics –How individuals work has fundamentally changed and the tools used to evaluate success will need to change in stride. In the context of the adaptiveness experienced, the compassion we've so generously shown, and the remarkable productivity generated under-stress, old success measures may no longer apply.
  • Reassess security measures  Having temporarily abandoned physical office space, data security measures tied to physical objects like tokens became cumbersome and a point of risk themselves. When Gerald Cotten, CEO of cryptocurrency exchange Quadriga CX, passed away, investors quickly realized he was the only individual privy to encryption codes needed to access the assets. In the remote work era, access to protected data needs to be managed in a way that does not require physical contact. In the meantime, maintain a map of staffer's physical proximity to each other as they work remotely to facilitate hand-offs of physical security devices. Duplicate, or triplicate, all required-for-access devices. 

The investment management industry has responded to recent challenges with incredible grace. And continuing to do so requires a near-constant reassessment of operational procedures, even while addressing market volatility, fielding client requests and managing environmental challenges. When work lives return to normal, remember the courage and character that promoted success and adapt them to ongoing operational needs.

Bill O'Toole is Senior Vice President of Archer Solutions at Archer.

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