Covid-19 has caused significant disruption to our way of life, with many changes expected to outlive the current crisis. Indeed, there has been talk of redefining modern timelines as BC and AC – Before Corona and After Corona. Financial institutions are no exception. In a recent conversation, a senior risk management professional at a global bank noted that while stress testing and scenario analysis were common tools in the risk manager kit, none of the scenarios hitherto envisaged 100% work from home (WFH) for so many divisions and in such a short span of time. Mark Twain’s quote stands so true: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.”
Although we were unprepared for Covid-19, we should take the opportunity afforded by the crisis to redefine the accepted norms and create better and smarter ways of working. Since WFH will remain the norm in an AC world, how can financial institutions empower their globally (and locally) dispersed teams to continue collaborating in a seamless fashion? In our conversations, we are finding that institutions who have embraced digital workflow solutions are very well positioned to avoid any disruption. In fact, such digital solutions enable banks to reimagine the critical path of production and include cutting-edge features in the daily workflow. Features such as smart content search and discovery, reuse and knowledge management, MIS and transparency, and many more works to dramatically enhance the productivity of the entire team.
How does this look in the dispersed WFH workplace? The use cases below highlight the application of digital workflows in investment banking and advisory, and asset management respectively.
Use Case: Integrated Digital Workflow for Banking and Advisory Teams
Digital platforms allow senior and junior bankers working from multiple locations to collaborate on work products such as pitch documents. Additionally, they can seamlessly leverage the full gamut of support functions such as: offshore Analytics teams (internal or vendor), Business Information Services (BIS/BRC/Library), DTP/Presentations teams and Market Data Services (MDS). Workflow engines allow bankers to manage and streamline the full process by using workflow allocation, request prioritization, tracking, creation and review of interim deliverables to integration for the final pitch document.
The key features of a well-designed workflow for banking are:
- Real-time collaboration between teams working on a pitch document with the ability to slice and allocate tasks at the slide level, easily integrate content from past pitches (while fully complying with confidentiality and information security), share feedback in native formats (including digital scribbling) and providing on-the-go access to interim work products and final deliverables digitally. As an added benefit, a full audit log of all the changes and additions along with in-built version management that can revert to previous ideas if so desired.
- End to end solution enabling a single request to be raised with the workflow engine tracking progress, in contrast to the banker needing to raise multiple requests and then being responsible for joining the distinct bits. For example a sector analysis slide may require BIS teams to pull information from multiple MDS, which will then need further analysis and enrichment by the analytics team, and will finally be submitted for DTP and clean-up. All of this can be captured in one request with the workflow tool monitoring progress at every stage in an automated fashion.
- Leveraging smart tagging and indexing of requests and completed work products to allow systematic storage and retrieval, which results in content reuse and de-duplication of banker efforts. For instance, quantitative elements of company’s analysis (valuation metrics, leverage rations, etc.) can be calculated once and stored for re-use in a plethora of banker work products (financial benchmarking, company profiles, sector briefs, etc.)
- Tagging and tracking requests as they progress through the workflow engine provides full transparency of time and effort at every stage. Depending on the bank’s requirements, the workflow engine can also capture additional data such as the end-client, project code, MDS costs, etc. for efficient cost allocation and budgeting.
Use Case: Unified Workflow and Data Engine for Marketing and Distribution Teams in Asset Management Firms
The structural challenge of the asset management industry, due to continuing migration of assets to low-cost passives, is further amplified by the Covid-19 disruption. Marketing and Distribution functions are struggling to balance the high-touch coverage and personalised experience demanded by clients with budget allocations. A unified workflow approach with a centralised data management framework allows distributed teams to effectively collaborate by streamlining data sourcing, automating processing and dissemination, and centralising content for all stakeholders, thereby eliminating effort duplication.
The key features of a well-designed workflow for asset management firms are:
- Online Marketing content planning, and the capturing of key objectives within the workflow engine. This could be achieved through a shared publication calendar showing the start/end date for each document along with priority level, real-time tracking of documents across each stage of publication cycle, automated initiation of recurring requests, and finally automated document expiry management.
- Collaborative content creation within the tools allows for all interim and final content (along with backup files) to be stored in multiple file formats, which can be used to quickly identify past content that can be reused through smart search. Automated workflow directs the document to the correct team, allowing team managers to check where current tasks have been allocated to, and assign new requests. Users will also be able to add comments on the WIP document and event log, in order to track comments and corresponding actions. This acts as version control and provides a full audit trail for all documents.
- Approval mechanisms are present at each stage of the workflow, so power users can easily review the content and take actions to approve/reject the document and/or raise queries. This allows robust control at every stage of the process, and ensures full compliance with regulatory requirements.
- Dynamically define and add new workflows. This gives power users the ability to create dynamic workflows, wherein different kinds of document/content types can be quickly onboarded to the workflow engine without dependence on technical teams.
- Integration with dissemination and distribution channels allows for content to seamlessly flow to downstream systems, enabling faster time to market and quicker refresh on channels such as company website sand third-party portals.
Financial institutions of every size, from the bulge bracket investment banks and large institutional asset managers to boutique advisory firms, must embrace digital workflows in a post-Covid 19 world. Evalueserve believes that they should seize the opportunity and not replicate processes as-is, but rather reimagine their workflows, which incorporates the full potential afforded by technology – high automation at every step, robust knowledge management, full auditability and powerful MIS.
Firms should carefully consider the pros and cons of off-the-shelf vs. custom approaches. Evalueserve has observed how each client has certain nuances and preferences, which are best catered-to by starting with a proven strawman and then allowing high customization at the front end. By giving users the opportunity to participate and determine the workflow, the client is guaranteed high adoption and hence immediate RoI.
Finally, as financial institutions operate in security-sensitive and highly regulated industries, any workflow engine must have a high level of compartmentalization as a standard and should be flexible to be deployed either on-premise or on-cloud in line with the firm's internal standards