The past six months have been like no other. While that sentiment is true across all industries, it’s particularly pertinent to financial services. Traditionally, firms operate from headquarters and trading floors, not spare bedrooms and home offices.  The once unfathomable concept of traders and their compliance counterparts working from home has become a reality.

In a recent webinar, Paul Clulow-Phillips, Global Head of Markets Compliance at Société Générale, said: “I think if you’d have told me a year ago that I was going to have my entire team working from home, in particular on the surveillance side, I may not be here today. I may have dropped down dead from a heart attack!”

But, here we are. Firms should be applauded for how quickly they have adapted to the new working environment. They’ve enabled their distributed workforces to maintain business continuity despite major market volatility. However, with no clear end in sight, it’s imperative that firms continue to make refinements to their compliance culture, the way they monitor employee behavior, and their style of communication.

Loss of Compliance Culture

Now that investment professionals aren’t working alongside each other in the same office, they are no longer embedded within the compliance culture that has been carefully cultivated. The group mentality has been lost and it’s harder to predict the behavior of individuals when they’re working in an isolated environment. Compliance teams must now rely solely on the technology available to them instead of observing the trading floor with their own two eyes.

Changing Employee Behavior

When a firm is operating under normal conditions, there’s a rhythm to the behavior of its people. There are patterns of risk that emerge, and that allows compliance teams to be anticipatory and implement suitable policies and procedures. That’s all thrown out of the window with a distributed workforce.

Compliance teams have lost the line of sight to their investment colleagues. They have to work harder to anticipate some of the enterprise-wide risks that they are tasked with catching. 

In some instances, the changes in risk are directly related to the general shift of working from home in a pandemic. For example, alerts for gifts and entertainment have completely dried up because nobody’s going to restaurants, sporting events, or receiving any kind of gifts. 

However, there has been an increase in the use of personal trading accounts. People are at home, and they’re also being inundated with news and market volatility, which has led to many of them being more involved in the market personally. 

Compliance teams have reacted to these changes by implementing tighter and expanded controls to ensure investment professionals are not in breach of policies.

There’s a Need for Over-Communication

Over-communication is key when working in a distributed environment. We’ve spoken to a number of customers who said that whether it’s working with internal stakeholders, clients, or vendors; frequency and clarity is everything.

What was previously a short in-person meeting is now several phone calls, meetings on Zoom, and a bunch of Slack chats. It lacks the clarity of an in-person meeting. By over-communicating both the message and the intent that has been lost from the in-person connection, you can gain some of it back by going above and beyond with the volume and the frequency of communicating.

While you’re never going to get back to that same level that you were working with when everybody was together in the same space, it’s certainly going to get you a little bit closer to a more functional workflow.

People Are Working Harder, But Productivity Is the Same

All of this over-communication, along with the temptation of never being too far from the home office, has resulted in people working longer hours than ever before.

We’ve heard from customers that while their people are working harder, it doesn’t necessarily translate to increased productivity. People are dealing with more mental, emotional, and team stress, and firms must ensure they engage their people in order to provide the necessary support.  

Compliance professionals need to evolve their skillset too. They’ll be left behind if they maintain a purely transactional focus on compliance. Instead, they should seek to become communication professionals too – understanding the nuances found in messages, emails, and phone calls that can help to paint a picture of a person. Modern compliance requires a clearer vision and professionals now have the tools at their disposal to make it possible.