As we all come to terms with the size and impact of the COVID-19 crisis there is a great sense of uncertainty and this is not a comfortable place to be. As humans we often seek some clarity, perhaps you find yourself looking back on the “boring old day to day normal” with a very different lens – it’s looking pretty appealing from here.
Historically, periods of adversity and pain have produced new ways of doing things and innovation. I can already reflect on the fact that organisations have managed to organise hundreds of staff working from home much more effectively and smoothly than I would have predicted less than 2 months ago.
As actuaries this is a time where we get a real understanding of the impact of the assumptions we make in the valuation, the reason we hold capital, and the impact on customers of plummeting investment markets. There is a lot of learning in a challenging market and different ways of thinking about things, the HIH failure in 2001 is a good example.
Peoples’ challenges will be different. Some will find themselves busier than they ever have been balancing children at home, possibly home schooling, both partners working from home, worry about elderly or sick family and little day to day support from family and friends as we all remain isolated from each other. Others will find themselves alone at home and with time on their hands.
You need to look for what can you learn from your own circumstances, personal growth in adversity or possibly learning new skills and having some professional growth.
So what can you do?
Many of you work in financial services organisations. These are important for both the future of the economy and for your customers, many of whom will be struggling. So whatever your job, you are part of the solution to keep these businesses operating. This is a real time for showing leadership and you can do this whether you are junior member of a small team or a senior manager with operational responsibility.
As a junior team member building connections and supporting other members is key at this time. You may also find you can add real value supporting more senior and less technologically savvy employees in the new ways of working. Some of your more senior colleagues will be struggling more than you in juggling laptop, desktop, phone, WhatsApp and platforms such as Zoom for meetings (you are an old hand in Face Time). You may also be able to come up with new approaches to your work which your manager might have dismissed in the old world, but which now offer a real opportunity, be brave and make suggestion - it is the time to step up.
Connecting with people is challenging at the moment, but never more important. Some brief messages letting everyone know we are in it together and looking for some fun in the day will seriously help.
I am seeing people setting up for virtual coffee catch ups, virtual drinks meetings, social trivia, WhatsApp groups for letting off steam and plenty of messaging between team members with funny or interesting ways of how we are trying to lead a more normal life.
As a senior manager this is a time to build your own and your staff’s resilience, you need to be calm and confident and try to provide some certainty to your staff in a period of uncertainty. If they can be confident that you can see a way forward and are positive about the future this will encourage them to work productively and look for ways to support each other. You also need to be understanding of their personal circumstances, some will be operating under great pressure, some will get sick and others will be caring for those who are sick, others will be ready to step up and take on more.
Beyond the people, this is also a time to think about how to position your business for the future and to force change and adapt to new ways of doing business. What seemed like insurmountable hurdles in the old world may now become more accessible once we are through the crisis, and by reflecting on the future now, we can emerge stronger. Currently there are a lot of things which are harder to do now but there is a wealth of good will and understanding available and if we can be seen to be trying to meet customer needs perhaps we can change in ways we had not thought possible.
There will be job losses as companies struggle to survive and you may find yourself in this position. If you are a student, this is a good time to really focus on your study – you don’t usually have the time. If you have finished your exams and are thinking about your career then this could be a time for some self-development – learn about machine learning, a new language or make sure your CPD is up to date – none of it will be wasted.
I think we can safely say life will never be quite the same as it was but if we can think ahead and look for ways to position ourselves personally, there will be opportunities as companies seek to rebuild for the future.