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How Standard Chartered Adapted Through Pandemic, Went "Hybrid"

Editorial Staff

15 June 2021

Grant Parkinson, head, CPBB, Europe at , talks to Stephen Harris, chief executive of WealthBriefing, following the bank's recent success in this publication's annual awards for Europe.

How has your business and business model reacted to the pandemic? Have you introduced new working practices that will endure?
The pandemic has been a learning curve for everyone, even with the best-laid crisis preparatory plans you have to be flexible and able to respond quickly.  No one could have seen the COVID pandemic coming. You can have business continuity plans in place and dry runs, but no one playbook fits all crises or is like the real thing. It is a testament to the team that we remained fully operational and continued to serve our clients.

Understandably, many clients were, and still are, concerned about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their wealth, particularly with the volatility we have seen across global financial markets during this period. It has been a worrying time for most and, for us, being available and keeping in regular contact with clients has been critical. The strength of our relationships is the bread and butter of our business, and the trust built with our clients has come to the fore. Building trust with a client is a long-term process, built up over time, it is earned. We have been able to minimise any disruption to our client service and continue to provide expert advice and reassurance, and keep clients up-to-date as the pandemic evolves. We have seen an increase in calls from clients as they value their personal conversations with our private bankers.

The past year has presented with an opportunity to be really creative and various initiatives that we’ve implemented for our clients have worked very well. For instance, we developed a virtual rehearsal programme with video-based role play training to transform a generation of relationship managers, teaching them how to deliver high-tech client engagement. With travel restrictions, we even took to virtual trips to ‘visit’ our clients which normally would have entailed taking flights. Our Middle East team had client visits planned in Saudi Arabia. They couldn’t fly there so adapted the trip to virtual calls - ‘meeting’ clients in, say Jeddah, on one day and clients in another city the next day. 

Has morale amongst your colleagues held up well during the pandemic? What have you done to bolster their spirits?
Throughout the pandemic, first and foremost, the priority has been the health, safety and wellbeing of colleagues. We rose to the task of making sure that the team could operate safely and still provide a seamless service to our clients. It is incredible to think that we had almost the entire region working from home.

A happy workforce is behind any successful business, therefore the past few months have been a wake-up call for the importance of a strong culture. It would be very hard to keep our colleagues motivated had they not felt a vested interest in the work we do before all this started. Regular communication is crucial to sustain our culture. It is important to understand that everyone’s COVID experience is different. We had/have a number of colleagues working under different circumstances, for example, home schooling, working off the kitchen table, living alone etc). Also, across our region, we had/have various countries going in and out of lockdown at opposing times. Key for us is checking that everyone is okay; that they have the technology and support they need. All it takes is to pick up the phone and check up on someone.

The bank set up excellent resources too, including fitness sessions, access to mental health first aiders, guest speaker events (a world renowned neurologist, who specialises in sleep disorders, presented to us), a wellbeing toolkit for line managers, a six-week mindfulness course for colleagues, free registration to Twinkl educational resource (for those home schooling) and many more…

What are lessons learnt that you can carry forward?
We know that work, now and in the future, is facing significant change, as are the expectations of our clients and colleagues. We’ve been focused on how we organise ourselves and how we work for some time, but the pandemic has been a catalyst for showing us that we can successfully work with a level of flexibility that would have been unthinkable a year ago. We know from listening to what colleagues want, learning from different ways of working and assessing the productivity data, that there is a strong case and a real appetite for us to offer more flexibility than before. For that reason, our view is that the way forward is a hybrid approach: combining working together in person with greater flexibility in working patterns and location. Flexible working is also key to diversity, encouraging colleagues who may be looking for different working patterns, including senior women and carers, to progress in the workplace

Another lesson is the opportunity to evaluate and dial-up our learning, career and personal growth strategy. The working world is evolving and to stay relevant and up-to-date, it is that important we too refresh our skills and build our knowledge. The days of classroom teaching are long gone, so over the past year we have developed our digital learning. For example, the private bank enjoyed becoming involved in a Global Learning Week; we launched an online learning platform globally - DiSCover - and overhauled our internal online HR portal for colleagues.