By Neetu Shaw,
Executive Partner for Financial Services, Higher Education & Automotive Industries, Clarity Insights

March and April were tumultuous, to say the least. As drastic changes to work environments and operations altered day-to-day experiences for customers and employees alike, leaders grappled with the best ways to adjust to temporary changes while also anticipating long-term implications. This continues now, whether making calls for quick fixes or more sustainable adaptation given daily developments at the local, state and national level as officials make public health safety the topmost concern. 

No industry has been untouched; the financial services sector, however, is holding its breath as the stock market reflects consumer trends and global pandemic response. Intra-industry collaboration is as important now as other measures, sharing learnings with one another in efforts to sustain the trust and transparency it has built in the past decade. 

That’s why Gartner is pooling CIO perspectives on current events through its Gartner Research Circle, in the spirit of collective empowerment and business response to pandemic conditions. For commentary based on the March report entitled, “How Financial Services CIOs Are Reacting to COVID-19”, read on. 


Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak: Short and Long Term Actions for CIOs - A Gartner Report

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An industry, disrupted

Banks and investment firms have been widely affected by the pandemic, with only 23 percent able to continue business operations without disruption as early as mid-March, according to a Gartner poll. Insurance companies have even more quickly felt the effects: in the same report, only 12 percent of insurance providers were operating business as usual. What aspects of operations have been most challenging? And what has been most affected, according to industry leaders? 

A remote workforce, overnight 

Remote work and continuity of operations were the top-listed challenges CIOs are currently facing. Does this tie-for-first surprise you? The financial services sector has lagged others in adopting flexible work policies, so this statistic may not be unexpected. Nevertheless, it is telling. The fact that this adjustment, for many technology leaders, is equally as challenging as operational continuity shows just how multi-faceted remote work preparation truly is. Issues of individual bandwidth, network access, security and sheer usage volume as an entire workforce stays home provide significant obstacles for technology teams to overcome, especially in industries where remote work up to this point has been a luxury, not necessity.

Putting customers first

Customer needs topped the list of business model aspects most affected by COVID-19, with more than two thirds of respondents (68 percent) citing it; Customer relationships followed next (41 percent). Twenty-nine percent of respondents noted technology capabilities have been most affected. 

Despite the cause, the focus on customer needs is a positive signal for the industry at large. Putting the customer first may illuminate gap areas, particularly as consumer behaviors change out of necessity, but it also demonstrates appropriate priority in times of confusion and even distress. Addressing customer needs first creates a waterfall effect to benefit the subsequent categories of customer relationship maintenance and effective technology capabilities, inasmuch as these capabilities support the end goal of addressing customer needs first and foremost. When pivots are required to satisfy customer needs, existing technology is called into question. Those whose technology stack was equipped to handle disruption may not have needed to list “technology capabilities” as highly affected, whereas those with outdated systems are now realizing the deep connection between customer service and technology. As consumer routines evolve based on temporary changes now, they may prove to be stickier than expected. Technology as service enhancement and as primary mode of communication have staying power beyond the present circumstance. Current conditions may have forced initiatives forward faster or differently than anticipated, but the investments themselves will not be made in vain when looking at long term business viability.

Technology as an asset, not liability

Technology can be a boon where adaptivity is needed, but it can also be a liability. Where does your company’s level of confidence stand in its technology capabilities, so that they enable support for customer-focused improvements? Having technology that scales to meet evolving workforce demands and peak usage of myriad digital products creates an ecosystem that not only satisfies the conditions necessary for pandemic response, but also for changing consumer preferences that may not reverse in a predictable way once shutdowns are lifted. 

Are you asking the right questions?

According to Gartner, these are the questions you should be asking in the short term:

  1. What are the things you need to be doing to make sure your organization is supporting customers and employees?
  2. How are you addressing the increase in work-from-home employees (security, bandwidth, customer data, privacy, etc.)?
  3. What are your best practices around communicating information in the right way?


For mid-term and long-term questions to ask, view the full report here.

More than ever, we’re here to help. If you need support during these trying times, let’s talk.

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