Coronavirus May Get Trade Finance Banks Thinking about the Future of Work

By Wyn James, Senior Vice President of TradeSun, Inc.

From collapsing stock markets to suspended flights and lockdowns, the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak are being felt worldwide. As one response to this global pandemic, attempts are being made to “flatten the curve” by allowing employees to work from home.

In a few months’ time when banks conduct a post-mortem on the outbreak, a major point on the agenda will be their future preparedness in the case of a similar global pandemic. As they have now set the groundwork for this remote solution, why would they stop this trend once the emergency is gone? Could this outbreak be the event that lays solid ground for a conversation around the future of work and the idea of remote trade finance office workers?

Remote working – a test

Technology is touching everything we do, and trade finance document processing is no exception. So what can remote work look like for such a heavily paper-based industry? In my role working with the TradeSun platform, I often describe it as a collaboration between man and machine. Until trade finance becomes 100% digital, provided there are team members onsite to receive, scan, and dispatch the original shipping documents, the remaining processes can be managed both automatically and remotely using a cloud-based platform like TradeSun.

Although it has been argued that people are more productive when working remotely, the fact that remote workers are not visible except when meetings are called is something that most seasoned managers struggle with. In this case something like TradeSun’s analytics module becomes helpful. The banks decide what they wish to measure by way of user activity, and the data delivers the answers. The positives of a lower cost base, increased productivity and more accurate compliance checking that is available anytime, anywhere to the banks is clear.

Implications of a digital future

What will come of employees under this new structure?  Well for starters they get to spend more time with their families as they don’t have to commute to and from work. They can choose when and how to work as long as the job gets done.

In this digital future, tens of millions of workers may be working from home, albeit consuming electricity but not producing substantial fumes from combustion engines. According to a recent survey, 118 metric tonnes of CO2 can be saved every year by flexible workspaces that require less commuting. “There’s no quicker, easier, cheaper way to reduce your carbon footprint than not drive,” said Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, a U.S.-based firm that helps companies plan for the future of work.

In the longer term, of course, emissions savings can be even greater, as telework policies allow banks to reduce the amount of office space they must heat, power and equip. Some of this will be offset by home workers using home electricity, but the global implications of remote work are still strikingly positive.

And what about the local communities world-wide? Workers will get used to visiting their local restaurant, local gym, local theatre, local pub or local cinema. The makers and checkers will work more and more from laptops through cloud-based workflow automation, fully connected to their bank employers but participating more actively in their local communities.

Food for thought

Once the dust has settled, there will be much more to ponder. We’ll need to consider not only the cost of this outbreak, but how to prevent future ramifications in case a global catastrophe strikes again. Some banking departments have performed exceedingly well for a while with remote workers. The coronavirus outbreak, for all its disruption to the global economy and stability, could be the catalyst for the future of remote and distributed workers in the trade finance space.

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