In this latest installment of International Investment's Lockdown Interviews series, Gary Robinson caught up with Darren Toudic, director, Fairway Group, to discuss how the global pandemic has impacted both professionally and personally.
GR: How has covid-19 lockdown affected how you work generally?
DT: I think it has forced us to think about working more digitally and more efficiently. It has also made us realise (not that all needed reminding) that we don't need to print as many documents as we thought we previously did. Hopefully, this mentality will become ingrained and will be carried forward when we are back in the office.
"Regulators need to understand that wet signatures and paper files should be consigned to history and move quickly to allow eIDV and similar technologies to make doing global business easier and providing clients with a simple, quick and secure process" - Darren Toudic, Director, Fairway Group
GR: Describe where have you been working during lockdown and how are you coping with more remote working, i.e. the work/life balance?
DT: At first, I was seated at the kitchen table, with an intermittent internet connection. Then schools closed, so my children, my wife and I were all at home working from the kitchen table. As I had to be on numerous calls and video meetings during the day, I found myself working from the lounge, but with no defined working set up.
After a couple of weeks of this, and a very sore back, I commandeered my daughters' desk, collected my office chair and set up a makeshift office in a small space in my bedroom which has served me well over the past month or so. It's not ideal, but at least it's a space I can sit comfortably at and make calls in relative peace.
GR: What are the biggest challenges a) for the industry and b) for Fairway Group?
DT: I think the biggest challenge isn't one for just the finance industry, or Fairway Group in particular, it's one for society as a whole. That challenge is mental health.
While some face the challenge of trying to juggle working and home schooling, others are facing an uncertain future as the sector they work in may be cutting jobs due to a lack of work (tourism, hospitality, manufacturing etc.). This challenge puts untold strain on their personal circumstances, and some will inevitably struggle with this prospect. There is also the inability to escape from the daily doom and gloom that is the news at the moment and the fear that this creates.
While I appreciate it is the biggest story in generations, it's a 24/7 story of misery that will become all-consuming for some. Supporting friends and colleagues is therefore the most important role we can play in society at this time.
GR: How have you changed how you deal with and supports clients?
DT: I think our communication with clients has actually increased during lockdown. This is particularly important for those clients you would visit on a regular basis. It's good to keep in contact with them to know how their businesses are holding up in these unprecedented times and also to let them know that you care about them and their families at times such as these. In some cultures, this message will go a long way.
GR: How important has technology been during lockdown?
DT: Technology has been everything so far. Our IT team have done a fantastic job in ensuring that every member of staff can work from home, providing them with the requisite equipment, where necessary. Digital signatures, whilst available before we found ourselves working from home, have been extremely useful for signing the hundreds of documents we would have previously printed, signed and scanned.
Like many businesses around the world, we have made great use of Microsoft Teams for holding video meetings (both internal and external). I think the ability to see team members when holding calls is vitally important as it gives you a sense of how they are feeling and coping with the current situation.
GR: What lasting impact will covid-19 have in international advice market?
DT: While the circumstances of the current situation are clearly new, it is not the first global crisis and sadly, it probably won't be the last. I think the lasting impact within international advice and wealth management will be a flight to experience and quality as well as companies that are able to provide adaptable, advanced client services. This is our 20th year as a company so we've seen a similar seismic change during the Global Financial Crisis, although clearly for very different reasons.
Regulators need to understand that wet signatures and paper files should be consigned to history and move quickly to allow eIDV and similar technologies to make doing global business easier and providing clients with a simple, quick and secure process.