How CROs Can Add Value In The New Normal
“The New Normal has been triggered by an incident,” said Mohd Radzuan Mohamad, CRO, FWD Takaful Bhd. “How it is managed determines how life will go on after that.” His organisation had declared Code Amber in December 2019, when the virus was first detected in Wuhan, he said. “But never in my worst nightmares did I ever imagine that Code Black would be triggered,” he admitted. Simulations had been run based on a Code Amber pandemic scenario. A week before the MCO came into effect, it declared Code Red. This was due mainly to the expatriate population of the firm, he said.
“We declared an emergency ahead of the authorities because we had done our risk assessment.”
The firm’s Crisis Impact Assessment enabled it to stay ahead of the trend and monitor its performance continuously. Even so, its operations were impacted by the MCO. While some processes could be undertaken remotely, others had to be done on-site. Also, different strategies had to be applied at different stages of the MCO because departments were differently affected. The organisation also made efforts to ensure staff were kept engaged during the MCO. “We instituted the “New Normal Challenge” for staff,” Radzuan explained. “It entailed getting feedback from staff about what the New Normal meant to them. The majority of them saw it as being a different way of doing things.”
These engagement efforts turned up some surprises as well. Productivity slowed down at the start of the MCO but picked up as the lockdown lengthened. “Our sales were better,” he said. “Sales staff were more positive. They were more concerned about how to move ahead.” Takaful offered a new platform for agents and customers that did not require mobility. As a result, sales improved. “Not everyone experiences the same New Normal,” he remarked. “It depends on the environment and the measures already in place to ensure continuity. Your ability to pre-empt things is better than battling them.”
Despite the generally positive attitudes of staff, there was underlying concern about the post-Pandemic landscape. There were even downsides to working from home (WFH), he said. This was stressful for some staff but many have continued with it, especially parents with young children. The challenge, now that lockdown restrictions have been lifted, is balancing the office-WFH ratio. With the situation expected to continue until 2021, there have been additional difficulties, particularly with new hires.
“They’ve been told to WFH from Day 1, so they don’t really know their co-workers,” he said.
High staff turnover, particularly in the areas of risk, compliance and IT, has further complicated the situation. “Some companies have had a pandemic scenario since SARS,” he confirmed. “But nobody thought it would be this bad.” There is no doubt that the Pandemic has made the simulations real! But it is not about simulations any more. Staff who have experienced the simulations are now highly mobile and have become very difficult to replace. The MCO also saw fewer hospital admissions and thus fewer claims. Less traffic on the road during the MCO meant fewer accidents as well – and fewer claims.
These are a few bright spots but major worries still abound. There is concern over how long the Pandemic will last, for instance, and when a vaccine will be available. There are worries too, that a protracted lockdown or resurgence of infections will cause a breakdown in the supply chain. Many countries claim to have developed a vaccine, he pointed out, but mutations of the virus have already appeared. Reinfections are now known to be possible. In addition, there is the fear that the real economic impact is yet to be felt. The uncertainty and disruption caused by the Pandemic has caused an almost crippling fear in some organisations. They are too beset by doubt to do anything.
However, there are signs of recovery in some sectors. Although the fallout from the Pandemic has been severe, some organisations were able to mitigate it somewhat. This was possible largely through the risk management systems which they had in place. These were the systems that forced them to confront difficult scenarios and identify their shortcomings. They had to ask themselves difficult questions, but it has stood them in good stead. While they may have had hard landings despite their preparations, the difficulties were not totally unexpected. “We may well see economic recovery because of overall good management during the Pandemic,” Radzuan concluded.