‘It was the first time I had faced a financial crisis and a health crisis at the same time’
Adapting to the new normal is an over-used phrase in respect of the consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic. The truth is that for businesses the past few months have involved massive upheaval and changes to working practices.
Business365 editor, Simon Richardson, has been talking exclusively to Standard Bank Offshore Group’s Chief Executive Officer, Will Thorp, about the journey the company has been on, and how it has had to adapt in the face of an unparalleled crisis.
Standard Bank Offshore Group has bases in the Isle of Man, Jersey and Mauritius. It’s a dynamic and successful business with a strong reputation for integrity and customer service. When the pandemic arrived the business knew it had to react swiftly. Will Thorp takes up the story: “It was extremely hard. It was the first time in my career I had faced a financial and a health crisis at the same time. Our first priority had to be the safety of our employees, and looking back I think we should all be proud of our quick response. We reverted to a work from home model, which we introduced well ahead of the curve.”
The company benefitted from an earlier decision to create a ‘Cloud Ready’ operating environment. Within a remarkably short space of time the technology required to switch to a working from home model was in place, along with the all-important cyber security protocols. The groundwork to enable the business to migrate to the Cloud had been done during the previous two years: “It meant the changes were not so dramatic. Had the pandemic happened a couple of years earlier it would have been extremely difficult,” added Will.
Now, with the crisis easing, Standard Bank Offshore remains wary: “We are cautious about rushing back into the offices, and looking longer term I’m sure the work from home model will become part of our business going forward.” Throughout the crisis the Bank has been in constant communication with its employees to monitor their views on working from home and checking on morale: “Clearly it’s not for everybody, but many have expressed the view that they would like to see home working become part of how we operate,” explained Will.
The seismic changes to working practices around the world will almost certainly make companies also re-assess their ‘bricks and mortar’ requirements. Will was frank in his acknowledgement that Standard Bank Offshore, is no different: “Yes, like many other companies we are now looking at our bricks and mortar in the Isle of Man, Jersey and Mauritius. Looking ahead it may be that we reduce square footage, or look at how we use the office space. It’s not just about coming into an office to sit behind desks, people want to use the space in different ways.
“I certainly don’t want to play down the seriousness of the pandemic, but from a business perspective we see a lot of positivity from what we’ve been through. We have had to think seriously about how we better engage with our own teams and our customers. It’s brought about more collaboration across the board.”
A recent example of this new engagement was a live, interactive Zoom event involving staff and clients with celebrated chef, Michele Roux Junior at his famous Gavroche Restaurant in London: “We all took part from our own kitchens and it was a great success, everybody loved it,” said Will.
The involvement of all the staff at the Banks offshore locations in the many procedural changes introduced has been a key factor throughout: “Our people feel revitalised in some ways. We have constantly sought their feeback and it’s been very positive from a morale perspective,” said Will.
Elsewhere the company’s parent in Africa is at a different phase of the pandemic. Cases in South Africa have been soaring of late, and there are worrying signs in many other African countries: “It’s certainly difficult across the country in South Africa at the present time. As here, the priority is to keep people safe. They are effectively going through the same procedures we have followed,” explained Will.
Looking long-term Will believes the pandemic will continue to affect economies around the globe: “Behavioural impacts will last for a long period, though some will be positive.”
As an outsider looking in Will is full of praise for the way in which the Isle of Man has handled the Coronavirus pandemic: “Clearly Islands have a different dynamic, but from what I’ve seen and heard from our people on the Island, the government there has dealt with it well. They have continued to adopt a cautious approach in terms of borders, and for good reason.”
Simon Richardson was talking to Will Thorp, CEO Standard Bank Offshore Group.