2021 Will Demand a Different Culture of Compliance

Quincy Tse discusses how firms can cultivate and promote a culture of compliance even as remote work arrangements continue to be commonplace.

Uncertainty became the norm in 2020 as people and businesses tried to navigate a global pandemic unprecedented in our time. The compliance space was hit particularly hard, as entire workforces left physical offices for the safety of home, with many taking highly regulated data with them and accessing sensitive corporate information from personal devices.

Even after the pandemic, remote work arrangements are unlikely to go away completely. Workers have grown used to working out of the office, and organisations need to adapt their culture to meet the accompanying demands. The most successful organisations will take the lessons learned in the Covid-19 era and apply them well into the future, rather than revert to business as usual. Failing to adapt could expose organisations to greater risk of regulatory trouble.

That adaptation will require a full organisational shift around compliance culture. For many employees, Covid-19 and the resulting remote work conditions dislodged the old routines and structure that had kept them moored physically and mentally. The transition to new routines, communication methods, and ways of working sent compliance responsibilities even further down many employees’ priority lists. As such, organisations’ compliance teams need to leverage all the tools at their disposal to keep compliance top of mind and nonnegotiable.

The Changing Nature of Compliance Culture in the APAC Region

The compliance concerns associated with remote work have only just begun to emerge. According to a survey from Global Workplace Analytics, 77% of employees say they would like to work from home even after it’s safe to return to the office, and research from Gartner suggests that 90% of HR leaders plan to let them do so, at least part-time.

Changes in how workers communicate have resulted. In the Asia Pacific region specifically, a Microsoft study found that remote work is blurring workers’ lines between work and life, with nearly 70% more online communication happening after hours.

Compliance has also lost the valuable face-to-face interactions that occurred organically in the office, and that void has created risk. Without these touchpoints, employees can easily forget compliance practices that have kept organisations in line with regulatory requirements. To overcome all these challenges and those yet to emerge, organisations must adapt their approaches to compliance so that their programs become more flexible and agile.

How to Build an Adaptable, Agile Culture of Compliance

Even organisations that had successfully learned how to improve compliance culture before the pandemic must redouble their efforts in light of new and likely permanent working arrangements. Building a culture of compliance in your employees’ home offices around the world will take a new approach that begins with these three steps:

Compile compliance FAQs into an accessible resource

It’s impossible to replace all the desk-based interactions or quick conversations around compliance that arise naturally at a physical office space, but one virtual tool that could facilitate answering those simpler questions is an easily accessible code of ethics guidebook.

Reach out to employees to discover some of their most frequently asked questions around compliance, then compile the answers and other relevant information into an easily searchable document. Employees can reference the guide with more routine policy-based questions for quick answers that will help them finish their tasks. Compliance officers might only be an online message away, but as remote workers do tend to keep more irregular hours, additional resources could often be more convenient for handling the small stuff.

Make mobile compliance a reality

For years, firms have experimented with deploying mobile apps as part of their compliance solutions in order to improve employee engagement. In the current remote-work era, it’s no longer just nice to have; it’s imperative for building a flexible compliance culture that keeps teams connected.

Mobile compliance apps have varying capabilities, but the idea behind them is to offer desktop functionality on a mobile device and make compliance requirements easier to fulfill. A good mobile compliance app, for example, should allow employees to pre-clear trades or submit gift and hospitality requests from anywhere where mobile phone services are available. That is, completely on-the-go and in a completely convenient manner.

Compliance teams can also leverage mobile push notifications, delivering bite-sized chunks of information that employees can consume at any time, from anywhere, on any device. This communication tool can help with employee compliance training, ensure compliance stays top of mind, and solidify a true culture of compliance among organisations.

Leverage compliance software to keep remote work options available

As the APAC region is generally held in positive regard for its Covid-19 response, the region might very well set the example for returning to work. Don’t rush employees back to the office — they want options, especially in the Asia-Pacific, where many people live in multigenerational housing. Some might experience increased anxiety about exposing their older relatives to the coronavirus and opt to stay home, while others may look forward to returning to the office. The point is, the region has the chance to lead the charge with an effective, flexible, hybrid approach.

Compliance software can help; leverage it fully to make it easy for employees to complete compliance-related tasks from wherever it is they’re working. Facilitate virtual walkthroughs and remote training for off-site employees. Training is especially important for the handling of sensitive employee and client data when working remotely. For example, business documents in the APAC region still tend to be physical hardcopies, but employees should never forward sensitive documents to their personal emails for printing at home. The ease of mishandling insider information from home necessitates increased training, and software can help deliver it effectively and at scale. Finally, ensure that the user interface of your platform is intuitive, to encourage adoption, and that frequently used links — like access to the homepage or links to reference materials — are readily available throughout the system.

As hybrid working arrangements are likely to be the new normal, financial firms in the APAC region should double down on efforts to cultivate a culture of compliance. This should be one that embraces adaptability, flexibility, and agility and does away with rigidity and inflexibility, and one that applies wherever their employees are doing their job from. Otherwise, firms face the risk of compliance framework breakdowns, along with the regulatory trouble that will bring.

Quincy Tse is the Director of APAC at StarCompliance.

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