In our third podcast episode in series 1 of “Conversations With Coopman”, Fiona de Lacy, Managing Director (Ireland) of Walkers Professional Services joins co-hosts Andrew Murphy and Mark Fallon to discuss how leaders can do business differently throughout and in the wake of the pandemic.
With a background in music, Fiona went on to become a Chartered Accountant and Chartered Tax Consultant, working her way up to Finance Director of FSM Europe. Fiona then joined Walkers in 2016 and has significant experience in the corporate services industry and serves as a Director on numerous special purpose vehicles.
In this episode, Fiona shares her thoughts on leadership and doing business during Covid-19 and provides insights into what we need to do to challenge ourselves to do business differently in the future.
Key takeaways from the conversation include:
1) WALKERS’ TRANSITION TO REMOTE WORKING
The team at Walkers adapted well to working from home, although from the outset the business was well set up and had the right IT support in place, which was key in facilitating a smooth transition to remote working. The company provided additional assistance to employees where it was needed, in the form of secondary monitors and other office equipment.
Whilst the past few months have been challenging in some ways, they have also been beneficial in others, particularly in putting into practice the company’s existing agile working policy.
The company has been very successful in its continuation of social and CSR initiatives through virtual channels, and in maintaining its culture remotely.
2) REALISATIONS AS A RESULT OF REMOTE WORKING
Businesses benefit greatly from teams spending time together in the office environment, as so much work gets done through spontaneous communication. For example, spending a few minutes on the floor allows those in management positions to answer questions and provide feedback or advice on the best route forward for a project. It is very challenging to try and re-create this virtually as a lot of the time such communication comes at opportune moments, such as walking to the kitchen to make a cup of tea or coffee.
People do work well from home and given that the current situation is not agile or flexible working, the challenges people are facing while working remotely can be counteracted in the future by a hybrid working model, where employees spend two or three days in the office.
Training is an area that really requires attention. It is important that businesses are mindful of professional trainees/graduates and ensure that they get the same quality of training as their predecessors. The first few months in such roles involves a huge amount of learning and doing this remotely is a challenge, something that needs to be taken into consideration as we move forward.
3) HOW DOING BUSINESS HAS CHANGED DUE TO COVID-19
There is still a huge requirement for original documentation to conduct business, and the need for four or five signatures often means a document will have to travel amongst parties. Whilst the pandemic could not be predicted, the digitalisation of this process and the legal considerations around it should be strongly looked at moving forward. This will take time, change does not happen overnight, however rethinking how we do things is certainly going to happen.
Traditionally, in-person board meetings were conducted on a regular basis in the services industry for directorships and this often required a lot of travel. Going forward, participants from international locations may choose to dial into these meetings, however travel will be revived once it is possible to do so.
4) TRENDS IN THE AIRCRAFT LEASING AND STRUCTURED FINANCE SECTORS
There is a lot of distress in the aviation space, however, there has been an increase in domestic travel in China, in particular this year’s Golden Week saw higher numbers than last year. This provides sparks of hope which will flow throughout the rest of the world, it is just the timing of this rebound that is uncertain.
With challenges come opportunities, and some clients will do well in a distressed market, while others unfortunately will not. This is certainly the situation in the structured finance market where a lot of activity has been seen internationally.
5) ENGAGING WITH CLIENTS DURING THE PANDEMIC
Responsiveness and honesty have been two areas appreciated most by Walkers’ clients over the last seven months, with a focus on maintaining high standards throughout.
In terms of responsiveness, the bar has been set very high amongst the team, as deals still need to be done, documents need to be executed and companies need to be incorporated quickly. In the months ahead, as different jurisdictions vary in their approach to Covid-19, the same levels of responsiveness will be provided to clients based on the jurisdiction they are operating in.
Given the situation we face, if there are slow turn-around times or any unexpected issues, it is vital that clients are updated and informed through honest and transparent conversations. This is something Walkers have always ensured in their business and will continue to do so.
TO WRAP UP
Moving into 2021, Fiona believes that leaders across the industry will need to challenge themselves to re-think how they do business. By thinking outside the box, it allows us to be more effective in people and team management and professional development. We need to make sure that we continue to challenge the norms of business, whatever the new year looks like, and ensure we continue to invest in supporting existing employees but in particular, new joiners as the way we work continues to change.
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