Articles - Key workers in perspective

We all like to think that what we do matters to someone and both employers and employees might therefore tend to the view that they and their staff are key workers who must soldier on in all circumstances. This is of course reasonable in normal conditions however we should accept that within the context of coronavirus a different view must be taken.

 By Fiona Tait, Technical Director, Intelligent Pensions

 The FCA have published their own guidelines, which states that:

 “A key financial worker … fulfils a role which is necessary for the firm to continue to provide essential daily financial services to consumers, or to ensure the continued functioning of markets.”

 At Intelligent Pensions we have taken this to mean that a physical presence is required in the office to ensure time-critical activities are carried out, everything else should either be supported remotely or if necessary deferred until after the return to business as usual conditions. In this context sorting the mail suddenly becomes more “key” than managing the firm, as the latter is possible using email and phones.

 We have encouraged our clients to use email as far as possible but there are a few critical items which still depend on ‘snail mail’.

 This includes the transfer of original documents as well as dealing with requests from those clients, and firms, who still rely on paper. Requests for encashments, additional withdrawals or investment transactions are even more time-critical than usual given the volatility of the investment markets and if any of these requests are sent via the mail, we need to be able to pick them up.

 We have found however that these instances have become relatively rare. It is disappointing that certain schemes and providers still insist on original documents and/or wet signatures but many others have been proactive in offering alternative ways of working.

 As a result, we are able to manage with a single ‘key worker’ who happens to be the MD but only because he lives within easy walking distance of the office.

 Everyone else in the firm is a key worker to us, but not in the sense of their physical presence. Technology support, even within relatively small advice firms, has reached a stage where the majority of our services can be delivered on-line, or carried out by conference or video calls.

 At firm level the true value we deliver by exploring client needs and objectives, assessing their attitude to risk and capacity for loss, carrying out product and investment research and creating a personalised retirement plan has not changed and is arguably more important than ever. As well as telling clients what we think they should be doing, even more crucially at the current time we are telling them what we think they should not be doing. The message that pensions are long term investments has never been more important than now when our clients are understandably shaken by the paper losses they have seen in their funds.

 All of this is unfortunate but necessary. The majority of our clients still prefer face-to-face interactions where possible, however we have them to be reassuringly understanding with regard to both the move to electronic communication and any delays to our processes that will result from the lack of presence in our, and our platform providers’, offices.

 All of which leaves me wondering why so many employers still seem to believe it’s their employees’ duty to come into work, as demonstrated by the continued crowds on commuter routes. Yes, markets still need to function but is it really necessary to put everyone in the same enclosed space to achieve this? Employees should not be put in the position where they are required to risk losing their sick pay or even their jobs by following current government guidelines.

 I would urge all firms to follow FCA guidelines and consider:
 • Which services are both essential and time-critical?
 • Which individuals are essential to the provision of these services?
 • Which of these services could be delivered remotely and is the right technology in place to facilitate this?

 At an individual level, we cannot afford to be precious; you are an important worker but are you really ‘key’?

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