Time to protect your brokerage’s reputation and bottom line

April 10, 2015

How would a fire, local chemical spill, system or building failure impact your business? More important, what would you do to recover?

The number of overlapping priorities competing for the attention of any small or medium-sized business owner is huge. From sales growth to ensuring adequate coverage during the upcoming spring break and more, I’d bet dollars to donuts most brokerages have not given sufficient thought to the ways their business may be impacted by a sudden and unforeseen interruption in operations.

As a federally-regulated financial institution, Bridgewater Bank makes business continuity planning (BCP) a priority. We test our response plans regularly and refine our responses constantly. Our hard work is bearing fruit; we have responded almost seamlessly through two interruptions to our business in the past two years, including the 2013 flood that submerged parts of downtown Calgary and surrounding area.

And of course, crises don’t care about needs or agendas. A few short weeks before the annual CAAMP conference, as Bridgewater Bank prepared to introduce our new Gateway mortgage program to the broker market, disaster hit. An underground fire in downtown Calgary destroyed important data transmission and power lines, plunging parts of the city into darkness. Enacting our disaster recovery plan over the Thanksgiving weekend, we managed to resume our operations by the start of the next business day with minimal hiccups and with each employee aware of their crucial role during this extraordinary circumstance.

If you think I’m being dramatic, don’t let smugness or the “it can’t happen to us” mentality stop you. Your business could very likely lose customers or money because of an interruption in operations, whether by natural disaster, operational failure, illness or actions of a person. Don’t stew – take some time pre-crisis to protect your business with these six steps.

1. Anticipate Crises

Consider all of the possible scenarios that could bring a halt to your operations, whether briefly or for an extended period of time. Write them down. Most will fall under two categories: environmental and operational failures, but within these consider the possible situations. Is your office situated near a river that routinely floods or located in an area known for strong weather? Do you store sensitive customer information on servers? If so, how reliable is that infrastructure? Is your problem-solving solution to “ask Mary” because she knows everything? What happens if Mary suddenly takes ill and can’t share complex or mission-critical tasks? Has a disgruntled ex-employee made extreme statements in the past? Are they active on social media? Pondering these scenarios isn’t fun, but like downing medicine, the bad taste is temporary and is exactly what you need to start feeling better soon.


2. Create a business continuity team

Who are the key people on your team? This is often a touchy subject as every colleague performs a necessary role, especially in leaner organizations. But your more senior people are paid to understand all aspects of your operations, not just daily tasks. These people will be able to quickly identify all resulting impacts of each interruption identified in step one, and more important, they can begin creating solutions. Bring your key people together during a long working lunch or as an ongoing project and get them strategizing.


3. Establish notification systems

Technology makes communication easy. Ensure you have all contact information for each employee. Put one person in charge of gathering this information and updating it on a regular basis. Create a group email distribution list to inform all employees of an immediate issue. Following up this initial message with a telephone call trees allows the people making the calls to check on the welfare of each employee and their family. Find out how your company can support them.

Once you know each employee is OK or their needs are being met, transition the conversation to the temporary but unique role each will now play as the situation unfolds. Showing care and compassion during a trying time while giving people something to do cements team loyalty and can help your business return to full operations faster.


4. Identify all stakeholders

Remember others also need to know it isn’t business as usual. Customers come to mind. How will you reach out to them? Is anyone likely to try to visit your office today? Are they even aware an issue has affected your area and your office is closed? And remember each stakeholder has specific needs. What a customer needs to know will be very different from a key supplier. Make sure you have a notification system for external audiences. Advise all stakeholders of your business recovery plans and your back up operations site.


5. Communicate

When you’re knee-deep in an issue, it’s easy to feel that the issue is all about you. In reality, though, people need to know how your issue is going to affect them. Does it mean a deal won’t close on the target date? Will payments be missed, not sent or withdrawn? Do key partner meetings need to be rescheduled?

Return to your work in step one to identify the implications of a business interruption, determine who on your stakeholder list is affected then communicate with them. Tell them about the situation, what you’re doing to resolve it and what they need to know. Ensure you keep in constant communication with them throughout the event.


6. Train, test, refine. Repeat.

Nothing eases the conscience more than seeing a new plan rest on a bookshelf in a shiny new binder. But don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Convene regular meetings with your BCP team, test your plan, hold drills, review the results and refine your responses. Be soft on your people during these reviews, but be hard on the issues – gaps and challenges need to be resolved. Your company’s reputation, and its bottom line, depend on it.

Glenn Halliday is the Director of Enterprise Operations with Bridgewater Bank in Calgary. He leads the bank’s disaster recovery operations.