By Wilhelm Dingler, JD
Risk management is of prime importance in unsettled times. Yes, the COVID-19 virus disrupts the typical “to do” list, but the work must still get done. This blog offers some thoughts to help you to remain focused on providing outstanding client service while continuing to maintain proper risk management techniques and processes.
These times are unsettling for your clients. This is particularly true given the rollercoaster stock market and the new legislation designed to deal with the financial impacts of COVID-19. Expect an increase in traffic as tax planning and tax filing get underway. Make sure your electronic systems (email and website) are robust enough to handle an increase in traffic, and be prepared for increased telephone call volume. With staff working remotely, be sure you have addressed how telephone calls will be answered and routed to the proper person. Test run scenarios to be sure you have a solid system in place. Since the assumption is that people are working remotely, the expectation is that you will be ultra-responsive to an email. Consider an automatic reply to emails briefly outlining your situation and when clients can realistically expect a response.
Whatever risk plan you implement, be sure to stay on top of it. As circumstances change, be mindful of the need to modify or tweak your plan. For example, you may develop a plan to have all telephone calls routed through a central exchange with an automated message allowing the caller to be transferred to the person to whom they wish to speak. To monitor your plan, periodically call that number yourself to verify that it is still working correctly. With respect to specific work products, you should have extra redundancies built in for follow-up. For example, create a firmwide reminder list. Make the list accessible to all, and be sure that deliverables are noted on the list and the person responsible for follow-up and deadlines are clearly identified. If you learn that the person responsible for follow-up cannot do so, you can easily review what is on that person’s plate and reallocate resources to meet client needs. Remember, you are not all in the office: you cannot simply walk into someone’s office to see what is on their desk. This system replicates that electronically and is visible to all.
It is important to secure your clients’ sensitive data. This has always been the case. Now, however, with more working remotely, it is imperative that you and your personnel have safe and secure systems in place. Statistics show that hackers and phishers have increased their nefarious activity, so vigilance and robust security for remote workers is paramount. Consider two-factor identification for all remote sign-in. If possible, have people log in through secure virtual private network (VPN) or other networks of a secure nature. Avoid free or public networks as they are typically not secure. Also, we still use paper. Remember, we are not at the office where the secure shredding bin is located, so ensure staff is segregating items destined for the shredder and not putting them in their home trash or recycling bins. Thieves and hackers are not averse to rooting through bins at the curb. Staff should keep a separate bag or box for “to be shredded” documents and hold onto them until they go back to the office. This policy should be published for your staff and adhered to by all. Original source documents are likely scanned and then the hard copy is returned to the client. Now that firm work is remote, an increase in potential theft of those documents increases. Recognize the increased potential for theft and evaluate who has access to your clients’ data.
You know the personnel you have or may need to meet your client obligations. Increases in personnel may not be high on the list of most businesspeople in these times, but it may be that you will need additional staff to meet client expectations. As noted above, you likely will see an increase in electronic and telephonic traffic. Not only do you need to be sure your systems can respond to the increase, but also that you have enough boots on the virtual ground to meet the increase. You and an analysis of your situation will determine if you need to add staff or you can accomplish meeting your clients’ needs by task-sharing amongst current staff.
These suggestions merely scratch the surface, but what we have learned is that to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Now that you have been alerted to some of the unique challenges presented by the pandemic, you are in a better position to think “risk management” for every action needed to meet client needs as we enter the new year while keeping oneself safe and healthy.
Wilhelm Dingler, JD, is an attorney in the Seattle office of Bullivant Houser PC. He is licensed to practice in Washington and Pennsylvania. He primarily represents accountants, attorneys, and other professionals. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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