Should your bank’s employees work remotely?

Many businesses across industries allow their employees to work remotely. But with the unique security concerns of a community bank—safeguarding customer data chief among them—should your bank follow suit?

By Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Can—or should—more community bank employees work remotely?

Like most industries, it depends on the type of duties they perform, experts say. But community banks have a special consideration: safeguarding customers’ financial information from both a nefarious employee and a potentially less secure environment that hackers could exploit.

Loan officers have been working remotely using laptops for decades, so banks have been thinking about security for a long time already, says Jeffrey C. Gerrish, founding director of Gerrish Smith Tuck Consultants and Attorneys PC in Memphis, Tenn. But not all bank positions lend themselves to telecommuting, especially customer-facing employees, he adds.

Quick stat

5.2%

of people in the U.S., or 8 million people, worked from home in 2017

Source: U.S. Census

“I think it’s a pretty limited scope of the type of positions that could work remotely, but if banks want to be able to attract and retain key people, including IT professionals, they’re going to have to figure out some way they can work remotely,” Gerrish says.

Working remotely is more suitable for project-oriented jobs where there is a certain outcome, says Adriaan van Zyl, founder and CEO of bankinnovate.com in San Diego. “That way, it’s easily measurable,” he says. “You measure by the outcome and not by the physical presence.”

For example, IT staffers tasked with software programming projects would be good candidates, van Zyl says. But workers in some non-project-based positions could also be telecommuters, such as call center employees who are located in a different time zone or who prefer the overnight shift when the community bank is closed.

Keeping things secure

To increase security, many community banks use a virtual private network (VPN) that remote employees log into at home or in a coworking space. This VPN keeps data on a server back at the organization, van Zyl says. When the employees log off, nothing remains on their computer.

Community banks should make sure devices used by remote workers are accessible and controlled by the IT department, he says. They need to make sure there are up-to-date security patches and information security protocols in place that are just as effective as they are on the computers within the bank’s premises.

Community banks also need to develop a remote-work policy that details specific dos and don’ts and ensure each employee signs the document, van Zyl says. And, like employees working at the bank’s onsite premises, remote workers must attend periodic compliance training sessions.

As more customers demand immediate service, bankers are increasingly accommodating to this demand. This means more bank employees are working on the road, including financial advisors, says Samir Agarwal, vice president and segment leader for community banking at Wolters Kluwer in New York City. Increased technical capabilities are also enabling more back-office employees to telecommute, including underwriters.

“They can get out of the traditional sense of brick and mortar and work remotely, because more banks are investing in the digital tools that allow them to do so,” Agarwal says. “Fiduciary entities have very strict technical requirements for data protections on remote devices, such as laptops, so it’s increasingly becoming a non-issue.”

Emerging end-use technology can be installed on bank-issued devices that can visually monitor remote workers’ activities. This isn’t to see if they’re taking breaks every 15 minutes but to check if they are manually copying customer financial information onto their own computers or a piece of paper, he says.

“A lot of companies are just starting to pick up on this type of technology.”
—Samir Agarwal, Wolters Kluwer, on monitoring tech for bank hardware

“A lot of companies are just starting to pick up on this type of technology, as well as tools like lock-down devices that prevent them from copying customer data,” Agarwal says. “This is a bank’s most valuable information. You don’t want that to be on a personal device.”

Community banks can lessen security concerns by making sure people with integrity are chosen to be telecommuters, backed by checks and balances to make sure the bank’s technology lessens the chance of nefarious behavior, he says.

Productivity bonus

If a telecommuting position is structured well, remote workers can be much more productive, says Joseph H. Cady, managing partner at CS Consulting Group in Lake Arrowhead, Calif. There are fewer distractions, less time spent in unproductive meetings and, as a result, a greater ability to focus.

“There have also been a number of studies that show people who work remotely have much higher job satisfaction, which leads to a more engaged and productive employee who will likely stay longer at the bank.”
—Joseph H. Cady, CS Consulting Group

“There have also been a number of studies that show people who work remotely have much higher job satisfaction, which leads to a more engaged and productive employee who will likely stay longer at the bank,” Cady says.

“Though, while people who work remotely can achieve better work-life balance, the challenge for people working remotely is knowing when to shut it off,” he adds.

Above all, working remotely requires a certain kind of individual who is disciplined and works well on their own, Cady says. “It’s easier if it’s project based. Who cares what time they work on it, even if it’s 3 a.m., as long as they get it done?”

Remote working checklist

The ability to successfully work from home or in a coworking space not only depends on the quality of the employee, but the quality of their workspace. Are there potential distractions that could stymie productivity? Are the worker and their devices safe from hazards? Wolters Kluwer offers a telecommuting checklist and agreement to help employers evaluate a worker’s home office for telecommuting purposes, and to make clear the terms and conditions that they expect of them. It asks things like:

  • Does the space seem adequately ventilated?
  • Is the space reasonably quiet?
  • Are all stairs with four or more steps equipped with handrails?
  • Are all circuit breakers and/or fuses in the electrical panel labeled as to intended service?
  • Do circuit breakers clearly indicate if they are in open or closed position?
  • Is all electrical equipment free of recognized hazards that would cause physical harm (frayed wires, bare conductors, loose wires, flexible wires running through walls, exposed wires fixed to the ceiling)?
  • Are electrical outlets three-pronged (grounded)?
  • Are aisles, doorways and corners free of obstructions to permit visibility and movement?
  • Are file cabinets and storage closets arranged so drawers and doors do not open into walkways?
  • Do chairs appear sturdy?
  • Is the space crowded with furniture?
  • Are the phone lines, electrical cords and extension wires secured under a desk or alongside a baseboard?
  • Is the office space neat and clean?
  • Are floor surfaces clean, dry, level and free of worn or frayed seams?
  • Are carpets well secured to the floor and free of frayed or worn seams?
  • Is there a fire extinguisher in the home, easily accessible from the office space?
  • Is there a working smoke detector within hearing distance of the work space?
  • Does the employee agree to arrange for an energy audit of the home by the local utility company and a fire safety inspection by the local fire department within 30 days of the signing of this agreement, provided they can be accomplished free of charge?

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a writer in California.

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