More than 100 years ago, as it formally entered World War I in August 1914, Britain implemented then First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Winston Churchill’s “Blackout” plan. The strategy was designed to minimize outdoor light, collectively and across broad areas, in an effort to prevent enemy aircraft and ships from being able to identify targets by sight. The practice was replicated in France and Germany, with varying degrees of success. As World War II reared its ugly head in 1939, Britain once again imposed Blackout regulations across the nation, requiring all windows and doors to be covered at night, external lights turned off, and even fitting traffic lights with covers to deflect the light downward.
Blackouts disrupted civilian activities, were difficult to adhere to, and caused lower morale, partly due to the strict enforcement of the regulations.
Today, the world is at war again, with an airborne threat that is highly effective in stealth warfare. It has been called numerous things, including the “great equalizer.”
Our “Blackout” orders are now to “shelter-in-place”, “don’t hoard toilet paper” and “wash your hands,” with instructions to boot. Time will only tell if the 2020 “Blackouts” are as effective as they need to be to defeat our adversary.
Until then, life-as-we-knew-it will be a distant memory, with almost all walks of modern life ground to a complete standstill, while the skeletal network of “essential services” keep us afloat and safe from total chaos and anarchy. We applaud and are indebted to them – the medical professionals, first responders, emergency crews, bank employees, postal and delivery services, truck drivers, utility service teams, restaurant and grocery store employees, farmers, defense personnel, our government representatives, and so on.
However, we should also recognize the decades-long foundation laid by IT professionals, inventors, network administrators, logistics, hardware and software engineers and firms, that have enabled us to weather this storm like no generation before us – ensuring that even as we practice the most drastic form of social distancing in recorded history, we have never been closer to one another1.
Given that the worldwide economy and modern way of life depends on the financial stability of consumers, whether they be individuals or businesses, the FinTech industry is, with all due respect, arguably as “essential” as any of the other groups mentioned above.
Technology enabled us to rapidly go into Blackout, with relatively minimal levels of disruption – education can be continued in virtual classrooms, monetary transactions continue with cashless transactions, groceries can be ordered and delivered with a few clicks, even M&A deals can be executed utilizing digital signatures and electronic due diligence. More importantly, the desk-based workforces can continue to operate remotely and be compensated directly into their bank accounts.
There is no timeline on when things will be back to normal, and as reported in a recent article2 many firms, including Fidelity, TD Ameritrade and SkyBridge Capital, are coming to terms with the fact that post-COVID-19, remote working might become the new norm for them and other industries. Similarly, according to Steve Bates, global leader of KPMG’s CIO center of excellence3, there is a “tendency to slash and burn your [digital] transformation and revert back to your traditional working model, which is human nature”. However, the firms that are “[d]oubling down on digital transformation during the coronavirus pandemic” will be best positioned to capture the recovery when this all subsides.
EWM Global is humbled and honored to play our part in leading the digital transformation of total rewards and incentive compensation for our clients and their worldwide talent.
While we will prevail, COVID-19 is at its core a virus, and yet another example of how unprepared and fragile humanity can be when it comes to nature’s wrath and power. We have the technology to be the most prepared we can be for the next virus – we just have to harness and deploy it.
Stay well, and be safe.