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  • Writer's pictureW.B. King

How COVID-19 Is Changing the ‘Press the Flesh’ Business Model

By W.B. King

COVID-19 introduced new terms into the lexicon like “social distancing,” “Zoom meetings” and “curbside pick-up.” But since most businesses rely on human interaction to thrive, the pandemic has also removed some familiar office-based conventions like watercooler chats, group think sessions and shaking hands on a deal. So now, more than ever, business leaders are relying on technology to navigate these uncharted waters.

“We have been able to keep our business up and running through the use of various technologies, some of which, like Zoom meetings, we had never used before,” said Attorney and Partner Sara Meyers of the White Plains, N.Y.-based law firm, Enea, Scanlan & Sirignano, LLP. The firm specializes in estate planning and elder care law.

Attorney Sara Meyers

“We were lucky in the sense that we had already had cloud-based practice management software in place. From any computer and from any location we can access all of our files—our ongoing matters,” added Meyers, who has practiced law for 25 years. “Had we not had cloud-based software, I think this would have been much, much harder.”

What has been a challenge for Meyers is the absence of in-person interactions with clients and colleagues, but she understands the importance of striking a new balance during these troubling times. Her stance is shared by Sabeh Samaha, CEO of the Miami, Fla.-based Samaha & Associates, Inc., a technology consulting firm that has served the credit union industry for more than 23 years.

“I see remote work as a tactic and strategy that is going to continue because it is about time,” said Samaha. “We have always had clients that wanted us to ‘press the flesh’ and so for years we took planes, trains and automobiles, and paid for hotels. This is not to say that there isn’t a time and a place for this approach, but what is happening as a result of COVID is that clients and vendors are all realizing that more can be done remotely, which saves on our carbon footprint and even the bottom line.”

When the pandemic hit, Samaha and his firm’s clients were hesitant about how projects would be handled. But since there wasn’t an option, he and his team “stepped up” and broke through the “remote” barrier, though he said there are challenges.

Sabeh Samaha

“There has been remote training for core implementations for years, but there also have been problems with remote training,” said Samaha. “It is critical that you understand the character of each player being trained and what motivates him or her because not all people comprehend in the same manner or know how to be efficient when working remotely. This will be a learning curve for many.”

Tech Breaks Old Business Molds

Every industry is experiencing a change in business operations. For Meyers, her firm has seen certain pivots like virtual notary, a process that normally requires in-person interactions. The measure is the result of an emergency executive order from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

While Meyers said she in unsure if virtual notary will continue when the state completes its phased reopening schedule, the initiative, she added, “Has helped keep business moving forward.”

While temporary changes, like virtual notary capabilities, have allowed certain business operations to continue in the legal field, Meyers is also encouraged by other protocols that have changed due to the pandemic.

“The courts are now allowing certain conferences that were always required to be in-person in the past to be held via Skype. These include the hearing of matters, which has been phenomenal,” said Meyers. “I can see the courts continuing to use Skype instead of requiring attorneys to be in physical attendance for a quick conference or calendar calls. And I never thought the courts would allow this — not in a million years.”

In recent weeks, Samaha explained his firm handled two major technology projects remotely for two different credit unions—both of which “went off smoothly” and without issue.

“In late June, we did an online banking conversion on a Tuesday for one credit union and a credit card conversion the next day for another credit union. These were both done completely remotely,” said Samaha. “And this was the first time we did these types of projects remotely, including the training, and training is so critical. I spoke with both CEOs after and they were really happy with how everything went. Knowing what it takes to work remotely, we left no stone unturned and it really paid off.”

The challenge for many credit unions and vendors transitioning to remote services is having service gaps, noted Samaha. They key is to understand the gaps up front and mitigate them, he added.

“Moving forward, the industry will start to lean more and more on remote office, but security is a big, big concern of mine because IT will not be there,” said Samaha. “There might be some tough lessons and breaches realized before everyone learns how to do it right, but one thing is for sure: the times are changing.”


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