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Financial advisor working remotely from home on his computer.

4 Things Financial Firms can do to Succeed Remotely

Financial firms are in the best position to succeed in a remote environment. Engaging with clients is easier than meeting in person and much of the work can be done regardless of location.

Americans are slowly adjusting to working from home. As states begin to ease the quarantine restrictions some companies are declaring permanent remote work environments. Companies like Facebook and Twitter are offering their employees the opportunity to work from home indefinitely.

Many firms have already moved to a fully remote operation and many more will do so in the future. However, moving to remote work can be difficult if handled incorrectly. Creating a successful remote operation is a new challenge CPA’s and financial firms will have to overcome.

When the lock-down started business owners looked to getting operations up as quickly as possible. Those who hadn’t migrated to a cloud based system did so. Others only migrated partly. While others still, struggled to adapt to a fully remote workplace. Video conferencing tools like Zoom and Microsoft teams grew in use and popularity.

Daily downloads of the videoconferencing app Zoom increased by 300 million participants since March. Businesses and employees spent time researching the different videoconferencing application and IT services companies that best fit their standards. But that’s only the beginning.

If you as a financial firm want to succeed in a remote environment you have to navigate cooperation, time management, data security and keeping your business functioning even while everyone may be so distant.

Here are a few ways to achieve success for your firm while working apart.

1) Take Advantage of Your Remote Environment

Maybe you’ve already noticed, but it’s difficult to distract each other with office gossip when there isn’t an office to gossip about. 85 percent of employees are either not engaged or disengaged at work. As a result, there is a 7 trillion dollar loss in productivity. Many offices have an open office layout which create a 32 percent drop in productivity.

However, this is harder to replicate when you’re forced to work remotely. Instead, the productive thing to do is to set virtual office hours or schedule meetings for a specific hour the day. Employees and staff can reserve a meeting however you choose. This might appear obvious to some but even in a remote environment it’s easy to get side tracked. You get one call from one colleague and then anther call 20 minutes later from an employee.  By the time you finish, you might not remember what you were doing in the first place.

Designate a period of time in your weekly and daily schedule for all meetings. The routine will also keep you focused and organized. Keeping a routine can lead to positive mental health. A routine can help manage stress levels and less overall anxiety, according to one study by Northwestern Medicine. College professors and councilors are very familiar with this system. It would be like having virtual office hours where team members can choose a slot and book a meeting.

2) Adapt to Technology

If you stop and think, if something like the Lockdown of 2020 had happened ten years earlier, remote work would not be possible. The emergence of cloud technology and communication apps like Microsoft Teams, Skype, Facetime, and Zoom together is what allows for a successful remote work environment.

Moving forward, many experts expect these changes to persist, bringing in a new era of remote activity. For financial firms, advising, asset valuation, and consulting will be done remotely. Firms should be looking to build on this change and integrate a remote reality to their existing operation.

What can your firm do to remain competitive, updated, and secure. Invest in a cloud service provider. IT services are going to be pivotal in the coming decades. Managed service providers will be in a position to make or break your firm. Look up the different cloud models and their features. Are they FINRA or SOX compliant? Where are their servers located? Are they stored somewhere outside the U.S.?

Nerds Support specializes in working with financial firms. However, there are many options available when hiring a managed IT service provider. Some are better than others, depending on the industry. You have to factor in security, location, knowledge of your industry, and even availability.

The Workplace platform provides a comprehensive solution that combines cyber security, compliance, & remote work needs.

The Workplace platform provides a comprehensive solution that combines cyber security, compliance, & remote work needs.

Is there someone you can talk to when something goes wrong? Do you have a point of contact? Sometimes a support team consists of strangers and other times it’s the CEO.

4) Build a Better Team Remotely

Human beings are social animals.  Although remote work is beneficial to productivity, it might be harmful to be socially isolated from your team. But there is a solution.

Team building is an important tool for social bonding and improving motivation. Setting aside an hour at the end of the week to celebrate that week’s accomplishments is a good example of team-building. There are a ton of other games and exercises you can try over video chat. Many have done virtual hangouts. Virtual happy hours are also popular. Even virtual competitions with certain free online games have brought offices together.   

5) Make Sure to Reconnect with Reality

The biggest issue in a remote work environment is that everything does seem to blend together. When you can’t distinguish your bedroom from your workplace it’s easy to get lost in a work-all-the-time mentality. Having an office has the psychological benefit of creating a barrier between your personal and work life.

A Stanford study showed that after 50 hours a week productivity sharply drops. Even worse, after 55 hours productivity gets so low that working becomes counterproductive.

I bring up the Stanford study because the comforts of working from home can often trick you into working more. Working an extra hour won’t kill you but the added stress of feeling like you’re at work at all hours is a serious problem. Establish clear boundaries for yourself and your team. When it’s time to log off, you log off. Communicate with your team your unavailability after a set time. Go for a walk, listen to music, but most importantly stay away from your computer.

 

Accountant working remotely from home accessing QuickBooks on his laptop

QuickBooks Hosting is The Solution For Remote Businesses

QuickBooks Is Perfect For Remote Work

As a result of the Lock-down in 2020, many industries, including financial services, are undergoing massive changes. The focus on executing virtual strategies and remote consulting has transformed the landscape of accounting possibly forever.

That  being said, there is a software tool that streamlines accounting processes and facilitates the transition to more permanently remote operations and that is QuickBooks.

QuickBooks is considered one of the most powerful accounting software for businesses across industries. Saving money, time and effort it introduces features that help track and report company finances.

Here are 9 Reasons why QuickBooks Hosting is Right for Your Business

1. Saving Time

Save time on bookkeeping and paperwork because many of simple bookkeeping tasks are handled automatically making it easier to run your business.

Bookkeeping paperwork has always been a hassle but with the emergence of remote advising, filing, sending and managing the appropriate documentation is more difficult and time consuming. QuickBooks automates simple bookkeeping tasks that would otherwise make running your business remotely more challenging.

2. Reports and Data are Easy to Access

Generate reports with the information you need, so you always know where your business stands. You instantly know whether you’re making money and whether your business is healthy.

You can generate reports that would require gathering resources and information not readily on hand. QuickBooks software contains assets that let you know where your business is in terms of finance. You’ll find information that tells you how much money your business is making and organize your financial strategy.

3. Cost Efficiency

Remote working could be seen as an opportunity to cut costs, or at the very least, reallocate resources. QuickBooks is an affordable application that runs at scale. Whether it’s a $6 million or a $46 million business, you can use this tool for a few hundred dollars. Achieving the most for the least.

4. Promotes Business Growth while Staying Complaint

Growth Is imperative and working remotely doesn’t change that. QuickBooks gives you the right tools and data to use when designing a business plan. Maybe you want to secure a small loan or open a credit line for your small business. You’re able to create a balance sheet, statements of profits and losses, and cash flow charts, all of which follow theU.S. Small Business Administration’s compliance guidelines.

5. Customization and Scalability

As I alluded to above, QuickBooks is designed for scalability. The tool is flexible enough to work for a large variety of small businesses across multiple industries. Furthermore, it has custom accounting packages for CPA’s, Health Care professionals, Retailers and more.

6. Broad Range of Tools for Almost Every Business

QuickBooks is expanding their services and plans to get to over ten million users by the decades end. There are currently 2.55 million subscribers to QuickBooks. Those are 2.55 million customers that leverage the tools and features QuickBooks offers to improve their businesses.

7. Automated Backups

QuickBooks hosted solutions has an automated backup service. This keeps important financial data safe. Partnered with the right cloud provider, data is guaranteed to stay secure and accessible.

8. Invoicing is Easier

Working remotely forces you to work with the digital tools you have in hand. When processing payments through QuickBooks, all that’s required is a simple email transaction. E-mail a statement or invoice, you’re able to process payments with credit card or bank account transfers digitally and in one central hub.

9. No additional hardware or Software Needed

Remote work is requiring businesses to restructure how they accept payment. Your clients will have to complete transactions digitally rather than in person and QuickBooks Merchant Account Services integrates with software to retain client data. In other words, returning clients won’t have to input the same information more than once. Card Scanning machines, or payment squares ineffective in a remote setting. QuickBooks allows for remote operations to continue without issue.

I.T. Doesn’t Stop There…

QuickBooks is an invaluable resource for a business looking to thrive in a remote environment. If you want a solution that protects your business infrastructure and Computer devices, I recommend looking for a Managed services provider that has QuickBooks integration. Nerds Support is a QuickBooks hosting partner and includes QuickBooks with all its other IT services and cyber-protection software.

Finding a managed IT provider that comes with QuickBooks hosting will save your business even more money. Instead of having QuickBooks separate from your IT and cyber security needs, you’ll have everything set up in one place. And with the amount of phishing and cyber attacks targeting remote businesses it’s a good idea to focus on your IT infrastructure as well.

FINRA updates with a cybersecurity alert COVID-19

FINRA Announces Security Measures for Financial Firms

Like other businesses, firms have taken measures to mitigate COVID-19 related risks. These include,  employees and associates working remotely or video conferencing to maintain efficiency while social distancing policies are in place.

Although focusing on the health of members and associate is important, it is also imperative to be aware of the cyber security vulnerabilities that are manifesting as well.

As workers accustom themselves to remote processes, financial firms should take steps to protect themselves and their clients from an influx cyber-attacks on home networks.

FINRA Alert

In March 2020 FINRA released a notice that firms should take appropriate measures to protect client information on business and home networks as well as mobile devices and tablets.

Cyber Attacks On The Rise

Cyber attacks related to financial relief checks went up in the last few weeks, while hackers continue to target vulnerable individuals.

Cyber security firm Check Point reported an average of 14,000 coronavirus-related cyberattacks per day in the past week, six times the average daily attacks in the second half of March. Additionally, this recorded number shot up to 20,000 daily attacks since April 7.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) related scams are growing exponentially as job loss, social distancing and unsecure home networks provide the conditions for hackers. Phishing scams, investment fraud, and fraudulent CDC emails are just a few ways cyber attackers are leveraging the virus.

According to a recent article by The Hill, the FBI saw a spike in reported cyber crimes on its Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), as hackers and cyber criminals take advantage of Americans’ move towards primarily online activity.

Home and Office Networks

Establish a secure connection when accessing your firm’s work environment. This can be done by setting up a VPN Virtual (Private Network) or partnering up with a Managed Services Company that can secure your network.

When using a Wi-Fi connection, secure it with security measures like WPA2 or HTTP strict transport security. These measures prevent hackers from accessing your network or infiltrate your site with man-in-the middle cyber-attacks.

Update software and patches regularly. Cloud security and compliance platforms like Workplace, which is used and integrated by Nerds Support as well, automatically run a diagnostics on potential security vulnerabilities on work devices.

Make changes to the user names and passwords of home Wi-Fi routers if they use default user names and passwords.

Always lock your screen when leaving your devices. Whether you are in a shared work environment or alone, it is never a good idea to leave your devices open when unattended and out of sight.

File and back-up your data frequently. For example, Nerds Support backs up all of our client data and store it in an offsite data center that can be accessed through our cloud network. This means that data can never be lost and guarantees all personally identifiable information (PPII) is safe and accessible by the firm.

Common Attacks

Although we’ve gone over COVID-19 related cyber attacks in another blog, we’ll briefly review them here.

Common COVID-19 Cyber Attacks include phishing & vishing scams offering false information or asking for personal information.

Continuity Planning

Understand your firms policies and establish a business continuity plan. In the event of a security breach, an outage, a stolen or lost device, or phishing attack, what steps is your firm taking to remediate the issues?

Contact Information

When using a video conferencing app or service, ensure the appropriate security measures are included in their policies.

Develop a structure for access to sensitive data and systems.

Provide staff with all the necessary contact information. Establish a plan for communication (where and how). Are you communicating through a VoIP system or Video conferencing application?

Assess and Verify

Do not hesitate to alert your IT department or team when confronted with any of the issues we’ve discussed. It is not uncommon for remote workers to overlook these points. Keep constant communication with everyone in your IT team to ensure all protocols are being followed and your systems remain aligned within regulation standards.

If you want a free IT Assessment to verify your systems are secure you can always contact us.

Now is the perfect time to assess your technology. Check if your existing IT is up to standard or consider c0-managed services to strengthen your IT capabilities.

Do you know if the computer you use to access client data is safe? Don’t compromise your firm by leaving security vulnerabilities unchecked.

Os33 Workplace cloud complies with FINRA, SOX, SOX11

Compliance on the Cloud 101

What is Compliance?

Compliance when dealing with cloud computing can be an issue for those using cloud storage or backup services. When you transfer data from your internal storage to a cloud provider’s you must examine how that data is stored so that you stay in compliance with laws and regulations. Financial cloud computing, for example, requires IT sox compliance to ensure quality of service.

In 2002 the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) was implemented as a response to huge accounting scandals. Companies like Enron, Global Crossing and others misled investors and cost shareholders billions of dollars. This, in turn, changed the IT world forever. What does this have to do with IT? It changed how we approach things like storage, data, security and other functions. 

Cloud compliance is, simply put, a principle that states a cloud based system must be compliant with standards that the cloud customer faces.

Compliance departments ensure that businesses conform to established rules and it’s important to understand, when switching over to a cloud service, how and in what ways the cloud meets compliance standards. Luckily, there are cloud providers that ensure compliance with regulations like SOX. 

If you’re in the financial services industry there are a few things to think about when considering an IT solutions cloud provider. 

How Compliance Works 

A global survey conducted by Veritas Technologies, a data management company, revealed that of the 13 countries and 1,200 businesses surveyed, 69 percent of organizations or 828, wrongfully believed that data protection, data privacy and compliance are the responsibility of the cloud service provider.

It isn’t.

When it comes to cloud compliance you need to be aware of the data you should move to the cloud and the data that should remain in house, the questions you need to ask of your cloud provider and what be written in a service-level agreement (SLA) to maintain industry compliance.

When SOX was first written, it explicitly left out how regulations should be met. This ensured that industries could adopt the most recent technology instead of having to wait for lawmakers to catch up to technology. Because of this, the cloud is a viable infrastructure for financial companies that forced to adhere to compliance rules. 

 The way IT departments store records changed due to the implementation of SOX. Regulations state what kind of information needs to be stored that relate to SOX compliance. Things like electronic records and messages, spreadsheets and emails are considered valuable and fall under the regulation.  

It’s important that you not take this for granted, and evaluate your SLA’s with the provider.

The first thing that organizations need to do is be aware of the type of services they use. There may be certain information that’s regarded as highly confidential and a company may decide to keep it on an internal network. Or if it is moved to the cloud, it’ll be a private cloud that will be hosted on the premises.

Nerds Support has a hybrid cloud in a secure location that has military grade security.

Ensuring Cloud Compliance 

Once your company has decided what information is to be transferred over to the cloud look at the contracts you have between with your cloud provider. Depending on whether the cloud is internal or external the approach will be slightly different. If it’s external, you have to make sure both you and the provider are clear about what type of data should reside on their cloud services and how they’ll protect said data. If it’s an internal cloud, are you going to have internal compliance checklist to make sure you’re within the regulatory standards?

With cloud financial services, customers and cloud providers share the responsibility to maintain compliance. It’s the duty of the organization to investigate the security policies of the vendor. 

Important questions to ask include: 

  • Where is data stored?
  • Who has access to the storage areas or data centers?
  • How is my data protected?

Compliance 101 SOX FINRA Cost Statistics

Service Organization Controls 

In some cases, companies can look at providers that certify compliance and chose their services without any further research. There are times, however, where a company will have to be more thorough and get involved in the cloud providers security to make sure it complies with industry standards. When it comes to SOX compliance, however, you should look for a vendor that provides you with Service Organization Controls.

This report enables user auditor to evaluate audit risks associated with the use of a financial cloud provider.   

It’s also important to establish and verify benchmarks that help check the effectiveness of the security around your data on the cloud.  Make sure your provider uses federal government guidelines for cloud security if it’s based in the US.

In order to avoid miscommunications between your cloud provider and your organization, make sure you take the time to classify the data in level of importance, delegating carefully what is suitable for the cloud and what needs to remain internally stored. Have the right contracts and go through them, establishing what will be covered under their services and how they’ll protect and back up your data. A business continuity plan is also imperative, just in case of any hiccups.

Nerds Support has cloud services that comply with financial regulations.

Contact us today to schedule a free IT assessment that can identify gaps in your IT infrastructure.

Financial firms use finacial cloud computing to remain competitive

How Financial Firms Can Digitize & Stay Competitive

Financial organizations are using financial cloud computing technologies to remain competitive as new research reveals banking and finance are becoming more dependent on emerging technology.  

In the old days, the cloud technology was adopted by small start-ups who didn’t have legacy architecture in place or the resources necessary to develop their own onsite IT. Now, larger institutions are moving to the cloud as well. Financial cloud computing stems from the growth of modern cloud providers. They have better security, compliance controls and privacy features. Furthermore, a modern cloud provider can automate many of the manual tasks that could put companies at risk if done improperly. Companies use the cloud to meet compliance and cybersecurity standards.
Although transition to the cloud requires upfront investment, for many financial firms the change means more than cutting costs.

Changing Demographic & Tech

56 million Millennials (ages 23-37) were working or looking for work in 2017, according to the PEW research center, making them the largest portion of the U.S. labor force. This means millennials are becoming the largest drivers of the economy. Millennials are on average more technologically savvy than the previous generations and have driven growth towards a more digital economy.

Banks and other financial institutions must adapt to account for this new trend. Digital banking users have increased from 26% to 51% between the years 2012 and 2017, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve. Consumers are banking digitally, meaning through desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

82% of consumers ages 18-24 were using mobile banking platforms in 2017, indicating a shift towards a more personalized banking experience. They also want to sign up for banking services without needing to visit a physical branch.  

Valued Digital Financial Banking Features Statistics

The Rise of Mobile Banking

Based on a 2018 survey, PwC, a professional services firm, found that mobile users grew from 10% in 2017 to 15% in 2018. This means mobile banking is becoming more popular as time passes. Taking all of these statistics into account, banks should adjust their priorities towards increasing and personalizing digital banking services. There is growing competitive pressure coming from companies like Alibaba and financial startups to go digital in terms of how companies should function and engage with customers.The goal is to make banking services available to people in remote locations where they may others be unable to access local branches.

Digitalization 

Digitalization is also far less expensive than banking in a traditional brick-and-mortar branch. PwC ‘s report titled  Bank of the future: Finding the right path to digital transformation, mentions how some banks create full on digital native banks that use completely digital customer interface and back end.

The report also says, that branch transactions cost about $4 each, while online and mobile transactions cost $0.09 and mobile transactions cost $0.19. Automation is the biggest channel in terms of growth for many businesses across the board.

Going digital makes banks more agile as well. It allows them to quickly adapt to changing customer trends and tastes. Going digital will provide for a testing ground for new services and products where a bank would otherwise have to commit to a strategy and hope it’s successful.

Financial Cloud Computing 

It’s possible to use modern IT infrastructure to set up a digital bank using third party architecture, also known as cloud services or cloud computing. In other words, one can set up an entirely digital bank without the need for internal IT, which would be a huge financial barrier. Instead, one may outsource hardware, software and maintenance to a cloud provider, further decreasing costs and risks.

The true benefits of the cloud appear as teams use these features to operate in more dynamic, agile and efficient ways. The cloud uses virtual machines, digital computers to share and distribute new projects across platforms and devices.

The main reasons companies are adopting the cloud are to improve mobile access and collaboration. Collaboration services improve workplace efficiency, communication and overall improves their bottom line. Companies that migrated to the cloud experienced a 19.3 percent faster growth than those who hadn’t.

Furthermore, the average financial services firm uses 1,004 different cloud services, according to a study by Skyhigh. The survey was performed for 3.7 million finance employees across more than 14,000 cloud services. The report was anonymous and tracked the usage data of bank employees, insurance companies, investment firms etc. Also, the fastest growing cloud service category in the industry is collaboration. This included programs like Microsoft office, Gmail and Evernote.

Security & Compliance: IT Solutions for Finance

While this might sound exciting it means nothing in such a heavily regulated industry as finance. Less than 0.1 percent of financial firms using the cloud meet compliance requirements and security standards. IT solutions for financial institutions are subject to human error as it is. But many cloud providers lack the experience and expertise to help manage highly sensitive data financial institutions must keep secure for their clients. Choosing the wrong provider could mean failure to comply with PCI DSS, SOX, and GBLA standards. This means looking for a provider that specializes in high-end security that complies with these governmental regulations with extreme care. A cloud provider that you can trust, means a firm your clients can trust as well.

A secure cloud means not only compliance, but proactive preventative IT solutions for financial firms specifically. Even secure cloud services pose a risk. A hacker can gain access to data stored in the cloud using login credentials obtained through targeted social engineering or malware. It’s a common practice for users to rely on same passwords with multiple online accounts. 31 percent of people reuse the same passwords, according to a University of Cambridge study.

Multi-factor Authentication

A hacker could gain access to an employees Instagram or twitter account and those to login to other cloud accounts. Look for a cloud service with multi-factor authentication, this decreases the likelihood of this happening. For example, with a multi-factor authentication process, even if your passwords were obtained, the employee would receive a notification on their mobile device requesting authorization. If authorization isn’t given through the device, the user cannot gain access.

Some cloud services providers, like Nerds Support, use programs that require users to change their passwords every month, further decreasing the chances of a breach. The same Cambridge study also revealed users rely on the same 20 unsecured passwords as login credentials. Changing passwords periodically will force the user to create new and distinct login credentials. Highly trained systems engineers could provide further insight into crafting intricate passwords that are inaccessible to anyone except the user.

 

Nerds Support has 17+ years of experience helping financial institutions digitalize while meeting important IT compliance.

Do What’s Best for Your Firm

 It’s important to understand that digitizing everything is not necessarily the best option. Each bank is different and has different strengths and core capabilities. You might not be in a place to fully digital overhaul.

In order to succeed in digitizing where others fail is to define and evaluate your long term strategy. PwC suggests you consider the questions:

  •  What do we want to be known for?

  • What consumer segments are we targeting?

  • What are our core capabilities and how can a digital strategy strengthen them?

Many industries are also on the way towards digitization in order to appeal to the Millennial and Gen -Z that’s following behind. This also means that adopting a digital infrastructure is going to be pivotal in business-to-business (B2B) interactions.

Having outdated or incompatible business models may become a deterrent to industries you want to service and conversely, an updated, innovative structure may appeal to start-ups or bigger companies that are looking to change and want to work with work with institutions that they feel will help them achieve their goals.

Contact Nerds Support today for a complimentary IT assessment where we identify gaps and areas of opportunities in your IT infrastructure.

Transform your team into an agile, lean, modern work environment with Nerds Support’s IT Solutions.