Know When to Pivot

The world we live in today is a tumultuous place. If the past two years have taught us nothing else, it has provided invaluable lessons on the ability to adapt and overcome. When the coronavirus pandemic traveled quickly throughout the globe, every business in every industry scrambled to find new ways to serve their customers and new ways to approach problems they didn’t even know they were going to face until they were suddenly confronted with them.

Have you ever been following a recipe, but realized halfway through that you don’t have the right ingredients? You might look around, wondering what you could use instead. You may even think about giving up on the recipe entirely and just ordering takeout. Or you can pivot. Pivot means to turn or spin around a center point, like the basketball player who changes direction suddenly and sharply in order to avoid and get around the player guarding him. In other words, it means “to adapt and change quickly.” Sometimes, no matter how well you’ve planned, things change. The market shifts, customers’ needs change, a pandemic rapidly spreads, a war is waged….and suddenly everything changes. In today’s fast-paced world, the one thing that can help us weather the storm of sudden change is knowing when to pivot our strategy and adjust our thinking.

After the COVID-19 pandemic rocked businesses worldwide, banks and other financial services providers (and many other companies) pivoted by moving or enhancing their services online, creating digital solutions for clients that could not visit them physically, and taking advantage of new opportunities that these challenges presented. When residents of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, woke up on one day last week to find that Russia had disrupted their internet access, tech billionaire Elon Musk, founder of aerospace manufacturer SpaceX, provided them with access to its satellite-internet system, Starlink.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and rapidly evolving situation will have long reaching impacts for the rest of the world and impacts the global financial sector. Regulators are issuing guidance to U.S. banks reiterating that regulated entities should fully comply with U.S. sanctions on Russia and the elevated cyber risks for the U.S. financial sector. OFAC’s orders and guidance on implementation of these sanctions, including financial entities on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List, are accessible on the U.S. Treasury Department’s website. Stay on top of the latest updates to ensure timely implementation of any further sanctions by signing up for email updates directly from the U.S. Treasury.

The escalating tension between the U.S. and Russia greatly increases the risk that Russian threat actors will directly target U.S. critical infrastructure in retaliation for sanctions or other steps taken by the Biden administration. Now is a good time to review and test your cyber response and business continuity plans, and provide additional cybersecurity awareness training and reminders for all employees. Your security and IT teams should closely track guidance and alerts from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs). Indicators of compromise for known threat actors should be immediately incorporated into your network’s cyber defenses.

Flexibility is key. Especially in the banking industry, where this kind of thing happens all the time: a new regulation goes into effect and suddenly your revenue stream dries up; a new competitor emerges and suddenly you’re losing market share; a product or service comes along that changes customer expectations, and suddenly you have to work harder than ever just to stay competitive. It’s time to think outside the box.

Disruption is the new normal in banking. From the financial crisis of 2008 to the global pandemic to a raging international crisis, these disruptions present opportunities for us to rethink problems and look for new ways to solve them. They are lessons in knowing when to pivot to adapt and overcome.

As the saying goes and couldn’t be more true in banking, “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Written for and originally appeared in Bankers’ Hotline Vol. 32, No. 2, 2/28/22

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