Ina Steyn, Absa Group’s Head of Resilience

“Business resilience is now more important than ever before,” says Ina Steyn, Absa Group’s Head of Resilience. “There are so many good stories of how collaboration allowed us to respond to this unprecedented pandemic, over the past couple of months.”

What is business resilience?

A business is resilient when it is prepared and equipped to manage unexpected disruptions to its operations, ensuring continuity for its people and customers. Today, our interconnected world – with its increasingly complex global value chains, frequent natural disasters and rapidly advancing technology – faces a set of new and diverse risks to business continuity.

The new COVID-19 pandemic is an extreme example: a highly infectious pandemic that has massively disrupted global demand and supply. In the past few months, businesses have been forced to switch to remote working. While business leaders across the globe have scrambled to keep in touch with one another and employees remotely, employees have had to figure out how to work from their homes, with their children home from school, internet connectivity issues and limited external supplies. In this context, a clear resilience plan is priceless.

Building Absa’s resilience

Over the past few years, Absa’s resilience team has been building its capabilities and skills, fit for the African Continent. Between the 20 strong team they have more than 100 years of business continuity management experience, and all are accredited members of the Business Continuity Institute.

This experience is supported by the strong relationships developed with senior leaders, business units and other functions across the organization and the continent.

Responding to COVID-19

McKinsey advises that, in a crisis, organisations should appoint a small, cross-functional team that is headed by a respected and experienced internal leader to manage responses from the organisation and stakeholders. But COVID-19 represents a more complex, deeper crisis than the usual reputational problem. It requires coordination not only across the organisation but also across the industry with the Banking Association South Africa, regulators at the South African Reserve Bank and Prudential Authority, government, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and other stakeholders, such as customers, suppliers and investors.

Regardless of this pandemic, the bank is an essential service that needs to continue operating, which means protecting frontline colleagues and enabling others to work from home. To manage this complexity, it requires cross functional teams to focus on solving problems and making decisions.

This combination of flexibility, cross-functional expertise and leadership support has encouraged a bold, speedy response.

Executing beyond expectations

It’s easy for a crisis of this scale to overwhelm. There’s no previous case study to learn from – nothing like this has happened in modern business history. A resilience team has to be prepared for events like protest marches and drought – not a global pandemic. In this situation, Ina says that collaboration is paramount to keeping the business running smoothly.

“This incident proves that, regardless of your business model, it requires teamwork. Every member of the resilience team and partner in the business has pulled their weight, showing dedicated focus on doing what needs to be done. It’s something to be proud of.” It is one thing to plan for a scenario and quite another to put these resilience plans into effect. Yet, considering the circumstances, the transition to remote working during lockdown in South Africa has been remarkably smooth. Absa’s virtual private network effectively hosts thousands of remote employees at a time.

Without calm, committed teamwork, an effective response to this pandemic would not have been possible. “Ina is understandably proud of the results. “What doesn’t break you makes you stronger”.

“A disaster is something like having to change engines mid-flight – that’s essentially what we’ve done here.”