“Continuity plans are experiencing the ultimate stress test,” says Opus CEO Robin Bedford
As with all companies, Covid-19 has presented a unique set of challenges to Opus, the fast-growing global fund administrator. But when Opus implemented its business continuity plan, it was more than just business as usual. The firm delivered 87% of its client NAVs earlier than expected – at a time when managers were under intense pressure from investors to report returns. Hedgeweek spoke to Opus CEO Robin Bedford about the short-term challenges to operational processes and the implications for the future…
How did the plan to deliver early NAVs come about?
In the first weeks of the lockdown, the markets were in turmoil. Investor panic ensued as many struggled to fully understand their exposure and its financial impact. Managers were under significant pressure from investors and regulators to show reporting continuity.
The Opus management team met and discussed ways we could help. How we could leverage the inherent strengths of our operations platform to reduce the impact of the crisis on our clients? Normally, client needs are basic. Many simply want an accurate NAV, delivered on time. But we decided we could do better than that.
By delivering early, we would give clients more time to review our work and pacify their investors. Additionally, the Opus client solutions team utilised their monthly ‘health check’ calls to get ahead. The goal of these client calls is to be proactive rather than reactive. During a crisis, the sooner we could identify and resolve client issues, the better we can control service continuity.
Covid-19 has provided a massive stress test for everyone in the industry. What have been the most pressing challenges and requirements for you as a service provider?
Continuity plans are experiencing the ultimate stress test. Whilst we didn’t have a global pandemic in mind when we built our business model, we have always focused on building a company with solid foundations, allowing us to quickly and easily scale.
Our platform is used by approximately 10,000 users through 400 clients and 600 funds each month. During a crisis, everyone looks for partners to provide a level of calmness, stability, confidence and focus. Whilst firms might have been able to adapt and find short-term fixes, it will become increasingly harder to fake as we move into week six and beyond.
Our success and resilience is largely due to: a culture built on hiring smart innovative people, and giving them the tools to be successful; deployment of Azure Virtual Desktops allowing any employee to work in a controlled environment, from anywhere in the world, on any device; a “build not buy” technology focus, resulting in smart automation throughout all aspects of the NAV cycle; a global shared service operating model, allowing work to be quickly shifted between people, offices, countries as needed – at the push of a button; and pre-crisis deployment, and full engagement, of collaboration software like Microsoft Teams.
How has the industry been affected in terms of business continuity and remote working? How ready were firms with their BCP plans and processes when the pandemic hit?
For many, business continuity plans were occasionally dusted off when firms completed due diligence questionnaires. Just a few short weeks ago, who could have predicted how important these plans would be? Then the pandemic hit and cities, states, entire countries shut down with almost no notice.
Over recent years Opus has experienced numerous natural disasters causing major operational challenges. In the last two years alone, Opus offices have been closed or seriously impacted for extreme events such as multiple earthquakes and even volcanic eruptions. Reliance on distributing a handful of laptops wasn’t going to be an adequate plan. At Opus, our normal operating model fully integrates into our continuity plan. For us, it was relatively simple to initiate the plan.
Is cyber-security an even bigger risk now as a result of the rapid changes that people have had to make to the way they work and operate?
Existing controls may stop cyber-criminals, but also limit employees from working efficiently. Companies have been forced to suddenly adapt their technological environments, and some will have left their doors wide open. Many companies may have cut corners and relaxed security as a short-term necessity. There is little doubt that an impending cyber crisis awaits.
Opus has made a huge investment in our cyber-focused environment. We have a dedicated internal cyber team, and external cyber audits including penetration testing. Our continuity environment is GDPR and ISO27001 compliant. Requiring all work to be performed on Opus Virtual Machines virtually eliminates the inherent risks faced by many.
What are the implications for the future in terms of the importance of business continuity and operational resilience?
The longer-term implications of this crisis will depend on numerous factors. Many companies will be in a hybrid-cloud combined set-up using a VPN and/or some type of remote desktop solution. Typical continuity plans are designed to work for small teams, for short periods. But executing this strategy across hundreds of people, or whole offices, creates stress on the networks and resources. Managing critical functions may not be possible or be impractical.
The Opus operating model is perfectly suited to ensuring continuity during a crisis. Our focus on smart automation delivered through a controlled virtual desktop environment inherently dovetails into our business continuity plan. We are not operating with a short-term band-aid, but a long-term solution. Client confidence in continuity of our service delivery is not isolated to a single month. Few people could foresee the pandemic, and the disruption it is causing. But we were ready.