COVID-19 Trends and How Auditors Should Respond

In a short time, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the world and changed how Credit Unions do business. Our most recent articles revealed how individual Credit Union Internal Auditors across the United States are adapting in these strange times. If you haven’t already, take some time to read part one and part two of this special coverage. Today, I’ll present you with industry trends we are seeing and anticipating, and discuss the best ways Internal Auditors can respond.

I follow each Credit Union we work with on LinkedIn. It’s a way to keep my finger on the pulse of the industry. I’m also a long-time Credit Union member. Based on what I’m seeing and hearing from these sources, a lot of trending topics and messages are being relayed to members and employees. During unprecedented times, it can be difficult for auditors to find their place. Let’s explore some items that should be on your radar and some practical advice to help.

Reassurances from the Top

I’ll guarantee that your Credit Union has sent at least one mass email to members and contacts. And it’s not just your employer; search your email folders for “we’re here for you” if you need proof. Since the pandemic started, it seems that every business I’ve ever patronized has sent me an email! There may not be much substance to these messages in every case. I’m glad Chipotle is there for me, I guess. Silly as some of these messages can be, no one would deny the intentions are pure. Attempting to calm and reassure members is the right thing to do.

Internal Auditors sometimes have an allergic reaction to niceties and platitudes. After all, we’re not necessarily in the business of making people comfortable! You may even roll your eyes or brush aside these corporate well-wishes, thinking they are just formalities. I encourage you to follow all corporate messaging closely for the duration of the pandemic. Auditors, by default, are corporate leaders. It is therefore your duty to know what messages are being sent to members. Hopefully you are a member yourself, and are included on email contact lists automatically. If not, make sure you are checking your company website regularly to see exactly what is being said. Consider starting a “Pandemic” folder, keeping these messages in a time capsule you can look back on.

Promises are meaningless without actions to back them up. Hopefully, your Credit Union is following up their supportive statements with real plans, such as Skip-a-Payment programs, charitable contributions, and loan concessions to members facing financial hardship. Amidst record-high unemployment and a volatile market, the members need you now more than ever. If your audit procedures show the Credit Union is making empty promises to members, you have an obligation to do something about it! 

Stay in the loop on corporate messaging. Then compare what is being said to what is being done. This will help you determine whether good intentions are materializing for your members.

Scams

Crises bring out the best and the worst in people. Consequently, warnings about COVID-19 scams are abundant! It’s infuriating to think that criminals seize on the fears and insecurities of your most vulnerable members, but is it really surprising? With seniors isolated from their families and stimulus checks headed to every qualifying American, fraudsters see an opportunity to make a quick buck.

Hopefully, your Credit Union is on top of this; identifying high-risk members, educating the public, and training the frontline on how to assist those who become the targets and/or victims of COVID-19 frauds. Based on what I’m seeing, Credit Unions are rising to the occasion.

Consider what your Credit Union’s vulnerabilities are. Call a branch manager or frontline worker, and ask them how the situation is on the ground. Do they have concerns about members, and are they being provided with the tools to be effective? If you have concerns, sound the alarm! As an auditor, you have the ear of people who can make a difference at this time. Call up your CEO or COO, and encourage them to put in measures to protect your members. An engaged Supervisory Committee will ask how members are being protected at this time, so be prepared to discuss fraud mitigation at your next virtual meeting.

Rethinking “Essential” and “Frontline”

I have had many jobs in my life that are now considered “essential.” Let’s just say that my bosses and customers didn’t always treat me as such! I would bet that Credit Union employees working in call centers and drive-thru windows are being seen in a new light during this pandemic. Similarly, the folks keeping your online presence functioning while web traffic is at an all-time high are now critical. Funny how times of crisis and extreme change can show our society exactly how important the frontline is!

I was a drive-thru teller for a couple years. Part of my job was asking people to come inside and wait in another line as nicely as possible because I wasn’t allowed to perform certain transactions. Not only was that subpar customer service, but coming inside the branch is not an option these days! I’m seeing many institutions changing faster than ever, loosening some policies so more business can be conducted via phone, online, or drive-thru window. This is great, and I hope the trend is a continuation of your Credit Union becoming accessible to as many members as possible under normal circumstances.

As auditors, you need to be aware of the changes in policy and attitude at your Credit Union. For example, if employees are moving to more frequent use of Docusign or another virtual signing option, spend some time reading up on how it works and assessing the risks. What changes do you anticipate, and what do you need to learn in order to perform audits down the road? A wiser person than I once said, “an hour of planning is worth ten hours of fieldwork.” So think of this task as an investment in your future! When things are back to normal, you can hit the ground running.

Also, send those on the frontline an encouraging email now and then. Let them know how essential and respected they are in your eyes!

Future Trend: Investing in Technology

During my years as a Credit Union Internal Auditor, I did not have a company laptop. Most days, this was great! I left work at work. But every once in a while, I really could have used a solution to work from home. As a new mom, I had many days where I could have been working while my sick baby took a nap. I hope this pandemic starts a trend of Credit Unions putting more resources towards smart technology that allows more people to work from home when it makes sense.

I also hope more Boards and Supervisory Committees start meeting via teleconference and video conference regularly. I’m sure the first in-person meeting after the pandemic will be a celebration, and I encourage it! However, could one meeting per quarter be via phone or video going forward? Virtual meetings can reduce travel cost and administrative hassle. Once you work out the bugs, which the pandemic has forced us to do, more events can be held virtually, reducing our carbon footprint to boot!

Auditors can move leadership towards accepting this new normal. Start putting together business cases for innovations that would make your department more tech-savvy and effective, such as auditing software, electronic workpaper solutions, and a subscription to The Audit Library. As you’ll be expected to continue doing more with less, invest in smart tools to help!

Conclusion

I hope these trends and ideas for auditors are true to your experiences, and provide you with ideas in response to these incredible circumstances. No one knows how long this crisis will last, how many lives will be affected, or what the economic toll will be. As you go about your daily audit activities, always be mindful of your role. Consider whether each action you are taking is supportive and helpful during this time of stress and anxiety. And be open minded to new ways of doing business. I believe we will come through this crisis, and be better for it when all is said and done.

Readers, what trends and changes are you seeing related to COVID-19? What future changes do you expect? Leave a comment and tell us about it!

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