Working from home: How a financial services company moved 55,000 employees out of the office

working from home Greg Montana FIS

Working from home isn’t easy for enterprise to adopt, especially in finance. How do you transition a business that moves $10 trillion a year in assets and processes 75 billion transactions … to working from home?

Well if necessity is the mother of invention, FIS got pregnant in a hurry.

In this edition of TechFirst with John Koetsier, we chat with Greg Montana, the chief risk officer at FIS. A decade ago Marissa Meyer famously pulled Yahoo employees back into the office. (In retrospect, that did not save the company. In fairness, there were a lot of other issues.) And Twitter just announced that employees can work from home forever.

We’re all doing some of that, thanks to Coronavirus. But what about fintech companies? And not just any fintech company, but one that is truly massive?

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Full transcript: FIS chief risk officer Greg Montana

John Koetsier: How do you move $10 trillion a year in assets and process 75 billion transactions from home?

Welcome to TechFirst with John Koetsier. About a decade ago, Marissa Meyer at Yahoo famously ended the work-from-home policy. Well, just yesterday, Twitter announced, hey, employees can work from home forever. We’re all kind of doing some of that, thanks to Coronavirus.

But what about a bank or what about a FinTech company? What about a company that’s processing billions of transactions a month and managing trillions of dollars? To chat about this, we’re bringing in Greg Montana. Greg is the chief risk officer at FIS. Welcome!

working from home Greg Montana FIS

Greg Montana, chief risk officer at FIS

Greg Montana: Thank you, John. It’s a pleasure to be with you. Thank you for having me. 

John Koetsier: Real pleasure to have you as well. Real quick, I gave some of the details off the top in terms of what you do in terms of quantity, right? The 75 billion transactions, the $10 trillion a year in assets that you manage the flow of, but not many people know of FIS. Can you give a quick intro?

Greg Montana: Sure. FIS is one of the largest FinTech companies focusing on merchants, banks, and capital markets. Participants around the globe, John, our tagline is “We lift economies and communities by advancing the way the world pays, banks and invests.”

We service and provide payment processing for over a million merchant clients and over 60% of the top 10% or top 10 global merchants. And we have over 20,000 financial services clients, and serve 90% of the top 50 global banks, and 90% of the top 20 global private equity firms.

So we’re really one of the top fintech firms. 

John Koetsier: In other words, you’re not the sort of company that you would think of that has a work-from-home policy in normal times or anything like that, but you’ve kind of been forced to do that right now. How’s that been working for you? 

Greg Montana: It’s been working absolutely great.

We have 55,000 employees in 52 countries around the world. Prior to the WHO announcing the pandemic just over two months ago, we had only 9% of our employees working at home, and right now we’re at 95%.

John Koetsier: Wow, wow. 

Greg Montana: Really changed. 

John Koetsier: Now, as you’ve gone through that change, presumably it hasn’t happened without a few wrinkles or stumbles. What have been the challenges? 

Greg Montana: You know, I think the challenges for us, of course, are making sure that we have our employees’ health and safety as our number one priority. So obviously when it first happened, we wanted to make sure our employees were able to get home and get remote as quickly as possible. And I think the challenges, of course, are with the employees that have to do physical types of things. So things like check processing, issuing debit and credit cards, anything that requires something physical, so we wanted to make sure they were safe, and so we really instituted social distancing for them.

And with the 95% of employees who don’t have to do those physical things, we got them home so that 5% could be safe and sound in the office and have less chance of contracting Coronavirus by being around so many people.

John Koetsier: Interesting. Now I have some relatives and friends who are in finance and other things like that, and they’ve had some challenges working from home just because there’s certain things in ground security around some face-to-face things that they’ve traditionally done that has been challenging for them. How have you dealt with that sort of thing? 

Greg Montana: You know, we’ve really been very focused on trying to get technology to our employees at home. So we’ve issued VPN tokens, we’ve issued MiFis which are essentially a handheld WiFi device for those who don’t have access to WiFi at home, or it’s spotty. And we’ve made sure that we’ve been able to give them that technology so they can work securely.

Clearly, a lot of the things that we do have to be done securely with the cyber threats that we have, and so we’ve instituted and continue to institute a really defense in depth approach to how we focus on cyber security. Certainly, I think it’s definitely helped us in terms of modernization and how we’re doing business, and those who like me, an old dog like me, who is used to face-to-face, but we’ve really learned to work very collaboratively using video conferencing like you and I are doing now. 

John Koetsier: It’s got to be a bit of a nightmare for your CTO and your IT staff. I mean, they are charged with security. You are managing the flow of literally trillions of dollars for your clients and so you’re a big target, and you’ve just expanded your threat envelope massively, right, because everybody’s house is now an attack factor.

That must have been a little bit challenging and your nerves must have been a little bit on edge. 

Greg Montana: Yeah, I could not agree more. Certainly our clients, to our critical infrastructures, payment providers, capital markets, participants and banks face increasing cyber security threats and they’re exacerbated by the work-from-home business model.

So what we’ve done is make sure that all of our employees have multi factor authentication. We have this thing called “Data Loss Protection,” so we call it defense in depth, but basically DLP monitors what employees can and can’t send, either through IM, or email, or printing, and it locks down the ability to actually record anything like a thumb drive.

We mask personal identifiable information like personal account numbers. 

And I think the most important thing, we noticed it before we started this conversation where I had to go to my iPad, is that we actually have technology that only allows our employees to go to certain websites that we pre-approve and you cannot download any software and run it unless we’ve pre approved it. So just like you and I had a little problem before this call, I have to blame myself and my team because they wouldn’t allow me to get to this ability to video conference with you.

And that really helps us prevent people from going to the wrong website or accidentally downloading something.

But I would tell you the thing that is one of the most important controls is just training. We’ve been talking to our employees about phishing. Phishing has absolutely exploded, targeting us and our clients, and if you train them, they are constantly telling us about new phishing campaigns. We’re always blocking those, and we’re also rewarding them for doing that, and some of it’s the human factor in training. 

John Koetsier: There are so many phishing attacks. I just wrote about that recently. I believe, and so I’m quoting from memory and I’m a very future-focused person, but I believe there were something like 3 billion emails sent daily that are attempted phishing attacks. So, amazing.

Now let’s talk about working from home. I mean, I work from home all the time. I’ve worked from home for a decade, I’ve run my own business, I interview people like you from my home office. What’s been better for your staff about working from home? 

Greg Montana: You know, it’s a great question. It’s given us the opportunity to serve our clients in this time of need for them and it’s been able to show how we can adapt very quickly as a company, like I said, 9% to 95% and be able to do that seamlessly. I think it’s laid the groundwork for a more modern work experience, we briefly talked about that.

And it actually, in some groups, we’ve seen more productivity such in development.

I think the data’s still not in, but I think a lot of that driver is people have more time to work and that they have reduced their commute times, and maybe less distractions than you would normally have in the office at home – notwithstanding cats, dogs, and children – you do have distractions at the office. What I’m starting to think more about is how do we get the extroverts who want to come back into the office feeling like they’re still connected. I feel a little bit like that sometimes that, I’m used to having that face-to-face experience.

There’s an old saying that I always say to folks that “If you don’t know what an extrovert is thinking, you’re not listening. If you don’t know what an introvert is thinking, you haven’t asked them.”

And so our extroverts are climbing the walls right now, they want to come back, and we’ve said to them, ‘We’re in no hurry to come back, let’s engage you through video conferencing, through other team-type exercises, and through distant learning so that you can feel like you’re connected even though you’re not in the office.’ 

John Koetsier: It’s interesting, and many that I’ve talked to as well. I was speaking with the CEO of Vonage recently, it’s a different experience – quarantine or shelter in place – if you’re single, or if you’re in a relationship, or you have your family with and other things like that as well. So that impacts how your employees’ social experiences at home with their closest ones really impacts it also.

What’s interesting to me though, about what you’ve done and what you’ve been able to do, just keep working kind of seamlessly, and I’ve said it a couple of times over the past month or two, companies that invested in digital transformation or were kind of digital native from the bottom up, which maybe is the case for you, they’re reaping the rewards right now.

They’re able to continue what they’re doing right now versus companies that were never invested, or never grew digital first, now they’re finding out the price that they’re really paying for that. 

Greg Montana: Yeah, I could not agree with you more, John. We’ve taken our cloud-based remote services model to the next level, been able to use that and that infrastructure to be able to allow us to do this.

Our chairman and CEO on our earnings he said, I won’t be able to quote him exactly, but he said, ‘If you had told me three or four months ago that we could go to a fully remote implementation for our banking clients’ – now you have to remember we’re enabling core banking, which is checking as they say in the UK and other countries, current accounts, those are not simple engagements, those are not simple implementations – if you were to ask him three or four months ago, he would have said, ‘We’re years away from doing that.’

Fast forward now, in the last six weeks, we’re at 100%. And even in our capital markets group, which is traditionally on-prem professional services, or at least a huge percentage of it, we’ve been able to move to 90%, and it says a lot about a company that’s made the investments in the talent. I think most importantly it’s the people, but also the technology to your point. 

John Koetsier: Very, very interesting. Well, what are your plans over the next three to 12 months? Are you able to kind of plan out or are you kind of taking a wait-and-see approach in terms of how you’re going to proceed with this? What are you thinking?

Greg Montana: Yeah, it’s a great question. We’re not going to be in a rush to return to the office and do discretionary travel. We’ve communicated to all our employees about a week ago that we’re taking what we’re calling a ‘wait, watch and learn’ approach to our return.

We’ll return at the earliest at the end of the third quarter, beginning of the fourth quarter, maybe even later.

We want to see how everything develops, particularly therapeutics, antibody testing, vaccine, god-willing, and of course contact tracking. And so we’ve developed for all our offices, this technology that allows us to track every city that we have an office, on how the disease is going in terms of cases. Tracking the restrictions from local, state, provincial, federal governments, so that we know when we could go back.

We’re going to be in no rush. And when we do and we do feel it’s safe, and we have all the technology, and all the tracking, and all the personal protection equipment ready for our employees, we’re going to take a slow approach to it and allow those who want to come back, who volunteer, give them some choice, similar to what you heard from Twitter right?

And so I think that’s going to help a lot and our employees seem to really appreciate that approach. 

John Koetsier: So left-field question here a little bit, punt it if you like. 

Greg Montana: Sure.

John Koetsier: What we’ve seen a lot of speculation about from a lot of tech companies is, or about a lot of tech companies, is that what we’re approaching in this new normal of work from home a little bit and maybe come into the office later, we don’t really know, is that they’ll broaden the capability of geographically who can work for them, and that you won’t have to live in San Francisco or New York City to work for a tech company anymore.

You could live in Idaho, you could live in Nebraska, or some other place, whatever it might be. Random thoughts on that? 

Greg Montana: Yeah, I think it’s a great point. I think our global workforce has truly enabled us to weather this storm quite well.

I think when we had folks in certain countries that could not get to the office and they were considered critical infrastructure that had to be there for those physical things I was telling you about, us having a global workforce where we had folks doing something similar in a country that didn’t have those harsh restrictions, we were able to then accomplish our goal. And I think this really proves that out.

Whatever the case may be, and whatever kind of business continuity issue you run into, having that global diverse workforce – we’re in 52 countries – that really was a key ingredient to our success. So I could see why a lot of companies would be considering that. It certainly helped us a ton. 

John Koetsier: Excellent. Thank you so much for your time, Greg. I really do appreciate it. 

Greg Montana: John, appreciate all that you do and thank you for the time. It’s been an honor. 

John Koetsier: Thank you. Wonderful.

Well, thank you for joining us on TechFirst, my name again is John Koetsier. Appreciate you being along for the ride. Whatever platform you’re on, please like, subscribe, share, comment, whatever, all of the above. If you’re on the podcast later on, please rate it, review it, that’d be a massive help. Thank you so much.

Until next time, this is John Koetsier with TechFirst.