Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Managing Multinational Relationships During the Pandemic

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By Jaron Campbell, Head of HSBC ISB USA



“Stay safe, stay connected.”

As the coronavirus crisis escalated and our offices pivoted to a full-time work-from-home structure, I found these four words to be an anchor for myself and my team – a phrase to steer us through these new headwinds. We repeated it in Zoom meetings and introduced it across all of our email signatures to make sure that everyone – fellow ISB teammates, HSBC colleagues, clients – could be reminded to stay safe and stay connected during these challenging days.

Staying safe is straightforward: during a pandemic, it is critical that we put ourselves first and implement proper preventive measures. The safety of our families is and always will be the top priority.

Staying connected is more complicated.


A Multinational Network of Clients

As the HSBC U.S. Head of International Subsidiary Banking, the word ‘connections’ has always implied client relationships cultivated over time through in-person meetings and events. My second quarter calendar was stuffed with airplane tickets and week-long calendar blocks for on-site client roadshows – in eight weeks, I was to visit Dubai, Saudi Arabia, France and Mexico. This was nothing out of the ordinary; I take at least six international work trips per year and dozens of domestic trips in between.

This is the nature of my role. I get excited about the nuances behind each country and region, digging into the business customs and familiarizing myself with cultural differences. For example, when exchanging business cards in China, you must always remember to give and receive with both thumbs, review carefully and then make a comment related to the info on the card.

Meeting new people, experiencing new cultures, becoming attuned to new ways of doing business and seeing new places through the eyes of our customers – this is why I love working with multinational companies.

Of course, all of my travel plans were cancelled as we entered a national lockdown, a necessary precaution to stop the spread of COVID-19. Traveling had become so ingrained in my work routine that being in quarantine took some getting used to. One positive aspect of this situation was that I now had a rare opportunity to spend more time with my wife and three young children (Jace, 7; Grant, 5; Miles, 3) without the interruption of week-long trips. I cherish the new connections I’ve formed with my family, even with the constant stream of noise and embraced my new roles as a virtual school teacher, short-order cook, and rock-paper-scissor referee!


Creating Global Connections Digitally

However, professionally the ISB team has faced a great challenge, one that contradicts the fabric of our relationship-focused jobs: how do you foster connections with clients on the other side of the world without meeting in person?

Zoom has become our virtual workspace; we have daily team meetings and check-ins across ISB. I want my team to feel comfortable to speak about whatever is on their mind, whether that is current events, a situation at home or a customer update. Creating an open environment where our teams can openly discuss any topic is an important part of our culture.

We’re learning how to efficiently conduct business through online mediums. In-person entertainment outside of the office has always been the main method to building relationships – golf, dinner, drinks, an industry event, etc. It sometimes feels like these bonds are impossible to replicate over Zoom, but we are working beyond our comfort zones and doing our best. We’re striving daily to create connectivity with our clients, networking over teleconferencing programs and virtual events, and corresponding digitally more than ever before. One thing I’ve learned: balancing varying time zones will always be a challenge, pandemic or not.


Our Way Forward

Our leadership team has become more close-knit during these times, as the fluid nature of the pandemic’s effects on society has required us to be aligned every step of the way. We’ve established greater connectivity with our global stakeholders than ever before, hosting virtual ‘exchange’ sessions with other countries’ coverage teams to gain invaluable market intelligence from on-the-ground experts. This allows us to keep our finger on the pulse of the economic situation in each of our key markets – before, during, and after the pandemic, it is our international expertise that sets us apart from other our competitors.

The ways in which the U.S. ISB team has adapted through the course of the pandemic is testimony to the fact that we have the right people, in the right place, at the right time.

I am cautiously optimistic about the future – when we are back in the office reflecting on these times, appreciating how this experience has changed us and connected us with clients and colleagues in new, stronger ways.

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