- Debra Walton, chief revenue officer for Refinitiv, told Business Insider changes the data and analytics giant have put in place in light of the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, might remain in place after the fact.
- That includes engaging with clients digitally as opposed to on-premise and having more employees work from home, Walton said.
- “I think one of the interesting questions for us all is: Does this situation really change the way that people work?” Walton said.
- The London Stock Exchange in 2019 agreed to a $27 billion deal to buy Refinitiv, just a year after the company was spun out of Thomson Reuters by private-equity firm Blackstone.
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Debra Walton, chief revenue officer for Refinitiv, told Business Insider some of the adjustments the data and analytics giant have implemented in light of the spread of COVID-19, which include digital support for customers and employees working from home, might remain in place even after concerns over the virus have passed.
The London Stock Exchange in 2019 agreed to a $27 billion deal to buy Refinitiv, just a year after the company was spun out of Thomson Reuters by the private-equity firm Blackstone. LSE said on Monday it had gained approval on the deal from the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment, and that it remained committed to closing in the second half of 2020.
Refinitiv is a financial data powerhouse with more than 40,000 firms as customers. Walton, who oversees a team of 2,800 tasked with servicing the company’s clients, said traditionally Refinitiv has sent people to customers’ offices, whether it is for installing new systems or training people on how to use different products.
“[Typically] financial markets have pretty much been still very focused on demanding quite a bit of physical presence from the teams that actually support their end users in terms of their experience with their information and trading products,” Walton said.
As the coronavirus spread in recent weeks, customers stopped welcoming external visitors, forcing Refinitiv to support its clients digitally. And while the company has had those features in place for years, Walton said it’s not something that has been embraced by the entire customer base.
From virtual check-ins to running webinars, Refinitiv has looked to maintain interaction with customers despite not being on-premise. The adoption rate has picked up significantly. In 2020 there has been a 60% increase in customers using digital support tools, she estimated.
For Walton, the experience is serving as an experiment to understand how the company could adapt its practices for the long haul.
“I think one of the interesting questions for us all is: Does this situation really change the way that people work?” she said. “When we come out the other side of this, will we all realize that we can be much more efficient — as traders, as banks, and as the people that support them — through a virtual mode. Could we say to ourselves the trans-Atlantic flights that we all do? Can we save ourselves the two-hour commute every day, and put those hours into either more efficient work time or more time with family?”
Customer service has long been an area companies have looked for places to cut costs. In May 2019, PayPal’s CFO told Business Insider the payments giant was aiming to use artificial intelligence to automate customer service, potentially saving the company $25 million a year.
When talk of technology improving workflows pops up, some take that as a way for firms to reduce headcount. The Financial News reported in November 2018 that Refinitiv was in the process of cutting roughly 2,000 jobs after its takeover by Blackstone in an effort to save $650 million. Walton declined to comment on any potential job cuts.
Refinitiv has a three-step plan as it adjusts to new working environments
It’s not just client interactions that could remain digital for the long term. Walton said Refinitiv’s executive leadership team has already discussed having employees work from home either two or three days a week even after concerns over coronavirus have passed.
To be sure, Walton said she recognizes that people will likely be eager to get back into the office once things have finally settled down. The lack of socialization will be a real factor as firms are continued to require to have people work remotely.
However, she does see opportunity to have more flexible work.
“Many of us now have much more hoteling environments where you’re working on a 30% capacity level in your office,” Walton said. “Maybe we can do that more broadly.”
Walton said the firm hasn’t put together any hard numbers around the type of savings the company could recognize by adopting these changes beyond the coronavirus epidemic. The main focus for this week is around ensuring customers’ have access to Refinitiv’s services and the systems remain resilient as market volatility continues.
The next stage, Walton said, will be about understanding how the business can be optimized despite being in such unique circumstances. One tactic she suggested was learning and development programs for employees.
“How do we grow our businesses and not just stay in survival mode?” Walton added.
Finally, Walton said the strategy and human resources team will consider whether what will become the new normal over the coming weeks is something that should remain in place for the long-term.
And while Walton said the company is well prepared for a digital-only environment where applications and tools reside in the cloud as opposed to on premise, she did acknowledge security and encryption would likely receive increased focus.
“There will be a lot of work done in the coming weeks to understand every aspect of the long-term impacts of this incredible, incredible experience we are all in,” Walton said.