This company had prepared for a pandemic, but not like coronavirus

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Many mortgage-related companies had continuity planning that came in handy as the coronavirus spread, but it's rarer those plans actually contemplated the possibility of a pandemic as Williston Financial Group’s did.

"We didn't predict COVID, it was more around things like the regular flu," said Bruce Phillips, senior vice president and chief information security officer at WEST, a unit that provides information, technology and marketing services for the rest of the WFG. "It was really helpful in getting us started, but … you really have no idea of what [something like this is] like until you are right in the middle of it."

WFG put its pandemic plan in place prior to Phillips' time at the company so he was unsure of its origin. Some companies more broadly did introduce pandemic plans after the swine flu became an issue in 2009.

Bruce Phillips is senior vice president and chief information security officer at WEST.

Protecting employees, business operations and customer information as COVID-19 spread hasn't been easy. However, the measures Williston had in place to address a pandemic may have allowed it to transition to remote work faster than it otherwise might have, said Phillips.

"We had sort of perfected some things at a small scale," he said. "We can transition workloads … because the platform is the same so people know how to work no matter where they are at."

Companies without a pandemic plan certainly have the basis for one now, and Williston recommends institutionalizing it as part of business continuity planning.

"We … made a couple decisions on the way that technology was implemented … that made it really easy for me to contain the data where it needs to be and to get right people access to it no matter where they happen to be at. So that made our transition to work from home a little bit easier than [for] someone who doesn’t have that sort of thought process or didn’t have the ability to do that," Phillips said.

"Now there are several people that are now trying to struggle to enable people to work from home in an environment where they have never done it before. They didn't have anything put together … My solution will not work for them because my solution is much more complex and it is not something you are going to be able to do in a day."

Employee protection, followed by business continuity, are two priorities Phillips said his company is focusing on. Information when running remote operations is a third.

"Those are the things you are going to have to start thinking about in the new normal," said Phillips. "Where is your data moving and how are you protecting that data?"

An increase in fraud attempts is broadly expected as coronavirus spreads, consumers become more distracted and economic weakness intensifies, so Phillips suggests vigilance in protecting operations.

Safeguards that protect the integrity of procedures like remote notarization should be in place, he said.

"I think when it's done right, it's a good use of technology. But you have to make sure you are understanding all the pros and cons," Phillips said.

Videoconferencing technology used in remote notarization may be in line with social distancing measures, for example, but if it doesn't utilize a resolution high enough to confirm credentials and identities it could introduce risk to the transaction.

"The one thing I would make sure everyone understands … is you need to understand the risk and make sure you understand the consequences of accepting that risk," said Phillips. "That's the best you can do. Once you've done that, then you can move forward."

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