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Investment Banking: Managing Your Team in Times of Change

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Lev Mozolev has forged a successful career in investment banking since graduating from EU Business School in 2015. Originally from Russia, Lev is now based in Portugal, working for the international bank BNP Paribas. Lev is well-suited to an international career given his extensive language skills; he speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian.

His career with BNP Paribas started one year after graduation. Lev began as a Corporate Action Analyst in Security Services. He spent two years in this role, taking on many projects and participating in various task forces. He then moved to the brokerage side of the business, working as an Asset Servicing Analyst as his department moved from Paris to Lisbon.

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Lev’s Experience

During his time with BNP Paribas, Lev has been promoted frequently. At the moment, he holds team-leading and auditing positions. During his presentation, he shared lessons learned from his experience of becoming a team leader during the Coronavirus crisis of 2020. Although this period was complicated for most people, Lev faced additional pressures as he oversaw the work of ten employees and managed a critical company transition.

Because BNP Paribas had just acquired a brokerage business from a Dutch bank, Lev was responsible for supervising the platform migration process. His job was to ensure that the operational activity of the business aligned with that of BNP Paribas. This was a new challenge, and he had to face it in extraordinary circumstances. How he did so was the focus of his presentation.

Challenges Faced

Many industries were unprepared for the sudden announcement that their employees must start working from home, but the banking world faced unique difficulties in implementing this order. Although BNP Paribas had been exploring the future of remote work before the pandemic struck, their plans were based on a 5-year timeline. Coronavirus shortened that timeline to less than a month.

Investment banking entails high-security measures, which added a layer of complexity to the transition between the office and remote work. Lev shared that BNP Paribas’ first step was to develop a plan that minimized risk by diversifying responsibilities. While the plan was being created, teams were separated so they could work safely from different buildings.

The shift to working from home was more gradual for the bank than for other industries. This was because it was impossible to implement with immediate effect. First, decisions had to be made regarding rights to information. Then, each entity had to have the correct level of access approved so they could continue their work without the possibility of dangerous security breaches.

One of the most practical reactions the bank had to the pandemic was to give each employee a laptop to work from. This required investment, as employees usually worked from desktop computers in the office. These steps had to be taken with urgency, but given the nature of their work, the leadership at BNP Paribas couldn’t proceed without careful planning and attention to potential risks.

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Processes Implemented

Lev shared that maintaining high levels of operational efficiency given such a drastic change in circumstances was a huge challenge. However, failure was not an option; the migration of the Dutch brokerage business was too important for BNP Paribas. As a team leader, Lev had to implement various processes to ensure the project proceeded successfully despite the pandemic.

He began by organizing almost daily calls with his team. The purpose of these calls was to confirm that nobody was struggling with IT issues, but Lev shared that he also used these calls to check on the well-being of his team. He was aware of the impact the pandemic might have on the mental health of his colleagues and team members, so it was essential to put this support system in place.

In addition to group calls, Lev made weekly calls to each individual team member. During his presentation, he acknowledged that every individual responded differently to the pandemic and remote working. These weekly chats provided a private space for team members to share their concerns and access professional support if required.

Lev asked his team members for their ideas when it came to the development of new technology. He opened up the discussion by asking what their system would look like in an ideal world, and he believes that they appreciated this opportunity to shape the tools they work with.

On a practical basis, BNP Paribas supported employees working from home by providing the necessary technology and a budget for building a comfortable workstation. In addition, employees could also receive partial reimbursement for their electricity bills while they worked remotely. The objective of these measures was to ease the transition to remote work, and Lev shared that this has been successful: productivity remained at the same level despite the exceptional circumstances of the situation.

Final Reflections

Lev finished his presentation by sharing some reflections on his pandemic experience and how he felt it had changed his industry.

  • He believes the corporate environment is crucial to bank work because it requires constant communication and a close relationship with supervisors. Due to the high-risk nature of the industry, it’s important to be able to escalate issues immediately. This dynamic had to be replicated using platforms like Skype.
  • Lev was responsible for recruiting during the pandemic, and this was his first experience of remote recruitment. He feels that technology makes this very manageable. He acknowledged that some businesses might be able to widen their net of candidates and hire from all around the world; however, in his industry, recruits have to be able to visit the office for technology and security reasons even if they don’t intend to work from there.
  • Everyone has their preferences when it comes to working conditions. Lev shared that some people are desperate to return to the office while others want to continue working from home. Networking is crucial to success in the banking industry, so this may be a consideration when deciding whether to work from the office or at home.
  • The pandemic has affected people in different ways. Some appear more introverted to Lev, as though they’ve lost their comfort with a corporate environment. However, others have found positives in the experience; for example, they’ve enjoyed spending more time with their family.
  • Since the government in Portugal has set a limit of 40% office capacity, the people returning to the BNP Paribas workplace are generally those who have stated that they’d prefer to do so. When asked, Lev shared that he is confident that some form of remote working will feature in his company’s future.

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