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Woman at a desk using a Surface laptop to make a Microsoft Teams video call with one man smiling and wearing a headset. Business Voice conference call/meeting device is in the background.

Over these last few weeks, I have had the pleasure of hosting our first digital Microsoft Envision Forum for Financial Services series. We began the journey from an in-person, New York City event to pivoting to a purely-digital format leveraging Microsoft Teams—our focus intent on providing insight from leaders in the financial services industry. This year’s Envision Forum event focused on tech intensity, and how organizations are adapting and developing technological capabilities to better service customers and empower employees. The event generated nine sessions with financial leaders, including Bill Borden (Corporate Vice President, Worldwide Financial Services, Microsoft Corporation), Carla Harris (Vice Chairman, Global Wealth Management & Senior Client Advisor, Morgan Stanley), Kausik Rajgopal (Managing Partner, McKinsey & Co.), Roy Choudhury (MD and Partner, Boston Consulting Group), Dr. Mohamed El-Erian (Chief Economic Advisor, Allianz), Toni Townes-Whitley (President, US Regulated Industries, Microsoft), and many more.

From accessibility and inclusion to post-pandemic operations, the discussions throughout this experience have been incredibly enlightening, particularly our conversations around how we adapt to a post-pandemic business model.

Planning for a new normal

Throughout this time, I have been encouraged by stories of how business leaders like Christy Strawbridge (SVP, Transformation Director, State Street) have worked with their teams and colleagues to navigate what has essentially been a period of unexpected acceleration. COVID has forced organizations to transform and to develop their own solutions. As Dr. El-Erian explains in our most recent discussion, “Companies have been forced into digitization in a way that they did not think would happen for years.”

According to Dr. El-Erian, the businesses that best navigate these challenges possess three key factors:

  1. Resiliency
  2. Optionality
  3. Agility

Dr. El-Erian emphasizes a critical point—the businesses that will learn and benefit the most from this timeframe are the ones that are able to stay engaged, receive new information, and quickly act upon those changes. We have seen these qualities in organizations like Manulife, as they adopted new technologies to connect their 30,000 global employees and empower them to work safely from home, or at Duff & Phelps where new AI solutions helped the firm improve its research methods and better apply its data.

It is that concept of fostering business resilience that I found particularly compelling throughout this event series. In the coming weeks, organizations around the world will be working in tandem to create the new normal. Whether that means offering employees full-time work from home opportunities or simply relying on a more democratized data solution, every organization has an opportunity to use this disruption as a defining moment for their future.

Empathetic intensity

As I reflect on the last few months speaking with influencers during these sessions, what struck me was the need to understand our personal and professional experiences at this moment in time. The importance of caring for one another and building trust with our peers, leaders, and customers will shape our journey towards a new normal while providing the insight needed to adapt and change.

Throughout the Envision Forum we heard stories of leaders like Jeff Wissel (Sr. Accessibility Consultant, Fidelity) and Elizabeth Taub (EVP, Disability:IN) who made bold choices to help shape their organizations for the better. Wissel and Taub’s decisions to pursue more inclusive solutions expanded our tech intensity conversation beyond just competitive advantages and into how we adapt and improve policies and services to foster a more accessible work environment.

While the value of an accessible and inclusive organization is an incredibly noble pursuit, the empathy at its core resonates across every decision business leaders face. At Disability:IN, Taub and her colleagues identified an opportunity to use AI to help companies like Fidelity measure their accessibility and inclusion standards. Fidelity’s journey started with its Enable platform, an internal resource that lets associates at the firm self-disclose their disabilities and experiences while equipping them with the accessibility tools they need to succeed. What started with six employees has since grown to account for 8 percent of the firms’ more than 50,000 global employees.

By empowering associates to share their experiences in a welcoming environment, Fidelity realized just how significant these challenges were across their organization. In identifying the challenges and hearing the experiences of their associates, Wissel and the leaders at Fidelity opened its Office of Customer Accessibility—a division dedicated to understanding the needs of Fidelity customers and associates to ensure services and practices are inclusive and accessible.

The Office of Customer Accessibility is a shining example of an organization empathizing with the experiences of its employees and pursuing an ongoing dialogue to help shape future policies. As more organizations consider returning to the workplace, empathy will have higher importance. Organizations must understand the fears of their workers to better identify opportunities to grow.

The Microsoft Envision Virtual Forum for Financial Services was an event unlike any we have experienced before. I am proud of the work our team put into making this an impactful experience during a time of significant change. I truly enjoyed the time spent getting to know our speakers and learning about how we all can make a difference in the financial services industry. Our team would like to extend a special thank you to the speakers and organizations that joined us over these past few weeks. If you would like to engage with any of our nine experts, join the conversation today. We look forward to seeing you at next year’s event. In the meantime, you can find more Microsoft in Financial Services content on our industry blog and follow up on Twitter @msftfinserv and @msft_business.