COVID-19 and the risk of compound crises

Even if a crisis starts off as a singular event, it is easy for it to spark the beginnings of other crises. While COVID-19 is fundamentally a health crisis, clearly its compound effects have consequences for the economy, politics, and society. Having spent the last few weeks focusing on managing the effects of COVID-19, what vulnerabilities do businesses need to be aware of, and how can they prevent the onset of compounding crises?

Opportunists knock

Bad actors thrive in uncertain times, and there are no times more uncertain than now. Simply put – an organisation becomes more susceptible to opportunistic attacks at a time like this.

Financial crime goes up during global crisis, and COVID-19 has placed increasing pressure on sectors like the insurance industry. Governments and banks across the world have reported an increase in cybercrime as criminals exploit new vulnerabilities. As European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyden warned in March, ‘our fear becomes their opportunity’.


More time to mobilise

Consumer-facing businesses, in particular, are facing increased challenges from external threats. With most becoming more reliant on ecommerce this year, there’s an increased potential for phishing scams targeting customers, with companies expected to step up their duty of care. When this duty of care is neglected, recent examples suggest that the general public are no more forgiving in the current climate. Indeed, consumers and other stakeholders have more time on their hands and digital mobilisation on issues like customer care, executive pay, or employee welfare can happen more quickly and reach further than before.


A tired & distracted workforce

The threat of compound crises comes not only from an increase in risks, but also a weakened ability to handle secondary threats. The sheer number of working hours dedicated to responding to COVID-19 may mean that in many cases ‘business as usual’ no longer exists. Right across organisations, resources are being stretched, be that communications, product or service offering, or internal fraud.


Missing a common sense of purpose

In the event of a problem developing with your people, ensuring you’re clear, concise, and regular with your communications to affected groups is crucial. Make sure your internal communications structures are fit for purpose, and that you’ve empowered team leaders with the knowledge and tools to deliver your message to their people.  Everyone in your organisation is going to have to work together to weather the COVID-19 storm; an aligned, loyal, happy workforce is more to do so likely than an unhappy, disaffected one.

Clearly there is no good time to experience a crisis, but a once-in-a-century pandemic makes any crisis worse. Navigating crises during COVID-19 will present fresh challenges. It is uncharted territory: there are no best-practice case studies, there is no consensus. Consequently, companies are likely to face a polarised public. Stick to your organisation’s fundamental values; be clear, open, and transparent.

Now is the right time to review and test your crisis plans and procedures, because the threats from compound crises are greater than ever. The best time to start scenario planning is six months ago, and the second-best time is right now; consider where and how your organisation is vulnerable, what new vulnerabilities you’ve taken on due to COVID-19, and what further training and guidance your teams need. To weather the COVID-19 storm, people will need to be flexible, plans and processes will need to be well-drilled. New challenges will require new responses, and the organisations that are well-rehearsed, are most likely to be able to adapt, demonstrating much-needed resilience at a time when that is in high demand.


Jamie Bomford and Andrew Williams run FTI Fortify, FTI Consulting’s end-to-end crisis and critical event preparedness offer. Fortify programmes support organisations with risk mitigation, provide insights and best practice into crisis mitigation, and enable you to prepare for and manage critical events. Through FTI Fortify we also develop practical tools, plans and processes to improve your operational and reputation management.

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