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Every Business Needs a Contingency Plan

By: JP Morgan Chase Bank

The coronavirus situation reminds businesses everywhere that employees, financial operations, supply chains, and customer relations can all be affected. Fraudsters and cybercriminals also might see an opportunity to catch your business with its guard down.


The Anatomy of a Plan

A good plan first identifies the most likely disruptions. Separating the probable from the possible helps you chart realistic tactics and achievable goals. Disruption comes in many forms:

  • Environmental—fire, floods, earthquake
    • Are emergency supplies readily available? Will your vendors be affected?
  • Technological—data breaches, electrical outages, malware and denial of service attacks
    • Do you have back up technology available? Will you be able to receive payments from customers?
  • Personnel—prolonged absence due to health concerns or illness
    • How will you manage through prolonged employee absence due to health concerns or illness? A good plan will answer a handful of core questions:

Regardless of disruption type, a good plan will answer a handful of core questions:

  • What—systems and processes will likely be affected?
  • Who—must be notified?
  • When—do specific actions need to be taken, in order of priority?
  • Where—will your business operate?
  • How—will circumstances change the way employees do their work?

Getting Started

You’ve identified the likely disruptions. Depending on the identified possibilities your response will need to vary.

Develop a continuity plan for each scenario. In case of a potential data breach or malware attacks, notify your bank immediately, as well as your customers and vendors. In a situation where payment systems might be disrupted, have backup options in place if payments need to happen remotely.

Ultimately, you want to protect employees, stabilize your supply chain and stay in close contact with customers.

  • Draw up scenario-specific health practices and evacuation plans. Know your protocol for securing facilities and data.
  • Analyze and adjust cash-flow budgets so that you can pay employees and bills on time. Establish alternatives for paycheck distribution.
  • Stay in close communication with existing vendors, financial institutions and external partners.
  • Make it clear which suppliers, service providers and vendors you need to pay, including how much and by when. Consider keeping digital and printed copies of vendor-critical information.
  • Prioritize transactions—time-sensitive, urgent, scheduled.
  • Keep an eye on customer communication channels. Don’t overlook social media.

Location, Location, Location  

For some businesses, a physical location is essential to ongoing operations. This might mean having alternate locations and backup facilities.

  • Keep card readers and point-of-sale equipment clean and disinfected. Visit your bank’s payment support center for instructions.
  • Can you rapidly shift accounting operations to a different location during a crisis? Be sure you have access to the tools you need to make time-sensitive payments, such as payroll and taxes.
  • You might need Wi-Fi access or additional supplies and equipment, such as computers and deposit slips.
  • Consider whether your business insurance provides coverage for a significant financial loss as the result of a closure or a disrupted supply chain.
  • If your business is heavily dependent on a physical storefront, consider investing in your digital presence to help customers find you.
  • How will workflow be affected at backup locations or for employees working from home? Can they get to important resources, such as banking IDs, passwords and accounts payable lists? Confirm that remote access and login credentials are current and that employees have remote access.

Communication

You’ve thought through the contingencies and documented your plan. To make it effective, you’ll need clear and thorough communication.

  • What’s the emergency chain of command? Who takes on key responsibilities if those typically in charge are unable to do so? Set expectations. Name specific roles and actions.
  • Assign a management team accountable for immediate response and employee safety.
  • If your contingency site is being leased, communicate with the tenants about space allocation during an emergency.
  • Open lines of communication with those beyond your walls. Remember to include your customers, vendors and banking institutions. Public agencies and local services also need to know your plan.
  • Document and distribute all the above information.

Sharing and communicating your plan is vital, but don’t let it collect dust. Make preparedness part of your culture.

  • Run training and Q&A sessions. Consider providing online resources or bringing in speakers to share experiences and best practices.
  • Incentivize participation. For example, give a disruption-preparedness quiz and reward people for perfect scores.
  • Practice your plan. Run through scripted crises in a tabletop simulation.
  • Regularly update emergency and contact information.

Post-Disruption

Even after a crisis has ended, you need to stay diligent.

  • Monitor banking services and payroll to ensure consistency.
  • Stay alert. Businesses are more susceptible to cybercrime and fraud during sensitive times.
  • Be empathetic. Consider employees’ emotional needs post-crisis. In some cases, you’ll need to be ready to offer access to support resources.

Focusing on preparedness and including everyone in the process helps your business minimize disruption, and it sends an important message: You care about your business, and you also care deeply about your customers.

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