Working from home: an endeavor to deliver
By Maha Bahou, CEO of JoPACC
From the onset of JoPACC’s existence, I consistently endeavored to fashion JoPACC’s culture, values, and employee relationships into that of a home, occupied by a close-knit, collaborative, and most importantly supportive family. After all, in today’s modern lifestyle, employees spend a significant proportion of their time at the office. It is my personal perspective that creating this atmosphere not only improves company morale, but also has a direct positive impact on the performance and efficiency of employees. Therefore, making JoPACC into a home was a challenge I committed to from day one. I did not anticipate, however, having to make home into JoPACC.
On the 17th of March, the feeling of uncertainty was hanging heavy in the air, compounded by the ominosity of a grey and rainy day. News surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic from around the world was barely keeping up with the speed at which the disease was actually spreading. Sentiment was low around the world. I vividly remember my feelings throughout that day; an unsettling eeriness and concern over the health of my new and my old families, the health of my country, and the sustainability of the strategic goals we have been persevering towards the preceding year.
Having dedicated the latter half of my career to the development of the digital financial infrastructure in Jordan, and the growth of financial inclusion, I knew well the importance of JoPACC’s work during this critical period. Therefore, it was not only imperative to successfully move JoPACC to the home of each of its members but to also ensure that in doing so, we maximize our efficiency and productivity to meet the imminent financial needs and requirements which will ensue as a result of the nationwide lockdown.
In writing this blog post, I wish to share with you, the reader, our experience of working from home. From assisting governmental entities in digitizing their cash assistance programs, launching new digital financial infrastructure, developing on existing infrastructure, to awareness campaigns and new partnerships, our experience away from the office had proven the robustness and resilience of JoPACC’s team, its objectives, and the ways in which it operates.
My most significant observation while working from home was the strengthening of our team’s collaboration. Despite the physical separation, employees instantly shifted to tighter working arrangements. Through recurring department, and companywide, meetings, everyone became more involved, and their ideas represented to a higher degree, in nearly all of the company’s affairs. It is as if the period of separation reinforced the spirit of teamwork. Today, the team is working more harmoniously than ever, in a calculated and well-organized pace, that was maintained following our return to the office.
In situations of public fear and panic, the spread of misinformation has been observed to accelerate. As a consequence, the integrity of the formal financial sector, and the various governmental and private initiatives to preserve the health of the economy and its most vulnerable are threatened. Knowledge dissemination, awareness, and financial and digital literacy represent a cross-cutting strategic pillar for JoPACC, and form the foundation onto which JoPACC develops and enhances the digital financial ecosystem in Jordan. Therefore, JoPACC assumed the responsibility of becoming a source of truth and information for institutions and individuals alike. During the lockdown, JoPACC produced extensive awareness material targeting mobile money users specifically as they represent some of the most vulnerable segments of the Jordanian society. These efforts culminated in the launch of an independent Facebook page (Mahfazena), focusing on increasing digital financial literacy of mobile wallet users.
Furthermore, JoPACC authored and published two reports and held corresponding webinars to present and discuss key topics in financial inclusion and Digital Financial Services: the first analyzed and discussed the Digital Transformation of Financial Institutions in Jordan, whereas the second discussed the findings of a digital experiment which aimed to dissect and understand the barriers women face in accessing and using Digital Financial Services.
Throughout my years of experience, I have witnessed and been part of achievements I both admire and take pride in. However, one achievement in particular, which happened while working from home, is one of the dearest to my heart. JoPACC succeeded in provisioning the infrastructure, installing all components, initiating testing (including user acceptance testing), deploying, supporting, and going live with 4 banks of a new clearing system: CliQ. This was all done remotely, and through coordination with an international vendor. The efficiency and reliability exhibited by JoPACC’s team in delivering this monumental feat are, in my opinion, unparalleled. CliQ couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time, through enabling instant interbank payments, representing a significant piece of the puzzle towards an inclusive digital economy.
However, the importance of Digital Financial Services was not solely felt by JoPACC. Both private and public institutions alike demonstrated noteworthy appreciation and understanding of the importance of Digital Financial Services during such a critical time. Since the onset of the crisis, 64 new billers joined the eFAWATEERcom platform, enabling consumers to maintain payments to services and preventing an interruption in the cash flow of various diverse actors across the Jordanian economy. Additionally, the Jordanian Government assumed the role of a national champion of Mobile Wallets, ensuring that Jordan’s most vulnerable are able to receive salaries and cash assistance through a financial vessel that is both accessible and reliable despite the loss of mobility incurred on the Jordanian public. This was supported by the Central Bank of Jordan’s mandate to enable remote, digital onboarding to Mobile Wallets, paving the way for the opening of more than 600,000 Wallets in the span of four months. A number of banks contributed to the effort by allowing cash-out from Mobile Wallets through their ATMs, rendering Jordan’s wallet to Cash-In-Cash-Out (CICO) ratio comparable to globally advanced mobile money markets. These partnerships and collaborations highlighted the maturity of the efforts undertaken by the institutions of Jordan, to preserve the livelihood of citizens and residents alike, and minimize the adverse effects experienced by Jordan’s most vulnerable.
As I am writing this today, from JoPACC’s offices, surrounded by JoPACC’s family, I am mindful of the challenges that lie ahead. This crisis has been a wakeup call for many to the importance of Digital Financial Services and financial inclusion and has set the rhythm for a new pace of development and market-wide digitalization. It is therefore our role and responsibility to maintain this rhythm and capitalize on the partnerships and efforts taking place all around us. However, I am comforted by the dedication and passion I witnessed from JoPACC’s team while working from home. It was clear to me, in the calm after the storm, that JoPACC had become synonymous to home even before the storm hit. Through fostering an enabling and supportive environment above all, the JoPACC family has evolved to become advocates of its mission and goals, and catalysts to its success. At the time of writing this, it remains unclear whether a second wave of COVID-19 will send us back to our homes. That being said, this experience has demonstrated the fragility of conventional professional environments, despite living in a time where services can be delivered wherever we are. Therefore, I would like to end this blog by recommending to you, dear reader, regardless of your professional background or level of responsibility, to critically reevaluate the environment in which you work. Whatever the future may hold, I am confident that we will traverse it by championing the spirit of collaboration, dedication, and more importantly passion for whatever it is you may be working towards.