Beyond the Backup: Best Practices for Preparing for Any Disaster

May  19 
Brian Bellhorn and Michael Terry  Senior Advisor Marketing Manager, Fiserv; and Manager, IT Managed Services, Fiserv 

Planning and foresight help financial institutions recover from the unexpected

The pandemic has forced many businesses to explore remote work options and new ways to serve consumers. Financial institutions, in particular, have been critical in linking federal assistance to people and small businesses.

In any disaster – pandemic, tornado, flood or other major disruption – people need to feel secure in their ability to access their finances. That means financial institutions need to be prepared for anything.

Beyond having secure backup for systems and data, there are less obvious best practices to help your financial institution recover from disaster.

Work Must Continue From Wherever It Can

If branches sustain critical damage or a virus prevents staff from coming in to work, financial institutions still need to serve their accountholders. To be ready for staff to work off-site, have a secure virtual private network (VPN) in place with more bandwidth than you think you'll need.  Run an after-hours load test – a time for everyone to log in remotely at the same time. Make sure that tellers, loan officers and other typically branch-centric staff can access needed systems and know whom to contact if they can't.

When a Category 5 hurricane compromised the roof over Tyndall Federal Credit Union's primary data center, the Florida credit union worked quickly to ensure employees were safe and had what they needed to help its members access their financial accounts and services. At one point, a satellite phone was the only way leaders could communicate with staff. Being creative and decisive in the face of the unexpected is essential to recovery.

Documentation for login tips and security standards should be simple and quick. Nobody reads a book-length manual during a disaster.

Financial institutions that have navigated a disaster say their best advice is to stay calm, think clearly and check in with staff often. 

Know How to Reach Staff Members

What good is a contact sheet if staff can't log in to your network to access it? Supply printed and soft-copy emergency contact lists for all employees to keep at home and ensure they're up to date. For general staff, provide emergency phone numbers, email addresses and social media handles for senior leaders and essential IT and support staff. Social media channels may be available when all others aren't. The disaster team also needs contact details for emergency services and critical vendors.

Having a solid, tested business continuity plan in place was essential for Tyndall Federal Credit Union after the hurricane. Thanks to advanced planning that included a detailed emergency contact list, the credit union's human resources director was able to quickly secure hotel rooms for displaced staff and their families.

Know in Advance Who Owns What

Highlight and clearly define key functions and roles on your organization's contact sheet, revising those roles at least annually. In a disaster, your goal is to get business functions quickly back on track to help accountholders when they need you most.

Think through backup processes. For example, how could you get a contract signed or a loan approved without your usual systems in place? Shipping and receiving becomes a critical function in the aftermath of a disaster to ensure safe transit of member notices, cash shipments, statements and official documents. Establish a calling tree and test the process.

Appoint an experienced manager with broad operational knowledge as the disaster plan leader. Sometimes this isn't a senior leader but a functional manager who knows their way around.

Power Is Power

If power goes out, backup power systems or generators are important assets, but only if they work. Double-check and test backup systems on a regular basis, and review procedures to engage them. Regularly check fuel levels and maintenance status.  Your contact sheet should Include fuel delivery and maintenance information on your contact sheet.

If your institution is still backing up to tape, it may be time to move to disk or cloud backups for core services. That change enables backups to your backups to help ensure key data is secure and available through multiple channels.

Financial institutions that have navigated a disaster say their best advice is to stay calm, think clearly and check in with staff often. Having a well-defined, well-tested plan in place can help you be prepared for whatever comes your way.