Responding to a changing world – the importance of risk management

 Crowned Travel Buyer of the Year 2017 for her work in the FNB Procurement and Travel Security departments, Shirene Brennan has since been promoted to a new role, where she will focus solely on travel risk and security at FirstRand Group. Travel risk management has been a passion of hers since she started in FNB Procurement a year ago, and she is relishing the challenge of making her mark in this area.  

“The world is a crazy place,” says Shirene Brennan. “It is a daily occurrence to wake up and wonder what in the world will happen today?”

Brennan is the former Senior Specialist for First National Bank Travel Procurement and FirstRand International Travel Security. ‘Former,’ because come January 2018, she will begin a new venture as Manager for Travel Security at FirstRand Group.

“Travel security made up 50% of what I was doing since I joined the FNB Procurement department a year ago, but it has always been a key focus of mine and I look forward to focusing primarily on duty of care and introducing mechanisms that will respond to the risks happening in the world of travel.”

She was also recently named Travel Buyer of the Year at the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Conference in October, 2017.

“I’m really excited to have won the award; it is a great honour and privilege.”

Risk management is often overlooked by corporations, says Brennan – and in a fast-changing world, this should not be the case. “The majority of people let their guard down when they travel, especially inexperienced travellers. Companies need to think about the processes they have in place to manage incidents and to be proactive instead of reactive when something happens. For example, does the traveller know who to call if something goes wrong? Does the company or TMC know which family member to call in the event of an incident? Does the traveller have sufficient travel insurance, access to funds and access to medical care while in another country?”

Duty of care is a legal obligation employers need to adhere to when their employees are travelling for business. “If I receive intelligence that an incident has occurred in a particular country, my first thought is: Do we have any travellers in that country? Have they contacted the right channels as per the Group’s processes?

“The fact is we are sending our people on business-imperative trips for the benefit of the Group. We are also taking people away from their families. It is our duty as a Group to equip travellers as much as possible with knowledge so that they are capable of mitigating risks and responding to incidents – whether they be minor or major,” Brennan says.

It is with this in mind that FNB has consolidated its travel programme across six of its subsidiaries in Africa by aligning the policies, process and suppliers to FNB South Africa’s travel programme. The subsidiaries will be managed in-country by their own ‘Travel Champions,’ with support from FNB Procurement in South Africa. This will enable FirstRand to track all travellers across the continent and streamline the travel programme to reduce risks and costs in travel.

“In addition to that, we’ve partnered with International SOS and use their travel tracker technology to track all our travellers. There are a number of other innovations on the cards that we are working on” Brennan says.

From a personal perspective, Brennan has partnered with other senior people in the FirstRand Group to build a world-class end-to-end travel risk programme, not only for FNB but for the FirstRand Group as a whole. “Our travel programme is mature, but we want to extend it so that our travellers know that if they are in Accra, for instance, ‘X’ is the person to speak to if they get sick and ‘Y’ is the place they should go, as opposed to ‘Z’, etc.”

She says it is important for travellers to stay informed about what is going on in the world as well as the country they are in – but it is up to the travel manager to balance information with panic. “We can’t be scaring travellers to a point where they are frightened to get on to an aircraft or refuse to go to a particular destination. It is therefore a balance between equipping them with enough knowledge to be wise but also enough confidence to travel and perform their duties.”

For example, if a traveller questions the safety of a particular region following an incident, the travel manager should explain the facts only and encourage them to be vigilant, explain what the traveller should do while in destination, and also make the traveller aware of things to avoid.

“It’s also vitally important to remain in constant communication with travel bookers, because it is they who would know who to contact from the traveller’s family if there is an incident, what their travel patterns are in a case where you are unable to get in touch with the traveller directly, etc. The travel booker is key to getting information on your traveller.”

Ultimately, companies cannot afford not to have a risk management plan in place in this day and age, says Brennan. “Even if the company cannot afford the resources for a mature travel security programme, they should at least have some sort of plan that is communicated beforehand to protect and equip their staff travelling for business, while also fulfilling their own duty-of-care obligations.”

Brennan has offered some advice for travel managers and companies looking to introduce travel risk and security programmes into their organisations. She shared them with us in the short video below.